I afforded my life the patience and room it required to diet into nothing. For weeks, I’d lug clods of my material self to a pawn shop behind the lunch spot my co-workers loved. The man behind the counter—a beefy goth with hairy knuckles demarking the plump stubs of his fingers—would look through my things, pluck an old memory from the box or laundry basket I carried that day, and assess.
At night, I searched out manholes to crawl into.
One, conveniently, sunk into place across from my apartment. I left my curtains open so I could peer inside, track the empty spaces where I should be wiping down a cutting board or some such. By morning, I would reconnoiter enough data to hazard for the pawn shop again.
Then, I was hit with an unwelcome expansion. She met me at a sad party and had professioned herself to be a bright spot.
“You’ve caught me on a good day,” she said.
The next few years rejiggered around her. She had duties to share, smart. The city was locked in a drought. Sex was as pleasing as I could manage.
Together, we struck a disagreement, plowed it through town, set it aside in a corner of her home. It wallowed and, in time, learned to make precisely enough noise to ignore.
It was around then I noticed the sky was following me. Not all of it, of course, but enough. A hectare? A hide? It was impossible to gauge the scope, how closely this sky wanted to loom over me. Did I purchase the sky and forget to sign for it? Was I drunk?
I found myself staying indoors. Or, rather, I found myself when I was indoors. Less bothered by the tag-along sky, I was returning to the pawn shop with more of myself. I was getting better at driving a hard bargain.
Soon, I could arrive with an empty box and leave sated.
Eventually, I found doctors to help me. Knives, clamps, swabs, pills, more knives. A doctor’s curse lies with the diagnosis, and I lay awake at night trying to name each plausible expectation. The best doctors were ones who could recommend specialists over the phone. The last thing I wanted was to meet a doctor face to face. Who would?
The worst of it was I didn’t know the worst of it. Before long, my feet were always damp. You smelled smoke everywhere. Trees were more expensive. I tried to call her a few times, drove by her house. Once, I saw another man living there with a dog.
In the end, I learned to prepare book-sized meals without a kitchen. I poured out two glasses of water for every one I drank. I kept my curtains closed most days. With practice, I resisted temptation and forgave my ears for hearing anything disagreeable. If I had worked harder at it, I could have avoided the whole mess.
J. Campbell was born in Jasper, Alabama. His writing can be found elsewhere, in print and online.