Apr/May 2001  •   Fiction

The Walk

by D. Harlan Wilson

Dying voluntarily implies that you have recognized, even instinctively, the ridiculous character of that habit, the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane character of that daily agitation and the uselessness of suffering. —Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

The day after he killed himself, he came over to my house. I was the first person he decided to tell. "I killed myself," he said after I opened the door and we shook hands. Strange: I hadn't seen or heard from him in over a decade, and frankly I never planned on seeing or hearing from him again. But I invited him in anyway. I was a little busy, but I invited him in anyway. Was not inviting him in even an option at this point?

He had the same unkempt curly brown hair he had had when we were in high school together and his skin, even the skin on his fist-shaped face, was still smooth and creamy. His beanstalk physique was the same, too. The only real difference between now and the last time I saw him was that now he was mostly gums—by my count he only had five teeth in his mouth—and he didn't have any finger or toe nails. My first instinct was to ask him what happened. But I didn't want to embarrass him, so I pretended not to notice.

"I killed myself," he said again as we stepped into the kitchen. Hung myself from a tree in my backyard. My belief in the schizophrenia that capitalism invokes in the American socius became too pronounced to negotiate. Also, she left me."

"Beer?" I said.

He shook his head no.

"You sure?"

He nodded his head yes.

"You sure you're sure?"

This time he didn't do anything with his head.

Shrugging, I reached into the refrigerator and pulled out a six pack of Bud Light bottles. I placed it in the middle of my dining table, keeping one beer for myself, and the five remaining beers jumped out of their carton and off popped their caps. Then the glassy mouths of the beers clinked against one another in a toast and spat their contents down five abruptly visible tubes.

"Who are they?" he asked.

I shrugged again.

"I don't know. But they're the only invisible people I've seen around this neighborhood lately and I prefer the company of invisible people to visible people, if for nothing less than they rarely talk and they never judge you. "Not even if your guilt is written all over your tongue."

"I don't like invisible people," he replied. No offense"—gesturing at the dinner table—but I just don't like them."

"Is that why you killed yourself? Because you don't like invisible people?" I took a lazy swig of beer. Suicide doesn't make for good karma, you know."

He puffed out his lips.

"I told you why I killed myself."

"So you did, so you did." All of a sudden I noticed a tattoo on the back of one of my hands. It was a tattoo of a small mole, not the type with a tail and four tiny claws and rudimentary eyes, but the type you're born with and grow on your skin. It was the first time I noticed it, the first time ever, and I flexed my jaw at it. How did it get there? I didn't remember having it pricked on. Was I born with a tattoo of a mole on the back of my hand? Of course not: it's impossible to be born with a tattoo, at least the kind that requires a needle and ink to apply. And yet for me to say it's impossible—to say anything is impossible—is impossible in light of my strong belief in the notion that nothing, ultimately, is impossible. On the other hand, I also firmly believe that everything (as opposed to nothing) is highly unlikely. But for sake of argument let's assume that being born with a tattoo on your body is possible. Why hadn't I noticed this one till now? And if I had noticed it before, why had I, now, forgotten about noticing it? I had no answer, no answer for myself. So I suggested to myself: Perhaps the mole isn't a tattoo at all, perhaps the mole is a mole. But that would have been in opposition to what my dermatologist told me just last month after examining me: While the skin that jackets your musculature and skeleton is tainted with numerous and sizable patches of bushy ape hair, it does not possess one mole, nor does it possess the capacity to grow moles. I have inspected you from top to bottom, sir, and that is my verdict. This led me to three conclusions: one, my dermatologist lied to me; two, my dermatologist told me the truth but the truth is false; three, my dermatologist is insane and doesn't know if what he says is true or false or somewhere in between the two. But all this was assuming that the mole on my hand was a mole and not a tattoo, and since one or the other couldn't be determined at the present moment, not without the proper scientific machinery, naturally I had to bring this deliberation to an end. I accomplished this as quickly as I had noticed and deliberated the alleged mole or representation of a mole on the back of my hand by asking him: Did you leave a suicide note?"


"What did it say?"

"It said my age. It said... twenty-nine."

I nodded at him and went Mmmm." Then I took another swig of beer.

"I feel like a walk. Let's go outside into the back yard for a little walk, okay? You guys be all right in here for a few minutes if he and I talk a walk out back?"

No response from the invisible people, who were probably in the middle of a heated, wordless conversation, probably staring back and forth at one another with such silent intensity the thick blue veins in their necks and foreheads were popping out.

"Right. Come on. I chugged the rest of my beer and tossed the bottle into a garbage can, burped an obscene burp, then shuffled outside. He followed me.

My back yard is the Abyss. The bottom of it consists of no bottom and it has no walls or dimensions, it oozes out in every direction (except the direction that points to the back of my house, of course), and its color is as colorless as the color of a black hole that has sucked its own blackness into oblivion. The Abyss didn't always used to be my back yard. There was a time when I had a garden and grass and even a big oak tree there. But eventually I got sick of planting things and mowing the lawn and carving my initials in the trunk of the oak tree, and one day I called an extermination company and they came over and removed the garden, the grass, the tree—every living piece of vegetation from my back yard was dislodged and taken away. And it wasn't long before, out of the gaping soil that remained, the Abyss grew back in their place.

While I got sick of the vegetation in my back yard, I didn't get sick of taking walks there. So after the Abyss grew in in its entirety I built a trail over it. The trail, which was more like a long plank, was broad and wooden and stretched from the base of the concrete steps that led up to my back door way out into the distance. I took walks on it at least once a day, usually alone, sometimes with an invisible person or two. Today I walked with him.

"Nice view, huh? He said nothing. He looked at the view and the view looked at him.

We walked for a while in the windless, pure and uncut silence. Then we came to the end of the trail. We turned around. In the distance my house appeared to be the size of a spec of dirt. We walked back towards it. When the house appeared to be the size of a house, we were in front of it. We could reach out and touch it, if we wanted to. We didn't want to. Not at that moment. Then that moment became the next one and I took the doorknob in my hand and gave it a yank.

He followed me back inside.

The invisible people were gone. And they had drank all the beer. I searched the refrigerator two times over but it was all gone, even the German stuff I'd hidden behind a stack of trail bologna. I didn't mind too much. I would have liked another beer, but I didn't mind too much, I didn't mind too much.

"Well," I said.

"Well," he said.

Silence. It lasted 20 minutes and each one of those minutes was less than comfortable. I tried unsuccessfully to think of something say to him for the first ten minutes. For the second ten minutes I tried unsuccessfully to figure out if he was trying unsuccessfully to think of something to say to me or if he wasn't trying to think of something to say at all. At last he came out with, I guess I should get going then. I said that sounded like an idea, and walked him to my front door.

"Good seeing you again," I said as we shook hands. He said it was good seeing me, too. We continued to shake hands, pumping harder, deeper and faster. Then we stopped. Then he told me he killed himself one more time, and left.

After I shut the door, I stared at the door, thinking, blinking. Then I went and searched my refrigerator again, hoping I'd get lucky this time, hoping, last time, I had overlooked something. I hadn't. My refrigerator was completely devoid of beer.

So I walked to the store and bought some beer.