As my hand passes through the barrier it begins to melt and change. Skin turns to shells. Bone to tiny legs. Muscle and nails to wings and light.
All I want to do is go home.
Why won’t they just let me go home?
Chapter 1 – the Cottage
Once the will was read and the papers were signed, there was no reason to stay another night in my apartment. I could have gone back, picked up a few of my things, but why? It was all junk. Useless shiny objects, a collection of wealth. What was the point? I couldn’t take any of it to the grave. No one would mention my collection of Franck Mullers at my funeral. “Here lies Conny, owner of many pretty watches.”
The only stop I made between the city and the Cottage was to fuel up and buy a dozen bottles of red wine.
My brother had lived in the Cottage for nineteen years and I had only visited him eighteen times. Once a year, on his birthday. Except this year. Not this year and never again.
And now, I drive. Bottle of red wine clutched between my thighs, open and slushing around – the sound of my irresponsibility. The smell of it in the car is a foreign, sickening sweetness.
The road towards the Cottage is barely worthy of the name. No lights. No markers.
My headlights illuminate only several feet in front of my car. Trees; white trunks and black tops, stand still and straight like funeral goes, solemn as the big metal coffin on wheels glides past. No pole bearers for me.
Fog hangs in cloudy formations slightly above the bitumen. Like suicidal ghosts waiting to be decimated by a passing car. Their wish is granted as they dissipate at the touch of my grill.
“Left turn ahead,” says the British sounding woman on my GPS.
Seeing no sign of any road, I slow my car to a crawl, inching my way through the darkness.
But then it is there, an apparition. A road that is no more than the absence of trees and grass. It is both nothing and familiar. Needlessly slamming on the brakes, my wine sloshes between my knees and I stop short of the corner.
I shouldn’t be driving. I push my foot harder on the break to reassure myself that it is down firmly.
Leaning forward to get a better view of the corner, I realise that my seatbelt isn’t on and I cannot remember taking it off or putting it on for that matter.
My brother’s street is a formidable beast, a conquest, an outstretched hand just out of reach. It is so far away and too close. And I realise when I drive up there and find his house, he will not be sitting on the porch waiting for me.
I turn off the car and the world is snuffed out.
Darkness so thick it forces me to feel.
Feel my heart, a frightened animal trapped behind my rib cage. It scratches at my bones, knaws on my flesh, trying to dig it’s way out only trapping itself further.
I feel the heat and stink of my life pressing on my skin. I’m in a pot of boiling water, my head is being held under by my past, face pushed under the bubbling surface.
I want to scream. I want to peel off my burning skin. I tear open my chest and free the thing dying inside me.
But I only sit, fingers gripping the steering wheel. Knuckles white … probably… if I could see them.
My eyes rest on nothing. Unfocused. Turning my head, I look up my brother’s street. Up on the hill, near where the Cottage would be sitting (at least where it is in my imagination) lights dance in a line. Spinning and twirling. Blues and greens and pinks. Like a string of animated christmas lights, they move upwards. Not into the sky, but upwards still. Meandering, rainbow fireflies heading up the hill.
I blink so hard I have to swallow at the same time.
I should not be driving. I’m an absolute fuck knuckle.
I open my eyes and the lights are gone. And I am left in that state of firmly believing that I have lost my mind.
I pry my hands from the leather steering wheel, one finger at a time. I’m sweating, sticking to the seats. I am a dropped lollipop on a summer sidewalk. I am a tongue in a parched morning mouth. I … am drunk.
Throwing myself out the car door, I gasp in the cool night air. On hands and knees, bathed in the yellow glow of my car’s open-door light, I wretch onto the bitumen. Not for drunkenness but from something else. There was a deep pit inside me both empty and heavy. It was the sadness my body was trying to purge… or maybe it was just the wine and I was being a melodramatic fuck head.
Leaving my car but taking all the wine I think I can carry, I stumble up the street. It takes a drunken lifetime. It is funny how malleable time is and alcohol only makes it more so.
The driveway is the worst part. No I’m lying. The light illuminating the front door is the worst part. Left on as if I am expected. And I guess, in a way, I am.
My brother left the Cottage to me. He died knowing he was dying and so there for knew I would be here soon.
“Carl, you piece of shit,” I mutter as I stumble up the driveway that is less driveway than the road behind me is a road.
In the dim yellow glow of the porch light, I cannot see the front yard which is not a front yard, not really. In my memory it is lush, fruits and vegetables and herbs. There is no room for lawn. There is no room for useless, water-suckers. But, in the dark and drunkenness, I see none of this.
Ambling up the front steps, I am already reaching out to ring the door bell. My hand falls to my side. There is no one inside to answer my call.
On the front step, there are dozens of empty plastic bowls. Stacks and scatters of them. I stare at them for a moment. Staring and staring the towers of them. Artistic sculptures of used plastic, random configurations. I wonder at what they mean. What they symbolise.
I look up and the front door is open. I blink hard again. Opening my eyes and looking down, I see I have the keys outstretched. I do not remember opening the door but obviously I must’ve.
The bag of wine bottles clunks loudly as I put it down in the doorway, open one under my arm. I go to have a drink straight from the bottle and hear my brother’s words, memories dredging up, “Conny, use a glass at least, a cup, a coffee mug, anything.” “Fuck off,” the me in my memory slurs.
I pull the bottle away from my lips.
I flick every light on in the house as I make my way to the kitchen. The place is unchanged. Small. Wooden. Dirty. Dark. Old. Cheap art on the walls. A box TV in the corner that is dustier than the not-road and the not-driveway combined. I can almost hear the bugs scuttling over the scarred floorboards. They are what I hate most about the place. I could never sleep sober here, for fear of the bugs. Not that sleeping sober was an activity I partook in enthusiastically anytime.
I’m still just standing in the empty kitchen, bottle swinging limply in my hand.
I can’t remember what I was doing in there. I go to take a sip and remember. Glass.
I open a cupboard, the one I remember being for dinnerware and it is packed full of longlife milk.
I scrunch my face up at the milk-filled cupboard and my weirdo dead brother.
I open another, but it is the same thing.
The pantry. Milk. Fridge. Milk. Shelves. Milk.
What the actual fuck did my brother want with all this fucking moo juice?
I get a mug off the counter instead. All booze consumption holders should have handles. The Germans were bang on with that part. It is the Germans, isn’t it? Steins… sounds German.
I “pour” the wine into my mug, letting the last few drops drip slowly into red lake below. Slow sluggish dollops like paint or blood.
And I’m out.