The thing about being alone is that it is not inherently lonely. One must know the pleasure of company and companionship in order to be truly aware of its absence. What I’m trying to say is; it’s hard to miss something you’ve never had. And I never had a friend before Eugene.
It was a mid-summer day of unbearable heat when I first met him. We were deep in a drought. The ground outside my apartment was dry, cracked deep like broken glass, and balding. Only a few thin strands of yellow grass had nerve enough to cling to that brown scalp of earth. Just looking at it made me feel thirsty. Arguably the worst thing about the drought that summer was the sweat which would appear, as condensation on your skin, within a second of exposure to the outside world. After as little as 5 minutes your clothes would be soaked. There you would stand hot as a desert, mouth dry as ash twice as thirsty, and yet the surface of your skin would be so wet you’d think it had been raining. Humans aren’t made to withstand such contradictions. We are creatures of comfort, and it made us uncomfortable.
I left for the grocery store earlier than normal that morning. It’s a walk that I typically make at least once a day, but sometimes more than that. It gives me something to do. I’d thought ahead this particular day and figured that I might beat the heat if I rose with the sun. Dew of the early morning kissed my sandaled feet with cool lips on the walk there. But I’d spent too long inside the building, so all my walk home I had sweat like a river running down my back. I’d just reached my front door, keys in hand, when I heard a voice.
I turned around to see the smiling face of a neighbor. He was a short man, red face soaked in sweat, long nose, glasses and a receding hair line. I knew he lived in the top corner apartment. I knew nothing else.
My voice was hoarse and I remember wondering to myself how long it had been since I’d last spoke to another human being. Certainly a week or more as it had been a while since my last case meeting. Two hundred pound black man recluse in his late fifties, that I am, I’ll never understand why he picked me of all people. After a moment I realized that he’d continued talking, while I had abruptly stopped listening.
“What?” I asked.
“Well there is this chili competition going on at North Market today and I’m new and I don’t really know anybody around here… and I’ve noticed that you are always alone so I figured maybe…”
“It’s an awfully hot day to be eating chili don’t you think?” I turned away from him to enter my humble home sweet home.
“Please,” I had to stop in my tracks. There was something raw in the sound of his voice, “My mother died yesterday and I could use some company to take my mind off of it.”
“I’m sorry.” I didn’t know what else to say. I’d lost my own mother over ten years ago. I’d dealt with it the way I’ve dealt with all my life. Quiet solitude, my safe little bubble.
“Do you know how to play poker?”
“Want to learn?”
So that day I learned to play poker. I was lousy back then and I’m still lousy now. Luckily Eugene taught me a love of the game, not a love of the win. That first night we played quietly game after game until I knew each and every hand by heart. I realized it was getting late but I for some reason I thought it would be rude to leave while he still wanted company. We played and played until the sun came up, in full, then finally called it quits. As he began to pack up the cards I stood up. I didn’t know what to say. I rushed out the door without a goodbye. I remember he seemed sleepy and surprised with his mouth hanging open, as though he were at a loss of words to my behavior as I was to the situation.
The next day I found myself feeling very anxious. Despite my lack of sleep I could keep my eyes closed. At first I laid there for hours staring up at the ceiling. Then I stood up and began pacing back and forth and back and forth. I washed the same dish four times. I wasn’t sure if I should have exchanged contact information with him. I wasn’t sure how often friends spend time with each other. I’d never had a friend before. Throughout my school career I had been lost in the crowd. During recess I would walk around the perimeter of the playground alone, until it was finally time to return to class. When the teacher called on me during a lesson I would say nothing as though I were a mute. One day, during my sophomore year of high school, I simply stopped going. Nobody noticed anyway.
My friendship with Eugene was awkward and clumsy for the first few months as neither of us really knew what to say to the other. Usually Eugene did most of the talking. He pressed me for information and it always seemed as though he were digging for something. For every answer I gave he had another question in waiting. I felt like nothing I could say would ever satisfy him.
Eugene made it his mission to help me. I became his new hobby I suppose. When Eugene found out that I lived off social security he started giving me rides to my meetings, then to the store to fill my prescriptions. By the next summer Eugene got me a job working alongside him doing construction. I’d never worked a day in my life so that was a very new experience for me. I learned to crack jokes, be a part of a team, and work with my hands. We’d play poker every Wednesday with the guys from work, we’d car pool together, and he even got me involved in some community service. Eugene was particularly fond of the; adopt a highway program. He said it pleased the god of roads and would bless us with safe travel.
Gradually I came to know Eugene as though he were my brother. I know that he gets up at 7am every day, showers, brushes his teeth, and listens to the radio over coffee, in that particular order, every day, even if he doesn’t work. I know his favorite station on the radio. I know he hates the news so much that he will turn off the TV rather than sit through a breaking news story that interrupts his favorite show. I know his favorite show is always something about crime solving, and that his favorite show changes often. In turn Eugene came to know me as well. He very quickly came to know the limits and triggers of my social phobia. He knows that I have a great collection of Motown records while I know that he owns every album Bruce Springsteen has ever made. He knows that I don’t always get up at the same time every day. He knows that sometimes I get insomnia, and that I’m not really consistent about anything. He knows that I am afraid of most animals and all people. I know that he has five orange cats in that small cramped apartment and he knows I’ll never be able to tell them apart. I came to realize Eugene has struggles just like me. I came to recognize his cycles of depression, manic happiness, anger and obsession. I learned to overlook his clean freak qualities and sarcastic remarks the way he forgave my messy apartment and lack of manners. Nobody is perfect but we were both just the right kind of fucked up to be the only friend for each other.
“Do you remember fire flies?” Eugene had asked me one evening as we were finishing up from a day of work, “Like when you were a kid do you remember how many more fire flies there had been? You’re older than me I bet you remember more than I do. Bigger swarms I mean.”
I closed the lock to my toolbox and looked out to the setting sun. The sky was a pale blue fading into yellow, then a bit orange just along the horizon as if in afterthought.
“I remember fire flies so thick you couldn’t walk three feet without getting one in your hair or on your shirt. But that was out at my grandmother’s house and she lived in the middle of nowhere.”
“I found out the other day that fire flies have a strong sense of home,” Eugene said. “They live and breed in the same field from which they came. They do not relocate if that field is destroyed. They simply die in search of home not understanding why it isn’t there anymore.” We both stop and look out at the upturned earth of our current work site. The cement mixer sits in waiting where once a small pond had been. The whole area had been a tall grassy field less than a week ago.
“That’s a shame,” I say quietly.
We begin walking away from the site. Eugene has his hands in his pockets as though they needed to be restrained.
“Look at this,” Eugene said with a solid stomp upon the pavement. The weight of his steel toed boot sounded more like a punch than a slap. “Why do we do this? Why isn’t real earth good enough?”
“It helps for wheel chairs and strollers I suppose.”
“I think fresh air and grass helps everybody. It helps the bugs and animals. I think this wounded world needs more grass and less pavement, that’s what I think… I don’t understand why everybody is so greedy. We take and take and take don’t we?”
“Nobody is perfect,” I told him as we reach Eugene’s car. “We all just try to do what we think we ought to, we’re all guessing and bluffing our way through life like it’s a game of poker. We can’t save ourselves let alone the fireflies.”
“My uncle… did something to me once… when I was a child.” Eugene said very quietly. We stood on opposite sides of the car. I could see only his shoulders and head facing away from me.
“He called me up a few weeks ago. I didn’t speak a word to him at my mother’s funeral. And then again when he called me I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t say anything. I listened to him breath until finally he hung up the phone. And I stayed listening to static for another few minutes until finally the phone cut off. And I was left wondering if that had really happened or if I’d just imagined it… It’s silly how much one small moment can affect your entire life.”
“My father beat me,” I said this abruptly. Those words which had been waiting for over forty years now came flowing out of me like the release of water from a dam breaking. Out it poured. “He beat my mother. He was cruel and controlling. I we lived in constant fear. I used to sleep under my bed because it seemed safer. I was convinced he would kill me. I was hospitalized several times. My mother almost died. I always had to be quiet and I was always afraid. Most of my childhood, and now all of my life.”
Eugene looked over to me and I could clearly see that his eyes were wet, they were glistening.
“I’m sorry.” He said. He wiped away a tear and climbed into the car.
“I’m sorry too.” I said mostly to myself. I felt at that moment a sadness for my lack of feeling. I’d long ago ran out of tears and knew myself to be incapable of it. We never spoke of those subjects again. It was an unspoken understanding. We had each shown the other our deepest cut. Raw and visible like a bird cut open by a cat, painful, exposed, and too late to be saved.
That same weekend was the fourth of July. I felt closer to Eugene after our exchange, however abrupt and awkward it may have been. He now knew me better than any human being had ever known me, including my own mother. I wanted to go out have a good time and put him in a better mood. I wanted to express some appreciation, to celebrate our friendship, so I suggested we watch the parade and check out the festivities.
Going outside to anywhere other than my apartment, grocery store, or work, was something I almost never did. Eugene eager not to miss a chance to help me with my social phobia showed up early of course. I’m sorry to say that it took much coaxing to get me all the way to high street and then out amongst the crowds. We were too late to see the parade. It was my fault entirely, but Eugene’s spirits seemed up as we swam through the sea of people who were heading in the opposite direction. After something like eight blocks, the crowd growing thicker with each step, I finally saw that colorful stained street. Confetti and candy wrappers danced in the wind thanks to a little burst of chaos from each car that passed. The curb of the road was thick with bottles, fast food bags, cups and general trash. I could see water choking on the debris as a city worker tried in vain to clean up the mess by spraying a hose directly at it.
We stopped and stood between two parking meters facing out at the road. The most interesting thing I saw the whole time was a daringly close dart from one side of High street to the other. A girl in a sandals stumbled and was nearly hit.
We decided to walk to the park. I was feeling ok and I didn’t want to ruin Eugene’s good time. As we stood waiting to cross the street both Eugene and I noticed a beautiful young woman standing in wait for the light to turn. She was on a cell phone making plans to meet someone at the park. Wrapped tightly in her hand was the small chubby paw of a child who appeared to be around four years old. The boy had sandy blonde hair and was wearing a super hero T-shirt. As his mother was staring off watching traffic the little boy reached down and picked a sticky red sucker off the ground. I could see the glue like goo stretch and tear as he pulled it free. I could see several small ants trapped within the sugar thick slime. I could see their little legs struggling to escape. Eugene could see it too. We were both stunned silent as the little boy popped the candy into his mouth. Then the light changed and they walked away, the mother had no idea.
Eugene had stopped in his tracks. Being so used to him doing all the talking I’d come to find his silence the most unnerving. The light changed once then back again before finally he spoke.
“It’s disgusting, isn’t it? This whole city is disgusting.” We began to walk towards the park. On the other side of the street Eugene stopped and picked up a half-eaten mini candy bar. “You know what,” He said presenting to me the piece of trash. “I’m going to pick up every piece of candy I see lying on the ground, and I’m going to throw it away. I’m going to throw it all away piece by piece.” Eugene’s tone was very serious and determined as he said this but after half an hour his mission proved too much of a hassle.
When we reached our apartment complex I noticed that Eugene had begun to stop and pick up trash along the way. At least he only stopped if it was a rather large item this time. Eugene stopped for a crumpled bag of fast food, plastic bag or a cup. He’d pick up a bottle but not an empty pack of cigarettes nor a wrapper. I didn’t bother to question him. I simply nodded my head goodbye and shuffled away as though suddenly I wasn’t entirely sure how to walk.
The next week followed the usual routine. It was comforting. I felt comfortable. Eugene seemed to have forgotten about picking up trash and was back to normal. We joked about the boss and we got a lot of work done at the site. We were actually ahead of schedule. It was a Tuesday and everything had been going particularly well that day.
It took me twenty minutes to realize that Eugene had been gone for way too long at the bathroom. I found him crouched down over an ocean of discarded cigarettes ten feet diagonal from the porta-potty. He was picking up trash again and this time he picked up everything.
“Hey buddy, wh-what you doing there?” Eugene turned his head to look up at me but his hands continued to collect at manic speed. He’d been accumulating cigarette butts into a plastic grocery bag and it was nearly half full.
“You wouldn’t believe how disgusting,” Eugene said. I’d noticed that the whites of his eyes looked irritated, they were tinted a painful shade of red. It made his blues seem to sparkle. After a moment I realized that this was because he’d stopped blinking all together. “I found a condom. A fucking used condom in the porta-potty. What the hell is wrong with people?”
“Eugene,” I put my hand on his shoulder. It was the most physical contact we’d ever had other than a high five. Eugene too realized that. He blinked. “We have to get back to work. You could get in trouble.”
“I know, I know.” Eugene grumbled. His hands began to slow down in their rabid collection, but he did not stop.
“Maybe this weekend we can go clean up the highway for a couple hours.” I offered. Eugene nodded his head. Finally he stopped and stood up. I waited as Eugene went to depose of the bag. He’d stopped directly in front of the trash can. He was looking down into it as though searching it’s depths for an answer. I saw him reach inside and pull something out. The way he held it so gently I knew something was wrong.
By the time I reached Eugene he was sitting on the ground on his knees cradling the small dead thing. It was a baby rabbit, corpse, almost exactly the length of his hand. He was crying. I suddenly felt uneasy and tense. I was too nervous to come any closer than five feet to the man. I waited.
“This isn’t trash.”
“I know it’s not.”
“This world is so fucked up. We put babies in the trash and bury cigarettes in the ground.”
Eugene sniffled back snot as he set the dead animal down. It was collecting flies but for the most part the thing held its shape. Eugene began to dig his hands into the dirt. He intended to bury it.
“Eugene, you can do that later.” I began nervously looking around for the boss. “Seriously we’re going to get into trouble.”
“You go. I’ll catch up.” Before I could say another word our team lead had spotted us.
“What the hell are you guys doing?!” He demanded. He sounded angry. My heart began to flutter. I saw my father there in the hard hat and uniform. I saw him marching across the ground towards me. Instincts kicked in. I ran.
It was bad. We were both suspended. The big boss thought we were both going crazy, he ordered us both to take some time to relax. He said we needed to get our heads back in the game. I’d thought that was funny to hear knowing that he taught his kids basketball team. He probably said that same thing to his young players.
Most of the guys had thought I was crazy to begin with so nobody was really surprised to see me put on a weeks forced leave. Eugene did not get away so easy. He’d shown a softness through his actions. He’d expressed a compassion and caring that had no place on a construction site. The men called him fag, queer and sissy. They mocked him about baby bunnies and threw lit cigarettes at him. It was the ultimate walk of shame, and I shamefully did not walk with him. I kept pace with Eugene a good ten feet back, quiet and unnoticed, as if I were his tall shadow stretched behind by the pull of the setting sun, faithfully following his every footstep. Doing nothing more.
The next day I did not see Eugene. I intentionally avoided him, even going as far as to leave out the back door of my apartment. I took a different path to the grocery store, it was terrifying, but not as terrifying as Eugene’s tears.
The day following that I decided to find Eugene. I figured after a day of contemplation he ought to be getting back to normal. I went to his apartment but he wasn’t home. I knocked, I called. I received no answer.
Another day passed and Eugene remained to be seen. The day following that was Saturday and I like to hit the grocery store early on Saturday’s in order to beat the crowd. I found Eugene on the side walk next to a trash can. He was picking up garbage and putting it in its rightful place.
“People have terrible aim.” I observed. Eugene jumped at the sound of my voice.
“Bo!” He exclaimed with a smile. Eugene was clearly happy to see me. I couldn’t help but notice that he had developed dark circles under his eyes. His clothes were stained. And his hands, normally washed way too regularly, were filthy.
“How are you buddy?” I asked tentatively. “I’ve been looking for you, I was starting to get worried.”
“Oh I’ve been fine. Honestly Bo,” He leaned in towards me as though he were about to tell me something secret. “I’ve been bored as hell not working.” I could not help but laugh. It was a relief of pressure from within.
“You spent too many years working too hard Eugene. Didn’t the boss say to take it as a vacation?”
“I tried, I really did. But it felt like such a waste of time. And you know overthinking isn’t really the best thing for me…” I felt the tension returning as he said this. I noticed that his hand kept rubbing over the smooth metal rim of the waste can. “I decided I wanted to do something good with my time. I want to do something for this city, for you, me, for everybody. I’ve started my own community service. I’m cleaning up High street!” He motioned proudly up and down the side walk. It was the sort of difference you really couldn’t tell unless you got down on your hands and knees and inspected the amount of crap caught between the cracks. It seemed to me so minuscule, but I liked to see Eugene smiling, so I smiled right back.
“That’s really great, buddy. It looks… great. You’re doing a really good service here.”
“Thank you thank you,” Eugene nodded his head and looked around proudly. “I knew I was tired of seeing all that filth so I figured the rest of the community must feel that way too. It feels really good to do something for society and the environment you know? To help the world, giving of your own time and effort.” A couple of young men walked past us. One of them flicked a cigarette butt into the street. Eugene watched it out the corner of his eye. His head nodding began to increase in speed.
“Would you like to join the cause? Think of how much ground we could cover if we worked together?”
Eugene’s hair was flopping up and down from the force of his head bobbing. I edged backwards away from him.
“Well actually, I really can’t today-” I began.
“Well that’s alright, but you know I really must be getting back…” Eugene’s hands had already began to each for a gum wrapper before he’d finished his sentence.
“It is really great what you’re doing here. That’s a good thing.” I said while slowly backing away.
“Thank you, thank you.” Eugene muttered. His hands were collecting blindly, as his eyes remained locked onto that cigarette butt which sat burning in the street.
Sunday I decided to join Eugene. As approached him it became more and more evident that he hadn’t changed his clothes. He’d only progressed one block up. He was beginning to develop an odor.
You’d be surprised at how much trash there really is around you at any given time. I found cigarette packs, receipts, and coupons bleached white by the sun mixed in amongst crumbling leaves. I found a dead beetle resting eternally inside the cap of a beer bottle. I found a lottery ticket providing sheltering to some roly-polies. It’s depressing work, no wonder it was getting to Eugene. I’d had my fill of it by three hours in, but I forced myself into one more hour before saying something to him.
“I think we ought to take it like a job Eugene,” I said. I was working the sidewalk cracks as he did the street gutter. We had two full trash bags already and I was soaked in sweat. It was a terribly hot day.
“Like a nine to five kinda thing. You deserve to have a life.”
“What?” Eugene laughed hoarsely and it turned into a dry cough. I handed him my bottle of water feeling concerned about how long he had been going without one of his own. “I don’t deserve anything. Humans take too much as it is. I’m trying to make up for all the damage we’ve done here Bo!”
I sat back in surprise. Eugene had never raised his voice at me before. It didn’t scare me the way I thought it would. If fact it made me feel angry myself, angry and frustrated.
“You’re wasting yourself on nothing! And you stink, take a damn shower. It’s gross.” I stood up.
“Will you take these bags with you?”
Monday I told myself I wasn’t going to see him, but after a bad night of insomnia I realized that I had to or I might never sleep again. I waited until the evening because it had rained all afternoon. The ground was still moist as I walked out to High street. Tree’s overhead rained single drops like tears as a breeze blew past.
I found Eugene in the same spot as the day before. He still had not changed, nor I assume been home, in all this time. Thanks to the wet clothes clinging to his body I could suddenly see how much weight he’d lost. His hand was openly bleeding as he picked at moist bits of paper which were so old they had clearly began to deteriorate. He was facing issues of crumbling material breaking apart before he could get it into the bag. I watched him collect the rest of the paper, a pen cap, pop tab, and button before I said anything.
“It was a piece of glass,” Eugene said. He looked back at me and I gasped. He looked terrible. His eyes were swollen, red, and deeply sunken into his hallow face. His skin was yellow, stained, covered in cuts and bruises. “It’s filthy filthy filthy filthy filthy filthy filthy.”
“Eugene you need to eat. You need to shower. Have you been drinking water?”
“Of course I have!” Eugene reached into a grocery bag which he had been hiding at his side. He pulled out a half used bottle of water, unscrewed the cap and took a gulp. He gargled it just to show me.
“What’s more wasteful than wasting food and water?” He asked me. Eugene reached into his bag and pulled out a fast food wrapper this time. He showed me the crescent curve of hamburger. The bread was so old it partially crumbled in his hand raining down grains like sand. Eugene put away the bit of burger, licked his finger and reclaimed the grains of bun from off the ground. I had to suppress a gag. I could feel the bile rise in my throat.
“You’re going to get sick eating that. What happened to the clean freak Eugene that became my best friend?”
“I’m still that guy Bo,” There was a sadness in his eyes as he looked up at me now. “I’m still your best friend. I’m still a clean freak. Look around for god’s sake, I’m cleaning the world.” I took a deep breath and exhaled. Eugene reached up to wipe away a bead of sweat. He didn’t realize that he was smearing blood across his forehead in doing so. It reminded me of how Catholics baptize their babies in some perverse way.
“It’s impossible to clean the world, Eugene. You’re wasting your time…” He tensed up when I said that.
He turned away from me and began to dig out little bits of wet paper from a fissure in the cement. His blood smeared with the rainwater causing the white bit of paper to look fleshy pink.
“It is not a waste of time.” He growled under his breath. “…not a waste of time.”
“Eugene please,” I said. I moved around to get in front of him. I wanted to force him to look at me. “I think you need help Eugene. Look, I can introduce you to my caseworker she is really great.” Eugene turned away to face the opposite direction. I once again maneuvered to be in front of him. “What if we could put you in charge of a cleanup team? Think about how much you could get done if you were overseeing a dozen hands?” Eugene turned away again and again. I was practically chasing him in a circle. No matter what I did he ignored me completely. Finally I stepped my foot down directly over the piece of crack he’d been digging at. This at least caused him to pause.
“I want my best friend back.” I heard him snort, and I watched him turn away. Eugene moved out to the road. He began to pick up trash from the curb. He knew that I was too afraid to stand out there in the street. He knew that was much too exposure for me. I watched helplessly as cars swerved around him. Fearing for his life I stepped back to give him space.
“Eugene I need you more than High street does.” He said nothing. He simply stared at the ground peeling flattened trash off the asphalt the way a child would peel off a sticker. All this as cars whizzed past Eugene. He took no notice as though they were clouds drifting by. He took no notice of my leaving either.
Tuesday I did not leave the house not even for my usual trip to the store. I kept my curtains drawn, my door locked and even my TV on mute. I read the closed captions and I watched some sitcom reruns which I already knew by heart. I was afraid to see him. I should have reminded him that we were due back to work the next day, but I suppose part of me already knew that was hopeless.
Wednesday came and I suddenly wished that work had given me a longer suspension. It felt too soon to go back. My construction hat now felt too tight. My steel toes shoes now felt so heavy. Every step was suffocating, every breath seemed painful as if there were shards of glass in the air.
I did not wait for Eugene. I knew he would not be there. Without his car I had to walk. I was late. I was immediately fired. I was relieved.
As I was at the door I paused. Authority figures had always been my boogie man. And this boss was one hell of a boogie.
“I… I think Eugene needs help.” I said this so quietly he didn’t hear me at first. I took a step forward to leave. I stopped. I stepped back into the room. Facing him this time I said it again.
“I think Eugene needs help.”
“I think Eugene, needs help. I think he’s in trouble.”
I lead the boss down High street all the while feeling oddly conscious of my feet. I’d never seen this man off the construction site and I was worried he might disapprove of the way I walk on solid ground. It’s a silly worry I know but I couldn’t help it, I’d not been sleeping well of late.
As we approached the spot I saw him last I kept scanning my eyes up and down the side walk. Where was he?
“Oh my god.” My former employer gasped. I followed his line of vision out onto the street. There in the middle of the road was Eugene. Cars flew past him and were forced swerve around his mass often coming dangerously close to clipping him. Horns screamed loudly, honking from both directions as he was right in the middle of the street straddling that yellow divider line. We moved closer and I could see suddenly that is was a piece of chewing gum which plagued him. Eugene had a face of solid concentration as he struggled to dig his fingernails into the mostly hardened mess. He pulled at it and was able to carve up some little bit of its flesh.
“Eugene!” The boss screamed. He did not look up, he just kept digging.
Suddenly a speeding car swerved to miss him by edging into the opposite lane, it struck another car half head on. The two corners of their vehicles seemed to dissolve into each other as they hit, the rest crumpled up like paper. The impact was so loud it sounded like cannon fire or an explosion. The cars skid together out of control right into Eugene. He was dragged several feet across the ground. He was facing down carried beneath the car, but somehow he managed to stay away from its tires.
The weeks that followed felt like an out of body experience for me. I rode with Eugene in the ambulance. His face was all messed up. I couldn’t stand to look at it. I guess I was never very good at eye contact anyway. We finally reached the hospital. He was in a coma before we even got there. So many strange people had so many questions for me. Normally I’d have been so scared, but I suppose at the time I only had fear enough to fear for Eugene.
I stayed in the hospital with him for the next week. He had no family to speak of and no friends, only me.
After one week the boss came to visit. I asked him if I had been crying as I watched it happen. I remember feeling something hot and salty roll down my face. I knew it could have been sweat but I had some hope. The man smiled at me sadly and put a hand on my shoulder.
“I think you were in shock, son; it’s alright we both were.”
He offered me my old job back that day. I took week to think about it. Eugene had woken up but he did not speak. Not to me. I returned to work. I did not return to the hospital.
It was a chilly day in fall before I finally saw Eugene again. I was walking down High street heading for a restaurant to pick up my food order to go. I was looking down at the sidewalk noticing that it was cleaner than normal. I reminded me of Eugene of course, but it never crossed my mind that it could actually be his handiwork. The glass from Eugene’s glasses had been crushed into his eyes during the car accident. He had been permanently blinded.
The further I walked the more I was stuck by how clean the sidewalk before me appeared. Each perfect square of cement came to me more beautiful than the last. It took me a moment to notice the pink smears. With each progressing step I noticed the amount of pink increasing. I stopped at one particular square which had a sharp gradient transitioning from pink into red. And then I saw him.
Trapped in the middle of a perfect square, encaged by its four matching walls was Eugene. Barely recognizable, unmistakable, Eugene. He was feeling the ground with fingers rubbed raw to the bare flesh, even in parts peeled away to reveal the shock white of bone. That perfect square was painted a horror film deep red, and it was all around him. It swallowed him whole. Eugene rocked back and forth on his heels feeling his way from one edge of the square to the other and back.
And so ended the friendship that started my life. Eugene could see no value in the material world. He now fills his days doing the only thing that matters to him anymore. And so he spent the remainder of his life, feeling the ground the way that one might read braille, always searching for that inevitable bump.
Kate E Lore is the pen name of Katherine Isaacs. She is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University. Kate has been published in Panopoly zine, Orsum, weirdary, featured in Helenpresents, and soon to include *82 review. Kate has written over seventeen articles for Dayton City paper and Dayton Most Metro. Kate worked as a copy editor and occasional contributor to Clarion the Sinclair College student newspaper. Kate has self-published two of her own comic books, one of which was nominated for a S.P.A.C.E award. Kate is currently an active member of Columbus Comics League in Columbus Ohio. Kate has a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University and an associate’s degree in creative writing from Sinclair Community College.