By Caden Heiser-Cerrato, Age 15
© 2019 by the author
My neighborhood has always been exceptionally quiet. A myriad of cars and trucks line its worn roads, taking space away from its intersecting streets. During the day, as the sun makes its way across the light blue sky, no person walks on sidewalks. No feet patter against the pavement, except for mine. I take frequent walks, observing houses, lawns, and anything that might catch my eye.
Uniformity is the word that always comes to my mind when I go on my long walks. Each house looks the same, each garden conforming to some tacit model. The trees all sway to the beat of some far-off drum, the grass is always the same height. It gets colder with each passing day, more and more leaves falling to the ground. The trees are no longer vibrant — it doesn’t even seem like they sway anymore. The only colors that meet my eye are those of the houses. Bleak pastels that reek of desperation, and submission to the implacable predator that is complacency. They speak of no dreams, no goals for the future; they speak only of the maintenance of mediocrity and the dull pleasure of conformity to the common expectation, that this is the best one can do, the highest one can achieve. The grass is even a sheen of green that is so light that it too looks colorless.
I don’t know why I walk. It might be a habit of some sort. I walk twice a day, every day of the year. Its strange that I do so, because my knees are weak with age and my muscles ache constantly. I am retired now, from the military. I had an uneventful career, taking care of logistics for over 40 years. I was an athlete too, playing football and basketball and whatever sport came my way. I was spry then, lithe. Now I am old and decrepit. My body is tired of constant work. Retired for three years, I don’t do much anymore. I wake up, read, walk, read, walk. I try to stay consistent. My diet consists of fruit and bread products, my pension doesn’t allow me the luxury of meat every day.
It pays for my house every month (the house is very close to being paid off). My house sits on one of the central blocks of the fore-mentioned neighborhood. It is a pale blue, consistent with the humdrum monotony of the rest of the neighborhood. My yard is patchy, bits of grass peeking out of an ocean of dirt. The blades of grass, are like little ships scattered through a sea of murky brown water. The sidewalk in front of my house has little cracks, the wrinkles of a long life. It has endured harsh weather, snowy winters and rainy springs. Parts of the sidewalk are flaking off into the road. Now, as for the tree in my yard, it sits awkwardly in front of my front window, now leafless. It is isolated, friendless, for it is the sole tree in my yard. It has a few humongous branches, which stretch out to the sides and up above.
Days go by slowly, weeks take longer, and months are interminable. Especially the winter. The winter months move as if they are partially frozen. They stumble along, not running, not walking, but tripping and falling, tripping and falling, taking longer to get up with each fall.
I order my groceries off an online website, and they are delivered in packages at my doorstop. I never ever answer the door when a package arrives, I simply wait for the delivery man to place it on the ground and take his leave. I don’t really talk to many people anymore. I have a few children, but they live farther away from me, with my wife. I used to try to call them on the phone. Several times a day, at normal hours and odd hours I would call, but there would be no answer. My friends seem to have slowly gotten distant from me. I am not called upon to watch “The Game” or go bowling. I just walk, alone, every day.
Today was different. The air tasted of emptiness, the sidewalks’ cracks seemed exacerbated and the otherwise gaunt trees looked skeletal. The sun seemed to have been dimmed as the light didn’t cast its rays over me. It was a little dimmer than usual. Shadows began to appear at the edges of my vision, dancing in the dim light. At the time, I rubbed my eyes, and then looked at the shadows again. The next thing I knew, I was staring directly at the dancing shadows. They were amorphous in shape, but their dancing was astute. It was almost professional. The blobs were somehow dancing the tango in perfect synchronization. I started hearing the traditional song of the tango, playing in my ears.
I smacked myself a few times and then everything went away. I walked back to my house and took a long hot shower. The water cleansed me of the strange occurrences. My mind righted itself and I began to feel at peace.
It is the next day, and I am walking again. My troubles from the day before escape my mind, and I feel fresh. My joints hurt, but my mind feels clean. I stare at each house, wondering at what goes on inside. I pass a light blue house with a bare tree in the front yard and I stop. I hear noises of children playing in the house and I endeavor to go further. I haven’t heard children in this neighborhood before. I haven’t heard anyone.
I open the front door. The paint inside of the house is peeling with age, and mold is scattered around. The floor is cracked. It was made of nice tiles once, but it lays now as a shattered mosaic. I follow the sound to the back of the house, and then it slowly fades from the range of my ears. I glance around myself and realize that I am standing in the middle of a kitchen. The fridge is unplugged, with the freezer door partially open. Out of curiosity, I open the larger door. Bugs scamper out, revealing what looks like a rotting piece of meat. The stench is unbearable, and I am utterly repulsed. I close the door hard and leave the house as fast as I can.
I lay awake now in my bed, thinking about all that has happened. I can’t fathom that my “perfect” neighborhood is all pretense. The outside of the houses has prevented me, the constant observer, from being able to see into the horrible inside.
I walk again today. Why do I always walk? Every day I walk until I can’t no more and read until my eyes burn with fatigue. The cycle is oh-so-vicious. On my walk, I noticed a small shadow thirty yards behind me that was mirroring my movements. I dismissed it as some sort of optical illusion. It must have been a speck of darkness on my vision, or some sort of trick that my mind was playing on me. I used to have a lot of tricks that my mind was playing on me. That’s why I had to stop working. I started to see the numbers play strange tricks on me, and dance in and out of my sight. The situation got so bad, that I had to retire a little bit earlier than usual. I received an honorable discharge, luckily at the end of my career, I only seemed a little bit crazy. I miss my old friends from the military though. The tricks have mostly stopped, but so have all my friendships.
I remember the words of one of my friends, Johnathan. He said: “Ike, I don’t think that our friendship can remain intact. You have literally only talked to me about numbers and the dancing shape, and your little friends that I can’t see. We can’t discuss football anymore, because even though you say you watch, I know full well that you are just making stuff up. You don’t even remember the positions anymore. You don’t remember anything, really, or you don’t care to remember. When I told you about the death of my oldest daughter, you just shrugged and told me that the pendulum swings and that she will be a dancing light in the sky. Have you no mental faculties left?”
He was always an angry fellow, that one. Always telling me about how I was slipping. I wasn’t ever slipping-- I think that he was the one who was slipping. He was definitely going crazy, but everyone agreed with him! They all said, “Ike, you best leave your job now, so it will be honorable, because your behavior of late has been dishonorable…” Well, they got their way didn’t they! They got their way! I’m retired with a pension, living my best life — walking and reading, walking and reading, walking and reading, walking and reading, walking and reading. All I do is walk and read, walk and read.
I love to read this one book over and over. It’s called Robinson Crusoe. It talks about a man on an island who must survive using his own knowledge and abilities. What a great book! I read it every single day. I must have read it one hundred times by now. I get very confused by the end of the book, when he meets several savages. It doesn’t make any sense… he is all alone and then, poof, savages appear out of thin air.
Anyway, I love my life now, and I bet Johnathan is unhappy and miserable as he is still working at logistics.
A man knocked on my door today. He wore a black suit, with a white dress shirt and brown shoes. He was over six feet tall, yet he still wore heels to accentuate his already towering presence. He didn’t carry a briefcase or anything of the sort. He knocked on my door several times, his rapping loud and reverberating off the walls of my small house. I chose not to answer it. He left without a noise.
My house reeks. I never clean it, so the dirt piles up on the floors and the walls. Brown stains cover everything from my mattress to the refrigerator. Bugs bury themselves in tiny but ubiquitous crevices. The smell is the worst part, it smells like death and rotten flesh in my house. I have no clue why? Perhaps it is my own smell, but alas, I am not dead, I know that much. I sense that the smell is coming from the fridge and the pantry. It is the kitchen. I just don’t know why fruits and bread would smell that bad!
I remember how my wife would clean the kitchen. The noise of the vacuum would reverberate through the house. I would make dinner; our children would come in from outside and we would eat together. One big family sitting at the kitchen table. I used to hang out with my kids so much, but they left. Well it’s not that they left... They stayed... but they just aren’t the same. I like to pretend that they left so that I can think about them as their normal selves, but in my heart, I know that they are here in this kitchen still. They stay here with me. I think that it’s time to open the pantry and get this horrendous stink out of the kitchen.
I open the door to the pantry, and I look in. There sits the rotting head of my wife staring at me with two empty sockets where her eyes should be. I think that the bugs have eaten her eyes. I look back farther into the pantry — two tiny heads lay against each other. It seems that the bugs haven’t gotten to my children yet. The refrigerator also smells so I peek in — the suited man lays headless and folded into the bottom compartment. I drag out his body and lay it on the table. I take a knife and fork from the drawer. They are extremely rusty, but I find no problem with using them. I cut a hunk out of his thigh and then I eat it raw.
I can’t help but think about how strange Robinson Crusoe is. He lives an isolated life on an uninhabited island when, suddenly, he decides to go exploring and finds other people. He finds cannibals where he thought there were none. I ponder this oddity, and sit in my decrepit kitchen, with the cracked tile and eat the body of an insurance salesman, while peering at the heads of my dead family members. I am lonely, but damn — the flesh is tasty.