By Ron Burch
It sits with me. Constantly holds my hand. Doesn’t talk to me. Sometimes, if it’s distracted, I’ll slip my hand free for a few seconds, shaking it off, until it notices that something is wrong and clasps my hand again, its weight heavily against me.
I’d describe it to you if I could. It’s always and never changing. Heavy, rarely goes far. Tends to stay out of the bright sunlight. It sits in the other chair, across our small table with the thin lamp still on it. Grasping my hand, it watches its favorite shows. Or the squirrels out in the yard. Seems fascinated with the squirrels.
I can get to the kitchen for a few seconds, catch my breath, enjoy the freedom from its weight and yet alone without it at the same time. Then it’s suddenly back, coiling itself tight around me, making it hard to breathe.
Sometimes it tenderly grasps my hand – a tentative date. It follows me, padding soundlessly around the kitchen. Sits next to me on the timeworn couch and turns to the soothing sleep-sound of food-cooking shows and other non-threatening media. Often it dozes. Those are the best times. Sometimes there is the sleep of the chasm.
It doesn’t like the bed for some reason. Doesn’t mind the bedroom itself. It likes to look out the rear window, where it watches the neighbor’s bird feeder. I don’t know what it thinks about as it contemplates the birds freely flitting around. Sometimes, in the morning, when the light is breaking, I’ll sense it in the dark, lingering around the edge of the bed, eager to wake me.
It’s hard to escape, I admit. It lives with you. If I get away, it always finds me.
Sometimes it grabs so hard I think I’m broken.
The other night it held me tightly. I thought I’d stop breathing. But I didn’t. I even went back to sleep. It did a similar thing while I was making the bed: it suddenly clung to my back, choking me. I flung it off. When it came at me again, its hand outstretched, I sidestepped, and it disappeared into the other room for hours.
I am getting better. Leading it astray, standing immobile as it passes on its way to the kitchen. I can watch movies alone – it does not like movies, usually driving it out of the room for the duration. Before, when I went to view the movies, it liked to linger in the lobby, watching the other customers, gauging them hungrily.
Now it doesn’t even leave the house, sleeping on the dark couch in the living room, uninterested in my life. It’s not waiting to move on. It’s tricked me before. It’ll always live here with me, underneath the bed or asleep on the other side. Or wherever it chooses. I’ve learned over time, when it wakes up in the dark night, keep a safe distance.
Ron Burch’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including South Dakota Review, Fiction International, Mississippi Review, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His new novel, JDP, comes out in 2021 from BlazeVOX Books. He lives in Los Angeles.