There is a place where nothing hurts, free of time. A loosened place with no edges or friction; no sudden stops and starts; somewhere you won’t be jostled. No poking, no prodding, no pricks of any kind. Right next door, a parallel place, and easy to get to, too. It was soft there, and there was love there, and they cut the straps off your heart.
Anson Lomp read comic books as a kid, and there was one he remembered: a reprint of an old EC horror story. A White had stolen from an Indian. A magic amulet that bestowed immortality as long as it was worn. The White used it to steal, and to murder. The Indian ambushed him, knocked him out with the butt of a pistol.
When the White woke up, he was lying on the hard saltpan of the desert. His whole body except for his left arm had been wrapped tightly with wet leather straps. The sun was high and hot. The Indian sat on a rock nearby with a pistol in his hand.
“You can take the amulet off anytime you want. I’ll end your pain. Or you can live forever.”
POP the White’s first rib snapped. When he looked down, he saw tiny tendrils of vapor rising off the leather. POP that’s the second rib. The sound effects in comic books are written out in capital letters, and the leather drying up and contracting was spelled KRIIIIIIIK.
The story didn’t have the ending in it. None of those stories ever did. Creepier to let you imagine the next few minutes. The last two panels were the White’s face, wracked in agony and eyes wide, and the Indian’s hand on his pistol.
That was his heart. The White, mummified in shrinking leather, buried above ground: that was his heart, Anson felt.
College was a bust: he graduated from Harper College summa cum softly. No one noticed, and he was not recruited. Friends drifted off, away, outward and up. He was not pretty enough for Los Angeles, but he moved there anyway. He was not smart enough for New York, but he tried there, too. When his mother got sick, he was secretly happy to have a reason to move home that was not failure.
It took a long time for her to die, but she did.
The air moves different up high, he thought. More forceful. Like it had made up its mind. Down on the Main Drag were swirly little spirals, and moments of calm, and lilting wafts, but not up high. Twelve stories up, the wind just goes SHOOOOOM incessantly, west to east, and he supposed it hit the Segovian Hills and thrusted into the stratosphere, mesosphere, ionosphere. Some sphere. He should have studied, and then he’d know the layers above his head, but he hadn’t and so he didn’t. To the uneducated man, every tree’s an elm.
Not many people had shown up for the funeral. Family, a few neighbors. Anson had known that he would be expected to give the eulogy; he didn’t prepare anything. Winged it. Subpar and forgettable and the congregants did not make eye contact with him as politely as they could. Dirt hitting a coffin doesn’t sound like anything else. They buried her in Foole’s Yard, and the landscapers did not lay the sod down over her grave for several weeks. Anson went back ten days later, saw the mound brown against the green, laughing at him with a big chunk of nothing where his mother used to be, and he did not even make to within twenty feet. Saw the dirt and ran. Choked back snot-flavored spit and tears and did not know what to do with himself.
One more failure. Just a little more loss. Sun gets higher and the straps get tighter.
There was some money. He didn’t have to work. Wrote record reviews for the Cenotaph once or twice a month. Friend from high school worked there, and took pity on him. Anson knew it was pity. Pity has a taste, like metallic shit, and he tried to wash his mouth free of it. Wine worked sometimes. Red. He bought it in boxes, put it in the fridge, drank it from juice glasses starting first thing in the morning or whenever he woke up.
He stopped talking to his friends because he felt embarrassed. Oh, you had a kid? Another one, wow. An important job? Good for you. What am I up to? That’s a great question. Hey, I got another call. Lemme get back to you.
And then he didn’t.
He felt quite alone, because he was.
When your mother dies, that’s it: no more unconditional love, and you have no home. You can build yourself a home, and populate it, but you won’t have a fallback after your mother dies.
Sometimes in the afternoons, he would jerk off to his previous life. To his previous lives. To Nancy in the bathroom; Michelle during the earthquake; Jeff and his needles. To a fat girl who called herself Tinkerbell and sat on his face. He missed being young, and missed out on adulthood, and now he was stuck with no mother and no one to sit on his face.
The wind was lovely. He could smell the ocean, he imagined, and the boats and sand and kelp, too. He could smell the money he was supposed to have, and he could smell the love he had been promised. Adventure and turning points, and ceremonies and events and all the things that had not come to him. Ansom Lomp could smell America twelve stories up.
He had lived in his idealized past for years. Dreamed of an unavailable future. It felt good to live in the present at last. Anson had never gone in for much spirituality, but he was felt that he was finally living in the moment. He didn’t know anything at all about Buddhism, but he was certain that this was how the Buddha felt, the way he felt right now, skinless and exposed to the world rushing by and leaving no trace at all on him; he felt perfect and loved, unconditionally, and the wind behaves different up here than it does on the Main Drag: forceful, and it did not ambush you around corners or via alleys; the wind had a straight shot in from the sea.
He could smell the ocean, he imagined, and he took a step forward just like he was taking off an amulet.
The Main Drag was closed for several hours. First the traumatized, and then the looky-loos, and then the emergency crews, and then the insurance adjusters. Soon enough, a cop pulled the warning-orange sawhorse from the lane in front of Tower Tower; traffic started back up in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.