Why Not Waste Death
A dozen voices echo between Vito’s ears. Mad, they share meaningless small talk. Mad, they pretend to be polite. Mad, are the whispers of spent gossip. Mad, is the resemblance between the woman behind the cash register and Vito’s mom. Mad, is the ceaseless beeping of her scanners. Mad, is the dull soft-rock music in the background. Mad, is this uncomfortable concert. Vito wants to get the hell out of here. Two more customers before it’s his turn. Fish stall stink intertwines with overly ripe legumes into a pungent stench. Vito wants out. Mad, is the Beep.
“Hello, Sir. How are you today?” a voice chimes.
“Hey. As good as it gets on a Tuesday evening, I suppose.”
Beep. Four bottles of IPA. Beep. Another four. Beep. A can of Red Bull. Beep. A bag of instant noodles. Beep. Two trays of ready-made lasagne.
“Do you have a customer card?”
There it is again. The same question each day. The same answer every time.
“No, I forgot it. Could you put the code on the receipt, and I’ll cash the points in next time?”
“Sure. Would that be all?”
“Could you also get me a pack of— ehm.” His eyes wander the garish shelf behind the woman for a few seconds. He hesitates. He might want to try a different brand of cigarettes, but the thought dissipates as fast as it came: “A pack of Lucky Strikes please. Twenty, red.”
“Anything else?” she continues after grabbing the cardboard box.
“No, that’s plenty. Thank you.”
“Alright, that will be €28,75 please.”
He reaches into his left pocket and produces a plasticised piece of paper from his wallet: “By card.”
The woman types in a couple of numbers and the terminal lights up. He slides the card against the surface without looking, waits a second: Bip-Bip-Bip.
“Want the receipt?”
“It’s alright,” he says burying the card back into his wallet. He bags the instant noodles and lasagnes, then pockets the cigarettes into his right coat pocket, while the energy drink remains in his left hand.
“Have a nice evening.” She is already looking at the next customer.
“Thanks, you too. Bye.”
Vito hurries out of the store, into the streets festering with people. All of them eager to go home after a long day of work. The air is brown and murky; photochemical clouds blanket the world. The energy drink can emits a hissing sound, followed by a satisfying pop as he cracks the lid open. He raises the tin container to his lips and takes a big gulp— too big. Golden, see-through liquid flees down his chin onto the black concrete, while the rest cascades up, past his throat and sweeps through his nostrils. He splutters and coughs, then rips the plastic wrapper from the smokes pack. A few consecutive taps force a single cigarette out. He holds it between his thumb and index finger and lights it up. For a moment, the world stops spinning. All is silent. All but gas escaping a lighter, and paper crackling in the fire. He takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, and exhales. Life continues.
He ambles the busy streets of Bouneweg, overtaking people and cars that are stuck in traffic. The stench of exhausted gasoline fumes doesn’t make it past the acrid fetor of the fag clenched between his lips. He walks the alleys between the colourful cement goliaths of his hometown. Every few steps, he alternates between a cigarette drag and a sip of his drink, until he reaches a cul-de-sac. Two metal digits are stuck to the wall next to the door: one and eight. Rue de la Liberté. Home.
Ammonic piss reek crawls up his nose and joins the burnt tobacco smoke. A dilapidated building towers before him. Haphazardly erected scaffolding claw to the side of the grey corpse-giant. Partially detached tarpaulin rectangles flap and whiplash as wind passes between the walls and the industrial exoskeleton.
He puts out his cigarette and flicks the butt towards a nearby street gutter. A faint clicking sound echoes as he inserts the key in the door and presses his shoulder against it. It gets stuck half-way through the opening. Always. Loud creaking follows the struggle and ends with an abrupt thud. A strong slam resonates through the multiple stories of the residence as the door crashes back in its frame. He empties the energy drink, takes deep breaths while ascending the rectangular stairs and opens the apartment door. There are no voices greeting him. There is no sound, but the musical notes behind TV words.
“I’m home,” Vito says.
He walks along the black and white floor tiles, to a room from which faint, gleeful cheering emits. Past the television noises, a low grunt-like moaning creeps into his ears.
“You sound like a beaten pig.” Vito says walking through the door.
“You home already? I didn’t hear you come in,” a man around his mid-to-late fifties sits on the floor, next to a dark green sofa and salutes Vito via a lifted hand and two stretched fingers. The other hand is clenched in a fist and presses against the man’s lower back.
He does not turn his gaze away from the television. “I tripped trying to get the fucking remote.”
His face is bony, the skin seemingly sucked into the crevasses of his skull. The leanness of his face deteriorates into an imposing beer belly. A pair of dry and bloodshot eyes rest beneath a web of wrinkles. Empty cans and liquor bottles litter the apartment floor around the sofa. The aroma of dried fermented malt compliments the rooted reek of cigarette ashes nesting among butts in a tray.
Still fixated on the TV screen, the man asks: “Did you go to the store?”
“How many bottles did you get?”
“Two packs of four.”
“That’s good. You won’t have to run back and get more, like last time.”
There is a momentary silence between them that not even the TV can drown. This is it, again. The slow, stagnant fall in the daily routine of uncomfortable small talk. A forced conversation they repeatedly have because they are together in a room and feel like they are obligated to talk to each other. Vito’s job has not become more interesting since he had his first day behind the grease baskets and fryers at Emir’s kebab joint, and the old man rots away at home, one hand on the bottle, the other on his dick. They have nothing to say. Both are equally uninteresting in their own unique way, and Vito knows neither he, nor his father understand what it means to enjoy the silence of another person. And so, the superficial exchange of meaningless words takes place. Again.
“How was your day?” the old man asks.
“Decent enough, as usual.”
“Decent’s good. Let things come slowly. No rush, no hurry. Slow and steady wins the race,” the old man pauses pensively. “Life doesn’t need to be a battle.”
Vito looks at the bottles spread at his feet: “How about you? Did you manage to keep yourself busy today?”
“What d’you mean?”
“Never mind. I see you didn’t clean up like you said you would. Did you at least take care of the laundry? Or the dishes?”
“I didn’t feel like it.” There is something almost solemn to his voice. “Besides, you know damn well I don’t know which detergents and whatnot products go where in that machine.”
“Is that a problem? I can take care of it tomorrow. You can go another day without running out of clothes. You’ll just have to show me how to start the programs.”
“It’s not just about the clothes. I feel like if we were two people actively maintaining this apartment instead of just me, things would be a lot easier.” Vito kicks a can and accidently coats the tip of his shoe with leftover beer foam. He lifts his foot from the ground. The sole is now sticky. It rips from the floor, like a band aid peeling off from skin. “Look at this place. It’s a mess.”
Below the layer of accumulated fat and loose skin, the muscles of the old man’s arms tighten into absurdist shapes. He clenches his right hand into a fist, his index finger stretched straight and locked onto Vito: “I don’t like what you’re trying to say here. I’ve worked longer than you’ve walked. I’ve earned my break. Now, pass me a bottle, I’m thirsty.”
“What is it now?”
“Earlier, at the store. I saw someone who looked like her.”
“What are you talking about?”
“At the store. I think I saw Mom. She looks just like she looked when she left you–,”
The old man’s head rises to meet Vito’s gaze, right eyebrow arched to the folds in his forehead: “She left us both, don’t forget that. She abandoned us. Now, give me a bottle.”
Vito grabs two bottles from the bag and walks towards the sofa. At his feet, he pushes through the empty liquor recipients: an icebreaker splitting sheets of detritus. He pushes the bottles against his father’s chest, who opens one the moment it’s stuck in his grip. The old man downs it almost completely with a single swig, shakes his head and finally gets up. He needed that. His gaze gets lost in the bottle’s content for a moment, then shoots back up to Vito: “You’re not drinking?”
“I don’t feel like it.”
The rest of the bottle vanishes past the man’s mouth, down his throat: “What’s wrong?”
“Talk to me.” The empty container rolls off the sofa and adds itself to the collection while he bites the cap off the second bottle, using his right molars. He takes a first sip. Lips still stuck sucking on the second bottle, his hands open and close repeatedly as he gets up and feels his way to a third bottle already. In that moment, he towers in front of Vito. A half-naked, golden titan made of jaundice, liver damage and unkempt hair.
The momentary painting fades back to the roots of disease and addiction: “When was the last time you’ve done anything?” Vito asks.
The man removes his lips from the end of the bottle and falls back on the green cushion: “What do you mean?”
“I mean you let yourself go. Look at you, you’re disgusting.”
The man takes another quaff in silence.
“Never mind,” Vito leans on the arm of the sofa with one hand, and puts the other on his hip, “What’s this movie about?” Vito asks.
“I honestly don’t even know. I wasn’t paying attention,” the old man answers tapping his finger on a can before him. “Son. Are you mad at me?”
“Why don’t you talk to me about it?” the old man insists.
“Cut the shit. I’m not doing this tonight.”
The old man moves towards Vito. His foot gets caught on the smooth surface of a can and he falls down, back flat against the glass on the floor.
Vito hurries to him: “Oh shit, you okay?”
His father does not move from his landing position. “I’m fine.” His face is red and his beard wet.
“Get up.” There is a tone of care hidden deep inside the sternness of his voice.
The man on the floor doesn’t move. His bald head rests on his shoulder: “What did she look like?”
Vito gives him a look of confusion.
“The woman at the store. Your mom.”
“It wasn’t her.”
Both reach for a bottle and start drinking, one gulp at a time.
“You know, I’m wondering where I’d be today if things between you and Mom didn’t happen the way they did. I think I had potential. I could have really made something of myself.” Vito looks at the bottle in his hand as if it was holding the answer. His voice slows down: “A child had to take care of you —please lift your ass from the floor.”
“Do you hate me?”
Vito opens his mouth, then closes it again. He seems to think better of it but gives in after all: “I don’t know.”
Past the blinds, the last rays of light fade as they descend Vito’s body.
“It’s fucked that I had- and still have to take care of you. It’s been years. When are you going to move on?”
“Can you help me up? I think I shit myself a bit when I fell.”
The young man stretches his arm forward and grabs onto his father’s hand. It is tough, covered in calluses. Vito puts his father’s arm over his shoulder and helps him towards the bathroom. Through the closed door, Vito hears his father’s groans as the stream of urine trickles down the toilet bowl and paper rubs against skin.
The door opens and the broken man stumbles out. He opens his mouth, about to share the profound wisdom he happened upon, then closes it again. An unspoken beauty reflects in the bloodied pearls of the old man’s eyes. People are beautiful. All people except this one. There is no substance left beneath his yellow skin. All there is, is just a formula. An equation; so simple, yet incredibly difficult for his old, intoxicated brain.
A low, pathetic sadness surges within Vito at the sight of his father and his impossible calculation. He looks old – decrepit. He’s been doing this calculation for far too long. His light will extinguish soon. The old-timer stares at the wrinkles inside his empty palms, waiting desperately for them to give him the answer: “You’re not thinking about leaving me, are you?”
A wind of silence rips through the space between them.
“I don’t know.”
If buildings could talk, this one would scream. Heave its feet out of the ground below, shake off the iron exoskeleton and run— run so far away.
“I don’t think I am,” Vito starts. “You are the person you are. But you changed. A lot. You’ve done your job – mostly – throughout the years and you gave us a roof over our heads. But—"
Vito pauses. There is more, the old mess is all buttered up, ready for the frying pan.
“But, as time went on, you kept falling deeper and deeper, with no end in sight. I mean, look at you. Fuck.” An itch behind his left eye turns into a painful pull: “A misplaced human catastrophe, that’s what you are, and you keep dragging me down with you.”
Light from the television reflects in droplets stuck in the old man’s beard.
“You can’t stand being with yourself, so I have to be alone with you and take care of your endlessly self-sorry ass. Who does this to their child?”
Vito’s jaw clenches. The pressure on his teeth becomes audible grinding.
“No one wants you around anymore. You take everyone who doesn’t walk away from you and you drown them in a well of your own miscontent.”
The father picks up another beer.
“Fucking stop drinking for just five minutes!” Vito’s fingers coil around the glass recipient and fling it down at his father’s feet. The bubbles trapped inside the brown liquid rise to meet the air and create a layer of beige cloud-like foam, pierced by shards of debris.
The old man’s gaze sinks to meet the puddle. The father’s neck then swells up like some grotesque lizard: “Ahha mff mff mff”
He sobs in rapid succession after a big gasp of air. Then, the sobbing turns to chuckle. Not happy, not cheerful; desperate. As if his motor functions are going all over the place, overwriting each other before any can be completed.
“You wasted your life, and you are wasting mine too. Why not waste death while you’re at it?” There is no anger left in Vito’s voice.
A deep fear roots in the father’s eyes. Tears still oil out before something clicks in his brain. He recomposes himself.
“You are all I have left. You can’t leave me too. I just need more time to get back on my feet. Then, things will get better again, and she’ll come back, I’m sure of it.” His cheeks are still wet from his meltdown, but this is his final solution to defuse the rage in Vito: a promise as empty as the oracle who foresaw it in the depth of a bottle.
And in its twisted way, the false promise worked again.
“You never told me why she left,” he asks.
“I don’t know what to tell you. If she told me, I must have drunk the memory away. She was probably done with all this, the rat race. She might not have enjoyed this life anymore. Or maybe she never loved us in the first place.”
“You know, I woke up that night. I heard you fighting in the living room, and I went up to the door. I watched the two of you. Instead of doing anything, I went back to bed and fell asleep. I can’t help but wonder what if I stepped in? What if I had begged her to stay?”
“Son, we only have one another and each other.”
Vito rolls his eyes: “You’re drunk.”
“You should not blame yourself. It’s on me that she left.” He thinks for a second and scratches the hair on his neck. “Sometimes we do things we know we shouldn’t. But for some reason, we keep doing them and we don’t know why. I just couldn’t shut up.” His drunken mouth produces odd shapes as he tries to verbalise his thoughts.
“You are alone with me today and it is my fault. You come from broken and as a result, so are you. That’s your inheritance, your mother’s, and my legacy to you. You should not at any point lament the fact you have not met your better half, or however you want to call it. You would break her the way I broke your mother. On top of all this, imagine you had a kid.”
“What about it?”
“You’d break the damn thing. Broken is all you have to offer to the world. You have a safe job and a place to live. That should be enough for you. It’s my fault she left, but like I told you, we are all we have. It’s you and me.”
“You’re drunk. You should go to sleep.”
“Are you still mad at me?” the old man asks past his dry lips.
“You won’t remember this tomorrow,” Vito answers.
“I might not, or I might, it’s worth trying still.”
Vito is right. Tomorrow, his father will wake up and he will have no recollection of what happened the night before. He’ll make himself a coffee, that he will spike with whatever liquor is still around, to calm his nerves, and he will be utterly oblivious to his drunken outbursts. Mad, is the life that goes unchanged.
“Good night. You won’t remember. You never do, but I’m not going to leave you, Dad.”
Envoyé: 18:15 Tue, 14 March 2023 by : Heim Maxime age : 25