by Stuart Welch
People were continuously bumping him on the street. His piano was once again out of tune and the hamburger had turned a dark, inedible brown. She darned his socks, but since she had lost the use of her hands in the explosion of her neighbor’s lawn mower, his socks remained holey.
A picture of two boys staring into a glass of obviously purified water had hung in the darkest corner of his living room. He recently replaced it with a tiny crucifix he found the last time he woke up lost (and hung over) in the park. The picture of the two boys bothered him for no reason but enough he thought to affect his digestion.
They stood there blankly staring into the glass of water.
Behind them was also a picture, but not of them.
Today he had hoped to find a new place to hide or hang the crucifix since the space it occupied on the wall was less, considerably less disconcerting, than the picture of the two boys.
But he had nothing to replace the crucifix with so he decided to leave it in this undesirable place until something else turned up that would adequately cover the space left by the picture of the two boys.
Searching for something to replace the crucifix also gave him indigestion and he vowed not to look too hard. On the wall opposite the crucifix that had replaced the picture of the two boys staring blankly into a glass of obviously purified water, hung a ripped portion of a map. It was a foreign map with street names he did not recognize.
Before she lost her hands she had thought it was a map of Zurich. But he did not know Zurich any better than the town where he was presently living or for that matter any town that he had lived in. She was trying to impress him. The map had been ripped in such a way that he could not tell what way it was supposed to be read. Several times in the past he had changed the position, but never knew which way he was moving the ripped map.
A map is hard to read and a ripped map without a legend was even harder.
He was glad that the two boys staring blankly into a glass of water were standing and not in a position that would be hard to determine which way the picture was to be hung. His deteriorating indigestion found solace with that picture which gave him no trouble. She, since the accident, was too embarrassed to visit him in the evenings anymore. It became a bothersome chore to manipulate coins into the coin box on the bus.
The bus she took to visit him was 154 North. While she was still in the hospital, he reassured her that the bus driver, if he was Christian, would reach into her purse for the coins she needed for the ride. She had tried to convince the driver that she was unable to manipulate the tiny coins and that it was necessary if she were to ride the bus for him to retrieve the coins which she kept conveniently in a clear plastic pouch.
The bus driver usually became enraged and told her to sit. It was always embarrassing.
She no longer came at night.
Many of their nights had been spent with puzzles. They laughed late into the night, keeping many of their neighbors awake, while they assembled the complicated jigsaw puzzles. The puzzles pictured snowy scenes in the country or foreign cities with strange buildings.
They preferred puzzles of foreign cities and would laugh nervously as they neared the completion of a puzzle. After the puzzle was finished, they would lift themselves from the table and stand back admiring their accomplishment. Sometimes tears would run down his cheeks.
Completion was never met with the satisfaction of the first step.
He was upset that one more puzzle had been completed and all of its once individual and separated pieces no longer offered a challenge. She would comfort him and promise to find a new even harder puzzle the very next day. But there were no new puzzles for him to construct since she no longer came to visit in the evening.
He spent more time in the evenings now rearranging the pictures and articles he had hung on the walls of his apartment. His room now offered the challenge of the puzzle.
By rearranging the items hanging on his walls, the room was somewhat different, and all he would have to do was sit in a different chair and see a new scene. But the crucifix bothered him, even though it was hung in the darkest spot in the room. No matter where he sat in the room it always stood out. A tiny tormented dying mannequin, stretched out on a cross, its hands painfully trying to pull away from the nails that bound it.
This was probably the greatest upset to his indigestion.
Once, while deciding where to hang a brass horn that had been given to him by a former friend, his phone rang. She was on the phone and carefully explained how she had talked her sister into dialing a number for her. He did not like her sister. Her sister rarely assisted her since the accident and frequently flew into rages because of this handicap.
Had she left her flowered scarf there?
It was no longer in her closet and she was concerned. It had been the last present given to her by her aunt before she had passed away. Yes, the scarf was there. It was safely hanging on the wall by the door. Its flowery colors had considerably brightened the space on the wall by the door. At one time he had considered draping the naked tortured body on the crucifix with the flowered scarf. But that would only hide the body and he would then always try to remember what it looked like.
Anyway, it looked nice by the door. Hold on, someone is at the door. Yes? Yes; who is it? Who could it be?
No one had knocked on his door since her accident. No, this is apartment #38g. The numbers to his door had been down for some time. He had hung them near the window because he liked their shiny brassy look. You should try upstairs. I’m not really sure. He was very excited that not only had someone called him on the phone, but on the same day, someone had knocked on his door. He was so excited that he forgot about the phone. When he returned to the phone all he heard in response to his explanation of who had been at the door was a dull drone.
He thought she was like the drone. She did not have a name either.
After hanging up the droning phone, he decided that the very next day he would go to the music shop on the corner and buy a piano stool, so he could always look at different parts of the room without having to change chairs.
As I turned and walked away from the apartment, I heard its inhabitant mumbling to himself. It had not been my intention to disturb him but the numbers from the door were missing. When I had originally approached the numberless door, I had heard talking but as I neared the stairs to try another apartment, I thought I heard a man crying softly against the door. I never had known about the man or his room or the crucifix he had wanted to hide or the picture of the two boys staring blankly into a glass of purified water, all I heard or knew, was that someone, someone on the other side of the door cried softly as I walked away.
I may have awakened him from a sleep of fits or the freedom of dreams.