By Greg Shupak
There was a rumour that I was dead. Actually, I survived.
“Oh my God! Oh I’m so happy to see you’re okay! I heard you were dead!”
“No, no. It was never really that serious.”
“Good, I’m so glad. I was really upset when I heard.”
“Thanks, thanks…But if you were that concerned wouldn’t you have wanted to come to my funeral? Or at least find out for sure that I was dead?”
“From what I heard, you were dead and that was it.”
I quit my job. 3:30 PM. I hadn’t done a thing in the two hours since I had woken up. It was almost a surprise to me that I had a marker, a Sharpie, clipped onto my bottom lip. It had a blue cap and a grey shaft. How long had it been there? I removed the lid. With each breath that I inhaled there was a corresponding number of pulses on the right side of my head that went from just above the ear to the top of my skull.
It was cold.
I stood amid these giant rectangular blocks of mostly red brick, three narrow floors each. Each level had a window in the centre that was flush with the one above or below. The windows had lines dividing them into grids, like nine windows within each window.
The lowest window in the back yard was open, but no more than a couple of inches. I took my keys out of my pocket and pushed in the screen. Using my fattest key, I lifted the window open.
I fell as I crawled in and my face pressed against the cool ground. I lifted my hands from the floor and noticed that they had left marks in the dust.
I had crawled into the TV room. There was an easy chair, old and yellow, out of sync with the other furniture; perhaps it was a remnant from someone’s bachelorhood. The kitchen was to my left. It was mostly clean, but had a half-eaten bowl of cereal on the counter. I thought about somebody eating it: a little girl in white cotton pyjamas decorated with a pattern of little princesses. I moved toward the bowl and picked it up. I carried the cereal into the family room and placed it on top of the television, which was old, the kind that had a giant frame and sat alone on the floor.
My mom had always been soft-spoken and accommodating, the kind of person who might have been a victim in different circumstances. As we shopped for groceries, she had to lead me around. Though I’d been in the store many times, I now found that the lighting had a way of blinding me. It created a bright white blanket that filled the entire volume of the store.
I uneasily watched my mother hold a baguette in her left hand, stroking it with her right. I felt a tap on the shoulder. It was Rich, an acquaintance from high school.
“Buddy! You’re not dead!”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Cool, man! Cool!” Rich was wearing a tight shirt that was black but with a white tidal wave across his chest and onto his back.
“Anyway dude, I gotta get the fuck outta here,” he declared, suddenly nervous.
That night I went into another house, though it took me a while to find an empty one. I cracked open part of the front window and reached over to unlock the front door. I entered and the stairs were right there, jumping down my throat. I went straight upstairs and into what seemed like a little boy’s room. The walls were bright blue, covered with posters of hockey stars.
My mother and I waited in line. I was hot as I stood there in my winter jacket. In the line next to us was Matt, a guy I had played hockey with a few years earlier. I looked to my right, reading tabloid headlines. JLO AND BEN ARE THE SAME PERSON! P. DIDDY TO WED BARBARA WALTERS! PRINCESS DI WAS AN ALIEN! When we finally reached the front of the line, I felt a slap on the back.
“Yo, glad you’re not dead dude,” said Matt.
“Mom, I think you met Matt before? He was on my hockey team a few years ago.”
“Sure, sure. How are you?”
“Pretty good, pretty damn good. I’m a suit now,” he said, this time bobbing his shoulders as he pretended to adjust the knot of his tie. “A suit.”
The stove on my back was really heavy at first. It was even more difficult when I moved it up the stairs. Tired, but relieved and breathing easily, I left it in the bedroom of a teenage girl.
Greg Shupak is 23 years old and lives just outside of Toronto. He has been published as both an author of fiction and of academia.