Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

premature fiction

Burnt

William walked home in the dark feeling stupid. In the downtown residential streets of Brenlee, each block had it’s own streetlamp. It was usually enough. On most nights like this one – warm and dry, summer or autumn – the sounds of kids playing late into the evening or muscle cars revving filled the air. Tonight, only the buzz of the high metal arc lamps and a slight breeze.

Still, down here on the sidewalk, it was dark between the lights. It felt darker than usual. Darker even, than those late nights during winter when the fog is so thick that people lose their way and walk into telephone poles. William could see only the ground before his next step. After leaving the walkway from Hernandez’s apartment, he moved carelessly along, not trying to see his own way. He just felt it. Knew it. He let the gravity of failed dreams, burnt memories, and loss pull him homeward. That gravity had never failed him. It didn’t tonight.

He sat on his porch and looked out at the darkness, behind and through which neighbors, teachers, parishoners, children, parents, and someone who killed children and childhoods moved. Breathed. Slept. Cried. Laughed. Forgot and remembered. He didn’t want to cry, but felt he should. He rubbed the corners of eyes. Dry. He couldn’t sigh anymore, his stomach couldn’t take it, so he took in only shallow draughts of the ubiquitous darkness.

Nothing he could do would fix this feeling and so he would never change. He had tried running. Leaving Brenlee in the dust. Not even mentioning this tired old town for years at a time. Now he had tried returning; he felt some part of himself gagging and struggling and failing to emerge into his polluted life. It felt stupid. Like puking over something he had seen years before. Like not having puked in the first place. Like going to Hernandez with no idea what he wanted. Like being so Californian everywhere else he went that he could never stop saying ‘like’, and so everywhere else when he was here that he could only hate it for its beauty, size, attitude, and misuses and abuses of language.

Then, finally, William, Billy, Will – this earthbound, profane three-in-one – stopped thinking. The darkness grew still. He hadn’t noticed it moving before, but would later remember this stillness and the million crawling fingers of grasping dark that inhabited that night. He let his eyes close, but he did not sleep. Without trying, his breath grew a little deeper and a little calmer. He did not move. He and all his pain, all his memories both miserable and wonderful, became a pillar of ash awaiting the wind, longing for and dreading that final collapse and disappearance into the fabric of the things of this earth, solar system, galaxy, universe.

He awoke in that chair on the porch early the next morning. As far as he knew, he had not moved. He did not remember his dreams. He could feel the air growing warmer as the sun rose over the Sierras. He was still here in Brenlee, but for the first time since he returned and buried his mother, he knew he would leave and this time for good.