Today, the necrophiles infested. Swagged in striped pajamas, they swarmed through the cemetery border, buzzing for decomposed flesh. I watched, attempting to dig my lack-of-fingernails underneath a plum’s sticker. Forty-seven cents poorly spent.
Opium smoke trailed their loops, echoed their paths; their bodies ricocheted—mad for the grave, the tombstone, the headstone, back again—to muddle the mud, to ravage the dirt.
I continued my war with the plum sticker branded 67493. Its elasticity succumbed to my fingers’ force, leaving a bit of white paper residue. I stared at it. I blinked. I haussed les épaules. I bit into the plum. It was unsatisfactory in terms of taste but satisfactory in terms of hunger. I haussed les épaules again.
The necrophilic swarm moved closer to my general area and thus I moved away, as I didn’t feel like dealing with lonely fetishtic freaks (and they were too focused on their... mission... to eat much and too focused on their... mission... to smoke so there was nothing I could burn from them, either, even though I’m not a bumming fan, but they, in essence, bum from dead people so I may as well bum from them—maybe it’s just the food chain and the cycle of life... and death).
They continued to advance. I continued to retreat. They advanced towards the graves under the pear trees and I retreated towards the lake. The bugs clicked and clacked. I listened. The bugs were annoying. I covered my ears with my tarpaulin fragment, sticking out my tongue to collect the rainwater that dribbled down the side of the plastic.
An S-shaped gash traced the arc of my foot. My finger traced the S-shape gash that traced the arc of my foot. It stung. It tingled. It numbed. I didn’t miss many things. Actually, I missed lots of things. Like running water and the cat. But you can compensate for those things with city sprinklers and rabid squirrels. And you can pass time by making shapes out of paper receipts. I wanted shoes, though. I wanted sneakers and boots. Out of everything solid and universal, never take your shoes for granted. I tell that to people sometimes. They laugh.
People laugh often. People ask me questions like, “Why are you here?”
I don’t say much because I don’t like explaining much especially to strangers because even though my physical self is available to the public eye, that doesn’t mean the public is able to peel my physical self away to reveal whatever’s underneath. I’m not a plum.
I often respond with, “I don’t believe in houses. They’re bad for nature.” My response doesn’t ring true with my philosophy one bit, but it often scares people away because they think I’m some insane flower man when really I see more water bottles than blades of grass and I breathe in more exhaust than I do air and I know there is nothing to be done but as long as people who treat me like a homo sapien rather than a homo sapien SAPIEN go away and stop distracting my spiraling thought trolleys, I’m okay.
I kind of like when the “bad for nature” things disturb my thoughts. But not humans. Not homo sapiens sapiens. But maybe their creations, like airplanes. Sometimes I climb a nearby hill from where I can see the city airport. Watch the planes. Read newspaper clippings about miraculous pilots. Read newspaper clippings about not-so-miraculous pilots.
Something surged and bounced off the side of my head. It was a travel-sized bottle of mouthwash. Empty, but the dregs remained. I looked in the direction from which it came. A group of fellow homo sapiens sapiens commonly regarded as merely homo sapiens was approaching. I hid my tarpaulin. They always want something. They just beg and beg and beg. They don’t care much about authority because the authority within the homo sapiens sapiens regarded as homo sapiens is usually under the jurisdiction of the homo sapiens sapiens regarded as homo sapiens themselves because the homo sapiens sapiens pretend to care but they really don’t. Maybe they shouldn’t care because this is America and Americans have opportunities and we, the homo sapiens sapiens regarded as homo sapiens, are all city rats who say stupid things, like, “I don’t believe in houses. They’re bad for nature,” and maybe we carved our own paths with things like criminal records and bad relationships and maybe some of us need to go to an asylum but so do some rich suburban housewives all drugged up on nose candy. But at least we aren’t necrophiles! (Or maybe I shouldn’t make assumptions so quickly…)
“I am The Homeless Man,” the man in front introduced himself. His eyes were dark, his beard white, his torso strong. He was shorter than I.
“The Homeless Man?” I smirked. I didn’t know why he had come here and what he wanted of me. At least he hadn’t tried to steal my tarpaulin.
The men and women surrounding him were decrepit and grimy. Some looked half asleep. Others could barely contain their agitated movements. Some carried sleeping bags. One was smoking a cigarette. Another was drinking what looked like dirty lake water out of a Pepsi bottle. Or maybe it was booze. You never know.
The Homeless Man stepped towards me. “Yes.” He smirked back. “The Homeless Man.”
My smirk disappeared. “What makes you The Homeless Man? What about the rest who surround you? Is there a The Homeless Woman? What does that make me?”
“I am. It is me, not them. Our goal is not to reproduce. You are a man who happens to be homeless, aside from that tarpaulin you hid.” His eyes trailed over to my tarpaulin which I had concealed under a cover of dismounted lily pads, dirt, and dead leaves. “But don’t worry; we aren’t going to steal your damn tarpaulin.”
“What do you want then?” What would The Homeless Man want if it weren’t one of my few resources?
“To set it straight.”
“To set what straight?”
The bums around him cackled, revealing gaps in their teeth.
“Among us,” The Homeless Man started, “you may not rest, you may not sleep, unless you find someone to rest with, to sleep next to.”
“Look at me. I have Bethany.”
The Homeless Man clutched Bethany’s elbow. Bethany clutched The Homeless Man’s wrist. The Homeless Man clutched Bethany’s shoulder. Bethany clutched the Homeless Man’s ear. The Homeless Man clutched Bethany’s chin. Etc.
“I still don’t get it.” An airplane flew overhead. It was descending for landing. I followed it with my eyes, watching it get larger as it became closer to Earth.
“There’s nothing to get.” The Homeless Man stared in the direction of the airplane, his eyes following something, like the plane was still there. “Just do. Find someone.”
“Anyone. Just don’t end up like Nino.” The Homeless Man motioned towards a sallow ginger. He was shirtless and every visible bone on his body protruded.
Nino crouched on the cemetery path. His hands strangled the gut of a bottle of booze. Raising the bottle to his lips, he let out a shrill f-sharp and beat the bottle against the concrete below. Glass kernels erupted, surrounding him. “No!” he tugged at his own hair. “I just want to make music! Let me make music!” Nino extracted another bottle—this time, bourbon—from his canvas supermarket bag. Repeat.
I stared. Except he wasn’t the airplane; he wasn’t going away.
“Okay. I will. I will find someone to sleep next to. It’s lonely here, anyway.”
“Yes. Or else.” The Homeless Man turned away. “You have three days.” He disappeared alongside Bethany, Bethany alongside him. The rest in twos, woman and man, man and woman, man and man, woman and woman—it didn’t matter.
As long as they were in twos.
I walked past Nino. As his f-sharp pierced the air, a shard of glass pierced my foot. I missed shoes. I missed sneakers and boots. But I kept walking.
As I passed a trash bin—public, of course—I spotted a cake, encased in plastic. It said “Happy Birthday, Fi-” and the rest was cut off by a slice. I picked it up out of the trash can, set it down in front of a tombstone, and dug in, wondering and failing to come to any conclusion on whom to ask. I didn’t know anyone anymore. I didn’t talk to anyone anymore. My old life booted me out and my new life didn’t even give me the guest bed; instead, I sat eating discarded cake with my hands in the middle of a cemetery and hiding from necrophiles.
And even if I did think of someone, how would I contact them? It’s difficult to get places without shoes. Phones cost money. It’s difficult to find money without shoes. Addresses and numbers fade from memory, anyway. People fade from memory. You fade from people’s memories. I don’t know if anything’s ever gone, though.
Martha would hate me. Martha already hated me. Martha didn’t always hate me, though, so maybe I should call Martha. As long as she doesn’t write “FUCK YOU!” on a plate in ketchup again and throw it at me. She could have at least used Sharpie or something, so the marking stayed, but I guess it didn’t matter anyway because she broke the plate and managed to get ketchup all over my shirt. I looked at the cake. At least she didn’t throw a cake at me. Better waste ketchup than waste cake. And then I’d get frosting and cake all over me. At least ketchup looks like blood so perhaps I looked like a man emerging from a stabbing war rather than someone who worked as a clown at children’s parties. I use the ketchup-stained shirt as a bandana now. It still has the blood effect. I don’t tell people it’s actually ketchup because I’m an asshole and my Martha liked to throw things at me for being said asshole.
But once you’ve become so detached from your life, there isn’t much left to lose. Especially because my new life didn’t consist of anything and my old life wasn’t my life so why not call Martha? Maybe she missed having someone to throw things at. And we had good times, going to the zoo and feeding the zebras, back when I could afford to be selfless and all.
I slicked back my hair, which had grown disgustingly long, and headed towards the nearest corner store. If I used my quarter to buy one of the peanut butter cups at the counter, they’d probably let me use the phone. If only pay phones still existed. Or if only I had a cellphone (although once I ran across a fellow homo sapien sapien regarded as a homo sapien with a smart phone which made me think that he was pretending to be a homo sapien sapien regarded as a homo sapien and I subsequently wondered who the hell would ever do that and concluded that he was insane and should head to the asylum with the rich suburban housewives who attempt to solve their problems with nose candy).
To my satisfaction, the convenience store manager lent me his cell phone after my peanut butter cup purchase. At which point I realized I probably could have asked anybody in the street for his or her cell phone without purging myself of a sacred quarter, but, at the same time, I didn’t want to be a bum. I could be a bum around the necrophiles, because, above anyone, THEY should be in the asylum.
The number came naturally when I had to dial it; my fingers, as dirty as they were now, knew the pattern without hesitation. Too many rings. I thought she wasn’t going to pick up. She picked up.
“Hello?” her voice made me lose my balance a bit.
“No.” She recognized my voice immediately.
“You have a daughter, by the way.”
“What? Yes. I have a daughter.”
I knew I had a daughter but I didn’t really know I had a daughter and I didn’t remember I had a daughter which is an awful thing to say but she went to her aunt’s house all the time because Martha didn’t want to deal with her especially when Martha was throwing plates with “FUCK YOU” scribbled in ketchup at me. I don’t remember my daughter’s real name but I called her Goldie because she always brought back a gold balloon from her aunt’s house and she always came back with a different non-permanent bodily modification like blue hair or a fake tattoo of a lamp and my biggest question was who wouldever elect to get a fake tattoo of a lamp? And I believed that Martha’s sister was doing weird things to her and corrupting her mind, so one day I took her away from everything and took her to the Boardwalk and bought her a snow cone when I had more quarters than one. She said she never wanted to eat anything else again. Only snow cones.
I missed Goldie and I didn’t miss Martha because Martha was a ketchup-covered-plate-throwing bitch despite all the times I fulfilled her requests to play stupid Leonard Cohen songs for her when I secretly hated Leonard Cohen.
So there I was, at the convenience store across from the cemetery, my main hangout place (despite the weird necrophiles), stupidly standing on the cool tile in bare feet with an unwrapped peanut butter cup in one hand and a random corner store manager’s cell phone in the other after being rejected (again) by my wife with whom I hadn’t spoken in years because The Homeless Man told me I need to find someone to complete me so I don’t turn into another Nino and for other strange-The-Homeless-Man intentions that were probably there but he wasn’t telling me.
I paced up and down the aisles, letting my eyes run over the multiple varieties of peanuts and gum, still holding my peanut butter cup and the manager’s cell phone while the manager glared at me but didn’t say anything. But his lack of communication may have been mainly due to the fact that he didn’t seem to speak any English. Oh well. I wasn’t going to steal his cell phone. I would take a cemetery over prison any day, even though he was probably an illegal resident considering he was treating me like a homo sapien sapien rather than creating commotion. Or he just had a good heart. Or both.
I didn’t care. I called Martha again. I was still wearing a ring and a ketchup-stained bandana and she wasn’t fair and I had every right in the world to call her because, as far as I knew, we were still legally bound and there were no restraining orders because she could never afford anything like that and I never touched her. She just threw things at me. Too bad she didn’t throw shoes at me when she kicked me out for the last time.
The manager continued to stare at me as I pressed the phone against my ear, listening to the ring.
“Hello?” It wasn’t Martha this time. I didn’t recognize this voice. But I knew who it was.
“Goldie... Martha’s daughter.”
“My name isn’t Goldie.”
I paused. I didn’t know my own daughter’s name. I didn’t know my own daughter’s name. The fact that I didn’t know my own daughter’s name had occurred to me before, but everything bad about the fact that I didn’t know my own daughter’s name did not. I didn’t know what to say. I had no idea what to say. And then it came to me, easily, naturally.
“Remember the snowcones?”
“Wha—” Goldie breathed in deep. She paused. “...oh. Yup. Hi.”
And I knew.
“I’m around the cemetery sometimes.”
“It’s pretty there.”
It was Goldie. Goldie was the one. Goldie was the one who had to fill the void that The Homeless Man described. Not Martha. Goldie. It was Goldie. Goldie!
Not much else happened in the conversation. I went back to the cemetery. I ate my peanut butter cup. It filled me up for the rest of the day. The Earth rotated the clouds away. The sky turned a bit pink.
A tap on the shoulder. Goldie. I knew it. With snowcones.
“I met a man,” she started. “He called himself ‘The Homeless Man’... he wanted—”
I looked at Goldie. I couldn’t.
I sprinkled dirt on myself, covered myself in leaves. Goldie stared.
“I’m sorry.” I plunged into the lake.