On to the next chapter…
…the haggard yet hopeful tramp muttered to himself as he stepped out of the refuse pile he’d been napping in. It’s not as if he’d enjoyed the aroma of butter rum banana jockeys as he dozed in the composting glow of the sunlight; no, but he accepted it as hard truth, the result of a reckless decade.
The warning signs had all been there, but he ignored them as one ignores the oddly shaped mole on an acquaintance’s neck, just visible enough to make you hesitate. Is it bigger than last week? Should I say something?
And so it went. If he had any delusions of the likely outcome, they were dashed that night he visited the palm reader. She refused to tell his fortune after his lewd behavior in the parking lot. Yes, he’d been drinking, but who was she to tell him, a fixture in the town lexicon – a legend in his own right, not to tie empty beer cans to all the stray cats’ tails? Who was she to tell him to wear pants under his scratch resistant chaps?
No matter. He didn’t need her to tell him where he was headed. And that was just the thing. He didn’t care. Apathy didn’t consume him like the visceral emotions he remembered from before. It meandered, wandered this way and that, and just when he thought it didn’t matter; that was it.
But today, in this haphazard slumber, he felt something he couldn’t quite make out. He awoke and lay motionless trying not to jostle it out of his drowsy awareness. Was it a dream? It must have been, just a vivid sensation, glancing the edge of REM sleep, that’s all.
No. As he turned and yawned, he brought his hand to his face to rub his squinting eyes, and brushed against the unkempt mat of slowly dreading whiskers.
She hated it when he’d let his beard grow. He told her it was because the team made him do it. Really, he was just trying to tease her, but that was before the accide–
At first he thought he had been sweating, but then he remembered this feeling. A tear slid down his cheek and wet his mangy beard, and then another. After months of sobbing had turned into that invisible pain; after so many conversations with well meaning loved ones that just pressed into his chest, he swore to himself and to God, that he would never feel it again.
Now, 11 dead years later, lying in this decaying filth, the tears began to swell. At first he tried to choke them back, wiping the greasy film from his eyes, but the more he tried to hold back the more violent they became.
He wailed. Now he didn’t care. This was a feeling, a real feeling, after all these years, jealous of those happy- those miserable people, but it wasn’t allowed. This was his punishment; for her.
When he had exhausted his tears, something else took their place. It blanketed him like easing into a warm bath. He didn’t understand it, but in that moment he knew. He knew.
And with that, he pushed himself up, standing in that muck for the last time.