The Man Who Chewed Glass
There once was a man who chewed glass. Perhaps it is not proper to say he chewed glass, per say, or the wrong idea may be given. Of course, it’s not like the glass he chewed was any better than the regular kind, but then again I shouldn’t judge.
This man was old and decrepit, crotchety and kind in equal amounts. No one would have, could have guessed the glass-chewing that went on behind Dumpster Deals and the closed doors of apartment 32 B.
He was always careful with how much he chewed and who would see him after, but that all changed in a single day. As the landlord’s daughter, it was my duty to check on the old man, who hadn’t been seen in some time.
I remember quite clearly the events of all those years ago. I had walked up the two staircases and down the hall, careful to stomp my feet so my father would hear my agitation.
The man -whom at the time I didn’t know chewed glass- was fine, I had insisted. When I’m that age and wrinkled as a prune, I wouldn’t want to be seen either. Despite my protests, my father had sent me anyway.
I had knocked three times on his door, then three times more before I used my key to unlock it. I will never forget, child, what I saw after.
The man was lying on the floor, curled around himself so loosely that he could have been sleeping. On one side was a cracked picture of his wife and daughter, and on the other was the fine white glass. He had chewed himself to death that day, my dear.
It was perhaps years later that I finally made the realization that the man had let himself die long before he chewed that glass to death. He had died when his wife and daughter did.
So to answer your question, my dear Anna, death is life after your lights have already fled. For the man, only physical death came in the form of that white powder. Remember this child, when you are grown. Find life after your lights have gone. Or you are simply walking dead.
Tell me about the taste of happiness and the scent of joy.
Tell me about the dulcet-sweet tone of exhilaration and the touch of a lonely cabaret.
Tell me about the scent of love, the most secret emotion, painted in shades of berry.
Tell me about the tropical touch of loneliness and the dark, beet reds of loss.
Tell me about the taste of time that runs through an unwilling mouth and tell me about the shades of emotion, like paint chips on a wall.
Then, lastly, tell me the color of words, with its rise and fall of letters, with its penmanship that fells nations. Then, tell me your word. The word you see before you sleep at night, that haunts you like a note cut short.
Tell me your word and let it ring true. Tell me the word.
… The word was blue.
The cards are different now, colorful and printed on flimsy paper instead of sturdy black and red. They felt wrong in my hands, didn’t fit in the same places.
I passed it to the woman behind the counter, who took it with a bored expression. “With that, your total comes to $53. 87. Will that be all?”
“Yes,” I murmur quietly, rummaging through my wallet. I came up with five fives, thirteen ones, one ten and a few quarters. I passed them to the woman, whose name tag read Clarisse.
“I’m sorry, sir, you’re still short three dollars and thirty cents.” I ran my finger on the inner lining of the wallet, despite knowing what I’d find. My fingers came up with lint.
“Is there no way…” I trailed off. The woman looked slightly less bored now, and eyed me with pity. I hated pity.
“I’m sorry, sir, but if you don’t have the money, you have to put something back.”
I sighed and ran a hand through my thinning hair, scanning my items. Toilet paper, detergent, shampoo, and a couple different food items… There was nothing I could possibly put back… Then, my eyes found the container of Neapolitan ice cream at the end. It was the one thing I promised Emily she could have- but it was four dollars. If I’d had it my way it would be the most necessary thing on there, but we needed everything else.
“I’m sorry Emily,” I murmured as I passed the ice cream to the woman and paid. I took the bags to the car with a heavy heart. The cards had definitely changed.
I have never feared pain. I’ve never needed to. From the dawn of each day to the dusk of every night he‘s there, whispering in my ear like an old, familiar friend. When I walk down the streets, Pain is at my side, in tune with my every step. When I laugh, he laughs with me, tauntingly, in the back of my mind. He whispers to me, “You’re not safe yet…” When the wind touches my skin, Pain feels it too, and when I go anywhere, anywhere at all, he follows me. Our fingers are permanently intertwined with unsnappable thread and sewn so close together that often people can’t tell where one starts and the other ends. I certainly can’t.
Most don’t see Pain alongside me. They expect a gloomy shadow around my head or an obvious sign of his existence. Most call me mad, but neither is true. Pain is always there, in the back of thoughts, the smallest of movements, the stack of medical bills on the counter and the tremor in my left hand. Still, no one stops long enough to look, really look, and see him. Most just see what they want to see. Me.
And when they do, he cackles in my mind and grows a little stronger each time. He tries to manipulate me into giving up my power, but I push him back and away. Out of sight, out of mind. Until he needs me next.
It’s lonely to live with a shadow. But I’d be lonelier if I was a shadow.