Douglas Gedger, Exit Your Home Immediately

by Paul Chesser

Perhaps you know the demon sits on the comforter in the drape-drawn bedroom as the day is dying. You know you can’t cling to the ceiling all day. At some point, you must come down, at least go to the corner for cigarettes. The world awaits to shake your faith.

Jean does not love you. Unlock the door, open the window, put on some music. It is getting dark earlier than it used to. You feel like a molting beetle; your skin, your open eyes are raw and hate any influence. Get out while you can.

The date is unimportant, as it could probably be any year. Your memory does not store things chronologically anyway.

Smoke. A friend once blew an entire cigarette through a white Grand Funk t-shirt, and the amber circle that appeared made you think of your mother. Keep walking. Remember to get new shoes soon. There is an old man in a green suit sitting at a wrought iron table at the café across the street. Al fresco. He holds his coffee halfway between his lap and his chin, and his face is frozen in a smile. All of his body is frozen, so that the people walking by might think he is a mannequin, but you can see the quake of flesh and age that belies his illusion. Yesterday it was a yellow suit.

The rain spittles the street. There is a humid closeness that irritates the scalp behind your ears. You consider yourself a thinker, but you never come to any conclusions.

The demon is keeping pace beside you; you do not hear the footfalls or look into its eyes, but it whips a scarf off the neck of a pedestrian and drapes it over your shoulders. Though it could ruin everything, the demon loves you like a woman. You feel its hand might be in the small of your back. It might kiss the base of your neck, and you might let it. Maybe it would be better for everyone if you just let it take you.

On Third, you grow tired of walking. People are hurling television sets out of their sixth story lofts. Glass, plastic, and wiring explode on the concrete around you, but you will be safe. One of them smashes a darting beagle underneath it. The dog shows no terror just before the end. Calmed a little by this, you plod onward.

On the turn, you see a decorated veteran resting in a wheelchair in front of the soup kitchen at the end of the alley. Only one limb remains, but it is unimportant which one; each amputation has taken twenty years from him. As you approach, the crashing of televisions wanes behind you, and the vet asks you for a cigarette. The demon knows your feet are tired and it places a palm over the man’s mouth and nose. The man’s torso is a fish, jumping against the floor of a rowboat. The pitiful, mangled struggle makes you look away. For the time, the murder is the only uniquely horrible event in the entire alley, so there are plenty of calmer things on which to focus.

You lay the body on the steps of the soup kitchen and look down at him. A vague sense of economy makes you remove one of your legs, and you slip it into the cooling socket of the man’s hip. Maybe someone loved him. Then you collapse into the chair and wheel away.

It is easier to get across downtown this way. Most of Michaelis Avenue is a downward grade. The wheels have no hand rims, so the rain-wet rubber of the tires picks up small rocks, which embed themselves in your palms as you push forward. You can’t go while you are smoking, so when you light a cigarette, the demon pushes you gently along.

Passing the boarded up windows of Bistro Milton, you remember the first dinner with Jean, the lime dress, the clouded opal way she started to move you so early. The scarlet suede of the booths, the low lighting, the bronze-brimmed wineglasses and the olive oil and crushed pepper for your broken bread. She told you about Atlanta, how she had thought herself a big city girl before she transferred. You remember how you were young and excited enough to sleep on the floorboards of her loft before she bought any furniture.

We have discussed this. She does not love you, if payphones are indeed trustworthy. In a moment, you will notice how you have stopped here to stare at the load-bearing pillars and boarded up windows. No one is walking by, and the wind is hushing evening into the earliest corners of the avenue.

Construction on the thirty-one hundred block of White Pine detours you through the park. The sun is a low orange burn on the western-facing windshields of parked cars near the entrance. You hear the stars beginning to crackle above, through the limbs, as you crunch over the dirt pathway, passing empty benches.

Where are we going? the demon continues to ask you. You feel it might be growing suspicious, because already, the dark steeples are peeking between the tallest boughs of the woods. You do not respond, and it pushes your chair gently forward.

With a flickering, the tall white lamps that line the park paths ignite. It is the purple stillness of evening now, and glancing back, you might notice underneath the glow of each lamp you have passed, clouds of motionless smoke, left where you cast them. But you will not look back. For fear of seeing the demon. You have only noticed the figure from the corners of your vision, and you have always looked away, but sometimes you have imagined it to be beautiful. It cares for you so dearly and would never do anything to hurt you. Still, you refuse to name it, though you are sure it is named.

Deep in the park, where the paths bend knees low under branches, there is a shadowed and quiet playground. The dark tentacles of oaks curl through the bars of the jungle gym and wild jasmine has paralyzed the push-me-carousel. In the far corner you see a wide and unchecked patch of clover and a metal bee with a metal saddle and metal handles anchored to a giant spring. An irregular, human noise reaches you from the branchy jungle gym, and you wheel through the leaves, closer.

There is the dark shape of a woman in dark clothes on her knees amid the leaves and bars, and she is crying with her mouth open, you think, but she makes very little noise. It is the wrecked sound of someone sobbing breathlessly. Her hands clench the metal and wood around her like those of a prisoner, but she sobs into the dark pond of her lap. A dirty yellow giraffe stares back up at her with ragged blankness.

The woman notices you and screams, but does not try to escape, and you watch each other for a long moment. She holds the animal doll absently at her chest.

I have lost someone too, she says. And then the blue silk of the demon slips past you and your eyes shoot away. The woman struggles dimly, on the bare minimum of instinct, but fades quickly. Her hands slip free from their holds. Maybe you do not understand this time, but some day you might.

Picking up the doll, you pluck the black marble eye from its string. You remove one of your own and try to make it fit on the giraffe, but it will not work. So, you curl your eye up in the woman’s limp hand and take the dirty doll with you. Hate and love come from many places; she loved someone, and deserves something for that.

Closer and closer. Your hands are red from grinding the chair through all the wet sand and pebbles. The rain falls more as a mood than weather. The demon lights a cigarette for you and runs gentle fingers through your hair and purrs at you. Where are we going? it asks. Nothing will ever hurt you. Jean does not love you, but I do. Where are we going?

Clearing branches unveil the concrete steps, the iron railing, the shadowy limestone relief of posing angels. The steeples stab high in the air now, unmistakably, and the perpetual night chorus of crickets and treefrogs whirs from everywhere and the stars punch their white bodies through the gaps in the leaves.

The demon is very quiet now, pushes you hesitantly.

The chair trembles underneath you as you round the exiting path, pass under the last few halos of the park’s lamps, and come to thin and winding Verdi Avenue. The asphalt steams with the rain.

We should go back, the demon whispers. It is dark and we are far from home.

Looking both ways, you bump down off the curb and into the road.

We do no belong here; I must keep you safe, the voice says.

The demon can’t be expected to know what is best for both of you. You roll to the foot of the church and up the ramp. Setting the wheelchair’s brake and reaching up, you pull on the brass handle and the heavy wooden door sways open.

Inside, the foyer is unlit, but there are candles at the front, on an alter. Stained glass images of saints reflect the warm glimmer. The wheelchair is more than trembling; the looser of its fastenings rattle uncontrollably. Support beams sprout blackly from the ceiling like the legs of a grand spider and cast their shadows in the farthest parts of the chamber. You roll down the short red carpet of the center isle. The Lord’s cross is tilted forward and it looms tragically over the pews.

You want to go back out the way you came. And you will. You will go back through the heavy wooden doors, across the steaming, thin, and winding Verdi avenue, through the paths and under the white lamps of the park, past the tangled jungle gym and the quiet playground, crossing the construction on White Pine, past the condemned Bistro Milton with its boarded windows and fresh graffiti, up the grade of Michaelis Avenue, down the alley by the soup kitchen, through the crumpled television graveyard on Third, and finally by the café, where the old man in the green suit will still be waiting, his cold coffee halfway between the table and the smiling statue of his face. You will go soon, and you will be free to do as you please.

But first, you must have faith that the terror you are feeling will pass. Stay where you are, Douglas Gedger, and keep my demon close; my robes are nearly dry, and I will be down shortly to take her love back from you.

The End