The ink drowned us both in the end...
The librarian squinted at me through the screen barrier and her dramatic cat-eye frames. It seemed as if she was looking through me rather than at me. I didn’t have a problem though. They say that anyone who smells like the bottle depot is invisible to the naked eye, but if we are looked at closely under a microscope, the beer belly would be seen before the cardboard sign asking for change.
This woman saw the beer belly too, “You know, that the McDonalds across the street is looking for some people.”
I flipped the page.
“Minimum wage is a start,” she pressed. “Maybe you could replace that old jacket of yours.” She paused. “The non-fiction section has a lot about work experience, may that will help you instead of-”
I shut the book. Fantasies aren’t for the homeless. Then again, nothing is.
Though there were moments of beauty, it felt as if something fell off a bookshelf inside me that I didn’t know how to put back in place. I tried to lift it, holding the spine with my dirt-encrusted hands, but the weathered pages tore off willingly and floated away like those pressing memories that can’t seem to be contained.
Who knew that remembering them only left paper cuts behind.
Back then, I drew with pens.
They were the gel ones that would dispel of ink like a waterfall onto the page, and would sometimes seep through if the paper couldn’t handle its weight. My chubby fingers would hold these pens professionally, like Father at work, and I would calculate important values to add to the company’s profit just like he did. When he would come home, I would proudly show him our gross income, and he would respond with, “Wow, kid! That is a cool stick man!” My heart would swell inside my chest, and I would run to my room full of stuffed toys and tell every one of them that Father approved of the profit margin. They would clap and clap, and I felt like I had just been promoted to CEO right there.
My father was a man made of concrete and tar. He would sit in his office, and watch buildings being made with the money that he financed explode out of the soil. All the people knew him as the man of the market, well-known for his intelligence and crudeness with money. What he said was absolute, and no one could find faults in his work.
He would address everyone with a solid, crushing handshake, almost as hard as the stone centerpieces lining the shelves of his office. Father always knew who everyone was, and never kept a phonebook or contacts list. He would manually type up their numbers every time, and use their full name in conversation. His journals seemed as if someone printed out final drafts, rather than rough sketches.
But after a while, I would open his journals, and find puddles of black in between the lines. I saw pauses and scribbles etched out in the chaotic form in between the dollar signs and bold “bankrupt’s”. I saw circles, going round and round around figures with a strange subtraction sign in front of them. I saw the coffee-stained yellow pages drying and tearing right off.
Then, I saw pencils over my Father’s ear, rather than pens in his shirt pocket.
But my Father and I loved pencils because they didn’t leave mistakes to be seen. I would draw houses, and make measurements with these pencils. I enjoyed the ash of graphite splayed across the blank page. Father and I refused to use the black because it reminded us of our foolish past of pen. We found it unnerving that pen could never disappear, needing a layer of white-out to cover it. The page would then be littered with rectangular blotches of white, like bandaids over past mistakes. Whiteout made the past stand out, rather than disappear.
Father’s favorite was the erasers, “You can make the biggest mistake ever, and the eraser will swiftly make your mistakes disappear. A kind of reinvention, one might say.” Then he would go on and say the same thing that I have heard since birth. “One day, you will look out the window, and see the top of my building reaching for the stars. One day, when you are old enough, you will walk along avenues in the dark, and see a building with glass doors and gold inside. I yearn for the day that you will be with your friends in the city, and be able to say, ‘My father made that happen’.”
I always believed every word he told me, but I began to look at his plans, closer. I saw giant drawings of skyscrapers and measurements on our fridge door, but there was always a shadow behind the lines, of an eraser at work. I saw dollar signs scattered over the materials, but a small tear in the paper where the eraser had run numerous times. I saw his dream soon to be accomplished, but failure right behind it.
That was when my father came home with nothing but the dull smell of aftershave.
I would look out the window, and see his flat briefcase, and faded leather-bound journals, and my heart watched, forgetting about all the pens and pencils he used to bring home. My soul angered at the hostile emptiness I felt seeing our driveway without a slick car in front of it. He would then indifferently open the door, every day, and run into the attic, closed off from the rest of the family. He couldn’t embrace me anymore, so the greyscale of the streets did instead.
I stopped drawing for a long time after that. My heart yearned to touch a pen again, to calculate profit margins and measurements of the building soon to be made. But my grief mirrored my fathers, and settled into our DNA, and remained a part of us.
Every time I would pass under the attic during my visits, I could smell the must and mold of my father’s dreams. They were up there in the attic rotting with him, aching to be dusted off and used again. They sang like sopranos in a house of deafening silence. The melodies were so intense that I had no choice but to go up there and see them for myself.
That was the day I learned that my father a man made of clay and water.
Peeking into the room, I saw a mound of clay moving up and down in motion in between my father’s hands. They were smooth and flowing as his thumb pressed in and pushed masses towards the top. They were firm when he dug his nail into the structure and pulled out a defining line. They were unsure, as the shaking of his palm distorted some of the sides. His strange hands went on and on, and it was as if all the movements when they were together had no conclusion.
In the shape, I could see the building of his dreams. I could see the mistakes he’s made, that he covered up by watering the entire thing down and rebuilding it from the top. I could see him smoothing the cracks by rubbing them down as if he wanted to cover up is initial flaws, by drowning them over with the movements of his present.
My father longed to bury the past by reinventing his future. He threw away concrete and tar for the green embrace of mud.
My father never ended up financing the actual building, but the desire to was in the voices screaming out of the windows of his clay masterpieces. He would make tall towers, and said that my dolls could live and play inside. My dolls would explore his house and come out of his clay doors and whisper to me about all of the different rooms inside of the space, how each floor was full of offices with bustling people.
For a moment I believed it was true.
But then I looked around the attic and saw the cobwebs between the planks. I saw the flimsy stars, littered with cigar ash, and memorabilia. I saw the dusty trunk full of real plans and his past life. My soul leaned towards it and pulled my body right behind. I took my sweaty hand and slid it across to remove a streak of dust. The latch was rusty and broke in my hands when I tried to unlock it. It creaked as I opened the lid, and I realized it was the soprano voices that I heard so many times downstairs, while my father was locked up here.
My father’s yellow pages of dreams were messily scattered inside the box. I saw, the absolute of the pen, the security of the pencil and the haunting of the eraser’s ghost. The hope was still there among the rubble, and if my father wanted to, he could return to his former self. My imagination ran wild and intensely, as I ached for this thought. The desire rattled in its cage, and my father had the power to unlock it and set it free.
But I know better though, don’t I? The past has a clarity that I can no longer see in the present. My father’s dream is more dead than alive, more empty than fulfilled, more illusion than reality, yet my longing is as absolute as the pens I drew with not long ago.
After all these years of dried-out sharpies and foul cardboard from the meat shop, the pristine pages of my past are too far away to be of any comfort anymore.
I pop open a beer. I drink. I forget. I remember. I cry. I sleep. I wish. I starve. I drink.
All that is left is paper cuts.
This time, I drowned in the blood.