by Lena Abou-Khalil
thing that I do in the morning is read the paper. I don’t bother getting
dressed before stumbling outside to retrieve it. If the neighbors don’t want to
see an old man in his underwear, they shouldn’t look out their windows. Sure,
there’ve been complaints, but I don’t care. It’s my house, it’s my yard, and if
I want to walk around half-naked, then that’s my business.
outside, yawning, and perform the arduous deed of bending over to grab the
paper. Maybe I should invest in one of those grabbers. It would save my back
some trouble, let me tell you. I shuffle back inside and park myself at the
table with a plate of buttered toast and a cup of Earl Grey tea. And, of
course, my precious paper. It takes me about an hour and a half to read,
usually. There isn’t a single part that I don’t read. Even if I don’t like an
article, or something doesn’t interest me at all, I’ll read it. Even the ads.
It’s my own personal ritual. Sometimes I hate it. But sometimes it actually
comes in handy. Sometimes I read something that’s actually interesting, but I
wouldn’t have bothered to read if I’d given myself a choice.
As I eat
breakfast, I look through a few news stories and the sports page. By the time
my tea is finished, I’ve read the funnies and given up on the puzzle. I did
read all the clues, so it isn’t cheating. But I’m not good at that sort of
thing – it gives me a headache. Anyway, I take the remaining pages to my
armchair and start the next story. It’s a little odd; there’s a photo of
somebody that looks a lot like me. I begin to read the story with more interest
understand. The story is about me. There’s my name right under the photo. The
headline says that I’ve gone missing. The neighbors haven’t seen me for a few
days, and nobody answered the door when they knocked. What a load of bullshit.
If the neighbors haven’t seen me, that’s because they learned a long time ago
not to look outside in the mornings. And if nobody answered the door, I was
probably just out. I mean, I take my mail in every day, I pick up the paper. I
leave my house sometimes like any normal person. I don’t know which neighbor
reported me missing, but I’m going to go visit every one of them and prove to
them that I’m right damn here.
about getting dressed, but these people deserve this flabby, hairy body. They
don’t see me? Well, I won’t let anything block their view. Except for my
briefs. I do have some modesty.
I know, I
know. They probably reported me missing because they’re worried. I’m sure it’s
actually quite sweet. But I find it hard to believe that they only ever came
over when I was out. I’m not exactly a young man; I don’t go out too often.
slippers and underpants, I march over to the nearest house and knock loudly on
the door. I realize afterwards that it’s on the early side. Perhaps this could
have waited, but it’s too late now. Anyway, I hear footsteps. If they’d been
asleep, it would have taken longer for someone to come out.
been on great terms with the family that lives here. Marcus and his wife,
Sheila, haven’t really forgiven me for yelling at their kids. I suppose I
could’ve been nicer, or maybe it was that I swore too much, but kids should
know not to tread on an old man’s yard. I mean, seriously. It’s one of the
oldest clichés in the book; “You whippersnapper! Get off my lawn!” Who hasn’t
heard some variation on that? Maybe they reported me missing as a practical
joke. Although I don’t know how they’d have gotten the police on board, so
there goes that theory.
the door and looks around. I decide to be nice and greet him politely, but he
doesn’t respond. Instead, he steps outside, looks around some more, and
retreats inside, slamming the door for good measure. The nerve of some people!
I can hear his wife asking who was at the door, and Marcus has the audacity to
say nobody. I can’t believe him! I don’t know how, but he did it. This
practical joke was his stupid idea. Oh, I’m definitely going to get him back. I
doubt that I could pull off TPing his yard, but maybe I can hire some kid to do
it? Or should I egg his car? But a car is so easily washed. I’d have to egg the
house instead. Or maybe I should go with the flaming bag of shit on the
doorstep. Whatever. I’ll think of something after talking to the other
neighbors. Here’s hoping they won’t be as shitty as these fuckers.
I cross the
street and knock on Albert and Tommy’s door. Albert always asked me to call him
Al. I never did. Al seems too friendly for me. I wouldn’t want any of them to
think that we’re classic TV neighbors. I’m not giving anyone a cup of sugar. I
actually do like both of them, but it’s hard to interact with them without
making it seem like I’m open to friendships with the other neighbors. I’m
hardly open to a friendship with Tommy and Albert. I attend any functions that
they invite me to, although I rarely attend anything hosted by someone else.
And of course I never invite anyone to my house.
answers the door, but he must be in on the joke because he does the same thing
that Marcus did. I can’t believe it. I think about ending our acquaintanceship,
but at this point I’m actually starting to get scared. I quickly run to the
next house, but it’s the same thing. And the one after that, and the one after
that, until I’ve knocked at the eight nearest houses. At this point, there are
neighbors out, talking to each other about the mysterious prankster knocking on
doors and running. Someone called it a ring and run? Sounds like a stupid name
You got me! I’ll put on pants in the mornings, you win!” I yell to the
neighbors, but nobody reacts. Nobody even looks my way. I’ll give them points
for good acting, but they’re all dead to me now. This has gone on too long. I
start to go home, thinking that I’ll call the police on them, but I stop
short when I hear Sara, Doug, and Anne Marie talking about me. About how I
haven’t been out in days, and the mail’s piling up. Doug says that there’s a
week’s worth of papers on my driveway. Doug needs to get new glasses, because
I’ve read the paper every day. What, does he think I put them back after I was
done? But it’s Anne Marie who really scares me. I didn’t catch everything, but
I’m pretty sure that she said the police broke in. My door looks fine. All the
windows are intact. There’s no sign of a break-in anywhere.
dishes in the sink; flies buzzing all around them. They’ve clearly been there
awhile,” she says. “Trash has definitely not been taken out in over a week.
Stinks like you wouldn’t believe.”
hell does she know about my trash can? I took it out Sunday night. And I do the
dishes every day. My sink is devoid of dishes. When has Anne Marie ever even
been in my house? I can’t stand her – she never shuts up, and she always tries
to talk to me. I don’t know why she hasn’t gotten it through her thick skull
yet, but I don’t want to be her friend, and I’d certainly never invite her in
my home. That’s it. I march back home and sit in my armchair. This is clearly a
giant, well-done, ill-advised practical joke. That’s the only plausible
entertain the idea that I might be a ghost, but I can interact with household
objects just fine. And that wouldn’t explain why they didn’t find my body, or
why I see no signs of forced entry. So if I’m not a ghost, then it must be a
joke. Or maybe I’m dreaming. I close my eyes and envision myself on my bed, but
when I open them, I’m still in my armchair, manspreading like nobody’s
business. Not a dream, then. Although if it were a dream, I doubt that that
would’ve been an effective way to wake up. I pinch myself instead. That’s
supposed to work, right? Well, it doesn’t. What complete bullshit. All it does
is hurt. Who even came up with that, anyway? Moron.
I’m still trying to wake myself up when the
phone rings. I pick it up, half-expecting nobody to speak on the other end, but
I’m only half-right. The message is automated, telling me that I have a
prescription ready at the pharmacy. I think about hanging up, but for some
reason, I’m desperate for interaction, so I cling to the phone, repeating the
same words over and over, begging the recording to respond. I just need someone
to respond. If this whole thing is a joke, it’s gone too far. Maybe they didn’t
think I would react like this. I’ve never really talked to them. I don’t even
like talking. But it’s cruel to shut someone out like that. It’s a terrible
thing, and they should know better. I find myself saying all of this out loud
to the machine on the other end of the phone, though I know that nobody’s
listening. It’s probably better that they aren’t. I’m sure I sound like a
lunatic, and I’ve only been ostracized for twenty minutes. Is this what
solitary confinement is like? I’m so happy I never went to jail. I wouldn’t be
able to keep this up for even a day.
shuts off. The automated message has ended. A tear falls on the phone as I
replace it. I can’t believe I’m crying right now. My disgust at my own weakness
helps me pull myself together. I go and get dressed, determined to go to the
store for completely unrelated reasons.
Am I dead?
wonder about this as I drive to the store. My car works fine, but this is the
third time that another car hasn’t seen me. The first time, I’d stopped at a
red light and the car behind nearly rammed into me. They stopped inches away
from my bumper. The second time, I’d stopped at a four way stop sign, but when
it was my turn, the car to the right went at the same time. But this was the
worst one. I was just driving, at the speed limit, mind you, and the car in the
lane next to me decided to merge. Didn’t even check to see if anyone was there.
But the worst part was that he hit me. He hit me, and nothing happened. My car
shifted a little, but I was fine. I don’t understand what’s going on. Am I a
ghost? What is happening to me?
When I get
to the store, I run up to the first person I see and try to talk to them. It
doesn’t work. Why would it work? It hasn’t worked so far. I’m now past the
point of thinking that this is an elaborate prank. I think I really am dead. It
doesn’t make any sense, but everything else makes even less sense. Well, if I’m
dead, then I might as well have some fun with it. I wonder, if nobody can see
or hear me, does that mean I can just take anything that I want? If I try to
pay, would the cashier even see the money I give her? If I pick this fruit up,
will everybody just see a floating cantaloupe? Maybe I can scare someone. I
wish people could hear me making ghost noises, but I’ll have to make do with
waving fruit in their faces. I reach for the cantaloupe and lift it up, but
nobody even reacts. Nobody notices. I put the melon down and touch a nearby
man’s shoulder. I can feel the warmth of his flesh, the softness of his flannel
shirt. I can feel his shoulder move ever so slightly when he breathes. But he
doesn’t look up from the apple bin. I pinch his nose, but he doesn’t react.
point, I’m pretty pissed off. It’s been a while since I’ve done this, but I
make a fist and punch him in the face. My knuckles are bleeding. I can feel how
much my own hand aches. I heard the schnap of his nose breaking. But the
man’s nose remains intact. He didn’t even flinch. Didn’t even blink. Howling, I
grab the melon and hurl it at the man’s face.
I sit on
floor, cradling the remains of the cantaloupe as tears stream down my face. I
hadn’t noticed when the melon broke against his face, when the collision
produced a sound like a small explosion. He hadn’t felt a thing. As shards of
melon fell on his body, his feet, the floor, the man turned away, completely
clean, carrying bags of apples in his hands. The cantaloupe is real. I feel the
sting of the juice on my bloody knuckles, I feel the stickiness of it on my
arms, gluing the hairs to my skin. I still hear the echo of the collision in my
ears, playing over and over again, fueled by my desperate scream.
I am broken.
I sit in the store for ten minutes. Twenty. A half hour. I cry. I scream. I
stare at my bloody hands. If I am dead, how am I bleeding? Why didn’t they find
my body? How am I here? Is this hell? I don’t understand.
I try to
ignore my existential crisis and figure out how this is happening. I
wasn’t even 80 years old. I was healthy. I don’t understand how I died. Clearly
I can hurt myself. But how far can it go? If I’m dead, then can I still die?
Despite my curiosity and confusion, I’m not quite willing to shove a knife in
my chest for some answers. I try to keep a level head and think.
I pat my
pockets to make sure my EPI pen is still in there, then open a box of
strawberries and grab the largest, juiciest one there. Since I’m allergic, I
never get to eat them, but I’ve always longed for the sweet summery taste of a
strawberry on my tongue. I might as well eat the best one there is.
I pop the
fruit in my mouth and close my eyes, determined to enjoy this strawberry no
matter what my situation is. As I swallow, I am filled with terror. What the
fuck was I thinking? What if the EPI pen isn’t enough? I can’t go to the
hospital; nobody can treat me if they can’t see me. I just effectively killed
myself. I open my eyes in a panic, but I am fine. I feel none of the reaction
that I used to have as a kid. My throat isn’t swelling up, my eyes don’t feel
itchy. I grab the rest of the box and shovel strawberry after strawberry into
my mouth. I know that I’m being reckless, but I can’t seem to stop. The taste
is just so perfect, it makes all my other problems go away. Ignoring the
stickiness of the cantaloupe juice, I lie back, closing my eyes, and bite into
another strawberry, letting myself imagine that my life has gone back to
normal. No, not normal. I imagine that my life is everything I wish it could
I think I
might’ve fallen asleep. Despite the bustling store, I feel like I’m lying in a
sunny field. I wish that the feeling could stay, but I have to sneeze, and
suddenly the feeling is gone. I sit up, rubbing my eyes. I wonder how long it’s
been. The store’s windows are still full of sun, and I think I catch sight of
the man whom I’d punched earlier. The sight of him sends me tumbling out of my
contentedness. He stands there, inspecting oranges one by one, carefully
placing the ones that pass his test in a bag. The ones he doesn’t care for, he
just tosses back into the bin like they don’t even matter. I hate him. He
represents everything that is wrong. I get up and grab a handful of tomatoes. I
know that he won’t feel them smashing into his head, but it’ll make me feel
better. I’d always wanted to throw a rotten tomato at someone, but a ripe
tomato will have to do.
As I hurl
tomato after tomato at the man, I scream at him, shrieking at the top of my
lungs until I realize that no sound is coming out. Once more I lose my shit,
throwing myself at the man and pounding him with my fists. When, as expected,
he doesn’t react, I kick him as hard as I can in the balls. I’m not satisfied.
I lose my life, I can’t physically interact with anyone, and now my voice is gone.
And it’s really gone. I’ve had laryngitis before; I know how it feels. This
isn’t that. My vocal chords have atrophied. They no longer exist. They are
never coming back.
another cantaloupe and launch it at the man’s nuts. Nothing. He just moves on
to inspect bags of lettuce. I will make him wince. I will hurt him in a
way that he can feel. I may not be able to do much, but I can do this. I’m sure
I grab a
carton and empty the contents over his head. I pour hot sauce in his eyes. I
whack him with a large bag of dog food. I hit him over the head with a cast
iron skillet. Nothing works. After a soundless scream of rage, I trudge back to
the produce and eat another strawberry, hoping that the taste will ease some of
the pain of failure, but it doesn’t taste like anything. I eat another, and
another, but the result is the same. I try a banana, a cheese stick. I even eat
some of the dog food that had fallen from the split bag. Nothing. I tear a
drumstick from a rotisserie chicken and take a huge bite, then spit it out in
disgust. I throw the rest of the drumstick on the ground as I break down in
tears for what feels like the tenth time today. My hearing, my sense of taste,
and now my sense of smell. The drumstick emits no odor, nor can I detect the
scent of cantaloupe on my clothes. I open a bottle of vodka and chug the entire
thing. I never used to like vodka, but it doesn’t matter, since I can’t taste
it. Nor can I smell it, but I can still feel the burn as it trickles down my
throat. I’ll take any comfort I can get. I doubt that I can get drunk, but I’m
sure as hell going to try.
I fling the
now-empty bottle of tasteless vodka at a nearby customer’s head. The glass
shatters as it makes contact. I imagine her skull splintering, fragments of
bone falling off, mixing with the shards of glass on the ground. The idea gives
me a perverse sense of satisfaction. It helps me through the next moments,
watching her perfect hairdo atop her intact head. I reach for another bottle of
vodka, then change my mind and snatch some whiskey. You can’t buy really good
whiskey here, but it’s not like I can even taste it, so shitty whiskey is just
as good. After draining the bottle, I smash it against yet another customer’s
head, then set off with what should have been a deadly weapon. My anger, my
hatred, my grief takes over as I stagger towards a woman trying to control a
screaming toddler. A smile invades my rage. If there’s one good thing about my
situation, it’s that I can’t hear the shrill voice of a child, the shriek of a
baby. Still, the kid is annoying as hell, so I stab him in the neck with the
jagged bottle head. I feel bolstered by my violence, although it sickens me. Am
I crying? Everything is getting blurry.
in my throat is long gone, and I crave more. I begin to feel dizzy as I stumble
back to the rotisserie section, holding my hands out to catch the heat of the
lamps. It’s not enough. I thrust my hands against the metal shelf, savoring the
assault against my nerves. This is all I have now. I can’t hear. I can’t smell.
I can’t taste. And my sight has not improved. I’m afraid that I’m about to go
blind. Perhaps my tears before were not weakness. I would give anything to cry
again, but my eyes are dry.
if I’m getting used to the pain of the heat, or if the warmth is retreating,
but within a few minutes, the pain is gone. I run towards the frozen food
section, tripping over myself. I feel my body hit the ground, my palms scrape
against the tile, but it doesn’t hurt. My panic fuels me as I pull myself up
and continue my mad race to the ice creams and frozen pizzas. I fling door
after door open, grasping bags of peas and cartons of Rocky Road. I feel the lumpiness
of the bag, the ice crystals on the dessert, but they’re not cold. I retreat to
the liquor aisle and gulp down another vodka, but the burn in my throat does
not occur. What is wrong with me? Consumed by terror, I smash the bottle
against my own head. I feel the bottle connect with my skull, the glass
shattering. I feel my own blood trickle down my scalp, my head swell up. I feel
the shards of glass land upon my shoulder, my hand, my feet. But I do not feel
the pain of the gash, of my own skull fracturing. I feel slivers of glass lodge
in my skin, but I feel none of the discomfort. My body heaves with silent,
tearless sobs. My vision becomes blurrier, mocking me.
comes to me as my fingers begin to tingle. Perhaps there is still a way to communicate
with the living. I grab a newspaper and stumble to the school supplies, unsure
on my half-numb feet. I pick up a sharpie and scrawl out my message. My sight
begins to dim as I lurch forwards. I can just make out the man in the flannel
shirt. I’m almost there when my legs give out. I toss the paper at his cart as
I fall. I think I hit the ground.
So this is
what it’s like. I think I’m on the floor at the supermarket, but I can’t feel
the cold tiles. It’s as if I’m floating in nothingness, flying naked through
space. I think the fluorescent lights shine on my intangible body, but all I
see is darkness, nothingness, emptiness. I know that it’s over. I’m too far
gone. I try to focus on the good memories, but the only one that sticks in my
mind is my dream of eating strawberries in that sunny field. It wouldn’t be too
bad, if I were there forever. I could be happy.
nothingness is oppressive. It’s weird, knowing that you have a body, but not
being aware of it. I’m not held together by flesh and bone, sinew and tendons
and blood. All I have are my thoughts.
the man ever got my note.
Lena Abou-Khalil is a
native Nashvillian. She recently graduated from Belmont University, where she
studied Publishing and Writing. Lena is a lover of all things animal and all
things trivia. Unsurprisingly, animal trivia is her favorite. Her work has appeared
in Terror House Magazine.