The days are rotting. One after another, the days are rotting, and now almost two years of days stand rotting.
Looking back at the last two years is like looking into a bowl of pudding—it doesn’t matter where in the pudding James looks, it’s still the same pudding. The last two years are like drab shades of brown, green, and yellow. Looking back on them is like staring at a wall of green, yellow, and brown splotches, but with no single point of focus.
James rides through, though. He witnesses whatever scraps of life there is to witness. He stares into those scraps, stares and never gives up. The Fear. It’s The Fear. He doesn’t know how to deal with it in retrospect, in memory. He doesn’t know how to deal with the past of it. The Fear is fine in the present, the present James can adapt to, but in the past The Fear is so befuddling to look at.
How does everyone else see the past, how do they so easily see the story in it? They have lives. They go outside the walls of James’s universe; they go to see, go to experience events in different places. Those events become markers on their past, markers they can focus on.
Cecilia, James’s niece, walks into his apartment around the same time he’s mulling over the pudding and drab colours of the last two years and says, “The last time you left was when?...Three days ago, I can tell by the garbage. It stinks. How’s your frozen food supply?...Wow, that’s a lot. Three days and your stores are still plentiful. I can’t imagine how much you buy at once. I brought an apple. I’m cutting it up for you…Sorry, but you have to eat this. I can barely look at you knowing you’ve eaten nothing but frozen foods for three days. Here, please, eat this.”
Usually she shows up with Gabriel, James’s nephew, but today she’s alone. There’s an awkwardness without Gabriel. It puts James face to face with how little Cecilia thinks of him. Apparently she’s irked by James’s frozen dinners, and she’ll often show up just to bring a piece of fruit or a vegetable. Sometimes James’s apartment irks her as well, and shortly after these visits a housekeeper will appear at the door.
Cecilia walks up to the large living room window, which James has blocked out with an old blanket. “Do you know what the valley is like right now? Probably more lush and green than ever before. These thunder storms we keep having, the heat, the sunshine—it’s turning the trees tropical. Aren’t you curious? Just behind this blanket is a panoramic view of the valley and the city beyond, a twenty-third floor view you have never seen.” She looks closely at the blanket. “Where did you get this thing from?” James shrugs; he can’t remember the blanket’s origin. “Next time I come over I’m bringing blinds and throwing this out.”
James’s apartment has the most minimal of furniture, the most minimal of shadows and corners. The bedroom door is permanently closed, which is why James keeps his mattress on the floor in the living room in front of his T.V. The kitchen is equally simplified; there’s the microwave to cook his frozen foods, the freezer to store his frozen foods, the fridge to store his juice, the counter where he keeps his supply of disposable plates and utensils, and a large garbage bag with the opening kept tied shut.
Cecilia walks around his apartment, observing the washroom, corners where the floors meet the walls, and the mattress in front of the television, where James is presently laying. The floor-length, blue-terry-cloth dress she wears is a staple for Cecilia, and combined with her short steps, which are nearly absent of any vertical bounce, it gives her the appearance of floating across the floor, but James notices something odd today—rather than hanging a perfect millimeter from the floor, the dress drags. He also notices a trail of water and mud at the front door which goes into the kitchen. He looks to where Cecilia is walking beside the bed and sees that the trail of water and mud comes from the dragging blue-terry-cloth dress. He squints through the shadiness of his apartment and sees mud caked around the bottom and in stains all over it. He also notes that the rain jacket Cecilia wears is covered in mud stains, and even her hair, usually pulled back tight into a pony tail, is loose, tangled, and wet.
Cecilia looks at her dress, at the trail behind her, and then at James; but her eyes never simply look at something, they snap to their subject, her head snapping to the same direction. “You know what you are James? You’re a rabbit. You’re a rabbit because a rabbit hole would suit you so perfectly. You could sit in your rabbit hole all day and night doing nothing. You’d just have to monitor that one single solitary space where danger could potentially come from. It would make you perfectly content, wouldn’t it?” He says nothing. “God,” she says, snapping her eyes back to the blanket. “What would you do if I pulled this blanket down right now, just forced the biggest expanse of view you have ever feared on you right this moment?”
James can’t imagine, but he knows she wouldn’t. He says, “What happened to your clothes?”
She sits on the floor beside the mattress with the wall straight against her back, folds her arms, and looks straight ahead. “Are you even aware of the storm that ended an hour ago? It was the biggest of the summer, probably flooded every basement apartment between here and the lake, and every ravine.”
She stares into oblivion, into a universe of nothing a few inches in front of her. “Gabriel was at the park when it was at its worse. I went to fetch him, but he wasn’t there. When I asked some people standing on their stoop if they saw him, they pointed to the stairs…stairs that go from the park down to Taylor creek. I couldn’t believe it, right beside those stairs is a sign that says, in big red letters, flash flood warning. What was he thinking? I ran down. When I got to the bottom the water had already flooded over the bridge and the valley floor. Gabriel, the little weirdo, was on the bridge, kneeling down and holding on to the railing. This was in the middle of the flood where the water was running at its fastest. I freaked out and went for a life ring beside the ravine, but of course the water had flooded past the post, so I slopped through this muddy flood water, falling on the way and getting drenched, before I get the ring. Gabriel is facing the current, leaning back while the rush crashes into him, nearly covering him. I could barely see his face for the splash; it must have taken all his strength just to hold on. Can you imagine how dangerous that is? He could have died…actually he would have died. That’s exactly what would have happened if I didn’t grab the life ring.”
Cecilia pauses and stares at James. James says, “The water pushed him off the bridge?”
“No, he let go. That crazy idiot just let go on purpose and started floating with the flood. I panicked and yelled, ‘Gabriel, grab the ring,’ and tossed it to him. He grabbed hold and I pulled him in. He got to shallower water away from the centre, but still had to hold on to the ring until he reached the stairs. We both collapsed on the bottom steps, out of breath. I screamed at him and said, ‘you suicidal little freak, what were you doing?’ He doesn’t say anything. ‘You could have died, you must have known that,’ and still he says nothing. When his breath comes back he just stands and runs up the stairs and back to the house, without saying a word to me…
“…that kid…God…every single day he spends in Taylor Creek Valley. It’s part of what makes him so reclusive, so…weird. Of course you think he’s as normal as he thinks you are…well next year he goes to high school…maybe…and I just finished…there his weird, reclusive little personality is really going to…forget it, look who I’m talking to.”
And again she stares into oblivion, into the universe of nothing a few inches in front of her. “Kitty, our insane mother, is planning a séance to mark the second year anniversary. Apparently this is what we need to start healing.” Slowly, almost imperceptibly, she shakes her head. “I disagree. I think we need a catastrophe; not more family tragedy, but something really big, like a plague, a meteor strike, or a tornado that just rips apart the downtown. See what I’m saying? Something close, almost too close. Something that throws everybody into a panic, even us. I don’t want anyone to get hurt, I just want the aftermath of panic, when everyone is forced into a massively introspective phase. I don’t want chaos, just the calm following chaos. I think that would do us a lot of good, don’t you?” And she’s really asking, waiting for his answer.
James says, “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Of course not; what would you even do in an apocalyptic situation? Seriously, just imagine it. Pretend you’re over for dinner and all of a sudden the world collapses into a burning chaos. We can’t depend on anyone for anything. On top of that, we have to leave the house because of looters. We don’t bring anything with us. So there we are in Taylor Creek Valley wondering what to do next: me, Gabriel, Kitty—our oblivious mother—and you. Gabriel wanders off and is immediately mauled by coyotes. Now there are just three of us. Kitty is so upset over the loss of the house, which is looted and burned to the ground, that she dies of grief. It’s just me and you James, so what do you do? You don’t know because you’re waiting for me to decide. In all these years that you’ve lived you’ve always depended on somebody else. You think by shutting yourself into the apartment you’ve created some kind of independence, but you’re as dependent as ever. You don’t understand that independence requires relationships.
“I don’t have a lot of friends, sure, but I talk to people. Tony at the fish shop—I’ve known him for seven years now. His wife just had a baby. His cousin is in jail again. See? I know people. You and Gabriel don’t interact with anyone, you have no connection to the outside world. At high school I at least had acquaintances, I had truces, because I had enough social skills to form that kind of thing. Gabriel is going to get mauled by those coyotes.”
Frustrated, she stands up and walks to the door. She opens it, looks back, says, “Do you know what Gabriel is asking for now? God knows why, but he’s actually impressionable around you. He’s asking me to buy him frozen foods. Not because of ads…he wants the ones he sees you eating over here. Do me a favour and grab a piece of fruit next time you’re near him,” and leaves, slamming the door behind her.