The Apocalypse didn’t happen, Y2K or whatever, but it was that New Year’s that I met my ex-wife. We didn’t fuck around or anything right then, but after that party she had a thing for me. That was back when I had potential.
This five acres I live on used to be a parcel of one-hundred-and-twenty-fucking-acres, starting when it belonged to my daddy. I’ve lived here most all my life and since I was a kid there has always been fat bushy ladies covering at least half of it. That’s when the price of marijuana was still worth a shit. But it all went to hell ten years back, not too long after my son was born. And it wasn’t the flooded market, or the Feds, or even some nasty plant-plague that shut down the grow and forced me to sell most of my property—it was fucking locusts, man. Whoever heard of locusts in Humboldt County? That’s some biblical shit, like the smiteful hand of God. So some timber and ag people gave me just half of what it was worth and now I spend my days watching those rich bastards raking it in, hand over fist, off what used to be my legacy. Just like them fucking Pharaohs.
So, I go out back and let me tell you, it had been years since I’d stepped foot out there. The grass was up over my head like it was Vietnam or something. The moon was just this tiny sliver, and it was so dark in those tall weeds. Foot caught on the lawnmower rotting abandoned some hundred feet out and I went face-first into a damn rock. Nearly busted my skull. I put on my headlamp (which was in my pocket like a goddamned idiot), and looked up to see the Pyramid emerge out of the shadows. For a moment it was like some majestic thing of the past, the stars rough jewels in the sky behind it. And I was sorry that I had ever abandoned the thing and went to that party in that puke basement and met Shelly and all the sorry shit that’s happened ever since then, until now.
Back then, Shelly was all shiny-eyed for me. Up until she married me, but hell, maybe the sheen wore off beforehand. But probably… probably, that happened the day Matthew was born. She was scheduled for a C-section that day, and I knew that—of course I knew that—but the bottle found me first, so the first time I saw my son was when Shelly found me face-down in the living room, three days later. All I remember of that day are their faces, so vivid in the midst of all that fog lying so thick over the valley it obscured even the tree-line. Matthew’s eyes: blue, innocent, and vulnerable. Behind that, Shelly’s absolute cat-in-water fury. Oh, and the pain that split my head and heart open when Shelly rolled me on my back and I realized what I had done.
I saw the Pyramid and ran for the door, desperate, because I hate when I get to thinking about Shelly and Matthew. It doesn’t do any good to dwell. What is done is done. Need a drink to help me remember that. (Now, contrary to what I may have led you to believe, I don’t spend all day hitting the bottle hard. Until 9 pm, it’s strictly beer and I pace myself on those beers, too. Just sip. But after 9, man, if I don’t get some tequila in me, it’s rough times.) I pulled on that doorknob and it was locked.
But it’s been twenty-fucking-years and I was kind of a lazy asshole about installing the door handle to begin with, and lying right there on the ground is a rock. Like a sign from God, and I gave the handle a good rap and the door popped right open. But instead of being a case of beer like I expected, it was a bottle of tequila. My favorite and most expensive kind, bathed in the light from my headlamp like some genie-lamp in Aladdin’s cave. I stopped—surprised, you know—but rushed inside and bam! Pyramid door slammed shut behind me. Shut and locked—(I still don’t get that)—and not a goddamned window in the place, except a few skinny slats in the ceiling for light.
So I had myself some tequila. What else was I supposed to do? Sat down on the bench and took a load off. And if you’re wondering, that was some of the best tequila I’ve ever had. Made every other tequila seem like dick-sweat. Doesn’t age they say; as long as it’s unopened, it’ll last you forever. I sat there savoring that old familiar rush, when, behind where the bottle had been, I saw a magnifying glass. Don’t ask me why or how it got there to begin with, but it was ornate and old-looking, like something from Atlantis. The lens was crystal and the handle was some of the most beautiful metal work I have ever seen.
And on sight, I hated the damn thing. I picked it up and chucked it across the room, hard against the cement wall, but it didn’t break.
That was Day One. I quit all that yelling and screaming out the keyhole after maybe Day Two. I live at the end of an old mountain road, long-time abandoned. Loggers and farmers got their own roads they use. No point in screaming, I decided, so I finished off more of the tequila. Day Three is when I gave up on smashing down the door. (And I battered for hours at that bastard door, in an awe-ful rage at what must be one of the most impotent and self-loathsome deaths a man could suffer: locked in his own Pyramid all because my piece-of-shit-alcoholic-self couldn’t go one night without a lick of booze—and still that door stood.) And now, Day Four, I’m all tapped out. If anyone decided to come check on me—which I don’t get a lot of visitors these days—I can’t even yell. Memories of Shelly and Matthew dancing like fairies through my head, and damn, all those sugar-plum smiles hurt. Too weak to fight ’em off though. I spent all day slumped against the wall next to the pile of guts I puked up in the morning of Day Three. Damn tequila. But what’s done is done.
It was the first day locked in here that I dismantled the bench. Used the pointy end on the magnifier to wheedle out the screws I put in 21 years ago. I was thinking I could use the bench leg to smash the door down. Imagine my shock when I pulled the leg off and saw scrawled on the back a message:
The magnifying glass will set you free.
You hear that folks? “Set you free.” Now I didn’t write that note, I don’t know who did, and I especially don’t know when the fuck they did it either—but it seemed like that message was certainly meant for me.
So I tried the magnifier handle on the door hinges but goddamn if those screws weren’t warped and rusted on. Stripped them right up, even though the builder in me knows better, knows that’s the rope-drop on the hangman’s noose, but desperation took over. And wouldn’t stop until it had me all used up, panting and sobbing on the floor. Doesn’t matter if I popped those hinges out anyways, I told myself. When I put that door on I shimmied it right proper so it wouldn’t ever come off. Aliens, you know.
So I’ve been sitting here for four days with a magnifying-glass, self-scrutinizing, and the only conclusion I come to is I’m gonna die soon. I guess that’s freedom. Ha, ha, funny. I’d laugh, but I think my voice box has shriveled up. Not enough juice to make it go. I’ve even stopped pissing. One thing though: my life wasn’t much and I gave a lot of it away, but now I know I want to keep the rest.
Maybe I deserve this. After my daddy died I moved us from town back to this house in the hills and Shelly always fucking hated it. A few hours of winding highway from the coast and she hated being so isolated in the midst of all these trees and all these hills. She wanted the ocean, crashing and stretching out to the edge of the world, but I didn’t listen. Who the fuck wants to spend all their time knocking together boards so they can pay rent on some other man’s house? These hills belonged to me and here I was free, cultivating the ladies, making the real money. Which I did. Until the locusts hit and destroyed our crop, adding more brew to the shit-cauldron-of-life, and I guess I just couldn’t handle the portion ladled out to me. But I still drank it down. The black-outs were frequent; did some shit that wasn’t very nice and that I don’t quite remember. Shelly did though. She remembered real good.
Marriage limped along. I guess Shelly stayed with me because she didn’t have anything better to do. That and a boy needs his father. If ever a boy needed a walking bottle, he had one. We made it another six years somehow and then she left. That was 5 years ago now. Back then I told anyone who would listen that she was a gold-digger who didn’t want me after I lost my funds, but now I understand that maybe she didn’t want me after I lost my soul.
It’s night and even though the moon ain’t much bigger than it was four days ago, I can see everything. My eyes have adjusted to the darkness, but still, it sure looks like that magnifying glass over there, just out of reach, is glowing. Like a flying saucer in the sky.
I stare at it for a good long time to be sure. Blinking seems to be something I hardly need to do anymore. Feel like a goddamn beached fish: there’s a hard glaze on my eyes, but damn, that magnifying glass is lighting up like a beacon, growing so bright it hurts, and I throw myself at it (to throw it smash it make it stop), my body twitching jerking flopping out of control—but I wrap my hands around the magnifier and the light dims from too bright to a soft glow. Relief. I lay on my belly, hands stretched above my head, lungs gasping and gulping, and coming from my hands, I hear singing. I shit you not, singing. Soft womans’ voices. Soothing. Healing. Enticing. I drag the magnifying glass to my eye and there’s the ocean. Sand, sunlight, and the mouth of some river, emptying out in the crashing waves. It’s hard to believe I’m not right there on the bank.
But because I’ve always been a skeptical motherfucker and I just want to know, I pull the glass away from my eye and look around. Nope. Still in the Pyramid. Well, fuck this place. I look back through the glass. Reach for the water and my hands are gloriously wet. I don’t care if it’s imaginary death water; I drag myself over and drink from it and let me tell you, imaginary death water is the most nourishing stuff I’ve ever had. I pour it over my head and face, laughing. It’s pure life, saturating my veins, rejuvenating my soul, and next to me on this bank is an apple. The biggest apple I ever saw. Magnificent, shining, red. I can smell its sweetness and see its skin taut with bursting life.
Either I’m dead or I’m free, but this feels like rhapsody. I reach for the apple, feeling the breeze sweep over my skin. Just grinning. Shelly brought me an apple once juice bursting in my mouth, saliva rushing to meet the swallow of life—no, the piece of universe—between my teeth.
“Johnny.” Echoey and painfully loud. “Johnny.”
Fucking Christ on a skewer… … Michelle? My Shelly? I peel open one eye, and her scowl filling my eyeline feels better than water to a man stranded in the desert. And I grin the biggest fool grin.
“The C-section is today! Wake up!”
I take a breath to reply. And instead, cough on the dry sand left between my teeth.
Sarama Sun Teague
Bachelors of English Literature
Humboldt State University.
Sarama Teague was born in Wisconsin, is currently living in the Pacific Northwest and has a canine companion named Teddy. She’s fuses personal experiences into her narratives and social commentaries. Her piece, “Promote Voting Not Tyranny,” was published in the Times Standard in Humboldt, California, and her short story “The Pyramid” was performed live at Dell’Arte International – School of Physical Theatre in Blue Lake, California.