I think fondly upon this one. The three bums, Scary Larry, Red, and Milton are all real; they all hung out on the corner and everyone in the SET (This is what my apartment was known as at the time) frequently talked to them. The whole story takes place in a fictional land (The setting for a compilation with Ben Lilly, which still has yet to spread its wings), however the landscape is all the Sunset district in San Francisco. The lake in the story is a lake in Golden Gate Park which I wrote the story at with my laptop. The office in the story was an abandoned office on top of the then JT’s restaurant. So to say the least this story has a great nostalgia for me. The premise of the story was to play with form and mess with the reader when they’re reading. There are many points where nearly the entire page is word for word a previous page and the imagery gets more and more disjointed as the story progresses. The point was to expand upon and give homage to “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a very short and disturbing story. The kind I like best.
“I had a dream about this room.” I looked about the room, but despite the intimate knowledge I have of it and its inhabitant, I felt odd here. There was something off about the room. Cold ambivalence, amplified by the empty stare of the psychiatrist. I thought mentioning the dream might elicit more of a response from the doctor, but par for the course, all I got was an indifferent nod.
“You,” I said waggling a finger at him “were not in the room,” I looked up at the psychiatrist expectantly, but the doctor was lost in his notebook. I felt a flash of anger, imagining a notebook full of doodles of women with big breasts on far off islands. “It was all empty,” I decided that if the doctor was indeed doing this, at least he was a pair of ears. He was something to talk at, if not necessarily to. Relief abounds through disclosure, even if no one’s listening. “Only the couch where I’m sitting and the picture on the wall.” I raised my hand and pointed at a painting of “The Scream” on the wall. I often mused at the thought of it. How indicative of a psychiatry office to have a painting so disjointed from reality, with a person lost in dark colors, screaming, holding their head in torment of a future horror. It’s something so ingrained in popular culture that you don’t even have to be a connoisseur to recognize it. I think, however, the juxtaposition of fantasy and reality caught so conclusively in the painting, was lost to most. Maybe even the doctor.
“Does that make sense? That painting in my dream? Why would I be here, in this room instead of in my own? Or in the park? And why would there be only this couch and that painting? Is my subconscious trying to tell me something? Am I unhappy with my life and is the screamer is supposed to indicate that I need change? Is that how I feel subconsciously?” I leaned back on the couch as I talked almost forgetting the doctor was sitting across from me; in fact I didn’t even think about stopping, I was on a roll, monologuing my problems out, but when I paused to start a new direction, something about women, about loneliness, the doctor cleared his throat.
I snap my head up to query the doctor. Not a word spoken, but enough was said. Time was up and the doctor would hear no more.
“You know, you could be a little more cordial when I come here. I spend a lot of money on you and all you can do is point at a watch or clear your throat.” I again look expectantly at the doctor, who says nothing, just crosses his legs and smiles, pedantically. “Fair enough. Same time next week I hope? If I’m not boring you too much?”
I chuckle as I walk out of the office. I knew the doctor wouldn’t respond, but it was the kind of therapy I was looking for. I’m not sure if I could handle someone trying to analyze me, silence seems to work best for me and somehow the doctor knows this.
I’d been going there for over a year; long enough to wonder if the doctor could even form a coherent phrase. I felt tired and worn down, like someone is taking a nail file to my soul. I would wake up in the morning and go through the motions, gather the paycheck and pay off another month’s rent. Dire times for the uncertain.
My entire life I’ve dreamt of other places. A day dreamer by trade, retail by necessity. What could be greater, I think, than for a disaster to happen in the world, something catastrophic. A cacophony of whining birds, screaming metal, and moaning people. This would be a place where I wouldn’t have to worry about progress reports and being seven minutes late for work, ducking the boss. This would be a place where I could be a hero. I could lead.
I looked around the intersection when I got to the bottom of the staircase. It’s amazing that a psychiatry practice would be atop a Hawaiian barbeque, however I swear by the results. Since coming here I’ve felt less pressure, less stress and my mind feels more at ease.
Busy intersection. A slight waft of ocean air, the salty breeze with a modicum of fish thrown in for good measure. It always amazes me that living in a city like this there would be such a minimal amount of smog, the ocean air transporting the chemicals across the bay. That breeze did wonders.
I lived three blocks away from my shrink’s office; another reason why it’s so easy to come here. Proximity makes the world go ‘round, but often I feel a longing for farther off. It appeals to my dreamy nature. Dreamers are always travelers, just not necessarily doers.
Ambling down the few blocks was always an adventure. There were four homeless men that live on my block. Two of them, however preferred to be called bums; the differentiation is miniscule to most people, but they laid hints periodically that they had an apartment. I laughed out loud the first time I was told this. I’d been giving the two of them, a tall angular black man named Red and a smaller emaciated vet named Milton, money for years now and when I found out they not only had jobs, but they actually had an apartment together, I was shocked. Almost. It takes a lot to be shocked in this city. They’re an original odd couple. I often ponder what social gatherings would be like at their apartment. Everyone panhandling the next person to walk in the door. If you’re fashionably late you’re broke.
The third bum is a much more annoying individual. Scary Larry as he’s known to the locals. An old short white pederast who blames the world for his psychosis. I often mused when I saw Larry walking down the road in a beat up old suit, as if he was attending a spellbinding rendition of “Cabaret” at the trash can on the left.
Then there’s a fourth, much more sinister character that wanders around aimlessly wearing a beanie down over his eyes, and baggy clothes encapsulating the waif of his body. He’s known to walk around the streets and follow women. There was even a rumor that he had attacked a woman in her own kitchen. Spooky, but it was all part of the area’s charm. Serious, yet playful; sophisticated, yet naïve.
This is my world. This is what I call home. This neighborhood, with its fascinating inhabitants, however, I have a place much more sacred to me than any place I could call home. A place almost as significant as the doctor for the sanity he lends me. A park. They call it “The Skinny” for short, but its real name is Tamskinelli. A quiet park that people frequent, they just pass through. A park where one can be alone with his thoughts. A wonderful place to gain perspective.
Dusk descended upon my neighborhood, placing a red musk on the small mom and pop businesses. Relief washes over me while I take a deep breath, stuff my hands into my pockets and saunter down the three blocks. A comfortable feeling, I know my surroundings, the buildings, the people. I stroll like I have no cares, pushing everything to the back of my head. I had finished work and I didn’t have another shift for 54 hours. I had no other obligations for the evening. Just me alone with my thoughts.
When I got to my corner I saw Red and Milton hanging out in front of my doorstep. A small smile crept across my face; these two were always a riot.
“Fuckin’ lady!” Miltonspits out. “Bitch don’t know what’s good for her. All I did was go up there and ask her for change!” He took a step back and sat down in a rusted old wheelchair with bumper stickers on it. I always wondered why Miltonwent to the trouble of putting those things on there. They don’t seem to make any rational kind of sense. There’s “Baby on board” plastered nearby “Honk if you’re horny” (This one always tickled me. Miltoncornered me on more than one occasion and proceeded to tell me how much he loved pussy) and the ever popular “I EAT SHIT” in big bold letters by the right wheel.
“Whoa, man, cool. Be cool, man. She’s just a lady!” Red was eloquent in this way. His lower jaw jutted out at you when he talked as if he was constantly tying to catch an afternoon drizzle.
“Fucking bitch. I wheeled up to her and was like ‘hey got any change, babe?’ and she turned on me like an eagle and was like…” he raised the pitch of his voice and, strangely enough, does indeed sound like a scorned woman. “’you lazy, lazy man, I saw you walking around, there is nothing wrong with your leg!’” I descended to them and raised my eyebrows inviting conversation. Miltonhad eyes that burrowed inside you. He looked through you rather than at you. Everything was intense withMilton; even if you’re only talking. He had a way of looking at you, as if he were imploring you to like him, which in turn made it hard not to. But there were these times, when the anger had boiled over in his system and he looked like a ravaged tiger ready to spring. As small as he was he didn’t seem like a problem, but if you saw his eyes, a blue and red fusion of hate and anguish, you’d feel his pain, and it’s impossible for you to turn away.
“What you say to her, man?” Red had a way of speaking as if he were both very drunk and stoned at the same time. His cadence was slow and rhythmic and his physiognomy was that of a retarded twelve year old boy. He was, however, as sharp as a knife.
“I says to her, I says, ‘Fuck you lady!’ then I showed her.” Miltongrabbed his pant leg and slowly lifted it as if both Red and I had never before seen the grotesque. His shin actually looked as if someone made a bowl out of it. Three inches deep. It’s a wonder he can stand at all. “And she screamed and went running off, the bitch. I tell ya, people are fucking stupid, the bitch, no idea what the fuck she’s saying, the bitch.” Then Red chimes in with his phlegmatic wisdom.
“Here, man, have a cigarette.” His jaw jut out, bottom teeth showing, but the most caring eyes a person could ever see.
I smile down at Milton and Red. The world is right today. I feel at ease. No more tension built in my shoulders.
I tapped Red on the shoulder and moved past without saying anything.
“Hey, man, you got any cigarettes?” It was Red.
I turn around and look directly at the cigarettes exposed forMilton’s consumption. Red follows the gaze and smiles.
“You know,” Red says with a chuckle. “One for the road.”
“One for the road, right.” I said and popped a cigarette out for Red, pause, then give him two. “One for the road.”
“Hey, alright, man! Take it easy!” Red takes what I like to call Red’s Jazz pose. Right hand outstretched and right foot extended and upturned.
“Night guys.” I say as I enter my building.
Nights were always the worst. Nothing to do but think about what you’ve done during the day. Who you’ve loved and who you’ve hated. It could be a wonderful time if you’re happy, but it isn’t a wonderful time for me. Downtime creates residual restlessness.
I fancied myself an insomniac, though clinically probably no more than a poor sleeper. I didn’t go nights without sleeping, it just took a long time for sleep to take over. It didn’t matter the bed, or the pillow; it didn’t matter what comforter, sleep was always just a hard time coming.
I thought of many things while trying to sleep. I thought of girls and friends, I fantasized of being a hero and saving some baby from a burning building. I dreamt about being a famous writer and traveling the globe, writing my world famous books. I did this while staring at a spider that made my ceiling his roost. I ignored the dust that carpeted my room and webs that encrusted my walls. No point on dwelling on the present when you can be wishing for a future.
I sighed and scanned through the books lined up against my walls. What to read today. I searched through my endless library and decided, that night I didn’t have much attention span. I settled on a short story collection; “Cthulu and other Oddities.” I always had a fancy for the fantastic. Otherworldly thinks appeal to my dreamer nature. I laid down taking note that for the night, thank God; there would be no setting of an alarm clock. I had that freedom. The book cracks open and my eyes scan across the title of the first story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I read it though I didn’t really understand it. I think I fell asleep, but I may be just that disjointed.
Dreams are enigmatic. Short jolty scenes where aberrant images clash. I saw the park, or rather the area of the park I frequent. There’s a lush almost swamp like pond with a clearing complete with a fallen tree trunk carved into a bench; a perfect place to write, nothing but all the time in the world to create.
In the dream, though, this scene wasn’t the serene venue that I wished it to be. The water was like pitch, motionless and menacing. There was a slight breeze in the air, usually indicative of an ocean zephyr. I glance up at the sky expecting the usual opaque navy, and instead it’s scarlet.
I want to keep looking, intrigued by the oddity, wanting to know more, but instead my head whips down to see someone crawling out of the brackish water. It’s a tall man who seems to be impervious to water. It rolls off him as if he were a duck. He’s wearing a red beanie and a black trench coat. I immediately recognize him and thank god I’m not a woman in my kitchen. Strange I seem to understand what’s happening so intrinsically, I wonder how it could be a dream.
He crawled, jerking, up the incline towards me and raised his head. The beanie was pulled down over his face, but I saw his mouth. Teeth big enough to split both lips. I slap my hands to my face and scream. The world fades and lines streak like running paint. I feel wallpaper underneath my fingernails.
I sit up in my bed and the book falls to the floor with a thump. I resolve to stop eating spicy food before bed.
In the morning I decided I must face my fears and my dream. I must go to my spot and contemplate.
The day was windy and gray. My breath burned in my lungs as I pumped my legs on the bike pedals to reach my destination. A cold burn. I feel despondent about my lack of exercise. This shouldn’t be nearly as hard as it seems to be.
Every time I saw the park I’d be amazed. It seemed to have a glow about it. A separation from the downtrodden cobbled neighborhood. It had a resplendent warmth, a golden aura. Just being able to see the park made me more at ease.
I laid my bike down in the grass and trod to my destination, weary of the conjured creatures of my mind. Obviously I was being paranoid, right? Dreams are just dreams, but reality had a terrifying thinness to it; as if the cold I embrace the lucidity of my surroundings. No if this were a dream I wouldn’t be cognizant of the burn in my lungs, which consequently has not receded.
The pond has a light green tint to it, and the bark bench has a soft worn feel to it. I stare down at the spot where the creature ascended in my dream. A frog, nothing more.
I see strange things sometimes. Solid objects wave, like air rippling across water. I mention this now because it’s what the dirt is doing. Previously I have told people of this oddity, thinking it wasn’t abnormal. All people must get this from time to time. Apparently this is not the case. I have been accused of being a burn out. Too much acid they said, but this isn’t the truth. I’ve never done drugs. My perception is too vapid to even try it for fear of it deepening.
I pull my gaze from the quivering dirt and cast my eyes to the houses in the distance. Business as usual. Pause, a car passes. Pause, a car passes. Pause, a car passes. People doing their daily thing, furiously and frivolously going from point to point.
The only divergence I see is through my peripheral vision. A man standing in the shadows of an oak at the precipice of the park. His hand is resting on the trunk and he seems to be looking at me. I try and take a better look at him, but when I peer closer he’s gone. A shadow person.
This is another thing that happens to me periodically. They pop out of the corners of my vision, as if I’m lonely and my subconscious is creating a partner for me to commune with. They’re hardly ever there and when they are it startles them much more than they startle me. I have scared many an elderly lady. Still wonder about drugs?
Goddamn its time to see the doctor again.
I pounce up the stairs and reach his door. Closed and locked. Damn. I stand there for a minute and wonder what good it will do to knock. Chances are he isn’t here, after all I don’t actually have an appointment, however I have come before unannounced. It’ll have to be another day.
Red and Milton are standing in front of my door again. Déjà vu. Routines are done to facilitate memory. It is far easier to remember what you did yesterday if you do it everyday. This is my curse. I try as hard as I can to avoid the mainstream. I work because I have to, but small talk doesn’t ease the mind it collapses it. Right?
Miltonseems better today; he has a big grin on his face, his cheeks wrinkling up around his eyes. I don’t think I could bear talking to them again today. I feel dizzy, probably from riding my bike up a hill, going all the way to the park, but I still don’t feel good.
I jump down from the bike and walk it over past the two vagrants to my house. They notice me, but seem too involved in some kind of conversation, as I pass I turn and wave. This was a mistake.
I run right into someone. Square into his chest, and though he has a small frame he doesn’t move. I turn my head with an apology on my lips and I see Larry. The crazy asshole. And now he has something to yell at me for. Shit.
“You see ‘em too! I seen ‘em on the corner! They sneaky. They hard. They haunt! They always there aint they? Just round the corner! Waitin fer ye! They’ll get ye.” His eyes are on fire. Normally gray now sunsets. Waving bright colors flow like water. His mind is gone.
I was expecting him to scream bloody murder to me. I was expecting to feel a barrage of fists, but no I get the Larry with an eager face, wanton, imploring. It scares me.
“Goddamn it, you need to sleep more.” The same thing I tell myself. “They’re only your imagination, bad food and sleep deprivation.” The same thing I tell myself.
“Naïve, boy! They comin for ye.” I don’t see humanity in his eyes anymore. I’m not sure if I ever had; all I see now is a wall. I see bricks that he has lain throughout the years adding to this persona. The façade became real. Larry as he was, whatever he was, is no more. He is behind that wall. This is what remains. I imagine this is what happens to people when they go crazy; they put themselves behind a wall to protect themselves.
“Good for them.” I hear the disdain in my voice. I hear the anger. It’s not real anger at him though. It’s his mannerisms. They terrify me. They have a swagger of a man who seems to have something so heavy on his conscious that it drags him to hunch. Big waving arms for emphasis on his statements. They terrify me. They remind me of me.
I slip past Larry and ignore his imploring shells that were once eyes and glance back at Red and Milton. They are both looking at me, not at the combination of Larry and I, our little quibble that we always have, but at me. Red lifts his head a little and whispers something to me. I think I understand the concern in his face and the darkness of his eyes. His broken lips wording “be careful.”
Too much. I’ve had too much. I have to go inside. I’m getting loopy, dizzy. I need to sleep. I slam through the doorway and take the steps two at a time, my bike forgotten in the hallway. Forget the bike. Two at a time. I gotta get to sleep. I feel even worse. Everything is spinning, two at a time. Can I take three? It’s getting dark. Two at a time. The front door seems so far away. Two at a time. Two at a time. Two at a time. Door, Room. Bed. Sleep. Déjà vu.
I’ve woken to find that I haven’t slept at all. I feel like I’ve run a marathon. Exausted, lying in bed watching the shadows of a nearby tree snake across my ceiling. I need air; I’m being suffocated, a thick ephemeral haze covering the room. I’ve woken in a cloud.
I feel dizzy and out of sorts. Everything around me almost seems like it may be a dream, as if I’m sleeping now, but I can feel the pins and needles in my right calf. That slow and warm crawl back and forth. Sporadic patterns laced in the leg. I need a walk; fresh air will clear my head. It’s too muggy in this apartment. Its suffocates you to sleep it doesn’t lull you.
I sit and collect my thoughts with my head in my hands. I can’t do it. I feel crazy, shaken, buzzed, except I have a cognizance of my actions. I stand and sway making my way towards the door, rubbing my forehead. I feel slimy, greasy, coated in a sheen of Crisco. The more I wipe the dirtier I seem to get. I can’t believe I’m walking outside like this.
Outside I near the park. The air helps, I feel a bit sharper. However I can never go back inside, I couldn’t stand the claustrophobia. Tight lungs desperately stretching to try and get air. A burning sensation.
There are Shades here. Shadow people; peering from behind trees, out lines, shapes. If I was alone on the road I’d be scared, with people here I know that they’ll stay there. At the edges. Irrational thoughts for sure. Who wouldn’t? What would you think if you saw people at the edge of your vision? So what if you knew they weren’t real. What if one time, one was?
There is so much clean air in the woods. I think maybe I could take a nap out here. I must be tired. That’s why the Shadow people are coming out. That’s why they’re creeping so close. I thought I had slept. Did I sleep? Did I dream the whole thing? I thought I slept. Maybe it was a day dream. How sad, daydreaming about dreaming.
Clean air. I can breathe out here; full of oxygen, moving the toxins out.
I need to go to the doctor.
They pump oxygen into casinos to keep people awake. Keep their senses clear, so they could gamble longer. I can’t sleep out here.
A shadow person just ran across the field ahead. Am I dreaming? Wait where did everyone go?
There’s another one.
I thought people were around? Oh, I’m dizzy. Another one.
Am I dreaming? Or are they real? Another one.
It’s getting dark. No my eyes closed. Another one. Maybe the fresh air is working.
I wake into a dream. I’m still in the park. No shadow people around now. Is it a dream? I just lay down. Feels like a dream. Feels warm. The park at night is not warm. I must be sleeping! The walk worked.
“Ya must run now. It won’t take ‘em long. They’s found ya tonight. Ye best be careful.” Behind me.
I turn into Larry. With him standing in front of me. He smiles at me; winking. Oh, it’s getting dark again. Or…
No my eyes were closed. I’m still in the park. I feel agoraphobic. I have to get inside.
I need to see the doctor.
In the street I see a man. He looks angry.
“Psychotic punk! Did you think you could get away with it?”
Is he talking to me? He isn’t looking at me.
“Pull that wallet out! I know you have a knife! Where’s the gun?!”
He grabs my hands; pulls them to his chest. What the hell?
“You fucked my wife! Drug addict! Pilferer!”
Why won’t he let go of me?
“Let go of me!”
He looks crazy!
“You’re holding on to me!”
I’ve very confused.
“Leave me ALONE!”
He screams like a woman.
I let go and he runs away. I shake my hands and…it’s getting dark. Again.
I wake on the street. I’m clothed and walking. I’m not wearing the same thing I was before. Different clothes, different day I guess. I see Red and Milton in front of my house.
Miltonseems better today; he has a big grin on his face, his cheeks wrinkling up around his eyes. I don’t think I could bear talking to them again today. I feel dizzy, probably from riding my bike up a hill, going all the way to the park, but I still don’t feel good.
Wait, did I ride my bike today?
I see the guy from my dream in the distance. He’s wearing different clothes too. Different clothes different day. It’s a gray hoodie with a black beanie this time. He’s following a girl too. I make a step towards them and I see Red out of the corner of my eye. He’s trying to tell me something. I squint my eyes. His lips create the words “be careful.” I frown and look back to the guy from my dreams.
He’s close to her now. He’s walking fast and she looks worried. I try to move toward them, but I’m dizzy. I see her reach into her pockets, I presume keys. Get the keys. His hands pull out of his pockets. Get the keys. His nails are long, ugly. Dirty. Get the keys. How can she pause? Get the keys! It’s getting so dark. GET THE KEYS! He’s a demon! Grab. The. Keys!
Too slow. He took her. Jumped over her shoulders. Nails digging into her shoulders. Those teeth. Big enough to split both lips. They bite. Tearing and ripping. She screams. She never got the keys. Its so dark. I see people walking towards me through the darkness. Shadow people I know. I can see them clearly. A hand on my shoulder. I turn and see Red standing there. He looks sad, but I’m so dizzy. A hand on shoulder. I turn and see Red standing there. He looks sad, but I’m so dizzy. A hand on shoulder. I turn and see Red standing there. He looks sad, but I’m so dizzy. Hand on shoulder. “Be careful.” Déjà vu.
I find myself in the doctor’s office. It’s cold. I think one of the windows is broken. What day is it?
“What day is it?” He looks at me and shakes his head. I think of the park. The skinny they call it. The skinny. There is a glow there. It’s a glow of gold. It feels good there. Feels thin. “Why am I here today? Did you agree to meet me?”
The doctor shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head. He’s skinny. He’s thin. He seems familiar. Déjà vu.
“Why the scream? Am I screaming?” The painting. Paint. Scream.
His hands go to his face. Screaming. Thin. He’s paint. He’s running. The paint, leaking. The room is bare. No scream, no doctor. Why am I here? I need the park. It’s getting so dark. All the time. Must be winter. When do I work? Friday. I like Friday. It’s skinny. Oh, yeah the park.
It’s cold here. I can only see through a pinhole. Shadow people blur the vision. They’re so close. Do I have keys? I NEED TO GRAB MY KEYS! Déjà vu.
I rip the doctor off the wall. The painting. The Scream off the wall. It’s too much. How could you put that in a doctors office? I feel something under my fingernails. Yellow wallpaper. Déjà vu.
The pond. I look to my pond. It’s so cold. I look in my pond. I see myself crawling out of it. Déjà vu. I wear a red beanie and my teeth split my lips. I crawl into it. The pond is skinny. I reach the bottom fast.
The bottom is the doctors office. I see the scream on the wall. The doctor is too. Screaming. It’s so dark. Déjà vu.
Larry entered the room with a wide eyed expectancy. He was being followed by a shadow person. He felt the shadow person pulling at his brain, stretching his sanity like taffy. The room was cold and dark, soap covering the windows.
The room was bare, nothing covering the walls, not even wall paper, only a dingy brown mold. The hardwood floors were pulled up at points leaving small protrusions that were perfect for stubbing a toe.
A stiff breeze flew into the room and Larry shivered when he saw the man lying over in the corner. He was curled up into a ball with a red pool surrounding him. The window was smashed in, glass sprayed everywhere. The man had a piece of glass grasped firmly in his right hand. Larry took note that his fingernails were either bent back or torn off, he had been digging in the walls.
Larry shook his head and turned back to the door. He saw the gouges next to the door on the wall. Deep and with blood spattered periodically within.
Larry respected the man, he had seen the shadow people, he had run from the shadow people and now he had stood up to them. He had fought.
People around the neighborhood called him Scary Larry, people thought he was crazy. They were afraid of him, but there was something that the people around the neighborhood didn’t know about, something they would be much more scared about.
The shadow people. They came from the park. They took this man. They had been coming for him for years. He just knew how to run. He moved past the gouges in the walls and out the door to the old office. It amazed him that no one ever saw the man going up the stairs. Maybe they did. Maybe they didn’t care. Maybe they thought he was crazy. Just another bum.
Larry reached the bottom of the staircase and saw light traffic at the intersection. Two shadow people, one on his right periphery and one on the left. Time to run.