This story is part of Fiction Month 2020. Click here to view the stories featured in Fiction Month, as well as past fiction pieces.
As the years came for me I learned to cope with problems in the most artistic forms I could. I would swim to liberate myself from any burden or remorse. It didn’t matter what time of the year it was. I would throw myself in and give my all to the ocean, my hands continuously trying to unbind from where they belong. Nothing was rigid; there was a constant movement, an unbreakable peace. Ears blocked completely. Eyes closed. Fingers reaching for the deepest point and then trying to return to the surface. A human all by himself attempting to fly out of its misery by pushing water behind him and floating with absolutely zero thoughts. A pool couldn’t do the job; it was always the immensity of the sea the only thing that could drown my sorrows temporarily. I enjoyed being captivated by a whole lot of sky and water. The only thing was that as time progressed I would get bored of everything that surrounded me. Something like when your body stops reacting to a certain medicine, so it becomes immune to it and you have to either raise the dose or change the antibiotics. So at some point, I can’t remember when the ocean was just useless. I had to look for something new to fill the void.
Thankfully it wasn’t long before I developed a passion for gardening and making fences. And so I went on and learned everything I could possibly learn about the art of horticulture.
Terry, my gray-haired neighbor, wanted to be my first client, so she hired me as soon as she found out my business cards had arrived and were ready for distribution. She couldn’t wait; so she asked if I could start working on her garden the next day. I didn’t hesitate and said yes right away. The job was easy. I had to plant some flowers (roses in pink and white to be exact, as Terry was picky even with flowers), and do some other jobs such as- grafting, pruning, mixing and preparing insecticides. I also had to make her a wooden gazebo and a small birdcage for decoration. I managed to throw myself into something for a few weeks. It took me exactly three weeks and two days to finish it all. I finished on a Thursday afternoon. I shouted for Terry but she wouldn’t come out of the house. I couldn’t contain my excitement and left the tools near the cement pole that hold the fence together. I ran up to the back door and knocked twice, but I got no answer. The creak of a rocking chair and the sound of a throat grasping alarmed me- if she was there all along, why wasn’t she answering? The door was open so I immediately entered it, still calling for Terry. To my surprise she was in the bedroom, crying and holding something hairy to her chest. I didn’t know how to react when she asked me if I could burry Murphy, her poodle who had just passed away. So I took the dog wrapped in a blanket to the backyard; all complaints kept to myself.
It suddenly wasn’t a garden to me any longer, but a ground that was to embrace in death a dog. I was very angry. I just wanted to go home, but instead there I was. I took the shovel and started digging. I dug the hole. A pile of dirt to one side. Eyes semi-closed. Splashes of sweat and small black dots against the pores of my face. I had tried to hold on to the day for as long as I could, but the moon came regardless. It was dark, so dark I felt imprisoned in the hole myself. My mind was fast-forwarding through it all. Throw the dog in, pour the dirt onto it and be done with it. However, the action was much slower and the hypnotizing fragrance of dirt enveloped me. I got the dog and threw it out of the blanket. The smell kept on pondering my head. I took the shovel and in a mechanical movement I didn’t stop to process, I hit the dog’s head with all the force one hand could bear. My fury dissolved as the blood came out of the dog’s head and my lower lip. One would usually bite their nails, but my hands were occupied, I only had my lips available. I was tearing the skin out in small bites. I finally finished the job and went home. Sat on the couch and set the television on. Nothing. The lights turned off. The violin raising its notes. Electrical shots. A techno concert. Black and white. Light. Darkness.
You see, I don’t belong here. Mental institutions are made for the insane and I am not out of my senses.They took me to building number 615. I stepped in and everyone was looking at me. The people behind the rooms had gray, melancholic looks. The walls were painted ivory. The dust was visible. Lots of noise. People screaming. They took me to a hidden room, the one at the end of the corridor. They sat me down against my will. They removed the black tape on my mouth. Tied my hands up. Began the interrogation. Questioned my entire life. In my head, meanwhile, I could only picture a desert. I counted. One. Two. One. Two. One. Two. They hit me. One. Two. One. Two. Teeth fell out. They hit me again. My pupil started dilating to a corner where there was a small window that showed the reflection of blue and red lights going in circles. Turning off and on every second. The questioning stopped and tears began to make me shiver. Those two colors shining bright under the sky I couldn’t see were the most beautiful things in the world to me. They always were what brought me to and from existence. Blue and red were the only things consistent through it all. The things that brought passion and pain since the age of five. The blue Russian refrigerator beside the marble table in my home kitchen. The red dripping from my mother’s body, the big pond of blood under the fridge. An image that I visualize more often than a “meow” pops into a cat’s mouth. At such an age a kid shouldn’t be haunted with an image like that. The biggest worries should be learning to write properly, losing one’s shadow and not stepping on the lines of tiled floors. On the contrary, I had to witness my father kill my mom and then himself. The rest of my days were not important.
I became, in short, a kid too traumatized to be a man and then a man too fragile and broken to be a true male with mature instincts. Instead I became someone I was afraid of. I became my father and the ghost of my own mother. Other things in between too, but mainly that. I resented them for it, and hated the family pattern even more.
So, I will cut to the chase. Yes, gentlemen. I have indeed killed many dogs. I have killed them alive and cut them to pieces after they are dead. I have killed women and kids and have found it pleasurable to watch them beg for mercy as I dug the holes where their corpses would end up. I have taken swims, many swims to clean myself from those scenes, from the blood, the colors, and the numbers in my head. I even buy new boots hoping the next pair will change me or make me a better person. I do feel! I feel as if a worm was inside me eating my internal organs very slowly. This isn’t crazy. I write poetry. Make art out of my thoughts and try to not act upon premeditating a homicide. I just can’t help it. With every sun that shines the worms, the bugs and the butterflies that live inside me come out. I wake up and try to make a sonnet, but crime rhymes with rise. And to rise one must be down. Surely not myself, as I am the executioner, but my victim.
I bet that I have painted a big canvas in your mind. You will go home today-to your comfy beds. You will put your head on the pillow. Close your eyes and open them to insomnia. You will not be able to sleep. You will see my stories present themselves in front of you as if a projector were projecting them for you in the middle of your room; playing this impossible to miss type of film. And you will see it! I guarantee you will see all of it; the dogs, the cats, the corpses. You will see the holes in the dirt!
The last thing I remember is that I was talking myself out of a mental institution, and that later on I saw water again. All that time I had been sleep and water deprived. With every blink, I would see a different scenario. The whole swimming part was just a dream; a hallucination. The rescue team came for me after many hours of being lost in the Sahara desert. I had gone to explore the area just to get a good sense of what an experience like that would entail. I lost the group in an instant when I went to take some pictures far from them. I remember walking immense distances to find one single soul, but was unlucky. I guess that in order to survive I had to create a fictional story sometimes to keep me on my feet. It’s funny now that I look back at it, even being lost, not having a destination. Even the sand cuts… who knew that air and sand could rip you apart? I have come to the conclusion that when your most basic needs are kept from you, one can imagine a whole lot, sometimes a person that has nothing to do with yourself. I am just glad everything is over now and that I can go on with my normal life.
I finished the recording and left the phone in one corner of the hospital table. I pressed my forehead to the window and felt the cold of the glass. I was consumed with the desire to watch someone die.
Charlene Batlle is 21 years old and she has been at Bard for only one semester so far. She still doesn’t know how she got here, she just knows the way back disappeared.