Nothing adds up anymore. Borrow one here, carry one there—a million calculations never satisfied. T.J. lives in his anti-world of negative space, unwilling to move toward a world of comfortable clichés. A lifetime spent, futilely searching for the imagined self he wanted to become.
T.J.’s eyes move down to the picture tacked on the inside of the bedroom door. It’s a picture of Jesus. He found the flyer tucked inside his front door screen last Saturday. It’s one of those bible scenes where Jesus, after the resurrection, is ascending into heaven. He has his arms raised, palms toward the clouds, and the eleven disciples are staring up at their leader with a look of bewilderment on their faces. But the thing T.J. likes about the picture, the thing that makes him smile, is that Jesus looks like he’s shrugging his shoulders, as if he’s saying, “Fuck if I know.” That’s the reason he nailed it to the door. Good old “Fuck If I Know Jesus.”
T.J. likes Jesus because Jesus was a sharp guy—became a legend by playing his cards right. He toured the countryside for a while, making a name for himself, then got the hell out. He went from Jesus to Christ in thirty years or so. Jesus knew you had to do it while you were still young, or else suicide, even altruistic suicide didn’t mean a goddamn thing. Just like Jimi and Janis and that Cobain guy, you have to seal the deal before you get old and fat—make a dramatic exit while it still means something. Don’t stay around long enough to fuck it all up.
You take Elvis. Elvis held on too long. These days, when you think of Elvis, all you can picture in your head is “Vegas Elvis”—a fat imposter with dyed black hair wearing a gigantic jump suit singing “Hunk of Burning Love.” Or maybe “Graceland Elvis,” lying dead on his bathroom floor like a beached whale. Yeah, timing is everything when it comes to feeding the legend.
T.J. stares into the too-blue eyes of Jesus and, in a barely audible voice, says, “So tell me, does your old man really mark the fall of every sparrow?”
The paper Savior just hangs there—helpless hands in the air—totally mystified.
The mailman is rattling around the front door—trying to stuff more crap in a mailbox that’s already overflowing with bad news. Ominous documents like the eviction notice that T.J. glanced at last week and jammed back in the box. Bills and threats—the only mail he gets these days. They all want their money, and nobody cares about you or your situation. They don’t give a rat’s ass if you’re out panhandling the street and have a wife in the whorehouse. There’s no excuse for being late with a payment.
T.J. rolls over onto his side. On the nightstand, there’s a photo of him and his ex-wife. They’re standing beside an orange and white U-Haul van, smiling, still young, back before either of them knew anything about distance. Next to the frame, there’s an empty plastic water bottle. He tries to remember just when and why it was that people stopped trusting the local water supply. When he was a kid they all drank the water right out of the spigot—even kept a pitcher of cold tap water in the refrigerator. Now everybody has to have water with exotic names. Clean water, bottled in clear plastic that comes from hidden springs high up in a mountain somewhere. Some place far away from factories and mills or anything else that might fuck with the purity.
Clamping his eyes closed, he wishes he could fall asleep—a little “time travel” to an imaginary world where everything is still in order. Maybe he’d get lucky and have a good dream—like the one he has from time to time about playing football in high school. Goddamn Friday night in the South. When you could focus on one thing for a couple of hours—a brief reprieve from the meaningless everyday bullshit. That brotherhood you felt with your teammates. The closeness you thought would last forever.
Just for a second, he hears “Boo Radley” crying outside the bedroom door. Then, just as quickly, he remembers his cat is gone. He gave his best friend away three weeks ago—gave him to old Jim Williams, who used to be the best barber in town. Jim’s wife died last year, and T.J. knew that having “Boo” around would be just the thing for him.
The funny thing is, he keeps hearing the cat. Sometimes, he even catches a glimpse of gray out of the corner of his eye. Once in the kitchen, before he could catch himself, he’d actually called out his name.
“Boo” used to come in and lie on T.J.’s lap while he was watching “The Andy Griffith Show.” He’d curl up and close his eyes and wouldn’t get up until T.J. did. Damned fine cat, that “Mr. Radley.”
A tear starts to form in the corner of his left eye—one more ridiculous thing he can no longer control. It’s a cold fact. If you allow yourself to get old, the emotions are always right there—floating, face-up, on your soul.
T.J. reaches back and runs his hand along the shelf at the top of the bed until he feels cool metal. He grips the handle and brings the gun over his head and down onto the bed beside his right leg. He worries a little about the bullets. They’ve been in the cylinder for a long time—ever since his father used the pistol on himself, more than thirty years ago.
T.J. wonders if he should fire the thing once, just to make sure it will still do the job. Maybe put a hole in “Fuck If I Know Jesus”. One hole. Right there, in his forever-benevolent face.
While he’s thinking it over, someone knocks at the front door. Pounding hard, like it’s really important. T.J. knows it’s got to be someone he doesn’t want to see—probably some errand boy from the “fly-by-night” finance company.
Maybe he should just get out of bed, go to the door, and slap the shit out of the son-of-a-bitch, beat his ass like a toy drum.
But today, he just can’t summon the rage.
Why can’t people leave him alone for this last little while? Let him think back—just long enough and far enough to try and remember a few good things.