XI / by Ronald Clark

I could not lie. I shall not lie. Lying would be wrong. Lying would be inappropriate. The truth is all that is necessary, in the here and now. So I speak only of my truth. For I, too, have thought about it. I thought about it, too. I thought about it, I have. I have thought about it.

I wonder what it would be like to kill Walter’s father…

“I already know how I would do it.”

He plays with the box cutter in his hands like a child prodigy at the seat of his piano. His fingers sing a song of routine, the eagerness familiar. They have done this dance before. The fire kisses the cutter, moisture engages its shine. It sure is beautiful.

“I would want him at his happiest, ya know? I would want him happy as hell. I’d want him – gleeful. Gay, in the good way. It would have to include his beers. His television. Probably a football game. He would laugh. He would be so damn comfortable. Then… I would end his smile. One smooth cut would do it. But not well enough that he would die without knowing it was me who did it. He would get his chance to look me in the eye. I would give that to him. It would be the last thing he would get from me.”

I look my dear friend in his eye. Or, at least, I attempt to. But he will not engage me. To watch him deep in thought, surrounding the worst and best thing he could ever do for himself, somehow increases our connection. He is letting me watch him. He does not have to allow me in this space. I guess it is simply repayment for all the time he has spent in my own.

“Such a well-thought out entrance into the prison pipeline.”

“So worth it.”

“Would it be?”

“You mean to tell me that you haven’t thought about offing your pops? Bullshit.”

“Destruction can come in so many forms. Death is only one of many choices to pick from. To each their own.”

Walter licks his box cutter, tastes every nook and cranny of its potential.

“Tastes like forever.”

“So poetic of you.”

“This is the only poetry I would write.”

Walter allows the fire to kiss his box cutter one last time before placing it back in his pocket. Walter’s hands, a steadying force. We look at each other. My curiosity beckons for more. But I will leave it alone for now. For now, I will be here as a sounding board for my friend, as he has been for me time and time again.

We walk away from the heat. Take steps towards the familiar angst that will find us in our homes. Being outside, being with each other, provides us an escape we truly treasure. I view him through a different light now. As the fire burns behind our backs, Walter takes his first steps into his new role. I do not know how much more his shoulder can handle. I have brought him so much of my pain when his is already so palpable. It might be selfish of me. But Walter always presents himself as someone incapable of letting pain get to him. Pain is just part of life.

Pain is life.

This walk is so familiar. It is second nature. Naturally, we do not use our words. Just steps in the right direction. I peak into the windows of the various homes on our street. I do not see anything of substance but I still picture these families, their operations, their quirks, their pain. Pain is no assumption in this case. Pain is everywhere. I assume.

Pain is life.

I smile at this notion, this realization. There is no real reason to be lonely within pain. No one person is feeling something that has not been felt before, that is not being felt right now. There is no emotion, no pain, singularly built for one person. We share pain. We take our own pieces of it but its essence is connected to all others who have witnessed or felt the same. Tears are recycled, passed on to the next generation to be used all over again. Our ancestors laugh when we place our pain within the realm of independence.

Front of my home. Its walls encapsulating my escape, and my destination. Walter stands at the top of his driveway. I do the same with mine. We stand there, breathing in sync. It takes a moment of preparation to return to the place of your torment. It takes everything in me not to rush Walter, tear his box cutter out of his pocket, and off his father. To alleviate Walter of his torment, provide him with a place to rest his head for the remainder of his time in this world, the offer is written in stone. But I have a father, too. Or at least, there is a man in my home auditioning for the role. It is not going well.

Walter and I make eye contact for the last time, each at the door of our home. One final breath. Entrance. Doors closed. We will not know what the other needs until tomorrow. This is friendship.