Pink and White Crusts
Through the back of my eyes
To the front of my pupils
The light enters like a needle
Pricking through my skin.
Through the back of my conscience,
To the head of my ego.
I always go too far.
My mind is broken
Shattered and splattered
I am the eternal victim.
The sound of wind chimes echoed throughout the shadowy one-room apartment. The light of the flip phone’s display screen seeped outward. The screen shined through the darkness like a small star, illuminating the gaunt face of Donald Freewell. Through the crust in his eyes, he squinted down at the glowing little square with a doleful expression. It was shaping up to be a terrible night for Donald, who was plagued by feelings of great terror, extreme anxiety, and eerie loneliness. At that very moment, he had just awakened from the most disturbing nightmare he’d ever had. His heart had actually stopped while he slept.
He dreamt that he’d been strangled close to death by a shadowy demon with whiskey on its infernal breath. Donald Freewell lay shivering on his dusty futon, feeling both physically and emotionally violated. He had no idea if the nightmare was even over because he was still struggling to breathe when he awoke. Donald just wanted to be held close by his mom but he was completely alone. He was stuck gazing intently at the screen of his crappy flip phone, as if it could give him the answers that she no longer could. All the device managed to do was hurt his eyes while adjusting the screen’s brightness to try and fight off the darkness and the fearful loneliness it made him feel.
He wished the shadows didn’t make him remember Father Freewell’s cruel words and actions after Mom “went away”. Donald’s gaze shifted away from his glowing nightlight and into the inky black abyss surrounding him. The light was still not bright enough. The place was so dark that the devil himself, or even Donald’s father could have been lying right beside him and he wouldn’t have known it. In the place where the fiends could’ve laid was a slick assortment of beers and whisky. The glass bottles glinted like Father Freewell’s greasy, leering teeth in the dark, as he would slip into his son’s bedroom way after bar close. Shame. Shame. Shame. The flip phone’s light was not bright enough to burn away the memories, but it made him less afraid. After two swigs, Donald looked into a wine bottle at his reflection. Donald wished he wasn’t able to see himself in the light. His facial features; from a fatherless father, projected and injected into his skin, become the stimulus of self-perceived ugliness and his deep-set inability to ever fit in. Removing the cork from the wine bottle, Donald realized that reality is sometimes more scary than any dream. Donald grabbed his whittling knife from his pocket and carved the cork into a cat.
Despite his heart’s painful pounding, Donald’s mind and senses strained to maintain some sense of control and composure, regardless of whatever hellish dimension he might be in at this moment. He took the flip phone and turned up the Holy light.
Eagerly, the contracting pupils of Donald’s shiny grey eyes drank in the light as his lungs struggled to accept the dirty warm air of his cluttered apartment. The tiny clock in the upper right corner of the flip phone screen read 11:34 PM. Donald shifted the light of the flip-phone screen onto his heaving breast. Drip. Drip. Drip. Rivers of cold sweat sank down his front and back, pooling in his navel and bed sheets. The silence of the room was like the pause before the first couple notes in a concerto. Donald Freewell stared down at his flat, freckled chest with the eyes of someone possessed. The beating of his heart was hard and fast, almost painful. Just when he thought he would have to call a doctor, his heart finally slowed down. Donald drank the rest of an open beer found behind the futon and lay his head back down.
Donald slept until 11: 58 PM, when he was rudely awakened by what sounded like muffled voice whispering, somewhere close to him. He still didn’t know if he was hallucinating or not. In frightened desperation, his eyes darted back and forth, trying to find the source of this new voice still unsure whether or not he was dreaming this too. The voice was repeating something over and over, getting progressively louder with each repetition.
The voice seemed to be coming from his flip phone, of all places. With one hand grasping his abdomen, Donald reached over, picked up the cell phone, and pressed it against his ear. The soothing hum of a feminine electronic voice touched Donald’s ear with carefully crafted synthetic sympathy.
“Having another bad dream?”
Donald heard the question but couldn’t provide any answer in response. The drunkard in him told him to hang up and start planning a visit to AA. The artistic craftsman in him told him to hang up or say something clever. Neither of these ended up happening because the phone cut Donald off, just as he was opening his mouth.
“Having another bad dream, Donny?”
Donald’s ability to speak through the sudden tightness in his throat was limited. How did this person know his name? The caller ID revealed no name or address. It wasn’t the 911 operators either. Donald knew that he had already used up all his pre-paid minutes so this conversation was impossible. The call menu wasn’t even on. Donald stabbed the “hang up” button with his thumb and the voice continued talking, as if its source were in the actual room with him. It repeated its question a third time. The phone was possessed and literally talking by itself.
With sweat siphoning through every pore, followed by Donald’s sufficient soiling of his own bed sheets, the very notion of answering seemed to be just another unnecessary complication in his fucked up life. Already in an unhinged state, Donald’s mind raced and paced, his thoughts and speculations were tripping over each other. He didn’t know why fate had singled him out for this. Breathing hard, he threw his flip phone to the opposite end of the futon and rolled over into the fetal position. The vibrato qualities of the electronic voice as it continued reciting its little jingle through the receiver made it impossible ignore. Donald grabbed his pissed-stained bed sheets and started wrapping the flip phone up, like a mummy. With renewed authoritativeness and volume, the voice actually leaked through crystal clear,
“Having bad dream, Donny?”
This vaguely concerned question fell upon a paranoid, yet disinterested ear. This was an old, weatherworn ear. The ear of a country boy who had been raised outside, around the forests and fields and the hot sun that protected him like his mother did. The light of the flip phone, now cocooned within ball of tied-together bed sheets, which seemed unfathomably bright to its rudely awakened owner was now gone. Darkness enshrouded the room and Donald was forced to remember. He wished he wasn’t able to see himself.
He knew it was unreasonably late in the night for this shit, even if he was sober. The faint glints of golden white orbs peeking into the room through the dusty venetian blinds seemed to distract Donald from everything else, including his fear of the unknown. These city lights and street lamps served as stand-ins for the stars and constellations of Donald’s rural upbringing. His cell phone’s voice hummed loudly, destroying his brief moment of closure. He looked over at his television, resting on an easy chair with floral embroidery that once belonged to his mother. In his nightmare, there was a television screen covered in blood. Naked and nocturnal, the solitary sleeper strained against the aching in his old joints as he emerged from the cold comforts of his futon.
Hands, feet, ground –– Donald’s cold elbow and knee met the warm fronds of the damp carpeting –– ground, feet, hands. His feet and hands soon followed suit. The crypt like darkness of the room bent and shifted as Donald got up on his own two feet. He reached above his head to stretch and force out a yawn. Pins and needles prickled within his feet. His wiry black hair fell down just centimeters above his general field of vision. Feeling weak and powerless, Donald wished his mind could be blank. He just needed more time to think, to get the memories from his mind. Through the hazy darkness, Donald glanced down at his bony legs, grimaced, and redirected his gaze towards at the cell-phone’s clock. The time was now 11:59 PM.
Sweaty and stirred up, Donald rubbed his forehead, arms and narrow shoulders, trying to forget the nightmares that woke him. Swaying in death-like silence, Donald attempted to conjure up some semblance of rational thought as his calloused craftsman’s fingers worked the sandman’s crust from his eyes. Blink. Blink. Same shit different day. He held his arm up to the artificial starlight leaking in through the venetian blind. The pale gold slivers of light illuminated a new set of scars on his otherwise flawless skin. Like the playful scolding of his late mother, the flip phone repeated its empathetic catchphrase,
“Having another bad dream, Donny?”
It sounded like his mother. With this revelation, Donald sobbed with the tears of a drunken lost soul. Two beers later, Donald tried to replicate the voice on the phone, with all of its vague femininity and general tone of emotional neutrality, but the words to failed to leave his throat. A low raspy squeak came out, not too different from Daddy Freewell’s voice. God no. I am not you… He bit his lip so hard that three drops of blood came out. Frustrated and disgusted with himself, Donald reached down, grabbed his pillow, and threw it over the speaker of his noisy night nanny.
Donald shuffled over towards the partially open window where the dusty venetian blinds and his homemade wind chimes hung. He briefly smiled, fondly remembering the happy hours he had spent at his small workbench, constructing and carving these and other wind chimes, equally as intricate in both pattern and texture. The flip phone remained on the futon behind him glowing and chirping away like a lost child, left behind at some backwoods county fair. Withdrawn from his pleasant moment of nostalgia, Donald came reluctantly back into the harsh reality of the present world. This comparison did not slip past Donald’s attention as he reflected on his similar feelings of loneliness and routine self-disregard.
Donald Freewell’s metallic grey eyes, deep-set and filled with a dulled intensity, gazed out beyond the furrow of his bushy brow ridge. The interior space of his messy home was square-shaped and confining, making his troubled breathing seem a great deal louder than it actually was. This exaggeration of sound seemed to apply to the voice in Donald’s phone as well, as it repeated its question to an undiscerning universe. Donald’s eyes shifted up, down, and around the room, taking in the data collected with a great sense of urgency. The simple sound of the voice and the chimes by his open window seemed to blur together into a threatening roar.
Donald spit on his scarred forearm and rubbed his saliva evenly over the surface of his wounds. These scars weren’t the minor accidental scrapes or scratches of his youth, though. These scars were self inflicted and much deeper. Like a small child with a scraped knee, Donald blew on these self-inflicted wounds and kissed them as if that was all that was necessary. His sweet mother had been gone for far too long to help him attain that basic placebo effect. Donald spread his version of the proverbial “mother’s spit” evenly over the surface of the rest of his forearm. The sensation of being covered, or hidden in some way, made Donald’s self-perceived ugliness and imperfections seem more invisible to him.
The memory of walking into the kitchen area to open the bathroom door didn’t even register in Donald’s twisted mind. Obsessed with his cuts, Donald shuffled soundlessly, practically limping, past the window, around the bleeding television, and into the bathroom. His stomach grumbled and croaked. Donald’s usual nightly hunger completely set him beside himself with fatigue. This combined with the pain of his scarred forearm made Donald feel impotent, vulnerable, and exposed. Band-aids, band-aids, band-aids. The bathroom door felt heavy as cement as he pulled it open, over the friction of the carpeted ground. Donald crossed the darkened threshold. In the blackness, a dangling string brushed against the tip of his nose like an umbilical cord. Crying like a baby, Donald pulled hard on his lifeline and his eyes were flooded with light. Donald’s engorged pupils contracted as his tear-streaked eyes forced themselves shut.
“Having another bad dream, Donny?”
Sparsely illuminated by its flickering, swinging incandescent light bulb, the atmosphere of the bathroom felt like that of a miniature hospital for the melodramatic. Donald slowly opened his eyes and smirked sardonically. If he was born into this kind of place, he knew he’d probably take his chances back inside.
The dirty damp floor was checkered tile, squares of cream vanilla against bone-white. The sink and toilet glistened in the room’s imperfect light, like the teeth of a great white shark. Upon entry, Donald’s slender legs strained against the forces of gravity pulling his face towards the toilet bowl. After kicking aside the pile of empty beer bottles on the floor, Donald limped over to the sink. His rough hands firmly grasped the seashell-shaped sink’s sides. His head drooped low enough for his wiry hair to brush against the sink’s greasy faucet and other disgusting contents. There were empty beer bottles resting in the sink. They lay like a pile of discarded razor blades with the light glinting off their cold exteriors.
Donald blindly reached one hand up and fumbled frantically through the contents of his bathroom mirror. Donald’s copper tanning salon-flavored fingers met with the bandages’ sterile, smooth packaging. Like an epiphany or just another drugged out daydream, the naked man’s face rose from the sink and he saw the light.