On the third Friday in June, Stephen decided it would be as good as time as any to leave the house. See, Stephen had been inside for nearly a month. That’s what happens after guys like Stephen lose their jobs.
Get fired. Go home. Stay there. Indefinitely.
Stephen had gained, I don’t know, maybe twenty pounds in the thirty days he’d spent inside. He was fat, hairier than ever, and developing minor bed sores from sitting on his ass sixteen hours a day. He’d perused and abused every form of entertainment the world had to offer. Television. Film. Video games. Crossword puzzles. Hardcore pornography. Softcore pornography. Literally every other conceivable type of pornography.
Depression is a very clinical term. Stephen wasn’t a fan. Instead, he’d say he was “fucked in the head”, “all messed up right now”, or old standby “just sad”. Professional help wasn’t for Stephen. He’d developed his own regimen to deal with these things, and they didn’t involve prescriptions written by doctors. They involved prescriptions written by Stephen on prescription pads stolen from his podiatrist brother-in-law.
But when the pads run out, and the pills run out, and the porn runs out, it’s time to go outside.
Stephen lived in a three-story apartment in an up-and-coming, newly gentrified neighborhood in his nation’s capital. He cared very little about politics and his neighbors didn’t mind him as he rarely had guests over and never played his music using anything aside from headphones. What a guy.
See, this park was all that Stephen had in the world. The only place, fuck, the only thing that had the capacity to bring him joy.”
So early in the morning Stephen got in the shower, cleaned a month’s thick layer of grime from himself, dressed in reasonably clean clothing – worn for less than three consecutive days, exclusively in air-conditioned environments – then lost all interest in the world and sat down on his couch. By mid-afternoon though, Stephen regained his motivation for fresh air and a visit to the park just a few blocks from his apartment. See, this park was all that Stephen had in the world. The only place, fuck, the only thing that had the capacity to bring him joy. He hadn’t any friends to speak of. No family nearby that he spoke to aside from his sister, and that relationship existed solely to maintain a steady supply of pharmaceuticals. No sexual partners. No hobbies.
But Stephen had the park.
It filled for him all the gaps and holes in his life. It filled them with the community it provided, in the families, couples and dog walkers that he watched living lives he’d wished for. It filled them with the beauty of nature, albeit crammed in the middle of disgusting urban pollution and grime. It filled them with the bodies of joggers he ogled and fantasized about when he returned to his apartment. And there was the sun. The sun shone especially bright in that park, Stephen was sure of it. He’d slept through a great majority of astronomy classes in college, but his observations assured him there had to be a quantifiable difference between the amount of sun exposure in that park versus any other geographical point on the planet.
There were days when Stephen would stop at the liquor store at the end of his block on the way to the park. He would, in celebration of the city lifestyle, brown-bag it. But not today. It had rained while Stephen was inside on the couch. But then the sun came out. And it got hot. And it got steamy. And when he went outside, Stephen got sweaty.
And that got Stephen thinking, “Maybe it’s a good time to detox.”
He resolved to spend the day sober. To cleanse his body of all nastiness and dirty habits. To spend a day experiencing happiness solely fueled by the hydrogen and helium burning ninety million miles away on Earth’s nearest star. What a grand idea.
Stephen’s walk was a good one. He’d always found human locomotion every bit as important as things other people value. Sociability. Intelligence. Ambition.
After all, how could any of those things matter if you don’t know how to walk properly? “Build from the bottom up,” that was Stephen’s new motto. Working on the little things, that’s the key. Then the bigger bricks will fall effortlessly into place.
Sweaty and tasting the joy of existence, Stephen arrived in the park. Stephen had a favorite bench in the park, under a favorite tree in his favorite quarter of the park. He decided, though, to take a quick lap before sitting down.
“It’s not every day the sun shines like this,” he thought.
There were people of all sorts outside, enjoying the park in their own individual ways. Everyone loved the sun.
When Stephen approached his favorite bench, he saw something troubling. There was a man sitting in his place.
But with the heart of a true optimist, Stephen swiftly determined that any reasonable human being, informed that they were sitting on another person’s favorite bench, would surely yield. I mean, no one is that sinister that they’d object to moving, right?
Stephen stood not three feet from the bench. He waited for the man to acknowledge his presence by looking up, or anything.
“Excuse me, sir?”
The man was wearing homeless people’s attire. He stank of urine and other things. Although it was warm outside, he had a hood over his head.
Not even a flinch.
Stephen was infuriated now. How can someone be so rude? It’s just ridiculous.
Losing his temper, Stephen crouched down to get eye to eye with this punk. Stephen reached a finger out to prod the man, to wake him if he was sleeping. Stephen pushed his index finger into the man’s shoulder a few times. Nothing.
“Sir,” Stephen whispered.
The man flopped over where he sat and the hood fell from his face.
He was maybe fifty years old with horribly leathery skin. His eyes were open and yellowed. And he stank, horrendously.
Stephen saw streaks of wet blood around the man’s throat, a gloopy discharge from the mouth. On closer inspection, Stephen saw that the man’s clothes were matted with the red stuff.
Stephen stood and surveyed the scene. He held his breath as the stench was becoming more than he could bear.
His favorite section of the park was often empty. It was tucked away in a little corner. That was one of his favorite things about it, you could see everyone else, but they couldn’t see you.
Stephen turned to walk home.
“A perfect day ruined,” he thought as he paused at the liquor store.
Ryan Morris is an emerging author living in the Washington, DC area. Focusing on the interplay between identity and reality, his work is as close to the truth as possible (with exceptions). He’s been published most recently in The Bitchin Kitsch and Potluck Magazine with forthcoming publication in Sidereal Journal.