You think you know everything.
But you don’t know enough.
Much of what you know is a lie, and you don’t dare to question what you know, because it makes you uncomfortable. The mind seeks comfort above all else. The middle ground is where your home is, a locale neither too stressful or anxious. We build walls and develop our vices to cope, and this is an autonomic process. We do it consciously or subconsciously, but we do it nonetheless.
Out on the edges of who we are, a blank screen fills the wall and we project upon it what we wish the world to know, not all of it, only the agreeably viable. It’s what we know the world will accept. They’ll accept it and move on with their day because human beings are, in the end, always more preoccupied with themselves.
In time over the days, the months, the years, the projection suffices and we forget the projector, we forget the origins of the image and we underestimate the limits of our own imaginations. We don’t create those limits, you see. Wherever they come from, I wouldn’t know. It probably isn’t relevant or important unless you wish yourself to be mad, but it is there, floating out in the unseen constraints of your mind, waiting until it is reached.
And one day, it makes itself known.
Suddenly, violently, it makes itself known.
And this change, however abruptly it announces itself, it manifests itself internally first. It slowly grows and spreads and changes shapes like an endless cloud of vapor seeking to fill every empty space with its essence. And only once it reaches barriers does it breakthrough, exploding into external existence and caring not for the damage done. It consumes what it sees, you understand because it must feed to maintain itself, and maintain itself it will because it is uncontrollable.
I’ve wondered for sometime when this process began and wondered further if others around me were somewhere on the same road to this same paroxysm of ego and madness, if madness is what this is. Is it? If so, am I perceiving it correctly, or am I simply a prisoner of it? There is a paradox here that I’m apparently not meant to fully understand because I don’t, and beside it a cool comfort for some reason. This, I also don’t understand, because I remember caring. I remember emotion. I remember so much more. I remember it, but I no longer relate to it, and as I write more and more about it, I find myself wrapping my head in a circle with no stopping point, no exit, no place to get out.
For far too long I’ve felt nothing…. Nothing.
No… that isn’t exactly true.
I still feel rage and an uneasy pleasure when I release it. It doesn’t matter the target. The pain inflicted… ahh, the screaming, the essence of the tortured expressions on their faces. I feel it. I still feel that.
So long have I been this way that those feelings of rage are as comforting as a warm blanket in the cold. Warm feelings are like old photo albums that you put away because they mean something. Or is it that they should? I can’t remember.
I can’t remember much of any of it.
This is confusing because sometimes I feel elucidated and other times utterly lost, but I see what is in front of me. I see nothing but what is here now, and I hold it close to me.
Be silent and listen.
Have you recognized your madness and do you admit it? Have you noticed that all your foundations are completely mired in madness? Do you not want to recognize your madness and welcome it in a friendly manner?
Madness is not to be despised and feared, but instead, you should give it life. If you want to find paths, you should also not spurn madness, since it makes up such a great part of nature. I choose to recognize it so I will thus avoid becoming its victim.
Man strives toward reason only so that he can make rules for himself. Life itself has no rules. That is its mystery and its unknown law. What you call knowledge is an attempt to impose something incomprehensible on life.
It is only through mystery and madness that the soul is revealed, and whether or not I have one at all…
But the paradox continues, because I can’t seem to stop my hand from typing this out, even now, and some part of me compels me to do so.
Maybe these words are meant for something greater than myself. Perhaps there is a purpose there, here, somewhere. I don’t know. Maybe I’m writing this to myself, to read back and remember a time when this grasp I have on all of it, while tenuous, at least existed.
If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to change costume and come back and something else, would you slow down? Or speed up?
A fine post-mortem, in the end, should it come to that.
And why not?
Every man deserves an epitaph.
”A pretty picture but the scenery is so loud.” – Unknown
January 14th, 2001.
She laughed, and oh, how that laugh was infectious.
He smiled, and watching his three-year-old daughter marvel over her belated Christmas presents and giggle with the excitement that only a young child can, he wondered if it got any better than this.
She ran over to him and held up a porcelain doll. He had visited a shop in Osaka a few months earlier. A man there and his wife were apparently known for their ceramic and porcelain work. Or, so his assistant had said. Phyllis was young, ambitious, and a hell of a personal assistant. She’d assured him that Danielle would love it, and she was right.
“She has green eyes just like me!”
He squatted down, looking at his only child at eye level.
“I know, sweetie! That’s why I thought of you when I saw her!”
He hadn’t. He hadn’t even been there. He was in Tokyo beating up Joey Melton, a name nobody cares about, but he wasn’t in Osaka in a craftsman’s shop picking out a gift for his three-year-old daughter. Phyllis was, and Phyllis reminded him about getting her the gift…
Two months ago.
Danielle smiled that huge infectious smile and she bounded away. She was soon distracted as young children are, by the rest of the gifts that Phyllis had put in the back of Dan’s car before driving over from the airport.
“Thanks, Phyllis.” He muttered it under his breath, aware that his young assistant had walked in and was standing just behind him. She smiled, just slightly, her youthful face not yet wearing the lines that twenty years of working with him would eventually bring. She watched the little girl play, joyfully, without a care in the world, and her smile widened genuinely.
Danielle Ryan looked up at her father and smiled. “I cleaned up my room like Miss Phyllis told me to.”
He chuckled lightly. “I see that.”
The little girl looked back at her doll. “She said it would make you happy.” Then, she looked back up.
“Did I do a good job, daddy?”
He nodded, a warm smile crossing his face. “You did great, sweetie.”
Her smile faded slightly.
“Are you happy?”
The color fell from his face. He turned to look at Phyllis, and she was there but changed. It was present day, she was older now, in her late-40s, the stern expression returned. An eyebrow raised on her face as she watched him glance around the same room.
Looking back, it was different now. Instead of a child’s bed, a bare high-end oak-paneled wood floor. Instead of toys scattered around the room, a desk backed up against a wall, cold and stark against the lone window, from which a beam of light streamed into the darkness.
On a shelf, photos of a daughter, long since dead, left there as a remembrance. And in the corner on the wall in a place where an open door would cover it, a black and white photo of a dollhouse, with a porcelain doll sitting in front of it, and a three-year-old little girl posed with them, her two favorite things in the world.
“Lots of memories in here.”
Phyllis’ voice broke the silence, and he held his head still, his eyes only darting around the room.
His eyes closed, and he waited for the familiar something to rise in his stomach, in his throat, but it didn’t come, and he opened them again. He looked back at her. “Phyllis?”
Her eyebrows raised slightly, questioningly.
He started to talk, his lips parted, but he hesitated, considering his words. He sighed, then spoke.
“Do you know what’s going on here?”
She looked him dead in the eyes, and without emotion, shrugged.
“I assume the gentlemen out in the hall earlier weren’t simply taking a nap.”
A small smile lifted at the corner of his mouth. “No.”
“If I were to wager a guess, sir…” She walked to the shelves, thumbed over a framed photograph, then turned back. “I’d say you were eliminating distractions.”
He watched her, and his stare into her eyes grew empty, lost as if his face had turned to a mask and was without life.
Phyllis didn’t budge. She blinked once or twice.
“Phyllis,” he said, his left cheek twitching mildly, “You’re one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life. That’s why I’ve kept you with me all these years. I need you to…”
She interjected. “I’ll make sure it’s all removed, sir.”
His eyes snapped back to her and some life returned, a look of some understanding.
“And Cecilia…. She’s doing wonderfully, but there are still things she isn’t quite ready for. I need you to…”
Phyllis interrupted again.
“I’ll see to it that she’s taken care of, sir, just like I always have.”
He nodded then. “Very good. Thank you.”
Glancing around the room one last time, he turned and opened the door out into the hall. He stopped and held up a hand.
He waved her over, and she came, the same stoic expression on her face as always. And he leaned in and whispered.
“I’d like you to stop cutting me off when I speak. It’s a terrible habit, and I’m afraid that if you don’t quit doing it, I’m going to hurt you really badly. Like just now, when I considered breaking your crotchety fucking neck and feeding your remains to a wild boar. Like maybe you need… a nap.”
He glared into her eyes, no hint of sarcasm or joking. She stood up a little straighter, took in a deep breath, and nodded just enough to be seen, but otherwise held her ground. His eyes narrowed, and he leaned in more, speaking in a hushed but intense tone.
“Now, I retrieved a box from the storage unit of some dear friends a few weeks ago. It’s outside, down the trail to the creek, and inside the storage shed next to the boat launch. I want you to go down there, take it out and make sure it ends up where it’s supposed to be on Saturday night. Do you understand?”
No hint of anything but total complicity this time, and she nodded. He perked up immediately at that, standing back up to his full height, and smiled.
“Thanks, Phyllis. Off to San Francisco. I’ll be back on Monday.”
He turned to leave, walked through the open door and into the large main hall of the house, and left.
Dan Ryan turned a corner into a large formal living area. It was clean now, no sign of any mess or ephemera. The furniture was brand new, some of it still wrapped in plastic from the movers, but set perfectly in place as if ready to host a fancy reception or greet an important dignitary of some kind. This was all for show, however, and he paid it no mind.
Contractors were present as well. There had been considerable damage done to some of the shelving in the adjoining study, and hammering rang throughout the cavernous structure.
Two men walked through the main foyer as he approached, with a large pane of replacement glass between them, and headed for the large office down the hall where, apparently, something had been thrown through a window.
He paid it no mind and left through the open front doors where again, more contractors were hard at work, in this case removing the heavy steel sign affixed to the structure just outside.
Ryan bounded down the steps to the ground below, grabbing a terrified, overalled worker by his arm as he landed. “That…” He pointed to the large, gaudy “DR” adorning the main gate. “Get rid of it.”
He didn’t wait for an answer or care that the man practically pissed himself as he nodded his head as fast as he could.
He released the man, disgusted by his obvious weakness, and headed down the walk. He could trust Phyllis, he knew that much. She had been there for over twenty years now and she had never failed him, not once. She had filled in for him when his inadequacies at being a decent person had left gaps in his life, and she’d been an effective surrogate at many events he was expected to attend but was loath to do so. She had kept him from his worst impulses when he’d asked her to, and stepped aside when he hadn’t.
He felt his life starting to coalesce around him in the way he wanted it to. It was more efficient, more congruous, and so much of the waste was starting to fade away.
It had been difficult, this. He blamed Lindsay for it, blamed her for getting him back into it, blamed her for trying to domesticate him in the first place. She started him down this path, and he would see it through.
No matter how happy it had made him, she had to pay for her crimes. She’ll have to change, and change comes violently.
A long black car sat in the circle drive, the tailpipe shooting fumes out into the air. He walked to the rear passenger side, not having to slow down as the driver opened the door and he slipped into the backseat. He looked out at the activity all around him and sneered, then turned back as the door was shut. It puttered there just long enough for the driver to get back behind the wheel… and then drove away.
Phyllis walked down a long dirt path, her legs taking her down the last stretch of an almost-mile-long trek in very uncomfortable shoes.
The abuse didn’t bother her. She’d stopped thinking of it as abuse long ago anyway since she was pretty sure her boss was a sociopath. He’d never shown the slightest bit of compassion or empathy for anyone when there wasn’t something in it for him. But he’d always taken care of her and rewarded loyalty. The one thing he obviously prized above all else was that, and he took great pleasure in destroying anyone who broke his trust.
What he would call betrayal, many men might write off as a misunderstanding. But to Dan Ryan, anything but blind loyalty was met with swift and violent retribution. Anything but unwavering allegiance was seen as a capital offense, a weakness from which you cannot return. There is no forgiveness for it, though the target may not realize this until it’s far too late.
Anyway, she’d been there for all of it — all of it, and she had, of course, been complicit.
It made no sense to leave now, while he was going through… whatever this was. She didn’t understand it, but she didn’t see understanding as a core part of her job. She did what she was told, and she didn’t think she minded it anyway. If blood makes you squeamish, this isn’t the job for you.
As she approached the shed, a wooden structure on all four sides, topped by a rolled-tin roof and no windows, she dug into the front breast pocket of her jacket and pulled out a set of keys. Fumbling through them as she walked up to the door, she finally produced the right one, a reddish-copper and silver key, tarnished with age, and used it to unlock the padlock on the metal latch.
Opening the small wooden door, she squinted in the darkness of the structure and tried to wait for her eyes to adjust to the low light level before stepping inside. The damp, mildewy smells inside the shed assaulted her nose, and she scrunched it up, holding the back of her hand up to it to prevent herself from gagging. So much for not being squeamish.
With her eyes able to start making out the contents of the small area inside, she saw that there was indeed a box there, some three and a half feet wide and about two feet tall, and some two feet in depth.
She wouldn’t be able to carry this herself, so she considered the location of a dolly in the stables. She didn’t want to trust this to someone else. The look in Dan’s eyes told her she didn’t dare, so she thought about her ability to get the job done, and decided that she could, depending on the weight of the contents inside.
He hadn’t told her she could look inside, but he hadn’t expressly forbidden it either, so she decided to take that as consent, and besides, he was no longer here to know she’d ever looked…. she hoped.
The box itself, a black, metal box of sturdy construction with silver metal trim all around the edges, didn’t have a lock on it — just a latch on the front which turned in a circular motion to disjoin the hooking mechanism inside. With a clockwise turn, it detached, and she opened it, her eyes squinting, not knowing what to expect.
She lost her train of thought then, looking down at something she recognized, but hadn’t seen in years. Without meaning to, her head started to shake in a slow “no” motion, and the always proper Phyllis, who had seen every terrible, violent tendency her psychotic boss had ever expressed, lost her sense of decorum.