A few weeks back, I announced that a story blog project would be coming to Team Hellions and the time has come!
Welcome to The One Word Story Project!
The first story up is mine, entitled “Home is Where the Haunting Is.” The word I chose was epicedium, which is a funeral dirge. Building upon that, I wrote a story about a man haunted by his divorce and the songs that his ex wife used to sing in the shower.
This story has two main inspirations. The first being ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens. Granted, this story doesn’t have a happy ending, but you’ll find an exploration of how much we haunt ourselves. The second inspiration for this story is a song by Jason Isbell called “The Songs That She Sang in the Shower.” It’s a heartbreaking ballad and one of my favorite Isbell tracks.
A fair warning, this story is a bit explicit, more PG-13ish than R, but be prepared and I hope you enjoy “Home is Where the Haunting Is.”
I got the sleep number bed in the divorce: an object so unsexy you can’t even visualize your grandparents partaking in mutual masturbation on it. At 45 and doomed to bachelorhood for the foreseeable future, I tend to wonder if the bitch gave it to me on purposes. Gifted to me. The card would read: “here you go ya old fuck. Try getting laid on this.” Bitch
We were in love once. I’m sure that everybody who’s gone through a divorce was in love at one point in their life. I thought it was love at first sight, white lightning. As fierce a storm as there ever was. In the beginning, there were dates, and amorousness, movies and books and albums. The things that normal, average couples bond over. Blessed objects like Journey’s Greatest Hits, even if it did have “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” on it. That song represents the end of all relationships. By the end of it, you just wish you had enough space between the two of you. Maybe that’s just the married me talking. Sorry, the formerly married me.
The love started to go seven years in. By then, we’d bought and read the scriptures of “The Ideal Marriage” that exists inside our own heads. If your significant other’s manual is written by someone completely different than yours, chances are this ride will come to an end pretty quickly. At first, it was the bickering. Then the bickering grew into full blown fights. At times, I’d picture the children we never had, sitting at the top of the stairs with pale, languid faces. When our fake children would become vapid in my head, I’d shut myself up, leave the room, and pick up where I left off on the book I’d been reading. She’d go throw on some vinyl and try to find her soul in the grooves again. Or maybe all those songs were epicediums. I could hear the mumbled vibrations of songs like “God Only Knows,” “Fearless Heart,” and Stone Temple Pilot’s “Big Empty.” That one always hit me hardest.
Things swirled out of control from there. Separate beds, worlds apart. My strictures went from cute to vile. Eye contact went from faces to floors. If we were the victims of time, nobody told us.
Sleep numbers were that last, vital hope to keep us alive. It was working for a while. We slept soundly, a clear line of comfort zones was established. If you’ve never had sex on a sleep number bed, don’t. It’s a game of passion vs. precision. When you’re in the throws, you’re not thinking of your sleep number. And if you’re used to your number, then you’re used to your fucking number! The first, and only time, we ever made the beast with two backs on it, it looked more like two germaphobes with passion stuck on repeat in a gas station bathroom. The kind of bathroom that’s located on the side of the building.
After that, we just kind of stopped talking. Floated instead of swam. She found someone else. He had money. She had the will to spend it. She also had papers for me, and for the longest time I resisted, like a child to cough syrup. In a last ditch effort, she invited me over to dick-pic’s place (Found out she cheated on me, because of a penis that wasn’t mine on her phone), to booze me up into signing them. And did I? Of course I did. Maybe I was just tired of it all. Maybe I was just too drunk and mollified to care. I signed, with a signature that looked like I had had a full on stroke. But, sober, I wouldn’t dispute it. Later, she texted and told me it took thirteen. Well played.
Today, I’m looking at, potentially, my new home. I’m standing in it, with a verbose woman who is young enough to be my daughter. Aside from loose lips, her skirt came down to just above the knees. Her legs beyond resembled the smooth sheen of a brand new wax candle. Her white shirt was freshly ironed, the jacket she wore over it looked too new. Her demeanor matched her hair, an alluring fire and her eyes were like green fields.
And I did that thing that all guys do: I wondered what she was like in the sack. The most shallow thing I could think of. A standard of many men when they meet someone of the opposite sex for the first time.
Shrugging off the thought, she leads me to the living room. It’s pellucid, despite having deep, dark wood flooring and darker, creamier paint on the walls. Her mouth flows like the Mississippi, and I can only pick out random facts while I look around: “…built in 1928…” “…Numerous previous owners….” “… bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms…”
As the verbose Realtor drones on in vertiginous fashion, my head falls to the floors. Not a scratch adorns it. Odd for such an old house. I damn that river and ask, “are these new floors?”
She stops in her tracks, like she’s never been interrupted before. “Oh, no. They’re original to the house.”
And she continues on.
“It just seems strange that they’re in such perfect condition.” I add, bending closer, looking at the old man in the mirrored surface.
Ms. Verbose stumbles. “Well, hmm, I guess the past owners have done well to keep them looking new. Moving on.”
She leads me to the second floor. The stairs look equally as fresh and opulent, a lighter wood and wall leading up to where the “… bedrooms” are. The first is a nice size, with newer looking carpet and single window. A square that requires imagination. The second looks similar to the first, only slightly bigger, slightly brighter. The master bedroom is a beast all it’s own. Large space, high ceilings, a master bath bigger than the other one and a half in the house. Tub, shower, a Sistine vanity. Everything looks updated and new.
In the walk-in, I walk the entire interior space. I lose her voice entirely contemplating the enormity of the space, and how much is going to be left over when all my clothes are hung up and the shoes placed on the shelf at the end of its short hall. Turning around a second time, toward the entrance, a small, beautifully presented phrase stands out on the wall. Beneath an upper shelf and a long, metal dowel used to hold clothes, it reads simply, “home is where the haunting is.” I lower myself to a squatting position at first, then kneeling. My hands touch the words and I gaze at them with the same kind of amazement that the people who discovered the cave drawings at Lascaux, France must have had. They look as if they were purchased at Target in the cheap decor section with stylish paintings and wall decorations. Running my hand along them, though, there’s no edge I can feel that would indicate they were stuck on. Were they scrawled by some beautiful arm?
Noticing my fascination with them, she inches closer to me. “There’s still more house to see here. Come on. I need to show you the basement.”
Looking up, I’m able to see underneath her skirt and can see the pinkness of her panties. For a moment, she can see that I can see. Her face turns a similar shade of pink, then red. Her facial expression is slightly stern, but changes, relaxes. She reaches down to help me up. “Come on. Like I said, you need to see the basement.”
The basement is finished with wood floors and walls. There is another bedroom down here and a bed, as if a squatter were living here. She leads me over to it and we sit. It’s warm despite a chill in the air.
“So, what do you think? Great place, right?” She asks.
“Yeah, it’s great, but what’s with those words in the closet. Why are…” She cuts me off by placing her hand on mine.
“I think it would be perfect for you. Great bones. Great age. And the price. It’s such a great place for the price.” She moves my hand to her leg and inches closer.
My leg begins to shake a little, growing in intensity, like a young boy sitting class with testosterone to work off. “Yeah it, uh, certainly is. But about those, uh…”
My hand is led up her skirt. I can feel just past the knee, then to thigh.
“I think you’d be perfect for this place.” My hand moves further, touching even thicker skin. “Don’t you think?” She adds with a sexy intonation.
“Yeah, I think I would.”
This is the first woman I have touched since my wife, since my divorce. It feels so nice to touch flesh again. Her hand moves mine one more time and I can feel cloth, slightly moist. I think this is nice. I think that this is right. Then I think of all the arguments my unborn children heard at the top of the stairs all those times my ex and I fought. I think how she’s young enough to be my daughter. I think about that unsexy stupid Sleep Number bed. Would she be turned on if she saw that my sleep number was 69? Fuck, that is incredibly stupid. Fuck, fuck, oh God! My sleep number is 52! How pathetic am I right now?
Before the reigns are handed to me, before I can even take over, I pull my hand away.
“Yeah, you know, I’ll take it.” I rush upstairs to my new living room, feeling stupid and afraid to look back at her expression.
She comes back upstairs five minutes later, and I can only wonder what took her so long.
The move in occurs over the two coldest days in February. Most of the furniture is old, like the house, but well preserved. Wooden. From the local furniture shops in the town. I intentionally avoided stores with letters like I-K-E-A in their names. In other words, I avoided soulless furniture.
I converted the living room into a study. The bones are there, as numerous shelves line the walls, meant for something intelligent, not to be replaced with a mindless box that brought forth passive resistance. When we went our separate ways, she got the vinyl, I got the books. Many have gone unread, subject to the big empty.
Plucking a book from the shelf, the weightiest tome I own is Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. A book full of so much genius, it’s practically puking at the seems. It’s the kind of book that hipsters write essays about sleeping with. I hold it for a moment in my hands, looking at the cloudy, blue sky on the cover. The orange and black letters almost absorbed into the menagerie of sky.
My reading chair occupies a small space in the middle of the room, a tall lamp to it’s right covered in brass and wears a green shade. On the left, like a dorm room, is a tiny fridge stocked with Bud Light – my philosophy on books over the past few years being that they read better with beer in the belly. Twisting the first bottle cap, the redolence of the alcohol mixed with the smell of old pages puts me into a comfort zone. The sharp, precise sentences carry a kind of tightness that makes the beer easier to swallow. Around page eight, I begin to notice a change in the taste. On page ten, my tongue makes contact with a wad of paper, unmistakable.
I raise my beer to the lamp light, swirling amongst it is a bit of paper caught in a water spout like spiral. Rushing to the sink, I pour the rest of the beer out in a deluge of amber liquid. The wad sticks to the to the lip of the bottle, just on the inside. Only with tweezers am I able to pull it out, and when I do, I toss it to the counter. With the lightning speed of the fastest tortoise, I unfurl the paper, which is better preserved in the alcohol than I initially thought. The scrap has the consistency of newsprint, and through the runny ink, the date reads April 30th, 1992.
“No… no… What the fuck is this!” I exclaim to my kitchen walls, to the toaster, the oven. Silently, they stare back.
The fridge door practically flies from its hinge when I rip it open. Pulling every last beer from inside, I rush them all to the sink, meticulously pouring them all out and reconstructing the front page news of 19-fucking-92. That day, the paper reports on the riots occurring in L.A. after the Rodney King verdict. A fire that occurred on Oak Wood Drive, leaving a family homeless, and a tiny announcement of marriage vows exchanged between two happy, smiling, fucking people.
“This can’t be fucking right.” I mumble, as I pace from kitchen to study and back again. “Is this some kind of sick joke!”
It can’t be. Who could possibly… There is no sense to be made of it.
Grabbing my coat from the hook, I head to the only other haven I have. A bar called Heaven.
The full name of the bar is “This Bar is Called Heaven,” the reference lifted from a Talking Heads’ song. When I asked Brian why the full title, he said simply, “irony.” It’s the bar I’ve grown to call home. Nothing changes, not the decor, not the patrons, nothing. And in the years since I first visited, a total of twenty years, the only thing to age is Brian. The bar top has the same shine its always had, the walls are dressed with a faded gray ship lap. The only indulgence is a modern jukebox, hideously lit with LED lights. It’s a modern eye sore.
“Come on, guys. It keeps the bar looking young.” He always says. “Besides, the bar is named after a band who at the time were cutting edge, and damn it, I want this bar to stay that way. Reliable and new.”
Everybody’d guffaw whenever he’d say it. And one of the regulars, Randy, who Brian calls “Regular Randy” (Everybody becomes “Regular” so-so after so many trips in, like a sub card where the tenth punch gets you one for free.), aptly named the music machine “A Cutting Edge Piece of Shit.” I remember the night it was unveiled to the patrons of This Bar is Called Heaven. Everybody laughed. I laughed. After the spiel, Randy lifted his head from the bar, drunk off his ninth and said simply and slurred, “Cuttin’edgepiecershit.” Since then, it’s stuck, a long nickname, for a long bar top in a longly named bar. Brian has taken a lot pride in it, and in true fashion, Christened it with the bar’s namesake song.
“Well if it isn’t Regular Jimmy Kricket!” He says to me as I assume my normal stool. His voice is the texture of a large boulder being sanded with the coarsest piece of sandpaper possible. It’s the absolute voice of death, but caries with it a shit ton of wisdom. “Been a while since I seen you, Jimmy. All’s well?”
“As well as can be, I s’pose. How ‘bout you Bri?”
“Living the dream, of course!” He bellows a growly laugh. “What’ll it be, Jimmy?”
“BV and Ginger.”
Brian plops a bottle of Bud Light in front of me, chilled to perfection, and cackles again, in a kind of cackling roar.
“Say, Bri. What does that even mean, anyway? Living the dream? Seems to me like you can live in a shitty dream just as much as you can a good one.”
“Well, I’ll tell ya,” he opens. The kind of words you assume leads you to wisdom, especially in a bar. “The dream to me is being able to struggle with some degree of comfort and find meaning within it all.”
“To quote the prophets Kansas in their rousing sermon entitled “Carry on Wayward Son”: “if I claim to be a wise man, it surely means that I don’t know.
“So, are you living it?” He adds.
“No, this is only my first divorce.” I say, and we both erupt in laughter.
“I’m sorry, Jimmy.”
“I’m mostly sorry for the guilt I’m carrying with me.”
“Aaaaah.” Brian says in a long sigh of understanding. One of the Regulars stands at the jukebox. The song shifts from CCR’s “Out my Back Door” to Van Morrison’s “And It Stoned Me.” “Guilt is its own form of forgiveness, if it can take enough of you with it. Best not to dwell on it, Jimmy, cuz guilt has a tendency to find you. To find us all. Best not to dwell on it at all.”
He takes a sip of his drink, non-alcoholic most likely. I’ve never seen Brian actually drink. A couple more regulars file in and Brian attends to them. The song shifts again from “… Stoned Me” to “Twice as Hard” by The Black Crowes. He walks back over to me just as the opening riff kicks into a full band performance.
“You holding up alright though, Jimmy?”
“Yeah. Got myself a new place. Real nice. Cheap. Maybe too cheap.”
“What do ya mean by that?”
“It’s probably nothing. Probably just the guilt.” Through my unconscious desire to drink, I down my beer within half-an-hour. Slow for me. A slow beer conversation. Brian plops another one down in front and I take it to my mouth right away.
“Best not to dwell on it, Jimmy. Kick that mother fucker to the curb.” He roars in laughter. A smile creeps on my face and I join him.
By my third beer, I’m feeling fine. Randy is just about passed out: you can practically set your watch to it. Randy Standard Passed the Fuck Out Time. The Piecershit jukebox is going on about a “Bad Moon Rising,” and I’m on my third beer, and I am in Heaven.
I arrive home after the seventh beer. Not full blown drunk, but plenty tipsy. Walking in, the kitchen light is still as I left it. The six pack, drained, still sitting next to the sink, with the soppy news print sitting beside them. I walk with a bit of purpose, just short of a run into the kitchen, grabbing the news and slamming it down into the bin.
Heading back out to the living room, I feel a sobering effect come over me, like all the wheels that have fallen off are somehow put back on. The lightheaded feeling that comes with every six pack or so is completely gone as is the normal stumble.
The walls seem different, and changing into something else entirely. Looking out from them all is a series of eyes lined up in rows. Looking closely, they all have a different eye color, and pupil configurations. Some eyes are bloodshot, others are blinding white. One eye looks like it’s rolled back into the head it formerly occupied.
My instincts say to run and I do. I try to put the eyes out of my mind, but like a trick candle, the flame just reignites. They invade my mind in a psychic sort of way, the same, violent way a shark investigates with its teeth. All along the walls adjacent to the stairs, they look out, and within me. With eyes closed, I make it the rest of the way to my bedroom, and there, no eyes adorn the walls. Everything just stands still: the TV on the wall adjacent to the Sleep Number; the dresser next to the bed, and the stand on the other side. Right above the dresser is a poster of Tom Waits. A grinning Tom with cigarette in hand and a Porkpie hat on. To his right it reads, “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.”
“Me too, Tom. Me too.”
In bed, the world recedes quickly. The walls dissolve, and I’m left to sweet slumber, alone.
3 A.M. The witching hour I find myself awake in. A scratching kind of sound is what I hear accompanied by the harsh tones of running water. A leak, maybe.
Grabbing what I think is my phone, the Sleep Number reads 52 by pale moonlight seeping through the curtained window. To my other side, a light squeezes underneath the door to the master bathroom. Did I get up at any point and forget to turn it off? Throwing back the covers, and in one sweeping motion, I’m off the bed and to the door, hand to handle, ear to wood. A faint melody plays out, in familiar, beautiful tones. I look to Tom, but the room’s too dark to see him, but his words play well.
I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.
The handle turns easily and the door pushes in even easier. Steam envelops everything within the cascade of light, somehow brighter than normal. The melody is clearer now and emanates at a larger volume than the running water does. Its sound is familiar, though I can’t tell if it’s coming from within my own head or from the drawn shower curtain. The words become too recognizable.
“Don’t you worry ‘bout what you’ve been told, cause honey I ain’t even close to cold…”
My heart freezes in terror, caught between a beautiful melody and the terrible things its telling me. It’s her song and she sang it in the shower all the time. I would walk in, join her in the shower, hold her tight from behind. Make love as she sang.
“I got me a fearless heart. Strong enough to get you through the scary part…”
Summoning the courage I have, bravado most likely, I inch closer to the curtain.
“It’s been broken many times before…”
My hand reaches up, heavy and unsteady, and takes hold of the curtain in a grip tight enough to turn my knuckles pale.
“A fearless heart just comes back for more…”
Another ounce and I throw back the curtain. The water is naked. The melody retires, and the only sound left is water against tub floor. I hold my hand on the shower handle a moment, thinking about Steve Earle and the beautiful melody. It was sung in smooth soprano. Could’ve been a singer, if she’d saved some time to dream. We could have been that Faith Hill/Tim McGraw couple, not that I could sing, but I could share that spotlight equally, somehow. But that’s not the sight in my bathroom, and it never would be.
“No more beautiful melodies tonight, Tom.”
Where do you find yourself at the end of a marriage when nobody told you about the struggle ahead and what the rewards would be? Why did they never tell you about the pain of memory? Where was the disclaimer on that damn piece of paper that said we were one?!
The walls are not looking out at me as while descending the stairs. They’re blind, or at least have no visible eyes protruding from them. The living room is slightly cold, just the way I like it. Infinite Jest where I left it and the bottles still remain.
Grabbing the book, I start again from the beginning.
“New beginnings, right?” I say to no one. I forget the page when sleep finally comes to take me for a second time.
I woke slowly this morning into a panic, thinking that I had work, forgetting that I had recently retired as a CO at a local Federal prison. Awake now, I drag my ass to the kitchen. Nothing in the fridge or cupboards. “Fuck!” I whisper.
When you were younger, fast food for breakfast was a kind of spiritual meal that the poor and destitute dined on. In your forties, it screams single and lonely, and maybe lazy too. After consuming the laziest, most sparse breakfast one could eat, I head on over to the local Super Store. The kind that puts small businesses out and eventually drives its prices up to their level.
While I’m there, the staples:
- Bud Light. Lot’s of it.
- Chips. Bigger the bag, the better.
- Hungry Man TV Dinners: The Cadillac of all TV dinners.
- Cereal. Cap’n and friends.
- Chicken wings and sauce.
- Whatever the fuck else I feel like.
It’s a reckless list for someone that has lost the ability to hope.
After gathering my items, I swing by the electronics section. At first, I pretend I don’t know what I’m looking for. Then I remember I’m not trying to impress anyone.
“Do you have any turntables?” I ask the clerk. A young kid, 20’s or less, with long hair and a smoking habit to match it.
“Hell yeah, man. Looking to build a sweet system? I can help you out with that.”
A $750 “grocery” bill later, I head to a local used record store in the area. A place called This is Shangri-La Records. There’s only one fucking record on my mind, Steve Earle’s Guitar Town (MCA, 1986). I purchase a couple more, just because buying one single solitary record seems as sad as the man who’s going to play it. (The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead (Sire, 1986) and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Couldn’t Stand the Weather (Epic, 1984))
I set the system up in the living room across from the books, a veritable culture clash that marries better than I thought. SRV proves that he’s the most bad ass individual ever to be named Stevie, while The Smiths prove that you can be angsty and sad all at the same time.
I save my tormentor for last. Laying Guitar Town on the platter, I wonder what answers I will get, if any. Do I deserve to get the answers I want?
The first side of the LP goes off without a hitch. Side two, I start to feel like all the walls are watching. I’m stone cold sober. As “My Old Friend the Blues” segues into “Someday” I look to my right and I can see them and sense that they want to see how I’ll react. When “Someday” becomes “Think It Over” I begin to stare back. If the Abyss has a name, I don’t know it, and I’ll probably never learn it. Aby will do.
The main event.
“Don’t you worry ‘bout what you’ve been told…”
“I’m not worried you son of a bitch! What is this all about!”
No response. My anger increases.
“What have I done to deserve this!” I yell some more
“Cause Honey I ain’t even close to cold…”
You carry it with you, Jimmy. You don’t deserve it, but it’s yours.
“No, no, fuck no!”
“It’s kinda soon to fall in love again…”
Look down, Jimmy. The answer is yours.
“But sometimes the best you can do is just jump back in…”
Picking up Infinite Jest, the book feels heavier. The paper feels heavier. Looking inside, the pages have all become the same. A document that repeats itself over and over again. From the legal mumbo jumbo to the the slurred signature and over again, my divorce on paper. Infinite.
If there’s a way out, I’m not so sure, and yeah, a fearless heart may come back for more. Where will mine come back from? The only thing I know for sure is one truth: a broken heart is a haunted home, where only one person lives and all the walls are watching.
Home is simply where the haunting is.