by Peter Molnar
Denial is a powerful thing.
I once heard it said, “In the midst of life, we are in death”.
I’ve taken that to be quite a convenient little anecdote.
By convenient, I mean for my time and place.
My name is John Swift. Husband to Faith. Father to two cats, Weiland and Cornell, and a Doberman named Vedder. I don’t bother Faith to feed the animals. I fill their water and food bowls to overflowing every morning and dump them out every night when I get home from work. I leave Faith to her own devices. This time and place have made her pretty complacent. Depressed, even. She hasn’t moved from her rocking chair in quite some time. Her AJ Brown novel still rests in her lap, opened to the same page. She can’t concentrate, I imagine. A good husband knows when to leave his wife alone, to give her space.
Hell, I can barely think straight, either.
I fear the dents. They are everywhere.
Some of them I can shake off. Others?
The dents seek to destroy my peace of mind …
I used to take the subway in to Center City, Philadelphia, every morning, where I work at the 9th District Court as a stenographer. Things have gone a bit wonky below-ground, though. The subway cars are all out of commission. They’re also flooded. A water main broke and now if I want to get to work, I’d be better suited doing the breaststroke through the tunnels. I remember the first (and the last time) I waded into my subway car. I rolled up my pants above the knees. My ankles kept knocking into some large, submerged species of fish as I moved to my seat. Trash floated along the water’s surface, left behind by the slacker culture. I even remember there was this baby bottle that knocked up against my leg. It had a little bit of formula left inside. I remember I picked it up and turned it around and around in my hands. Studied it like some rare artifact. It jarred something inside. My eyes flooded. Cheeks wet-
Lesson learned. I don’t let my eyes linger on anything anymore.
When things come into focus, that’s when the dents happen.
Best practice? I always cast an unfocused gaze across my surroundings at all times, just enough to gain enough spatial insight not to fall down a manhole or walk headlong into a wall like a clod.
Unfocused. Human beings only require a surface knowledge of the world around them to survive.
A surface knowledge, folks.
Otherwise, a dent occurs.
Like with the baby bottle …
Work is work. Your wife or husband or girlfriend or boyfriend or kid asks you How was work? That’s your stock answer. But in this time and place, work really is work. It’s a chore to drag myself there day after day when I can only anticipate a profound lack of anything to do. The case logs for the 9th District have dried up substantially. Judge Brown still resides on the bench to my left, although he slouches in his chair more than usual.
Same as always …
The pro bono lawyer for the defense struts around inside the courtroom well like some peacock in black Armani. You’re honor, the gun my client used to hold up the convenience store was defective. I have here two signed Affidavits from reputable firearms experts who testify to the fact my client’s gun misfired when it went off, killing the owner of Santi’s 7-Eleven.
I barely have time to crack my knuckles before I’m typing again. The public defender steps up and starts in, so abruptly the old lady in the front row left of the jury might have jerked awake if it weren’t this time and place: Your honor, this is an open-and-shut case to even the most casual observer. The fatal shot was delivered at point-blank range. Regardless of any misfire, the intent to kill is unmistakable.
What a case!
So long as I hold my nose in the courtroom and ignore the fact Judge Brown seems to be sinking lower and lower into his seat, neither of these things put a dent in my mind …
I’ve been going along in this way for three months. There have been some dents I’ve been unable to bang out again. The baby bottle. The way I keep having to throw out the same amount of cat and dog food every blessed night. The way I can see into my neighbors’ front bay window on my walk home every night and I can tell they’ve been sitting in the same chairs, slumped in the same positions, for as long as I can remember-
It’s that Bachelorette show. They’re binging.
Everybody binges nowadays, don’t they?
Of course, they do, John.
Nevertheless, another dent I can’t bang out!
Home again. Faith, my wife, doesn’t have the strength anymore to make her way up to bed. I find her face-down on the rug, her book, Dredging Up Memories, now closed beside her sleeping body. Do I have the heart to wake her up? The nerve? What will my mind do with another dent, if that is what she turns out to be? But she won’t be, right? No, Faith won’t mind, and it’d make me feel better if I carried her up to bed. Tucked her in. Right? I haven’t touched my wife in so long. Her body aches have made that impossible. But I decide to scoop her up off the rug and lift her into the close embrace required for a quick, rejuvenating dance.
Cheek to cheek.
I shouldn’t have done it.
I think something inside coerced me into dancing with Faith. Something inside my mind that has been plotting against me for quite some time. Trying to force my eyelids opened wide to what denial has hidden away like a deft magician. My mind is tired. Broken down like the iron and steel down in the subway tunnel. It needs to release its pressure valve, no matter the consequences.
My wife’s head dangles over my arm. Her hands do not grip me. I hold onto her for dear life, because that is what the stakes have become.
Then, the dents:
I lift her head up.
Her face is a patchwork of green veins, pressing upward at the surface of her flesh.
Her eyes, once hazel and gorgeous, are whited out with a heavy layering of glaze. The eyeballs have sunken back so far they look like two white stones at the bottom of a dark well.
And, she does not say “I love you”, when I tell her I love her.
Denial is a powerful thing, folks. But focus is its enemy.
The enemy of a life lived in the midst of death.
So tonight, like the totaled car I have become, riddled with dents and bashes that are beyond repair, I will relinquish myself to the oblivion of the noose hanging in my garage. Waiting for me.
For three long months.