A Day in the Neighborhood

I did not want to, I did not, but I did it anyway, but maybe I wanted to.

When I woke up I was hungry and my head hurt and so did my stomach. Last night I cooked a frozen pizza and ate all of it, all eight slices, then threw up on the kitchen table and went to bed, maybe that’s why I felt so awful this morning.

I decided to get breakfast from IHOP, they don’t deliver around here so I had to leave the house. I put on a shirt and slacks and a tie, I wanted to look nice, it’s Sunday today, I put a pack of gum in my front pocket and my gun in the back of my pants. I picked up my watch from the nightstand, 7:14, then looked at the little orange bottle on the dresser and the Post-It note next to it that I left for myself, Two every morning, but I didn’t take any, I don’t like them anyway, they taste bad and make me feel like I’m not myself.

I got on my bike, it’s rusty but it works, I started pedaling. It was cold out, the air looked blue and smelled like snow even though there wasn’t any, I didn’t have a coat but I liked the way the wind felt. I don’t have neighbors, I wish I did, I waved at the empty sidewalks anyway and yelled “Hello Good Morning” to the Trees. They didn’t say anything back. I thought that was rude.

The ride was long, the bike wobbled and the gears went CLINK CLINK CLINK, the roads going were mostly empty, I chewed a couple pieces of gum, SMACK SMACK SMACK, and blew bubbles. I made it into town at 8:07, I could see the Sun in the sky, he was huge and white-hot and he told me I was his son. I saw nine or ten people in town, I blew bubbles at a couple of them and nodded at an old woman and a little girl whose hand she was holding, one man looked at me funny, the Clouds told me to punch him in the throat but I decided not to.

When I got to IHOP I locked my bike to a dirty fence and swallowed a little of my gum and then went inside. There was a young employee at the front who smiled at me, I didn’t smile back, I don’t trust people who smile so easy, maybe she was trying to kill me. She showed me to a table, okay she wasn’t trying to kill me, at least not yet. I sat down, the pistol was digging into my back so I took it out of my pants and put it on the floor, then I pulled the gum out of my mouth in strings and wrapped them around my finger and stuck it all back in. I looked at the menu, lots of good stuff, I couldn’t choose, the Ceiling Fan spinning over my head told me the pancakes and sausage would make me the fullest.

When the pretty waitress came by in her little blue frock and apron I ordered and asked for an orange juice, she nodded and took my menu and walked away. I watched her fill the cup with juice for me, she put this plastic thing that looked like a straw inside but it wasn’t a straw, it was definitely poison, I just knew it. She came over with it and I said, “No, I don’t want that awful stuff, lady,” and her head jerked back but she said okay, what else would I like to drink, and I said, “Nothing, leave me be,” and she left, I stared at her butt as she went.

The fork and knife wrapped in the napkin screamed, Oh God, help, we’re trapped, all we want is to be free, I felt bad for them so I undid the napkin and set them on the table and they thanked me a hundred times. Even though I just ordered I was impatient so I grabbed the bottle of blueberry syrup on the table and opened the top and dribbled some onto my tongue, it was too sweet, I coughed and spit it out into my napkin. I looked down at my gun to make sure somebody didn’t steal it, it was still there, it told me not to worry, I tapped it with the tip of my shoe, it’s always very good at calming me down, so is my gum, SMACK SMACK SMACK.

The waitress returned and dropped a couple plates down onto the table and walked away, she didn’t even look at me, how impolite. I poked the stack of pancakes with my knife to make sure she didn’t poison them like she did to my orange juice, and they seemed okay, maybe a little soggy, the Ceiling Fan didn’t see a problem with them either. I poured some maple syrup on and took a couple bites, SMACK SMACK SMACK, I swallowed it all with the rest of my gum. I stared at my two sausages for a minute and squeezed them with my fingers, they seemed fine too, I chewed them quickly.

I was almost done eating when the waitress came over looking very angry, maybe a little scared, I’m not usually good at reading people’s faces but I could tell with her, there was this long ugly vein that snaked up her forehead and her skin was red as a beet and her eyes were so wide I could just about see her brain.

“What?” I said.

“Sir, you—you have—” She pointed at my feet, her hand was shaking. “There’s a gun under the table. Is it yours?”

“Yes ma’am it is.”

Her eyes got bigger, now I could really see her brain, it was pink and mushy and I could smell it from where I was sitting, there was some hardened spit on the edges of her mouth. “We don’t allow people to bring guns in here.”


“No, sir, we obviously do not. No respectable eating establishment does. Not Denny’s, not McDonald’s, not Arby’s, and certainly not IHOP.”

She was trying to steal my gun, I could tell, people always try to do awful things like that to me, maybe she was FBI, no she was definitely CIA, she’d probably been following me for days, and now she was going to bring me in, maybe she’d kill me right here. “Well, I’m licensed to carry, and that’s the law, missus,” I said, and I clamped my feet over the gun, the Ceiling Fan whirred and told me everything was okay but I didn’t trust it.

“I don’t care. Either you leave right now or I call the police.”

I could’ve shot her right there, I really could’ve, I would’ve liked to watch the blood and brains ooze out of a big fat hole in her big fat CIA head, but I didn’t, because then the cops would come, and it would’ve stained my shirt too bad anyway, blood doesn’t come off very well in my washer, brains probably wouldn’t either. So I pushed the plate across the table and reached for the gun and put it in the back of my pants and said, “All right, you fucking asshole,” and I got up and went for the door, I pushed it so hard I might’ve cracked the glass, I didn’t check.

I got on my bike and started pedaling, CLINK CLINK CLINK went the rust around the gears, as I wheeled away I heard the waitress yell behind me, “You forgot to pay, you crazy son of a bitch!” but I didn’t look back, she couldn’t take me. After all, the Sun said I had to keep going, going, going, I wasn’t going to stop, no, not then, not ever.

I rode to the next town over. I could feel people lurking in the center of my bones, I could see their Shadows wiggling around me, I had to avoid them, I didn’t want to die so young. The Sun was quiet the whole ride, so were the Trees, in fact everything was quiet, it was like I was in space and the street was a path to the center of the universe. I felt like an astronaut, if I kept on with school I’m sure I could’ve been one, everyone would’ve loved me.

I don’t know if anyone’s ever loved me, maybe my parents did, I haven’t seen them in years, they kicked me out when I was in high school, they said they couldn’t deal with me anymore, I felt like I wasn’t finished dealing with them. I miss them sometimes, especially my father, he died a few years ago. I can’t call my mother, she won’t answer, neither will my sister. Sometimes my brother calls and asks how I’m doing, I always tell him good, I don’t want to worry him by telling the truth. I haven’t ever touched a woman or another man, not in a sexual way, I don’t know why, I feel like if I had somebody to touch and hold I’d be happier, they could love and protect me, I’d love and protect them.

At 9:22 I pulled into the town park and sat on a swing and pushed myself back and forth. There was nobody else there except for a dog with big red eyes and brown spots, he stared at me a while like he was trying to work out whether he wanted to eat me, he ended up scampering away, I was alone again. I looked down at my feet, my boots somehow had dried blood on them, there were a couple cigarette butts in the divot where people kick their feet to stop. I used to smoke but I don’t anymore, it made me think I needed tobacco to be alive.

I looked around to see if there were CIA agents, I couldn’t see any, but the Swing next to me said they were training a sniper rifle at my face. There was a noise behind me, I turned around and lifted my gun, but it was just the wind, leaves rolling on the ground. I heard what sounded like footsteps in front of me, I turned back around and saw a man in a black suit and bowler hat, he was pointing at me, he had no face but he looked like my father, no, he was my father, my father back from the dead. I didn’t shoot, I would’ve felt too guilty, but I had to get away, I screamed and ran to my bike and pedaled off hard, I could hear him running behind me but eventually I lost him and camped on a sidewalk for a few minutes. A man who was the only other person I saw in town came up to me and asked if I was okay, I didn’t answer, I just biked away from him.

I stopped in front of a convenience store on the outskirts of town and took a couple deep breaths, people say it’s good to do that when you’re afraid. When I calmed down I looked around one more time and then decided I needed some food for the next couple days, after all the world outside home wasn’t safe, so I walked into the store.

There was nobody inside except me and the clerk, I didn’t want to look at him if I didn’t need to. I went down a couple aisles and picked out chips and salsa and water and a big grape lollipop, the Slurpee Machine in the corner made swishing sounds and called my name. Once I picked everything out I hurried to the counter. The clerk had a lot of wrinkles, he seemed tired and didn’t have much hair on his head, the Cash Register asked me what I was gawking at, I looked away from the clerk while he rang my things up.

I asked if I could eat the lollipop before I paid, the clerk nodded, I stuck it in my mouth, it was hard and sweet. I thought nothing was wrong until I bit down and felt this awful pressure near the back of my mouth and heard a cracking sound. I stuck my finger inside and felt around. One of my teeth was broken, I took its shards out and looked at them, they were black and bloody, the pain was unbearable. I spit out the lollipop and blood was leaking out of my mouth and the Cash Register was laughing at me and the Snacks on the counter were cackling and the Slurpee Machine was sputtering and screaming and the clerk was looking at me all worried but I knew he was faking it, he’d made this happen, it was his store and he wanted me to break my tooth on the lollipop, he was definitely CIA, I could feel the Shadows all around me, they were dancing, dancing, dancing, and I felt like an ant, a tiny little bug, I wanted to call out my mother’s name even though I knew she wouldn’t come, I didn’t want to call out my father’s because he would find me and take me away, and I had to, I wanted to, I took out my pistol and lifted it at the clerk and pulled back the hammer.

My head was trembling bad but I don’t think he noticed. He just stood there, he looked confused, then he put his hands up and said, “Please don’t shoot me.”

The Cash Register said, Make him open me up, you bastard, rob him for all he’s got, I want you to do it, you know you want to do it too, listen to me or I’ll fuck you just like I fucked my backstabbing whoreslut of a wife back in Topeka, I swear to God if you don’t do it I’ll—

“Give me everything in the register,” I said, I don’t know how loud I was but he looked terrified, I didn’t want to do this to him, I don’t think so, I don’t know, but the Cash Register kept yelling at me and the Slurpee Machine was growling and so were the Snacks and I had to.

“Please,” he said, “I’ve got a family, they need to eat, we’re behind on rent, please—”

“Shut the fuck up,” I said, “and give me the fucking money or I’ll shoot you in the fucking head.”

He looked around, maybe he was looking for other CIA people but they weren’t helping. He opened the Register and started taking the money out, it took him a while because his hands were shaking so bad, he stuffed it all in a plastic bag that had a smiley face on it and said Thank you have a nice day.

“Why’d you make me break my tooth?” I said. “I never did anything to you.”

He stopped for a second to watch me. His eyebrows were arched, he seemed badly confused. I looked away from him and put a napkin I had in my pocket in my mouth to soak up the blood, he kept filling the bag with money, the Register said, Yeah, yeah, fuck yeah.

“Quicker,” I said, and the clerk went faster. When he was done he held out the bag like he was giving me boxed lunch for school. I took it and put the Snacks in too, I kept the gun on his face, behind me the Slurpee Machine grumbled and sputtered and the Register chanted, Fuck yeah, fuck yeah, fuck yeah, and I ran out the door, and then I was on my bike grinding the pedals and the gears were going CLINK CLINK CLINK and the Shadows were coming after me, I could smell the death on them, I had to get away, I’ve always had to get away.

I got home at 11:05 and chained my bike to the post outside my house and took the money bag and rushed inside before the Shadows could get me. I redid the door’s lock six times to make sure nothing could get in, I heard banging for a minute or two but then it stopped. My heart was beating hard, I took the bloody napkin out of my mouth and threw up a little, the fluid was red and greenish, I leaned on the wall beside me to steady myself, right next to a picture of me and my mother from years ago. We were hugging and smiling in it, I looked a lot different then, my hair was shorter and my teeth looked whiter, I’m not sure what she looks like now. For some reason the picture made me very angry, maybe it was how fake my mother looked, like a fake plastic woman, she always used to look like that, I could hear her yelling in my head and I could imagine her smacking me the way she used to, I curled my fist and punched the picture very hard, the glass broke and the frame fell, CRASH CLINK CRASH, the shards spilled everywhere and I spat on them. I would’ve cleaned it up but my hand was in a lot of pain and there was blood all over it, some was running down my arm and dripping onto the floor, there were shards lodged in my knuckles but I didn’t really care, I’ve been hurt much worse before.

I sat on the living room couch and stared at the blood, I like the way it looks and how it changes color. Some of the blood in my mouth dripped onto the carpet, I didn’t mind, the pain was getting better and the carpet was already dirty, it’s got coffee stains and mud on it, plus the blood made a nice pattern in the fabric, almost like a crop circle. I decided to look through the money bag and counted the bills, $376. That was a lot, enough for the mortgage and maybe a nice new sweater, I got some blood on the cash and tried to wipe it off but it smudged. Part of me felt guilty about what I did, another didn’t, I didn’t know which I felt more, but I had the money now and I couldn’t bring it back, if I tried the CIA would torture me, thinking about that got me so worked up I vomited again, this time on my shoes, I saw some of the sausage I ate earlier in the mix.

I wiped my mouth and turned the TV on. It was the news. The newscaster was a nice-enough-looking man, his eyes were soft and his hair was red and had gel in it, but when he talked his mouth was crooked and moving funny, he was saying something about how a zoo had opened up nearby, but I knew he was really talking about me, he was really saying he was going to send people to kidnap me and pull out my eyes and I was going to be miserable for the rest of my life, I could see him holding back laughter. I was so terrified I turned off the TV but he kept talking, except his voice was scratchier and louder, and the windows across from me were laughing and the cabinets in the kitchen were clacking, I thought my house was safe but in that moment it was the most dangerous place on Earth, and in the middle of this I knew that I had to do it now, if I didn’t do it the world was going to explode and to keep it from exploding I had to do it even if I didn’t want to.

I stood up and ran to my bedroom, the blood was all over my clothes now and I could hear it going SLOSH SLOSH SLOSH in my palm, when I got inside I opened my closet and checked the rope in there, I’d tied it to the ceiling light a couple days ago and fitted it to my neck, the chair was there too, it was all ready to go. I stepped in, it felt colder in there for some reason, I stood on the chair and put the rope around my neck, I could feel it against my Adam’s apple when I breathed, I didn’t like that very much but I knew I had to do it anyway, but the more I thought about it I figured that maybe I only thought I needed to, and then as I was about to kick the chair the ceiling light came loose and fell and shattered on the ground, and the Glass Shards were screaming Not today, no, no, it’s not time, you’re not ready yet, absolutely not, just like the last time, except last time it was the Rope that said it.

I stepped off the chair and took off the noose. It was 12:03. My bed was still unmade, I didn’t really care, I got in anyway and put the comforter over my head, it was warm and I felt very safe. I closed my eyes and thought about a lot of things, at some point I think I thought of my mother, I can’t remember too well, but I do remember I tried not to think of my father.

Before I fell asleep the Ceiling Light in the closet said, Tomorrow, yes, tomorrow is better, tomorrow is best, this time it’s for real, tomorrow is when you’ll do it. I’m not one to just believe anything but it said it so genuinely that until I fell asleep I trusted it more than anything in the world.

Andrew Jacono is a senior at Wesleyan University majoring in English and French Studies. His work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Cleaver Magazine, Green Briar Review, The Scarlet Leaf Review, The Write Launch, and Chaleur Magazine, among others. www.andrewjacono.com