Lying in his bed, he could hear every sound the crumbling mess he called home made as it fell to pieces around him. He heard the white ants chewing the window sills, the ‘roaches skittering across the faded linoleum in the kitchen and the various thuds and shudders of the building foundations.
The place had decayed to the extent where even the mirrors in the bathroom and hallway were somehow wrong. The books in the bookcases lining the hallway were thick with dust; the hardbacks still standing straight but the paperbacks curled into each other and powdery with age.
The cistern started dripping again. He persuaded himself out of the covers and hobbled into the bathroom to belt the top of the porcelain next to the flush mechanism. While this usually worked, this time the dripping continued. In fact, it seemed as though it got louder, as if in defiance of his actions. He hit it again harder. Thankfully, it stopped. He wondered for how long.
He hobbled back out into the hall and down to the kitchen. His knees were hurting, as was his back. He felt so old, older than he could remember his grandfather ever being. He dwelt on these memories, the smell of his pop’s bakery and his pop, all covered in flour and smiling through his neatly trimmed beard. He remembered the taste of fresh bread crusts, lathered with butter and wild honey. He stood between there and here, wishing he could go back to those simple happy times and travel forward with that feeling of good still intact.
When he snapped back to reality, the kettle on the stove was groaning and sputtering. He turned the gas off and removed the kettle, burning his hand on the hot handle. He couldn’t remember putting it on in the first place and wondered how long it had been boiling dry. He ran his burnt hand under the tap, trying to take the sting out. It really bothered him that he couldn’t remember.
A lot of things really bothered him these days. He was concerned for his state of mind because he often snapped back to this reality, having drifted away on a moment or a memory. Coming back was always a shock, like he’d nodded off on a train and woke up at the end of the line.
Sometimes he found he’d been gone for quite some time. Certainly long enough for a kettle to boil dry but sometimes for so long that when he came round the day had run its course and his stomach ached with hunger. One time, he found he’d soiled himself. He had cried then, cried for self-pity, cried for the life he’d lost and cried for the sheer indignity of it all.
Despite an indelible belief he’d live forever, time had different plans and age had caught up with him rather quickly. He lamented the loss of his childhood, his youth and his young adulthood. He didn’t believe himself to be old and used his mind to keep the truth from his body. This worked for a little while but eventually his mind had to tell the truth.
Truth, being what it is, can sometimes cause a person to lose themselves in the matter-of-factness. Some prefer insanity to knowing what is truly out there or what is truly deep inside their own minds. In lucid moments, he wondered if he were mad. He didn’t think he was but then remembered something from long ago, something about those who didn’t think themselves insane were only kidding themselves.
As far as he was concerned, his greatest loss, far greater than his youthful vigour or his questionable sanity, was the loss of the love of his life. He couldn’t remember exactly how long ago she went but he knew that since her departure, he was a rapidly fading shadow of himself.
He put a tea bag into his cup and tried to pour water out of the empty kettle. That it was empty, that he didn’t remember putting it on to boil dry and that he couldn’t remember how long ago she left him came down on him, not so much like a blanket of sadness but more like a rain of bricks, each hitting his softest spot; his heart.
He collapsed to the floor and let the tears come again. Crying used to be a mechanism for enabling his healing but despite the amount of crying he did these days, it didn’t seem to make any difference. The wounds he carried only felt worse. Looking through his tears, he used to find the clarity he had and lost somewhere. And it used to be that when he stopped crying, everything felt much better. This time, however, the tears wouldn’t stop.
As he cried, his tears ran like a flood through a narrow valley, washing down his face and pooling around his body. The more he tried to stop, the harder the tears came. Soon, the floor of his kitchen was completely covered and a lake of his tears was starting to form. Cockroaches came out from under the fridge and stove, climbing on him to escape the rising tide. He stood and shook them off.
He noticed now the more cried, the better he started to feel, like his crying was washing away all his misery. In fact, as he looked down, he noticed the liver spots on the backs of his hands had shrunk. His pain in his wrists and elbows was also starting to fade.
His tears were now up to his knees and yet he still couldn’t stop. He wondered how many tears a man had in his life and realised he’d not cried nearly enough. Maybe this was making up for all the times he bit his lip to prevent them from coming. He remembered doing this at his beloved wife’s funeral. He couldn’t cry not even then, not even for her.
He cried harder because he now remembered she was dead. He cried for everything he missed about her. He cried for the sad life he’d led since she had passed. He cried for his children who never visited. He cried for his grandchildren who hardly knew him and for all the friends he’d seen buried. By now, his tears were up to his chest and yet he still couldn’t stop. Kitchen flotsam and jetsam floated around him; cups, saucers, the kettle off the stove and various bottles of spices. He felt absurd but still unable to hold back the tears.
Soon, he had to dog paddle to stop himself drowning. He didn’t think he’d be able to hold himself afloat for long. He tried to look out the window and realised the world was also inundated with his tears. While he felt dreadfully sad still, he also felt at peace and more healthy than he’d done in years.
All the little details he’d forgotten came rushing back and he sobbed even harder, swallowing the memories greedily while still trying to stay afloat. He could remember the first kiss he got from his wife, the smell of his eldest daughter when she was born, the sound of his children laughing in the back yard and the smell of his wife’s roast dinner. He dwelt in these memories, smiling through the tears still coursing from his eyes.
He felt something tug at his feet and looked down through the lake of his tears. His wife, as young and as beautiful as she ever was, looked back up at him. She smiled and beckoned him down. He balked for the merest of seconds before diving down after her. She reached out and took his hand. For the first time in years, he felt vital and alive.