The following is a brief excerpt from my novel, Tenement.
I wander thru the waste like a black dog in the dark among crumbling brick walls and fallen buildings. I’ve grown fond of the night and drawn to the part of the city’s guts too desolate even for squatting. Down coal black alleys and into a grassy barren overlooking the RR tracks. In happier days I would sit on the bank at noon and wave at the engineer.
Down the escarpment to the edge of the tracks. Now in icy dawn trucks and busses clatter and rumble along rough bricked streets I sit where’s last car clicks the rails shine in the light of a high, bitter moon. The tracks flee to some better world where strangers embrace without compunction. As the train rattles down the track it leaves utter desolation behind that I sob with my face in my hands and a bitter, burning taste in my mouth. My hands fall limp to my sides and my face becomes a rictus of the anger that is another name for sorrow. The train clicks its last click and becomes silent.
Winter days go by like dreams. Cold white glare of snowy mornings seeping around the curtain, driving me back to sleep. Sleep till the midafternoon whisper and clang of the neighbors down the hall rouse me and I curse and try in vain to sleep again. Clearing skies and bright bitter cold, wind singing in the eaves and soffits and bleeding around the duct tape that seals the window.
The weather moderates. Waking in cold, bilious light. Sitting at the window watching the curdled altocumulus sky for rain, drinking whiskey and eating jerky and Xanax. It rains for days. Drops seeping thru the fogged, cracked window. Sparse city lights reflected in the flats of rainwater on the bricked street outside. Rich odor of wet pavement. Mud smeared on the sidewalk. Rain finally turning to sleet.
A sad and hollow time. Bitterness and gothic despair, epic loneliness. I moon over the picture of Dana in my wallet. Dana’s brutal sexuality with the sweetest face. Unspeakable loveliness gone forever. It’s somewhere around a year since the day I lost her. I only know the day from my digital watch, but I don’t bother to look. What day it is is of no importance. I hear a lot of people commit suicide on the first anniversary of their spouse’s death.
Mornings quiet but for an occaisional wino come into the hall to take a leak. I would leave this place forever but there is nowhere I belong. I have a cell phone but no one I want to talk to. I have a hundred acre farm and on it a farmhouse wrapped in intolerable memories.
When I run out of jerky and hunger outdoes fear I get out the backpack and go to the store. The only bank account I can access has $100,000 in it and I get cash out of the ATM when I have to. I am terrified of being robbed so it’s good I cant get more than $200 out at a time. I’m so out of shape from just lying in bed that the trip to and from the store almost kills me.
The hall of the tenement is little more than a deserted urinal. At this hour the building and street are quiet because all the bad guys are asleep. I push open the front door, a mere wood panel with no locks or pushbar. The door is swollen from the dampness and it sticks and I throw my weight against it and it gives and I stumble and fall on my face in the grass. I pick myself up and walk to the street.
Early spring. Unpleasant time of overcast skies and wet grass and damp air. Green shoots everywhere. Grass and daffodils pushing up thru the cinderblocks and gravel and broken glass, rupturing winter’s protective seal. Weeds and flowers and allergies and generalized malaise. A front has passed and the clouds are parting and the wind is picking up and it’s going to get colder fast.
On the street a lunatic is raving about the end of the world, an old drinker of shaving lotion and sterno and cleaning fluid who has fits and visions and sees ha’nts. I ignore him and walk toward the underpass a hundred yards away. When I see it I get chillbumps and my flesh crawls. There are no lights in that tunnel. They were busted out ages ago.
There is no other way to go. Everything is in that direction. If I walk the other way from the tenement the street deadends into some woods a hundred feet away. Beyond that barbed wire fencing guarding weedy lots full of rubble and wreckage. There is one house on this street, just across from the tenement. It was abandoned years ago and now houses drifters and psychotics and meth heads.
Two hundred feet of peril, very dark even on a bright day. Ten feet inside the tunnel sidewalk lies a pair of men’s underwear and they don’t look like a wino’s. The boxer briefs look right out of a plastic bag. A red stain on them that is unmistakably blood. Another that looks like semen. Ten feet from the underwear lies a pair of jeans that look to have been ripped off somebody. Who was he, I wonder, and WTF was he doing here?
Of course I could ask myself that question.
Two street guys that could’ve raped and killed the man, whoever he was, are sitting on the sidewalk ahead. I mumble good morning and they nod at me laconically. Broken glass crunches underfoot. Just inside the other end of the underpass a mattress has been dragged in. Two squatters on it, a couple. The man looks about himself and regards me viciously. The woman is a gravid slattern that appears feebleminded. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day I see a dead baby under here. A train clatters overhead, one of dozens every day.
Achromatic shapes transpiring out of the mist. What I thought to be a drifter is a newspaper winded up against a sapling. Down the paved street and onto the dirt paths along the RR yard. A yard bull watches me as I walk past and down concrete steps with PCV pipes for handrails.
Finally onto the street again and past a gas station without pumps to where a homeless family is packing select garbage into a shopping cart while their kids rummage thru a dumpster and make silhouettes against the urine colored sun.
On a viaduct over the fetid waters of the White River that snakes thru the leprous wastes of downtown Indianapolis. Crateboard and tarpaper shacks, hobo jungles and Hoovervilles, lazarets for the blighted. To my right somewhere the barren where i’d nearly been murdered doing an errand for Dana. The building where I ran errands for Dana to Mr. House. Downtown rife with memories, all sad or satanic. Ambience of danger and disease and filth.
It takes two hours until I am back at the underpass. It’s deserted but for the couple. The man is asleep and the woman sucks her thumb and looks at the world.
In the next weeks I hardly go out at all, paralyzed by fear and weakness and hunger. Rain falls mercilessly and the air is full of choking pollen and this old building’s glaucous mold flourishes and I get ill. And then I get sick for real. Feverish dreams of Dana. I know she will not let me languish much longer in this world with its archives of bitterness. I will join her soon.