"Why can't I cross this river?" he mumbled, staring at the ceiling fan. Its blades spun monotonously, creaking every two seconds. He should have fixed it the day before, or probably even earlier, but getting out of bed seemed too hard of a task. 'Similarities,' his mind whispered. 'There are certain similarities, don't you think? She's known me ever since I was born and keeps saying we're different. But there are similarities.'
A brown cockroach was struggling to ascend the wall to his right. He turned, and followed its path with curious eyes. Tiny crippled legs, twisted and unnatural, not like those of humans, thrashed about in disharmony, carrying a round, shiny body. It seemed feeble and helpless, yet its stubbornness conditioned it forward. A creature of strong will and integrity.
"Not like me."
He coughed and got up to his feet, carefully maintaining his balance on the soft mattress. He wiped his running nose with his dirty sleeve. A week had passed since his last change of clothes. A musky smell lingered in the room, yet it was nothing to fret about. He approached the insect and watched it up close. A deaf pain hummed in his chest, but it was already part of his reality, it was unworthy of his attention.
“Where are you going, little fella? What do you think will happen if you get up there? Would it feel like you’re crossing your own river?” he asked, grasping the insect with two careful fingers. He let it fall in the palm of his hand, then jumped on the floor with a loud thump. His unwashed soles stuck to the wooden floor at every step, leaving behind a glistening contour of his feet.
“Look,” he whispered close to the roach, “that is called a fan. A broken one at that, but I’ll take care of it. If you go there, you’ll die… Or at least spin until you puke. I don’t know.”
He glanced around. A green, lost gaze. He scratched his head and fixed his uncomfortable crotch, then released the insect on a small, black cupboard.
“I mean, you guys can survive a nuclear apocalypse, can’t you? Maybe the fan wouldn’t kill you. Wanna try?”
The bug clasped its forefeet and regarded him silently.
Click, click, click…
The fan said. His heart jumped in his throat.
Click, you haven’t fixed me. Why?
His wiped his sweaty face and rubbed bloodshot eyes. A claw seemed to crush his ribs as mellowness struck his arms and legs.
Cause you’re a useless click junkie! That’s why.
“Just shut up,” he gasped, clenching his fingers around the stained pajama. He stepped close to his bed, drawn to it as if he was being summoned by a choir of angels descending from heaven on puffy, pink clouds. His sanctuary, his bubble of isolation from everything external – the bed of silence.
“Just shut up.”
The roach moved, exciting his peripheral vision. His head turned like a spring, a missile lock-on software triangulating its target. The insect froze again, still not replying. It was quite defiant for such an insignificant being, cocky and arrogant. He trod with heavy steps and bent over the helpless beast.
“I asked you a question, haven’t I? Answer,” he growled, hanging an open palm above it. It felt good to have power over something, to feel like the Frenchman Guillotine, and know your hand can turn into a blade of flesh and bone that can completely crush something.
Yet the roach didn’t answer.
The drum in his chest intensified as the clicks grew louder and louder. A static hiss scratched his eardrums. Louder and louder. He bit his lip and swallowed, nostrils flaring as if he was a bull at the corrida. He tensed his muscles and let his palm drop.
“I didn’t think so either. Nobody would want to throw up because of a fan,” he said, staring at the cockroach by his hand. It should have cowered or twitched or jumped or… something, but it didn’t. It just froze.
‘Fight or flight,’ he thought as his hand opened the window. He froze too, trying to remember when and if he had sent a mental command to open that window. He hadn’t, but whatever flowed his hand’s river was good enough for him. Fresh air hit him in the face like a sledgehammer, and a freezing gust ordered his body to dance in shivers.
“The fu… It’s cold,” he concluded, disappointed in his capacity of asserting things. “Of course it’s cold you idiot, it’s almost winter.”
The city outside buzzed like a bee-colony of metal, plastic, flesh and concrete. He glanced for a few seconds, his eyes tracking a hot waitress at the café across the street. She was serving a few customers, her pretty face painting a smile. As always. ‘Turn around,’ he thought, sliding his hand down the abdomen.
The tension was killing him.
Click, click, click, the fan screamed.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them, the waitress spun on her heels, heading for the bar.
“There it is,” he said, lips curled in a smirk. “That ass. I’d kill for that…”
“The hell are you doing, you creep?” a pleasant voice said, dissolving his fantasy. He looked down and realized his hand was in his pants and laughed bitterly. “You’re peeping again? You know, you’re really messed up.”
Click, click, click.
“And I thought I asked you to fix that damn fan. It’s been two weeks Damien. Two weeks,” she said, anger snapping in her guttural, yet soothing voice.
He turned and grinned, hand still in pants.
“You’re a sick man,” the girl said, a bittersweet chuckle shaking her athletic body.
“I found similarities Martha. You remember you kept saying you can’t believe we’re brothers cause we’re so different? Well, we’re not that different,” he mumbled, wiping his hand on the pants. A warm sensation still tingled his crotch and he grimaced. It was too weird, even for him, to prance an erection in front of his sister.
He turned around and saw the cockroach back on the cupboard. Click, click, click, the fan kept on urging.
“What the…” he squinted and looked closer. Perhaps withdrawal was finally claiming his mind. He kneeled and approached an analytic eye to the insect. He sighed in relief, as it was just another bug, not his fan-aspiring friend whom he had so gallantly released into the wild.
“You’re a weirdo,” Martha said, fixing her lime training bra. “Come on, I made breakfast.”
Damien twisted on his heels and lost balance, sprawling to the floor with a loud thump. His head hit the wall and he yelped.
“Damien!” she cried, leaping to his side. “Are you ok?”
“Yes, yes. I’m fine. I just… got dizzy again. Don’t worry,” he said, rubbing his temple, smearing blood on his face. He stopped and glanced at his hand, his brain refusing to understand what blood had to do with losing one’s balance.
“Oh my God, you’re bleeding,” Martha said, running to the other room. “I’ll bring some tissues!” she shouted, her voice barely audible.
“I’m really fine! Don’t worry sis!” Damien shouted back. He started walking to the kitchen, wary of any other possible short-circuits of the brain. “You know, if you don’t want me to peep, why not fix me yourself!” He carried on, a peevish smile brimming on his face.
One second. Two seconds. Three seconds:
“Shut up, you sick piece of shit!” she replied from the other room.
“And there it is,” Damien mumbled to himself, shaking in silent laughter. His sister was a wonderful person, kind and understanding enough to take care of a wreck such as himself. 'I don’t know what I would do without this woman,' he thought as the cold kitchen floor forced his toes to curve.
“You need to take a shower,” Martha said, walking in. She carried a box of plasters, a bottle of betadine and cotton tampons. She placed a heavy hand on his shoulder and forced him to sit. With gentle hands, she tended his wound.
“It’s lucky you attended that first-aid thing, right?”
She replied with a mumble, her face convoluted in concentration. “It’s deeper than I thought. Maybe we should get you to a hospital to stitch it up.”
His hands started shaking uncontrollably. A sudden pain clutched his every muscle, squeezing the flesh beneath his skin. A layer of cold sweat covered his body, and his stomach churned within like a rabid snake. A scream stopped in his throat as his trachea blocked his airflow like a shuttle door. He squeezed his throat with both arms, croaking in search for air.
It hurt. His entire body convulsed in agony as darkness crept in at the corner of his vision. He fell to the floor, twitching like a fish on land, his fingers burrowing deep in the neck muscles. Martha was there, somewhere around. He knew and felt it. Her presence was there, like a shimmering, solitary star on a cloudy, moonless horizon. Her spirit beckoned him to fight, to embrace the agony and accept it as his own. There was no other choice.
His eyelids fluttered like the wings of a butterfly and his eyes rolled in their sockets. His tongue felt swollen, too big to fit in his mouth.
Click, click, click, useless junkie.
Worthless drug addict.
Click, click, click, you fool
You’re the scum of this grand world
I still click for you
As sudden as it came, pain flew away, its wings spread mighty above his head. It still lingered, hovered above like an eagle waiting for its prey to show, but at least its claws no longer pierced his body. At least for the moment. He tried to get up, but failed and threw up on the floor, his insides an untamed sea crashing its waves further than expected. Martha laid a hand on his shoulder.
It was shameful, humiliating. He was weak, his utility was indeed zero, just as the fan had said. His sister’s touch sickened him, yet her soft palm refused to go away. He was broken and feeble, a mere shadow of what he had once been.
“Are you ok?”
She was judging him. She was certainly judging him, just like everybody else. All her smiles and jokes and breakfasts, all fake, just like her. She was probably suffering of a messiah complex, or something like that. Or even worse, she was pitying him, looking at him with those big, brown kind eyes. Fake! Fake! Fake!
Her voice irritated him. He hated her as he hated everybody else. Nobody was truly able to understand the trials he was suffering. Nobody around was capable of understanding true addiction. They all complained about small shit like cigarettes or sugar, acting like a victim of an addiction, yet they understood nothing about it.
“Damien, are you ok?” Martha asked, her voice shaking.
Click, click, useless junkie.
“Just shut up!” he howled, his vocal chords snapping from the pressure. He spun around and tensed his body. Darkness, anger, suffering and pain. Control disappeared.
A thump, an echo. A short cry, then a body hitting the floor. He opened his eyes and stared at his clenched fist. Blood dripped from his knuckles, as Martha looked up to him, her eyes bulged out the skull, a lost gaze peering at the monster she called ‘brother’. His anger subsided and his muscles relaxed. The realization hit him like a train.
He had hit a woman.
And not every woman, he had struck Martha.
Blood ran down her face through her nose. She shook her head and stood, palm pressing down her pulsating nose-bridge. She looked at him, but there was no anger in her eyes.
“I… I’m sorry,” he said, swallowing in tension. “I… I don’t know what…”
“You need help, Damien,” she ordered more than said. “You will get help. You can’t do this by yourself. It’s been like what, a week since you’ve stopped taking it? Maybe a little less.”
“But I don’t want to…”
“I don’t care what you want at this point. I care for what you need. I can’t do this man. I don’t know how to manage this, what to tell you, how to behave, I just don’t. It’s the third time I’ve watched you almost die in the span of a few days. You’re going to rehab.”
“Everyday is the same as the one before. These people are crazy!” he whispered, bending over the table. “There’s a guy who is addicted to eating bloody house walls. Like, literally, he just tears shit down and eats walls. What the…”
“Just shut up, weirdo,” Martha replied, her plump lips sketching a smile. “How are you feeling?”
They were by the pool of his rehab place, ‘Ventura Recovery Center’. California proved to have quite a beneficial climate for him. Sun’s warmth helped a lot with his overall chilly mood. He felt invigorated, refreshed, and oddly high-spirited. It had been a long time since he had felt so joyful.
“I’m really happy you came,” he said, slapping the water with his pale feet. “It means a lot. You know, I never got to thank you for everything you did. You have no idea how much you helped by just being there.”
Martha looked down, unable to find proper words to reply.
“Do you have your laptop?” Damien asked. He felt the subject was uncomfortable for his sister. After all, he knew her well. If there was one thing she truly hated, it was praise. He had seen her ram through life like an unstoppable buffalo, unscathed and immovable, no matter how difficult a situation proved to be, always keeping an ace in her sleeve to counter and parry, yet sincere compliments were her Achilles’s heel.
“Yes, yes, I got it,” she replied disheveled. She spun and unzipped her gaming backpack. She opened the computer and typed its password with the speed of an octopus.
“You know, it amazes me how good you are with those things,” Damien grumbled, a hint of jealousy in his tone. “I always wanted to learn programming but…” he said, waving his hands around. “I guess drugs were a bit more important for me at that time.”
“There’s enough time. Once you get out of here, I can teach you. Of course, it won’t be for free,” she replied peevishly.
“Ah, so my offer to fix me yourself stuck to you, eh? I’m sorry sis, but I’m not that man any...”
She knocked his wind with a well-placed elbow than laughed. ‘She is indeed marvelous,’ he thought, as he inhaled profoundly.
“That hurt, woman!”
“You’re a creep, so you don’t get to speak. You know,” she said, turning to him. “I remembered something on the way here. You said back then that you found similarities between you and me. What did you mean?”
The question struck home. Damien bit his lip and ran his fingers through his raven hair. ‘Similarities. I think I was too messed up at the time to truly understand myself or this woman, but now I think I really know the greatest similarity we share.’
“It’s just one, Martha,” he said, trailing off in the distance.
“Well then, say it man! Don’t leave me hanging.”
“We both know how to take a punch in the face,” he replied with a rasp laughter.
“Oh, come on! Stop fooling around please.”
Wind shifted in the leaves as the sun hid behind a milky summer-cloud. It was beautiful. After so many years he was finally able to say he knew how peace felt. It was a little odd to attain bliss in a rehab center, but it didn’t matter. Interlaced fates made for stronger threads. He had been thin, close to rupturing, to swirl into eternal darkness never to return, but no more.
“We are indeed different. There are maybe a few similarities. Probably foods we like or music tastes, but our cores are different. Back when I said that, I just wanted to hurt you, to pinch your insecurities because…” he inhaled and glanced in the pool. Water cast playful glows on his thin face as Martha took his hands into hers. “I guess we both can change.”
“Don’t worry Damien, it’s all in the past.”
He felt like crying, but abstained. He had been lower than scum, but there was someone who saw more in him.
“So, say now, what do you want with my laptop?” she asked, grabbing the device.
“A song, I want a song,” he muttered, not daring to look her in the eye. “The Humbling River.”
Her fingers dashed across the keyboard and played the tune. She carefully placed the laptop to her side and produced a bag of cheese flavored potato chips from her backpack. She extended the treat and Damien buried his hand inside, his craving eyes flickering.
“Ah, I forgot to tell you, I fixed that fan myself,” she chuckled.
“So it no longer clicks,” he murmured, warmth melting the inside of his chest. “It no longer clicks.”
Martha regarded him with curious eyes, but decided not to disturb him. He was finally blissful. His eyes no longer oozed anger and hatred, just a hint of sadness and regret. She let her head drop on his shoulder and closed her eyes. Damien wrapped her in a warm embrace and kissed her forehead.
“Time will heal this,” he whispered, as the song chanted in the background. He turned his head and truly listened, his whole being vibrating along with notes and lyrics.
“And together we’ll cross the river,” he sang along, as the sun flared bright light, escaping from the grip of the clouds.