It would be a lie to say that I didn’t know the dead man, but it would be the truth to say I can no longer remember his name. Too many nights filled with foreign smoke and strong drink. Too many days scratched away listlessly. But I know it’s still down inside me somewhere, being chewed up and digested again and again.
It’s been buried so many times, on the tip of my tongue in the pitch of nightfall, but never fully exposed. Maybe it will surface one day, as these things often do, when least expected.
I have wondered why I forgot the name. Before his death he was someone I saw a lot—you couldn’t say I knew him, but he was definitely a constant. We worked at the market for a couple months anyway. A friend of mine said it best over drinks, as we sat next to a shelf of nameless corporate nobodies at some long-forgotten bar in the legal district: it’s easier to forget a face that wants forgotten, he said. That was at least five years ago—my dog didn’t get hit by the bus yet, we had a president worth having, I had more hair. My god. What is five years but an endless and terrifying chasm that has the potential so suck away your very lifeblood?
Both he and the dead man now share a common denominator: both absent from my life.
The windows I do remember. They defined what the market had come to be. A place of light and cleanliness. Even all the way up in the rafters there were windows, where light would transfuse through the spotted glass panes, each little panel a slightly different color, a product of countless replacements over the years.
It had been a market since the 1800s, the kind that rented out spaces where local vendors, farmers, and merchants could come to sale their wares. When I worked there the place had the air of feigned mom-and-pop kitsch—an old-fashioned delicatessen was where I worked, but there was also several farm-to-table restaurants, an apothecary, a spice vendor, places that sold charcuterie, jam, artisan donuts—the type of zany affair that attracts unicycle enthusiasts and knitting clubs alike.
But now I am not so sure how the place is doing. My estranged half-brother told me recently that it hasn’t been the same since the suicide, which was when I left. It came up during one of those grasping-for-straws conversations that’s thrown around at family reunions. I wouldn’t have known if he didn’t tell me—I haven’t been back to the market, or the city for that matter, since.
Perhaps all memory of the dead man was pushed away by the scream that alerted the whole market of his death. The scream I do remember. It was the kind that had a real pulp to it; I could tell immediately that it meant business. It almost had a name all its own. Blood Curdling.
The night after, after I clocked out early with the rest of my coworkers, after the police interrogation, after everything was said and done, when I was home, tucked into bed and weeping, weeping for ________, it occurred to me that nobody had come forward as the screamer, but it’s the Scream that all of us, the few coworkers I still correspond with, can’t escape.
The scream had unlocked something within me, jarred it loose. Maybe it was time to go out west and do the Seattle thing. Maybe I could leave the country altogether. The word Maybe became a real word after the scream. The potential in Maybe was revealed to me by his departure.
It’s horrible to even think, but the death produced my salivary hunger for more.
When the market reopened, I approached my manager with my resignation. He was hardly surprised. He merely belched, or grunted, or perhaps both. Maybe I had a red X above my head the moment I started. Maybe I was one of those hires you need in a pinch, fair-weather employees that are gone the minute it gets rough. I certainly looked like a floater back in those days—a burgeoning armful of tattoos and a mop of hair combed over to one side, fresh-faced with an ill-fitting degree. The desire to build a life from wisps and cinders.
I soon learned that trying to build at the deli would result in a forty-mile high sandwich plateau with nowhere to go but jump. Given the circumstances, it was time to leave.
And I did leave. And time passed. Both there, in the land behind, and here, in the land ahead. Birds migrate between the gaps in the seasons every year. When they come down here they fly with whispers of the past uncurling on their wings, like synapses of carnal fiber that extend to my being. Those birds are liminal, just as I could never be: it is all or nothing, my way.
But they bring reminders:
It will always end with his dangling body, they say. And the confused effort to get it (how disgusting we called it It so soon) down from the rafters. Life is a perpetual state of endings. Each second is one, and if you don’t believe me, bully you. An ending trapped, left behind, is his ending, and also my memory of how the light, the damn sunlight that streamed in from the celestial, multicolored windowpanes, covered his body in phosphorescence—that’s trapped up somewhere, too.
It will always end in forgotten names, they say. On a date recently, my first in years, I read through the names of the authors my date had on his bookshelf while he poured drinks, hoping to see _______’s. I don’t know where the inspiration came from—some whim, a way to pass time. I really thought I would find it. I’m not sure why.
As you can tell from the missing name, I came up empty-handed. As a solution, I asked for a double to dissolve the thoughts on my own inadequacies and tried to rearrange my built-to-spill attitude for his sake. Already his name, too, has dull edges in my mind now. Is there something wrong with me?
These constant reminders.
This morning I woke before dawn and took a drive to the waterfront. Skipped a stone for the first time in years. Smoked a cigarette for the first time in days. I watched the sun unhang itself from the water. I bit my lip and said nothing, because nobody was there.