By Goodman Murphy-Smith
Excepting the wild-eyed men beside the service roads, and the flickering lights in the hospital windows, and the invisible coughing from right behind you, and the silhouettes crouching in the forest; excepting the sharp stench of drugs in every alcove, and the ghosts shadowboxing in the park, and the streetlamps that never turn off, and the eyes that appear in the hedges at night, and the open sinkholes and rotting ceilings; excepting all that, it seems like a lovely place to live and I think you’ll agree, it really does seem like your kind of town, but I guess you’ll have to see it to be sure, although I know you don’t want to. I know you don’t want to live somewhere else because the last thing you want to ever do in your life is say hello to new neighbors. I know you don’t want to live in a house someone else built because you think they might have put cameras in the walls.
Let’s build a house together, then. Here’s the room where I snort Xanax every morning and here’s the room where you punch holes in the wall every night. How does that sound? Do you want to keep building? Across the hall to the bedroom with translucent curtains where we keep the degrading letters from our mothers pinned up on the walls. Then down the stairs to the kitchen where we boil our friends like frogs in pots of popping water, our faces hovering in their skies like a pair of silent gods. And then the next room over, the dining room with the long table with two chairs, where we serve, on finely made obsidian plates, the frogs who didn’t escape. Now we’ve eaten. Why don’t we go to the living room? Why don’t we rest on the couch that you personally upholstered with razor blades while we try to watch sitcoms on the hundred-inch flatscreen plasma 32K television that randomly loses power and cuts to black and reflects the landline, which we use to call our acquaintances and invite them over for dinner tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. And now we’ve got ourselves an obligation, so let’s go back, tomorrow at 7:00, to the dining room, where we watch our acquaintances eat slices of arms and hearts and say “this is delicious, thank you,” over and over again until they finally leave. Let’s follow them out the door and stand on the front porch where we wave as they roll out of the driveway and do not wave back, and where our gazes drift across the street to the neighbors’ house, where silhouettes move back and forth through red-lit windows like shadow puppets, spinning and leaping and laughing all night long but we know they wonder (and wonder all day) who stole their great-great grandfather’s obsidian dinner service and why.
So what do you think? Is it a nice house? If you were a guest, how long would you stay? Would you forgive us when we say “sorry for the mess, I know it’s a mess,” and swipe cobwebs out of the way? I don’t know if I would. I think I would rather go down to the park and watch children shoot fireworks into the sun. Or down the nearest manhole to the hidden theaters under the Earth where people kill each other for real on silver screens. Or across state lines to the neighborhood where during an ancient 2 a.m. my best friend stood terrified in the grass and I in the street and the black car, a strange, godlike menace, whispered towards us like a ghost. If you looked now we would still be there. I would like to look. I would like to be there. Or maybe…
Maybe I would rather go to the pond on top of the last unmoved mountain. I think I’d rather go there. I’ve heard the water is beautiful and the fish even more, the bettas swimming in circles with magical incantations under their scales, the sky in their unclouded hearts, every grain of sand in the world in their black panopticon eyes, and their own true colors unfurled around them in red and blue and green curtains and deteriorating as they slowly eat themselves alive.
Goodman Murphy-Smith is a creative writing student from Birmingham, AL., where he is a regular contributor to the Cadence literary magazine and a retired movie theater employee.