Remy’s father had gone insane. He was an older, balding man, whose grey black hair jutted out in tufts at the side of his head. He collected antique muskets. Hundreds of them sat in piles in the basement, smelling of cleaning solution, rust and saltpeter. He had a blunderbuss used by the British navy, a musket employed during the French Indian War, an old six shooter, a repeating Winchester, and bayonets discarded over old furniture in all varying sizes and hues. He wandered the house at all hours, silent, cleaning his guns with a soft, baby blue cloth.
“He’s sleepwalking,” Remy told us. Hot Dog, Daphne, and I were sitting beside him in front of an old transistor radio. It was turned to a psychedelic rock station from Canada, just over the border. A guitar meandered in harsh, manic notes, causing the wood panels of the machine to shake next to us.
“How is he sleepwalking?” I asked. “His eyes are open. He sees where he’s walking. He’s able to clean his guns without shooting himself.”
“My dad sleepwalks with his eyes open.”
“How can you tell the difference between when he’s awake and asleep then?” Hot Dog asked. He was smoking clove cigarettes he had stolen from his brother. Hot Dog was also crazy. He would stop in the middle of conversation sometimes as though listening to a voice from another room. When he didn’t take his meds, he claimed it was God speaking to him, but that He always spoke in a foreign language. Sometimes it was a woman’s voice in French; sometimes it was Mr. Roger’s in Hungarian. Hot Dog collected language dictionaries, and biographies of dead saints.
“You can tell. There’s a deadness in his eyes. He doesn’t register anything else around him other than his guns. God I hate them.”
“He scares me,” Daphne said. She was sitting beside me, her knees held close to her chest. She was rocking back and forth humming out of tune to the radio. I loved Daphne.
The week before we had drank a bottle of three dollar wine and stumbled down into Remy’s basement. Daphne let me kiss her, guiding my movements as we slowly shed articles of clothing. She was wearing these crisp white panties, with wild cherries printed beneath the elastic band. She guided my hand, ignoring the fact that it was shaking; Ignoring my breathing, that had become hysterical and irregular. She grasped my hand at the wrist and guided it beneath her underwear, working at a tempo.
“Don’t do anything,” she panted. “Just let your hand go limp.”
I was afraid and felt used. Like a boy sized sex toy. Was this what an adult love life was, a list of commands from different women? Anytime I tried moving my hand, flexing and bending the fingers, she would swat at it.
“Behave,” she told me.
Under the light of a phosphorescent ceiling tube, whispering low in the basement, Daphne, the lanky girl with an Eastern European jaw line and the cold eyes of a scientist, was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. When she climaxed, she gasped at a charred Rugger sitting at a pile beside her head, and pulled it across her body, leaving a thick black trail like a painting done in charcoal. Then she gave me my hand back.
The lights turned on. Daphne gasped, pulling her arms up to conceal her breasts when Remy’s father walked past cradling a broken mortar in the baby blue cloth. He was looking right at us but seeing nothing. He left the room.
“You get used to it, I guess.” Remy said, his eyes locked on Daphne, on my hand cupped on a knee cap. Remy and I had competed over everything as kids. Little league positions, video games, and now women. Remy wanted Daphne because she was mine. He didn’t even particularly like her, I don’t think.
“Does he ever shoot them?” Hot Dog asked. He was throwing handfuls of dry, stale All Bran cereal in his mouth. A pendant with the image of the Virgin dangled from his neck. Hot Dog bought the faux gold necklace for 100 dollars because it had been blessed by a Holy man named La Voz who lived in the Mexican highlands. La Voz could speak to God, and traveled from indigenous towns performing unimpressive miracles. Older women, not far from death, sent the guru hundreds of dollars so that he would pray directly to God that He alleviate their maladies.
“He did once,” Remy said. “It was when my Mom threatened to sell his collection. They were behind on the mortgage and his guns are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. She was gathering them up in piles on the front yard when he came out pointing a stock rifle at her head. He told her to put the guns down or he would shoot. She didn’t. When he shot the gun it backfired taking off a piece of his right ear. He still can’t hear from that side of his head, that why he’s always in here watching sitcoms on mute. When he got back from the hospital, my Mom had already got together her things and left.”
The room was silent. Everyone sympathized with Remy’s plight, we were all impressed how level headed he had turned out, despite a long history of mental illness in the family; from his great grandfather who believed his wife was possessed by a demon, and performed a makeshift baptismal in a bathtub, holding his wife’s head under the water for a half an hour, the bubbles which signified the devil leaving its vessel, long since having stopped; to his grandfather who beat Remy’s father every day of his childhood till he ran away from home. But at the same time we were relieved, we were 16 year old opportunists. Remy’s broken family meant that we could do anything we wanted. We drank his father’s brandy, and set the living room couch on fire in the backyard. We cooked marijuana into oat pancakes and fed them to the family’s scrawny Australian Labradoodle named Ajax. We all took handfuls of Hot Dog’s meds and wrote hate mail to dead politicians then we made shadow puppets in an unlit room projecting invisible animals into its darkness. With fingers contorted like miniature gymnasts, Remy made a Siberian husky he said that had developed rabies, Daphne signed a British man-of- war, and Hot Dog said his animal was Edgar Allan Poe. I held my left hand up, separating the middle and pointer into a heartless peace sign. It was a rabbit. I had never considered myself to be creative in any way.
It was our utopia. And as with all utopias it came at someone else’s expense.
“Let’s get something to drink,” I suggested.
“My dad’s cabinet is empty,” Remy said. He never made eye contact with me.
“So we stand outside the Dairy Mart, Daphne can ask an older man,” I said.
“Don’t whore me out like that,” Daphne punched my arm. She was stronger than I was and I felt the shoulder go numb.
We weighed the risk of getting caught, but boredom is the most corrosive force in the universe. Every single tragedy in history began with a man who had too much damn time on his hands. We settled to leave, throwing on faded hoodies and wool hats embroidered with meaningless insignias and with crests, not of families, but of mall shops.
Hot Dog kissed his pendant at the door, muttering in German.
“What did you just say,” I asked him.
“I told God that my heart is an overripe piece of fruit right now. I’m really happy to be alive.”
“Is that all?”
“I asked him not to let it go rotten and collect flies. It’s only a matter of time though, don’t you think?”
I threw Hot Dog into a headlock and called him a fairy. Daphne and Remy walked on ahead.
Cirrus clouds sat low in the Michigan dusk like a dirty Kleenex torn to shreds across the sky. Daphne and Remy had wandered ahead of the group, out of sight beyond a bend in the road. A woman in a rusted low rider passed. Her front right wheel bearing was busted. It groaned as the car caught a small bump in the road. There has never been anything more endearing in the world for me than a beautiful woman in a shitty car.
I ran to catch up with Daphne while Hot Dog shuffled behind. He mouthed a silent prayer in Japanese into the four points of the world and let it dissipate on the wind, the way all prayers did. I sprinted, letting the wind lash against my face.
Daphne and Remy were laying beneath a wilting cherry blossom tree in the yard of a ranch style house. They were resting close beside one another, and when they saw me turn the bend they pulled from one another. I felt a heat climb up my spine.
“Did anything just happen?” I asked standing over the two in the yard. My voice cracked, betraying itself.
“No,” Remy said, quickly, anticipating the question.
“What if it did?” Daphne asked. Her bangs, dyed St. Patrick’s Day green, rested square on her forehead. She looked beautiful in the dying Kalamazoo light. I think I had always found her beautiful, had always been in love with her. Or at least the idea of Daphne. Was there really a difference?
I could identify the first moment that I knew I loved her, my heart one of Hot Dog’s overripe pieces of fruit. She was in Remy’s backyard, at three in the morning, singing Bob Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man to a bouquet of happy birthday balloons that glittered like tinsel. She must have had too much of Hot Dog’s meds, they made it hard for you to sleep. Your legs twitched and colors danced on the back of your eye lids. Daphne was tying note cards to the strings of balloons and releasing them off into the horizon.
“Why?” I had asked.
They were letters to the dead. Color coordinated based on cause of death, sex, and the era the person had lived. Abraham Lincoln was forest green. Hitler was fusia. Daphne had questions she wanted answered, personal questions I couldn’t see, that she would release on the strings of children’s balloons, and let float into outer space, past eternity.
“That’s how you communicate with the dead?” I asked. “With balloons?”
“There’s nothing more profound in the world than a balloon. Do you remember the feeling you had as a baby when you lost hold of balloon and it sailed out of sight. That’s the realization of mortality, the moment when questions of heaven and the constraints of the universe enter the mind.”
“But they’re mostly just air,” I said.
I brushed blackened pedals from the tree out of my eyes. Daphne sat defiantly beneath me.
“I thought you and I, I thought we were boyfriend and girlfriend.” I said. Daphne pulled herself up, and brushed past me.
“You aren’t challenging enough,” she said. Daphne walked to Hot Dog who was sitting cross legged in the middle of street rocking with his back still. A woman looking to be nurse or day time stripper just out of work drove towards him in an old truck the color of mold. The beater car made her so much more beautiful. Beauty was three quarter’s context. She swerved at the last minute when her headlights caught Hot Dog’s form in the road. She honked, driving 20 over, out of sight while Hot Dog raised his arms in mock triumph.
Remy rose from the yard and approached me.
“You want to wrestle?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “I’m tired of competing tonight.”
“I don’t think you have much of a choice,” he said, walking to where Daphne stood in the shoulder of the road. We all sat quietly for a minute watching Hot Dog cheer in the middle of the road, his shadow dancing under the gaze of a street light.
“This is the best night of my life.” He kept saying. He fell on his back kicking his legs into the air. “We’re never going to die. We’re never going to die.”
His name was Kurtis Molotov. At least that’s what the police reports and the newspapers said when going over the details of the incident. It was the name you would expect to belong to a retired stunt man or a pyrotechnician. Instead Kurtis was a pedophile, living on the bad side of Kalamazoo, north of the train tracks, in a house for rehabilitated sex offenders who the state wanted to monitor and segregate from family communities.
The director of the house, a chronic public masturbator turned priest named Charlie, was as shocked as anyone by the suicide. Kurt was so docile, he said. He organized chores around the house, he was always first to speak at group. He had changed, you know?
Before we ran into Kurt at the Dairy Mart that night, he had decided to kill himself. He couldn’t even get a job working with sixteen year olds at a sandwich franchise. The rare temp jobs he got, slaving for minimum wage between box factories and clerk positions at gas stations, ended when managers got detailed reports on his past from the temp agency.
Why little kids?” they asked, sometimes pulling him aside, sometimes asking him in front of his co workers. The girl was only eight, for Christ sakes. That’s someone’s daughter.
This might not have been how and why Kurt left his jobs. It’s the way I imagine the life of a sex offender, and with everything turning out the way it did, I still feel bad for Kurtis Molotov, the confused man, who dreamed of elementary schools when he should have been a daredevil instead. The papers never did print his suicide note and Daphne still won’t go into much detail about what happened once she left in his car, driving out into the soft haze of a sun rising to the east over fumes of auto factories and paper mills burning from Detroit. Maybe he killed himself for an entirely different reason. Maybe it was boredom.
When we came across Kurt, he looked like the perfect candidate. He wore a faded t shirt with what appeared to be the cover Abby Road printed on the front. The only difference is it instead of Ringo, John, Paul and George it was a group of Latino youths in brightly colors jackets at an L.A. intersection being beaten by white men in sailor suits in 1943 during the Zoot Suit Riots. Maybe it had nothing to do with the Beatles. Molotov’s hair, worn short to the scalp, had grayed for the 30 year old man and was balding in irregular patterns at the crown and bangs like a recessive ink blot test. He was mystery sitting on the hood of his car, isolated in the dairy mart parking lot, drinking whiskey from a paper bag. No one else was around.
“Ok Daphne,” I said. We were all four of us cowering in a hedge across the street. The knees of our jeans were caked with soft earth and I could smell maple as sap bleeding from a nearby tree. We looked out through gaps at the base of shrubs. “He looks perfect. Just go and ask, really quick.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “There’s something off about him.”
“Just do it.”
“Stop telling me what to do,” Daphne said sitting up. “We aren’t together. Where do you get this sense of propriety? You don’t own anything. You’re just a scared little boy.”
Daphne rose up off the ground. She stepped over me, moving to where Remy sat at my right side. She lowered herself to his body, and took his face in both of her palms, the way priests offer up communion at mass. She gave him a long, caricatured kiss, making his body go limp. It was all performance. The one woman Daphne show and I was the only audience member.
She glared at me, picking herself up off of Remy and turned to cross the street towards the Dairy Mart. Her movements were slow and deliberate.
“I think I love her,” Remy said staring out onto the phosphorescent liquor store sign illuminated like the lonely creatures that live in the dark places of the ocean.
“You don’t love her,” I told him. “You think you do because she was with me. You don’t have any idea what love is.”
“And you do?”
“I don’t pretend to or think I ever will.”
We sat, mouths held slightly open, forgetting to breathe and watched as Daphne approached Kurt in the parking lot. There was a vacuous pull of silence in the second before she opened her mouth. The same quiet that precedes rocket launches and executions. Daphne began to speak; we could see her moving her lips at least. Molotov didn’t make eye contact, he took nips from the paper bag, starring in our direction to traffic stealing east on West Main bound for downtown, or hopefully, their bellies had full tanks of gas, enough to drive beyond Kalamazoo, and Michigan, even the U.S., past the dotted line expanse of a foreign border into the gray-green eternity of someplace else. Anywhere.
“They’re lip-syncing a conversation the way we used to during Christmas choirs to hide how bad our little kid voices were,” Hot Dog said. “They aren’t actually speaking; it’s just for our show. All talk is just the illusion of communication. We’re all transmitting dead signals to a parade of mutes.”
“Is that why you’re always speaking in different languages, because it doesn’t make a difference from one to another?” Remy asked.
“No. It’s to keep whoever may be listening on their feet. Even when I’m alone. It’s code, so that if He’s listening in on me, He better damn well be paying attention or He’ll miss it.”
Daphne called my name across the intersection. She had jumped on the hood of Kurt’s busted Olds, whose paint was chipping to reveal patches the colors of worn highlighters. She sat at Kurt’s side who absently smoked tipped black and milds, dangling her legs like a little girl. She motioned to us. We crossed to them, Hot Dog skipping to the tempo of flamenco guitar, syncopated drums and Celiz Cruz’s earthy voice rising from Molotov’s car radio. It was a cover of Hey Jude en espanol. My heart rose in the randomness of that song, and with the noise of bullfrogs groaning from a nearby apartment pond.
“Kurt here would like to know what we want to drink,” she said. She added with a grin. “He also wants to know if we can go on a little joy ride.”
We cut through a college neighborhood on the back side of the dairy mart doing 65 in Kurt’s Olds. Daphne sat up beside him, stroking the beat up plastic contours of the dash, edging her ass closer into the man’s lap. He pretended not to notice or he simply didn’t care. Hot Dog, Remy and I passed around a fifth of E&J using pill bottles from Hot Dog’s new batch of meds as chasers. With the onset of euphoria from the Brandy the pills made everything smell good like gasoline and single lyrics from 80‘s pop music played in my head, more audible than the flow of conversation, of which I could only make out jumbled responses. Hot dog sniffed at my collar.
“Is this the way you feel all the time?” I asked.
“Mostly, until it wears off. I lock myself away at those points.”
The undercarriage exploded with a trail of sparks as we hit a speed bump in a private family park. Kurt laughed without happiness.
“You kid’s want to go drink at the cemetery?”
We did. Particularly because it was such a bad idea.
“Do you smell gasoline?” Remy asked the car. He dumped the remainder of the pills in the fifth.
We crossed West Main at the cemetery, beside Henderson castle, whose brick turrets rose up haunted in shadow, and to the minds of 16 year olds, twisted in youth, it brought ideas that something like ghosts could still exist. Daphne had asked me one time if I wanted to know the history of the building, so distinct from the rest of the architecture in Kalamazoo, silent on its hilltop watching us all. I told her I didn’t. The truth always seems to ruin things.
Kurt jumped the Olds over a curb at the cemetery and drove slow over the paved walking paths. Tombstones rose in odd symmetry at the car’s sides, like macabre mile markers. We noticed the more elaborate structures, the obelisks, and statuettes shinning in white marble. The poor were still losing in death, their headstones inset low in the earth. I vowed to work more hours that summer.
We parked on a hilltop overlooking downtown. Below all the windows of the Radisson were illuminated, even vacant rooms were burning electricity because it was lavish to do so. Excess was sexy, and we were all in America after all. I was sitting on the tombstone of Mary Anderson 1946-1988, beloved wife and mother, as unassuming in death as she probably was in life. Kurt paced before us chain smoking cigars we normally used for blunts. He spoke his confession casually, his back turned to us.
“I’m going to kill myself before the end of tonight.”
The pills diluted the severity of his statement. Every word he spoke felt warm.
“That is unless you have some argument why I shouldn’t,” he continued. “You’re all young enough; you all have something to live for right?”
We were quiet. The brandy sloshed in Hot Dogs hands as he lifted it to his mouth. None of us could offer a compelling argument.
“I didn’t think so,” Kurt started pacing. He kicked stale grave soil with a pair of steel toes worker’s boots, looking old in the moonlight. “What do you think is the purpose to us being here then?” he asked.
To this we had a response. Each of us had separate theories on the meaning of life.
Remy mentioned Social Darwinism, humans as competing segments of genetic material. He talked about us as wild animals trying to stand on one another’s heads for a better view of the horizon.
This didn’t necessarily answer the question though, we told Remy. Progress couldn’t be measured in physical or even mental superiority anymore. The guidelines were more subjective. The end goals: money, spiritual wealth, love could be attained through a number of channels, and often times by the underdogs. And God, how we all loved to root for an underdog.
Daphne said the meaning of life was to be completely in a single moment. To find those brief flashes of existence where a year’s worth of life and happiness was condensed into that single moment. She had only felt this way twice before.
The first ‘life’ moment, was during the last summer when their family hired a 34 year old painter. He was balding and smelled like nicotine and hard labor. His name was Andrew. He made love to Daphne on her parent’s bed, dressing the then fifteen year old in her mother’s wedding dress. The moment when he tore the straps of the gown from her body, Daphne felt a connection to her mother on her wedding day, and her mother’s mother, and the next mother down the line back into the primordial strew of creation. There was a continuum in the painter’s dirty hands, his lips being brought to the recess beneath her collar bone.
She wouldn’t mention the second moment, but looked in my direction being sure to make eye contact with me. I shrugged. If I was the one involved in her second life moment I wish I could have felt the sensation Daphne described. She had told me before, in the quiet of a late night once everyone had passed out that happiness was a relative scale. The best feeling I had ever had could easily be the shittiest single emotion of her life. This explained why men spoke in tongues, homeless, but smiling, beside the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission. Why older women on the verge of death threw themselves against hard pews and cold Bibles, crying in ecstasy. Why I coughed lately when I laughed hard, because the action was so foreign to my system.
Hot dog considered the question for a minute. He traced his fingers along the engraving a tombstone, Doug Anderson, Mary’s husband, caring father, beloved something or another etc, etc.
“It’s about love,” he said.
“Love?” We asked. He nodded. When we asked him to elaborate and stretched his arms over his head pulling his hood up.
“I think I’m going to leave now.”
Hot Dog jogged off without another word. No one stopped him and his fragile body faded down the hill.
The group turned to me. What did I think?
“I didn’t think it had much meaning to it, to be honest,” I said.
They groaned. I could do better than that.
“Fine. I think it’s about producing some sort of work, a novel, a painting, a foundation, initiative, historical contribution, even a performance that outlives you. It’s about immortality through an extension of ourselves. That’s why people have kids. Only that isn’t enough. Our grandchildren will vaguely remember our names, and even then only for the purpose of a 5th grade social study assignment, tracing the family genealogy. Beyond their lives comes obscurity.”
Daphne lit a cigarette, wrapping an arm around Kurt’s midsection. She said she liked that theory, but that it put too much emphasis on other people, their interpretation of the work. Besides the memories of people are short, and joint human existence is unstable, weighed down on all sides by entropy. There’s no immortality in people.
“I really appreciate you keeping me company this last night,” Kurt told us, his voice uneasy.
He stomped his black and mild into the ground. It was time for him to go, he said. He would drive east until his car ran out of gas. He had a bottle of lithium, and thought that was a good way to go. He turned to walk back to his car and Daphne chased after him.
“Take me with you,” she insisted. “I can keep you company until the end.”
They locked fingers, then separated, climbing into opposites ends of the Olds. Love Me Do, played in Polish, accompanied by a wavering accordion line. Hot Dog would have loved it, thinking of a God listening in on it, fingering a translation book.
“Looks like we both lost,” Remy said resting a hand between my shoulder blades. One of the car’s hub cabs scraped against a tombstone as the Olds fled down the hill back onto West Main.”
“It’s a relief though, in a sense,” I told him. “Not having anything to lose, nothing to compete over or protect. Why would we want it anything other way?”
Daphne pulled her body partially out of the passenger side window as the car sped down West Main Hill. She raised her palms against the wind and let out a loud scream. She was alive.
“I don’t know. Let’s head home,” Remy said.
The Police found Hot Dog the next morning on the threshold of St. Augustine’s cathedral downtown. He was asleep beneath a home and garden section of the Gazette. When asked what he was doing by the officer, Hot Dog replied by repeating, “The fruit went rotten.”
I met him in his bedroom the following week. His parents wouldn’t allow him to leave the place until he had a few more sessions with a specialist whose office was filled with brightly colored yarn dolls. This was the month before Hot Dog was sent away to a boy’s camp on Beaver Island for unstable youth. He would sell his father’s Audi on craigslist and mail order the cash to La Voz in Mexico with the request that the prophet talk to God directly for him, and to tell Him to go fuck Himself.
I asked Hot Dog why he thought things worked out the way they had, why we couldn’t sustain the good feelings we had and why everything seemed to go to shit. Hot Dog pulled at a greasy strand of black hair, coiling it in his pinkie.
“Because no force in the universe is static,” he told me. “It would be boring otherwise.”
Daphne never went into much detail about what happened. Her parents filled a missing person’s report for her the following morning. When called, all of us denied having seen her the previous night, along with the existence of Kurt Molotov. Daphne would show up a day later, in Molotov’s Olds beside his dead and bloating body, smelling unbearable in a brief West Michigan heat wave.
She told me they drove until dawn when the car stalled on a back country road outside of Novi. Kurt washed down the bottle of pills with black coffee. Him and Daphne sat in silence, his eyes closed, breathing becoming shallow. Daphne counted seconds between breaths. The space grew and expanded, all the matter of a private universe drifting into a deep freeze. Then she sat beside a dead man watching the sun rise. That was all.
I felt guilty by the thought that came into my mind when she told me what had happened, speaking in sentence fragments to avoid crying. I wandered if in the minutes after Kurt had passed if she used his hand the way she had mine in Remy’s basement beside overturned mortars and blunderbusses, and if there was any difference between Kurt and I in the end after all. Daphne wanted so badly to contact another world, and she wanted her men as sex toys, quiet, and nonresistant to her commands. It would be like her to fall in love with a dead man. At least I had been a close alternative for a while.
Remy and I walked back to his house, the night lightening slightly in the distance, the promise of morning only an hour away. Before Remy passed out in a sinking tree house in his back yard, him and I shook hands, some unspoken compromise passing between us in that moment. We were friends again; pending no woman was at stake. We even agreed to see a B rate action film coming to theaters that week.
I headed inside to a busted pull out couch in the living room. The transistor radio played static, broken occasionally by the competing notes of a harpsichord and an indiscernible voice, a night DJ closing out a midnight shift. I closed my eyes.
The lamp on the far side of the room turned on. I must have been asleep for a few minutes because the light burned my eyes, and it took a couple seconds to adjust them and notice the figure of Remy’s father standing over me, a silver plated six shooter staring me in the face.
“What did you do with my wife?” He asked. The hair at the sides of his head was pulled out horizontally forming a shelf. His eyes were bloodshot and vacant. I saw what Remy had meant when he said his father was asleep with his eyes open. There was a deadness in them.
He repeated the question cocking back the pistol.
“I didn’t do anything,” I stammered. “You need to wake up now. You’ve been sleeping is all.”
He pulled the trigger. It clicked lifelessly. It must have been unloaded because I was still alive. He pulled it again and again and again, tears forming, running down the tributaries of his face. He looked old. Briefs that were stained dull yellow rose above the elastic of a pair of Mickey Mouse pajamas. I rose out of the pull-out couch, cradled Remy’s father’s back, lowering him to where I had been sleeping. He stared up at the ceiling, sound asleep.
“It’s going to be alright,” I coaxed him. I took a knee at his side and smoothed his hair back down against his scalp. Then I rose to turn off the light. We both sat with our eyes open for a while, watching shadow animals run against the dark walls of the room fleeing like the days of a childhood I knew was behind me.