“So then why did you go in the first place”, both voices asked almost in unison. ‘Because I felt like it was the right thing to do for me, at that time, with everything that was going on.’ I answered, pacing the short distance between my fridge and a cabinet full of Tupperware containers only a third of which had lids. “And..?” they asked drawing out the word with anticipation and invitation to finish my thought. ‘And because I’m selfish and forget that people around me have feelings. Fuck there is no way he will get it.’ I put my two plants back on the windowsill, trying my best to avoid their judgmental looks of my failed practice of an explanation, more of a self-saving justification that I have to deliver in less than twenty minutes. In my haste, looking for my phone, wallet and keys – running from room to room, though it would be more of a stepping than running considering the humble size of my apartment, that was clearly meant for a 4-foot rat and not a fully grown human – I almost forgot to turn off the TV. I usually leave it on almost all day to have some background noise whilst I go – step – about my day. When I first moved in, I started talking aloud almost immediately, which was weird considering how rarely I use my voice around other people. But it was less about me talking and more about simply filling the small space, eternally empty and yet filled to the brim of collapse with silence, pushing against the walls and spooning out my stomach with the dread of realising that I was alone and quiet. So as a logical remedy to my quickly developed agitation towards hearing my own voice fill a room and the suffocating silence so slick you could virtually swim on it, I got a TV and let it suck up the wet soundless void like a sponge. Turning it off just like that in the middle of the day was more than unusual, it felt like I was shutting someone away. Like I threw my best friend who was telling me about his favourite recipe into the closet and locked the door shut. And as I was leaving in a hurry, that’s exactly what I forgot to do: lock the front door. But I didn’t know that yet. I was too busy trying to think of ways to talk through the points that my plants and I had discussed and which would make the best case for me, my choices and my soul that begged for forgiveness and relief I can’t give myself – I’ve tried, that’s why there is alcohol in my closet now. I don’t even know whom I’m hiding it from. Maybe the TV.
‘Okay so, basically, hear me out. I left because I felt like it was the right thing for me at the time and with everything-’ “I’m not going to forgive you”, he interrupted in the middle of my flow. I even got the words in the right order this time. ‘What do you mean you won’t forgive me?’ “Just that. I am not willing to and neither is Issy.” ‘But why? I’m in the middle of apologizing-’, he cuts me off again with a sharp breath of disbelief that almost could’ve been mistaken for a desperate laugh. He supported his head with his right hand, holding his bearded chin in his palm whilst his left thumb played with the elbow of his sweater. He looked out of the floor to ceiling length window of the café he agreed to meet at and somehow shook and nodded his head simultaneously. “Issy was right. I didn’t believe her at first when she said you didn’t even feel sorry. I even told her that you would have changed in the past months. That we’re siblings and that you would eventually come to your senses. I think she knew I was trying to convince myself rather than her. But she was right. You’re just as much of a self-centred idiot as when you left.” He looked down at the table where his hands were playing with a small packet of sugar. He liked his coffee black. ‘But I told you I’m here to apologize. Because I know that it was bad that I left you guys in a bad moment and-’, he cut me off again slamming a hand onto the table and tearing the sugar packet. We both watched the small sugar crystals roll all across the table like ripples on the surface of shallow water. A waitress asks if everything is all right and after a swift but charming confirmation from my brother the waitress turns on her heels and dissolves into the café and its people as fast and seamlessly as she had appeared. He continued in a hushed tone that had the intensity of a scream and yet wasn’t louder than his normal speaking voice. “You call that a bad moment? Jesus Christ, Len, mom just died, dad’s medical bills came in and Issy lost her job all in one month and you call that ‘a bad moment’? I was the only one with an income and I was counting on you to take at least a bit off of my shoulders. And what did you do instead? In the worst ‘bad moment’ of our whole life as a family? Tell me! Tell me what you did!” ‘I left but because-’ “You fucking left. All of us. You left us there to rot in our grief and debt. I can’t believe I wanted to go after you to get you to come back then. Issy was right. She always is. But you. I don’t have words for you anymore Len. You will always be my brother. But I will not forgive you. I will send you a notice when dad dies, maybe you will show up to his funeral to make up for mom’s. But other than that, I won’t contact you again. And neither should you.” With those final words, he stood up and left. I waited a few minutes before I went home.
As I was walking up the stairs to my apartment, I remembered that I had forgotten to lock my front door. I realised this about two flights of stairs into my climb to the fourth floor. The rest of the ascend I imagined in wishful thinking that someone had noticed the unlocked lock and used the chanced moment to break in – well less of a break-in and more of a step-in – and steal my TV. My most prized possession. My best friend. The one I hid my booze from out of shame. I wanted it gone. I was on my seventh flight of stairs. I wanted to be in the slick quiet, in the wet dripping silence in the watery void of my apartment. Alone with my thoughts. Alone with my brother’s disappointment and my remaining family’s hatred of me, conveyed by his words. I wanted to float in the peacefully deadly ocean and choke on the rotten fish that were my thoughts. When I arrived at my door, I locked it and turned on the TV.
That night passed in a haste blur of shame as the cork of a wine bottle or two hit the screen of my TV with perfect aim. I remember the anger that took over me as I realised corks were not enough to shut up my friend talking about politics. I wanted to break it, to hurt it. I wanted the noise gone. The next morning I found traces of my apparent final solution to my drunken problem as I looked out of my broken window and down into the narrow ally reserved for dumpsters. The TV had landed perfectly between two big trash containers, its glass screen shatters spread across the ally in an almost artistic motion with some of the shards having ricocheted off of the wall and back towards their origin. My friend is gone now and with it the void sponge.
I thought of alternatives to fill the silence rather than suck it up. And what’s the most natural sound of not bird-chirping. Following that singular thread of thought, carefully balancing on it to not fall into the pit of yesterday’s memories and emotions, I went to my closet and got a small bird feeder that I had bought early for winter. After balancing back to the window, concentrating on birds and their pretty feathers to keep my mind off of the abyss blowing guilt-filled air on my socks and spiting fish in my pockets, I set up the nice little bird feeder and waited for nature’s music to fill my spooned-out torso. At first, they didn’t show and nothing changed. But after a couple of days, I noticed; there was about an inch of water in my entire apartment. I started wearing rainboots inside. Then the water level rose double its previous depth every day and it wasn’t long until I could float in my apartment water. Somehow the water wouldn’t pour out of the window. It was as though the glass panes of my broken window were still there, holding the water inside and yet when I pushed my hands through the window, I could feel the warm breeze on my scrunched-up skin. The songbirds would come by but only long enough to splash their wings in the water of my apartment’s ocean as a form of bathing in the peaceful cold. Then they would fly away again. Meanwhile, I was sitting on my couch with my fingers more than soggy and fish circling through my head like they do decorative pirate skulls.
Eventually, the fish grew beards. The fish spat sugar. The fish climbed up and down my throat making me suffocate through their climb up and down the stairs of my esophagus. I could no longer stay in the water but it was everywhere from floor to ceiling, it filled my space just as it had before in the form of silence. Drowning. I needed to drown. But I already did. The abyss of guilt was filled with water too, and it couldn’t hurt me. I couldn’t see it. I was perfectly fine floating in my apartment water and letting the fish crawl through me. Yet I needed to drown. I knew the abyss was there. I knew the bearded fish came from there to haunt me. I knew I needed to drown.
I swam to the bathroom. Opened the sink faucet and let a bubble of air poured into the sink. When it was full, I held onto the edge of the sink and held my head under the air. I sucked it in, coughing up fish and bloody bubbles until I stopped moving and simply kept floating. The fish ate half of my corpse. The window let go of the water. I was buried next to my father and Issy cried.