I forgot the sky got dark early in October and the wind moaned like a beaten animal.
I felt guilty for the homeless people who would not be sheltered tonight, or the men in bars who pondered over their wives who made bread from scratch and married them for their wedding rings and their beer bellies and their families who adopted children for money who couldn’t remember their names the day they came home from the adoption agency.
I cannot face my relationships without harboring guilt.
It was one of my confessions.
I sat in the rocking chair late one night in October, watching the wind whipping through the trees and hearing the wind moan in the corner of my ear. The day had gone by swiftly, like a pigeon soaring through the air, and the darkness was thrust upon me without warning and it felt like being in the middle of the universe, always spinning out of reach, always spinning past me. I forgot when it got dark in October, October was the month when they updated the book rack at the pharmacy and I liked to go down there and read through the titles, old paperbacks by Danielle Steele and Stephen King and names I’ve never heard of and sometimes I bought the ones that cost only ten cents, not any more or less. October was a strange month. It wasn’t even tax season. I didn’t know what to do with myself in October. It was a perpetual cold that went down, down, down, to my feet and past my ankles, but no one was ever there to warm me. My family lived in Florida and my ex-wife, Anne, was living with a man named Michael somewhere in New York, where Malcolm X was toiling in his grave. I didn’t like to give out Halloween candy. Most children were brought up poorly like all my old school friends who forgot me and left me for dead, who took jobs at factories and movie theaters instead of having careers, who married women named Heather and Brooke and Caitlin-I always hated that name-and left me off their wedding list.
I used to have a career.
I was a journalist and worked in Great Britain and England and got fired over an article I had written back in ’07. I got Social Security, now; sometimes I write short stories for the local magazines and made fifty bucks which didn’t cover any of my expenses except beer and old wine. I lived in an apartment outside of Brooklyn and there was nothing to do here except smoke cigars and leaf through porno magazines and wait for the mail to come. I never got anything interesting except a Medicaid card every month and an occasional check for my writing.
I started novels and discarded them after thirty pages, it’s hard to write something when everyone told you that you’re a huge failure and your life is nothing but misery. Sometimes I wondered what everyone else’s life is like until I realized they’re all idiots and I have nothing in common with them except some of us share the same zip code. My grandfather used to own a farm. The farm was torn down in ’93 after he died and he left me the money in his will.
I was his only living heir, besides my great-aunt Harriet who lived down south somewhere in some nursing home.
I haven’t seen her in years, not since the birthday party of ’99 that only housed me, all of her senior citizen friends, and about a dozen cats and red and green balloons and a chocolate cake.
I only came for the cake. It was Saturday and I went downtown to the supermarket and wandered up and down the aisles, getting the food I needed. Apples, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, bread, cheese, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and, of course, coffee and beer.
I couldn’t live without beer. The cashier was a young woman in her twenties with flaming red hair and blue eyes and she smacked her gum and spoke in an Illinois accent and I left the store and went back home and spent all day dozing in the rocking chair by the window.
The next morning there was a package waiting for me on the front stoop and I bent over and picked it up and realized it was addressed to my ex wife, Annie. Last time I talked to her she threw a hair dryer at my head and I almost got a concussion. I brought the package inside and unwrapped it-it was my mail after all-and a catalog for wedding cakes fell out.
The magazine was from ’98, quite a few years back. I wondered why it took so long to get here. She had a different last name now. It was Johnson, I think. Or Jones. I wasn’t sure.
Couldn’t remember. Didn’t know if I wanted to.
“I don’t want to have to give this to my ex,” I muttered, and, shaking my head, I threw it on the kitchen table and went to sleep.
The next day the catalog was still sitting on the kitchen table. I haven’t thought about weddings until now. Weddings. All my friends were married off and my wedding was small and simple with thirty of my close friends and relatives. We had a white cake with pink frosting and we didn’t add the plastic bride and groom on the top for fear of it giving us bad luck-maybe we should have added the bride and groom. Maybe we’d still be together. And maybe pigs could fly.
Hey, that wasn’t such a bad idea.
I snorted. Not a bad idea at all.
I needed to get out more.
I traced my fingers over my ex’s name and put it down. Picked it up again. Apparently, I thought cake catalogs were quite fascinating. I hardly had any money in the bank. I didn’t know anything about weddings; Anne hired a wedding planner for ours.
She didn’t know how to plan them, either.
We were thirty at the time, which was a little old for most couples to be getting married but it worked wonders for us. I missed being married. I didn’t miss Anne. Who am I kidding? I missed Anne. I missed the sex. It wasn’t that bad. I hoped I had been good for her. I hoped Michael had a small dick. I hoped he was gay. I hoped he would find his long lost uncle and move to Mexico. I put on my jacket and went down the street to Sarah Ferguson’s Cemetery. Sarah Ferguson’s Cemetery was a cemetery my grandfather built for the family.
Three generations of Harrison’s had there final resting place in this cemetery. My resting place, most certainly.
I haven’t made up my will. I was only fifty-seven. It wasn’t my time to go yet. It wouldn’t be for awhile. I hoped. The doctor said my heart was tick-ticking away, like some great big clock. The cemetery was very peaceful. Some of the tombstones were old.
Very old. Or quite old or not nearly as old. I liked the ones that looked like they were from some ancient Old West cemetery with cowboys and Indians and the skull of buffalo. I imagined bones that littered the place. I imagined ghosts.
“Right, Max,” I snorted, shaking my head. “No ghosts live here.” I had to stop buying mysteries at the pharmacy. They had other good books, too.
I stumbled over the tombstones to reach my grandfather’s.
I leaned forward to read it: Scotty F. Fitzgerald, 1924-1999. Loving husband and devoted father and grandfather.
Someone left a rose on his grave.
It wasn’t me.
I stared at the flower for a long moment. A twig snapped from somewhere behind me, and I turned, somewhat irritated, expecting a ghost to sprint out at me at this very moment.
No one was in sight.
Which made me wonder where the flowers came from.
I took a piece of paper from my pocket and a pencil and put the paper over the letters and shaded the letters on my piece of paper. I missed my grandfather so much I could hardly breathe, but there was no one to talk to, and a psychologist cost too much for me to afford one. I had Medicare. I didn’t want to be a bother.
I put the piece of paper in my pocket and snuck away, hoping I wouldn’t disturb the dead.