A man walked into the internet cafe. Inside the mall. Brown carpet. The walls were wood paneling. The man paid the cashier for an hour. He sat in front of a thick computer. He watched a video somewhere online. His niece blew out candles on a cake. She pushed yellow and brown handfuls into her mouth. It could have been his granddaughter. There were people talking in the video. He didn’t recognize the voices. He wore an unwashed felt hat. It smelled like a body. He had on tall leather boots that curled at the toes. He watched videos for songs he used to know. He felt soulless. Nothing made sense anymore. Sound was wrong. It felt like having a conversation. He opened a chat window and sent a message to a name. He asked the name what it was wearing. He told the name what to do. He told the name what he would do. His legs ached like a balloon. His time ran out. The man walked to the food court. He watched a boy sitting at a table. The boy moved like a glitch. He had a yellow crust around his mouth and nose. He made a sound like an engine starting. He smelled more like a body than anyone else. He smiled the way a baby laughed. The man wanted to take away the thing that made him happy. He wanted to wade in the boy’s body smell until he was sick. The man stood in line for food. There was sand in the tiles on the floor. A woman stood in front of him. She had a mushroom tattooed on her ankle. Her feet glowed like jewelry. Everyone stepped forward. The space around the woman smelled animal. Everyone needed a shower. Something had to wash off. He sat down with his plate. His insides hurt like a clock. Like his skin could bleed with a touch. He took the phone out of his pocket. There was a picture of the girl from the video when he opened it. He didn’t know the numbers to call anymore. Conversation was a sickness. A spoon scraped out the words in his head. The shapes in front of him looked all wrong. He wasn’t hungry anymore. Something sharp was wrapped in plastic on the table. He felt everyone dare him to use it. He was an exhibit in a zoo. The lights in the parking lot turned off. Someone with a mop said lift your feet. The man stared at the nothing of their face. He felt like the last human left. He walked outside. He moved toward home.
Mom worked at the hospice behind main street. Everyone was dying. She was on second shift feeding the world pain medicine. It was almost dinner. I walked into her office and got on the computer. I opened a chat window. No one good was on. I tried anyway. TexasMac68 sent a message. I replied. I told him I just got home from school. I told him I’m wearing a white shirt and boxers. He told me ‘touch yourself’. He asked me are you wearing the cowboy boots? It felt like a joke. Like he wasn’t real. I thought he was making fun of me. I told him I’m wearing brown ones. I told him they smell like bodies in a locker room. I told him I’m taking everything off except the boots. He sent photos of a man standing in front of a red barn. He sent a link to a western website. He told me these are the ones I’m wearing now. It was starting to get good. He signed off without saying goodbye. I walked into my bedroom. I pulled a bag out of my desk. I packed a bowl and put it in my pocket. The neighbor mowed his grass. He wore clear glasses so rocks couldn’t blind him. He looked asleep. I couldn’t smoke with him outside. I wanted the mower blades to fire rocks into his memories. I drove to the park by the YMCA. Kids stood in the creek that cut through the park. The water was the color of pennies and eye glitter. Crawfish hid in the corners of the creek. Their claws made the kids scream. There was a group party at a picnic table. A woman cut a slice of cake. There were kids and other women around her. She gave the cake to a little girl. I walked into the bathroom. It smelled like shit and chlorine. Like a locker room. I put the lighter up to the bowl. I held in the smoke until it came out invisible. I walked back out fast. I did not look at the party. I wanted them to forget me. My car was surrounded by activity buses. I couldn’t unlock the door. The key didn’t fit and then it did. I felt like a thief. My brain was a warzone. I couldn’t go home. Music made it worse. Like scalpels cutting through my jaw. Like chewing a battery. It started to get dark. I drove to the thrift store downtown. The ceiling was too high. The lights made my eyes boil. Everything smelled like a hospital. Everyone died in their clothing. Every movie played blue over a cadaver’s face. The shoes were ancient and covered in dust. I thought about a locker room again. Opening the metal door and finding shoes without a body. There was a pair of black cowboy boots. With metal toe caps and twirls etched in. Roses embroidered up the ankles. I pushed my foot inside. My mood felt destroyed. It felt like punishment. I laughed hot tears down my face. I wanted to wear them and nothing else. I wanted to look so boring. Like I was in on the joke. The cashier didn’t look at me. He wouldn’t make me real. He put the boots in a bag. I drove back home. I through the bag on my bed. I took everything off. Mom was still at work. I stared at myself in her closet mirror. I felt tall and thin. I felt pretty. I got back on the computer. TexasMac68 wasn’t there. I sent him a message anyway. I told him I’m wearing the boots. I told him for real this time. They look so good. I can send a picture. He didn’t respond.
The road was orange and black. The road was grey and blonde. Two orbs smaller than the night. Everything felt like a dream. Like she was just waking up. The woman’s head was heavier than the sun. She kept watching her hands on the steering wheel. Nothing else made sense. She had to get home. She was getting home. She was almost home. The car drove itself. Floating in a sea of confidence. The sidewalk split her front tire. Her neck pulled left then right. Something big came across the windshield. The car moved over it. It broke fast under the car. Everything stopped hard. Forked by a street light. There was a smell like ozone. Her ears kept ringing. Like muffled crying. Nothing worked. The engine didn’t turn over. Smoke like a blanket. There was red on the windshield. Someone stood outside across the street. Their body small from her window. They stared at something on the ground. A piece of the man. The woman crawled out of her car. There was more. Behind. His legs wrapped like a wire. One boot missing. She couldn’t see his face. It was somewhere in the grass. His hat still nearby. The person across the street held a phone. They described the car. The man. The woman said no. Her insides turned hot. She couldn’t move quick enough. There was something wrong in her legs. She couldn’t look at them. She wanted to go back to sleep. To be home again. She thought I can still make it. If I can just get away from the road. Hide until it’s over. Her palm was on a piece of the man. It felt like sponge cake. It was still warm. It felt like a kitten purring. She pulled the bag from her pocket. Tried to make it as small as possible. It tasted like pollen and sweat. Plastic stuck to the sides of her mouth. Tears moved down her face. The bag dropped into her stomach. The ground turned red and blue. She was pulled off the ground. Someone in black put handcuffs on the woman. She watched people take photos of the man across the road. People in white picked up his pieces. They put him into a bag. Then more people. Vans and cameras and microphones. Someone was standing by the woman’s window. Screaming. Her mouth moved without sound. Crying. The people with the cameras asked questions. She talked about the woman in the handcuffs. She said I hope she dies slow for what she did. He didn’t deserve this. He was good to our children. It’s all gone. She deserves to rot. Forever. No sunlight. She’s less than. Human. Everything I love. Gone. The cameras and microphones pulled away. The vans left. The car that the woman sat in pulled away. The person driving said that’s it for you. They’re going to tear you apart. The woman didn’t feel like crying. She started to cry. Deep down there was warmth. They’re going to tear you apart.
Graham Irvin lives in North Carolina. His prose has appeared in Apathy Press, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and Philosophical Idiot. His poetry is forthcoming or has appeared in Punk Lit Press, Philosophical Idiot, Maudlin House, and Soft Cartel. Follow him on twitter @grahamjirvin.