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The Phoenix

The Student Art & Literary Site of Community College of Allegheny County

The Phoenix

The Student Art & Literary Site of Community College of Allegheny County

The Phoenix

Chicago Red Sox

I’m going to his house in Chicago. Haven’t seen him in 5 and a half years. Only talked on the phone once in that time, and it was to invite me over. Things steadily got worse from 2012 onward, after the fabled diagnosis. Parents probably have it. Not shocking, just world ending. I was with him when his first episode came up. We were at the zoo with his wife Barb, and my then girlfriend. Gray clouds. Never rained. The day’s dreariness didn’t stop the horde of schoolkids and sullen adults. Every animal wanted eternal rest, and by god, some of them were close to it. Depressed lions, tigers, monkeys, toucans, zebras. Even the iguanas were suicidal. We were standing by the gorillas, and Manny started saying weird shit like “There’s something suspicious about this” and “This is definitely on purpose.” At one point he alluded to the kids “rotting their surroundings with untempermented blood.” complete jargon, whatever it means. He never talked weirdly like that with me. I’d later find out that he started getting involved in the more magical side of life. Reading about Crowley, Spare, and some other guys I don’t remember. It’s possible this had been going on for a while before this, but the “Zoo Incident ” was his first full blown episode. Kept going on about the animals being ‘replaced.’ Some things were normal but then suddenly not, but still the same. Made no sense. It climaxed with him sitting on the dirty floor, wide eyed and catatonic. Took him a few weeks to calm down, but he did, and we got him diagnosed.

Not much left of him when we last saw each other. His diagnosis isn’t the only thing to blame, there were plenty of underlying issues before that. Moms nuts, Uncle P was a dick, and dads a cunt with both of them wrapped into one. Cutting them out I get, but me? Woof. Ouch. All I can say, really. Hope Barb kept him in good company. The fucked up people in our lives really drove us closer. I remember when he turned eighteen, out of the house before I could say ‘Wait.’
Stopped talking to all of them except me. I was still too young to grasp every waking nightmare I lived through. Only thirteen when he left. I didn’t even know him as a person, just someone who
cared. I spent so much time in his apartment when he left, it was practically home, and I got to know him. He didn’t like a lot of food. He always wore socks inside. He told me that dry floorboards made his skin crawl. I knew him more than anyone else. My parents hated that. They hated me. But, a sanctuary away from home infuriated them both. I still have welts on my cheeks, scars on the back of my hands. I told them I wanted to move in with Manny. That wasn’t the worst of it, though.

Signs of some hereditary mental stuff gopher-headed early in my life. I remember waking up one night when I was five. Thunder. Glass on my bedside table fell and shattered. Dog barked three times. Stinging pain from my foot. Mom ran out of the room. Fell asleep. Woke up. Morning. Foot had one S-shaped cut on the sole, an X on the top. Didn’t cry. Scared still, though.
Sat down for breakfast, mom didn’t say a word. Dad did, though. Said “That’ll learn ya.” Don’t know what I learned, or what ‘learned’ me. Manny cleaned up my oozing foot with a white cloth, which turned completely red. My dad started wearing it as a hat. Type of thing you can’t tell your therapist. Either they wouldn’t believe it, or wouldn’t know how to respond. A normal person sure as hell can’t do anything about that, so I don’t tell ANYONE that my father wore my bloody cloth as a gnome hat. Had a few girlfriends, boyfriends. Always just told them I don’t talk to my parents, or that they’re dead. Never got intimate enough with anyone to open up too much. Came close a few times, though. I was with my third girlfriend Toni. Just got back from Taco-bell, bag full of burritos in one hand, large coke cup in the other. We were both wobbly from a night out, a bit bold in our words, and I was aching for my beefy-5-layers.

She asked me, “So why haven’t I seen your dad?” and I, having had several shots of truth-serum, decided to indulge her. “This is why”. I grabbed the red jacket she was holding. I fashioned it into a cone and put it on.

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Thought she would laugh. She didn’t. Just asked me why I did that. Told to her to just think about it, and I went inside. She broke it off the next day. I still had a hangover. I agree with her decision, that was a weird thing to do. Honest conversation met with clownery. I liked her a lot.

A bit of turbulence, but the flight was alright. Only took around 4 hours, but I wish it was longer. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what will happen. It only hit me once I got to my motel; I have no idea who Manny is anymore. Meds can make someone depressed, but he cut everyone off. He got worse, I’m sure. But Barb was intent on keeping him on track, and I don’t think he could stop her. Haven’t talked to her in a while, either. Since 2019 I’d guess. I have no doubt she’s kept herself intact, though.

Manny met Barb in 03, at a seminar about native flora in Wisconsin. He was 23 at the time, skinny, sexless, and had uncombed brown hair down to his tits. Didn’t wash his face, so his
small nose was a blackhead hive. His outfit during those years was a blue t-shirt 2 sizes too big, and ripped jeans covered in splashes of white paint. Barbara Mason was essentially an identical version of him. Solid half a foot shorter than him, but just as, and I’ll say this plainly, gross. You can tell she moisturized, just never washed her face: A sheen of pure grease on her at all times. They had a mutual fervor for flowers or whatever, and, as he told the story, it was an instant connection. They bonded over hatred of lawns. Years roll past. Barb grew her hair out, Manny’s fell off. They co-wrote a book about something. I don’t know what, I never read it. But they got a nice little house in Chicago, and became the cool couple in their neighborhood. They’d sit on their porch every night and talk about whatever, and neighbors would just join in. That stopped happening after his episode.

The paints faded and chipped. No longer any windows, just more wall. It might look better during the day. Front yards overgrown, and the flowers and bushes they planted are gone. It’s just grass. I knocked and no one came. There’s a burn mark at the center of the door. It smells like manure. What happened to him? The front door doesn’t even have a knob. I’m getting in, though. I’m seeing how they’ve been living for 5 years. I’m seeing what life he dropped me for. The backyards mowed, and speckled with mounds of dirt. Did he kill a bunch of squirrels or something? Are these buried body parts? Did he kill someone? I’m digging that dirt acne up after I see inside. I don’t know if the lights are on, the windows are boarded up back here, too. No knob here, either. Don’t care, I’m breaking in. The thin wood goes down in one slam, hinges are weak. The smell is immediate, like a rotting animal. There are no garbage cans inside, the kitchen is a littered pig pen, and there are dozens of boxes of foil. The floor is sticky with decay and trash. Used tissues with green hues, pieces of duct tape, rotten bananas and oranges. And scattered at every possible spot are newspapers with red sharpie circles dotting the articles and photos.

I pick one up and the pattern reads “WATCH. OUT. LOOK. UNDER GROUND. GET YOU. MAN. FRIED. RED.”

There’s no one here. There’s empty MRE packs everywhere. There are no electronics. The TV room doesn’t even have a TV, and the couches are gone. No lights, have to use my phone flashlight. The walls are painted red. Still wet. I need to see what’s buried. I hope it isn’t them.

A shovel’s in the kitchen sink. Dozens of dirt mounds in the yard. The first one has a clump of aluminum foil the size of a volleyball, shaped like an egg. It’s full of food packets from an MRE. The other mounds are full of the same thing. Aluminum eggs. I open another one and its full of pill bottles. One of them reads “THORAZINE”, and another one’s a white bottle with “FINASTERIDE” sharpied on. In the next I find laminated and colored shreddings of paper showing shards of a face, soaked in a perfume of fake strawberries. Barb used to wear it sometimes. There’s nothing left of them, is there? Did he kill her? I hope she left. I have to check upstairs. There are splashes of red on the railing. The bathroom to the right smells. It’s spreading to the rest of the hall. The master bedroom is full of boxes, one of them has his clothes. Another has paintings. Manny never painted when I knew him, barb neither. A painting has X’s and S’s surrounding a small, old man. The man has a little red hat. He’s standing in a bed of flowers. Why did he call me. How did he call me. The basement’s the only place left to check. It’s doors in the kitchen, and it’s suspiciously intact. Its white paint remains unchipped, its hinges strong. I look down into it, it’s a void. Its smell is flat and neutral, dusty and not deathly. The walls of the basement are unreachable by my light; it’s too big a room. The concrete floor is clean, with etchings of the X’s. and the S’s.

“Hey, buddy.”

Manny’s body is covered in the symbols that litter the floor.

“I haven’t seen you in a while. I hope you got here okay.” he’s wearing a red cap.

“I’m feeling a lot better. I figured out what they were doing” his face is covered in rashes and scars.

“Don’t worry about Barb, she left a while ago.” His stomach is shallow.

“But, I got it all worked out. They were actually doing something the entire time.” He points at my foot. “I need to make more of those”

He has a little pen knife in his left hand. He hobbles forward, getting caught on the flat floor.

“They were right all along.” His scar covered feet can barely make its way a few steps, and he falls.

I run back up the stairs.

They’ve taken him away now. I just realized that my parents probably got to this point, too. I last saw them 15 years ago, anything could’ve happened. I’m not gonna call Barbara, she needs to be left alone, probably. I hope I don’t end up like them.

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