By Paul Lisicky.
“How often were two men in sync when they weren’t worn out or hyped up on drugs? Maybe their good luck had something to do with the fact that the two were wounded.”
A Short Story.
Jake wanted the cop again. If he couldn’t have him, then Jake wanted the guy he was before he was the cop. He wanted the guy who touched his brows and grabbed his shoulders, as the two lay facing each other, eyes too close to stay open. Jake didn’t want to take a break, and the guy didn’t want to take a break. They were in some club, with dark halls and little rooms. How often were two men in sync when they weren’t worn out or hyped up on drugs? Maybe their good luck had something to do with the fact that the two were wounded. At least Jake knew himself to be wounded, so much so that he could only think of himself from some distance. He needed the protective mechanism. How would poor Jake make out it out of the muck after he’d lost his father, his lover, his dog, and his best friend within the span of six months?
Jake stood at the great window of his apartment twenty-one stories above the city. The headlights crept down the expressway in the distance. The power plant wafted clouds from its stacks, and to the left, almost outside of the frame, the refinery flared orange. Jake missed birds, animals, and trees up here, but he wasn’t ready for the earth just yet. Would the cop ever call? In his mind the cop would always be standing before Jake, showing him the bullet wound in the pale skin beneath the hard ridge of the hipbone. It was almost as if the cop were inviting him to put a finger inside it, as he told Jake about the 47 days he’d spent in the coma, the lost weight, the sepsis, the learning to walk again. His need to smoke within minutes of coming to, and waiting for the nurse to leave, then wheeling down the hall, down the elevator, down the hill out back, tubes and contraptions and all, until he took out the cigarette, hands shaking as he struck the match against the cover. He didn’t know then that he didn’t have the strength to wheel back up the hill. He didn’t know then that he’d weep, begging a teenage girl to push him to the back door, and fast. He was still thinking of how the beautiful smoke lit up his head, swirled in his veins like liquid, like a drug, only silver.
Jake listened to this story and more until he forgot himself in the sound of another human voice. For some minutes it didn’t matter that the cop only talked about himself and didn’t comment when Jake had something to share. It didn’t matter—so much—that the cop admitted to throwing his ex through the plate glass window of the bar, thus making sure he’d be banned from the premises for life. And it mattered much less than usual that he referred to one guy as an Asian, or another guy as a Mexican, and yet another as colored. (Colored?) Jake forgot himself in the sound of another human voice. There was the pull of gravity, the pull to the earth, to another human body with scars, track marks, and muscles so dense and tailored that Jake was in awe of them.
They were such old souls.
And yet they weren’t. Jake stood at the window. For a minute the city felt incredibly wild, so wild that he wouldn’t have minded being thrown through the glass, falling from that height, all 21 flights to Pine Street down below. He ran that image again in his head, and he caught himself loving that image a little too much. He stepped back from the window, but not before drawing the blind. Maybe the cop was in some building across the way, watching him reaching up for the cord. He sat down in the chair. He put his arms around his shoulders and held himself down. He held himself there, as only he could.
Paul Lisicky is the author of Lawnboy, Famous Builder, The Burning House, and two forthcoming books: Unbuilt Projects (Four Way, 2012) and The Narrow Door (Graywolf, 2014).