A man is mowing his lawn at dawn with Airpods on in a yard five houses down. He is listening to a convicted felon describe fugue states and contemplating the utter silence of his street. It has been almost eight months since his wife left with Arwen, their Bichon Frise, to somewhere outside Helena somewhere buffalos roam in open fields and the air smells like lavender, grass and honey, and he has not recovered at all. He can still fear anger’s searing grip on his throat. He knows he put a fist through drywall. There is a stain of wine on the white den carpet, but it is just a hole where the world fell in and left the house and his body behind.
He feels comfortable crying loudly in the quarantine. When he looks into the mirror, he sees a thing he does not recognize, a red-eyed warthog in cotton. He spends most of his hours online piloting and mining morphite as Hobgob for the Eye of Inferno corporation in EVE Online. He has contributed hundreds of real-world dollars to the EoI along with friends online, friends whose real names he has forgotten. After all, what use is a name that was unchosen? What use is a name?
Someone he trades with is a personal fitness trainer. BurrowManELO. It was him that suggested the podcast. He was also getting a divorce. He said there was little point in worrying, that no one stays together forever anymore. He said (he was drunk) that the world is an ocean and humans were fish that had just developed eyes. For the first time they could look down and see how deep and dark it all goes, like if Wile E. Coyote was born into the world above a cliff. He said it was scary, and it made sense no one could talk to each other anymore and nothing interpersonal could last. He met the guy his wife is seeing, he was a chef. He made a mean tortellini. BurrowManELO wishes them the best.
Hobgob is standing at the mirror, the mower still running in the yard. He didn’t used to be a Hobgob. Once, he was a boy in a basement with a violent cousin, once he was holding a rubber brick as it was dropped in a pool. Once he was painting his neighbor’s garage. At some point something shifted. He had swam too deep in the ocean of the world and disappeared. Hobgob thinks that all this is what was normal, this sunken world, and someone else had lived within him, someone who had reason to live like this up to a point and then abandon it.
The phone rings in the kitchen. He picks it up and hears the sound of his wife. She wants to know how the house is doing. He tells her it’s fine. She asks about the wine stain she had made on the carpet, if he had cleaned it yet. He tells her no. She doesn’t ask about the drywall. He wonders when it happened. How.
She tells him Arwen’s eating well, there’s plenty of room for her to run. He laughs. She tells him to stay indoors, to not get sick. He feels lightheaded. He says, “We were fish that had no eyes,” and wishes her well with the buffalo. He says he is doing good on his own, getting a lot done. They struggle through the rest of the call.
When the phone call ends, he walks back out into the yard. The light of the day is blinding. He climbs onto the mower and drives, covering his eyes from the light. With a scraping bump, the mower peels out into the street. Squinting, he turns off the clippers and lets it drive, rolling slowly down into the neighborhood. The limbs of the body feel loose and distant and everything is bright. The fish of a man wants nothing, can want for nothing. There is too much to the world, it is all so much, it hurts.
John Chrostek is a Pushcart-nominated poet, playwright and author who works at Powell’s City of Books in Portland, OR. His work has been featured in publications such as Artemis, River Heron Review, and Cathexis Press.