Sonder

Morgan Roberts

When Colin opened his eyes that morning, he had no idea that he was going to die by evening.

The sun burned orange as it peeked through the cracks in his window curtain, voyeuristically drinking in his motionless form. He buried his face in the pillow like a child, in his mind passing beneath its gaze for a few more minutes.

The pillow was the same as well—off-white fabric encapsulated by a blue pillowcase. White stains littered the surface, drool splotched like the haphazard afterthoughts of Rorschach tests. 

It had visited him several times earlier in the week, shouting for attention around his mind in quiet moments. The idea to kill himself—there was a childlike wistfulness to it. He envisioned ending his life each time he flipped his pillow in the morning. He’d turn it to the cool side and find some new snuff film waiting as if placed there by a macabre tooth fairy. As he pulled his legs out from under the blankets and began his routine, he’d smile with the faintest hint of satisfaction. If his life was a sinking ship, there was a lifeboat. He could kill himself or drink a cup of tea. So, while the kettle boiled, Colin drank in delusion.

His weeks always blurred together in that fashion. He took grim pleasure in the visions of his death. Every morning the sun was the same, and every time he flipped the pillow or made his bed, the result was the same. But each vision—each escape was different, and he was open to any of the vicissitudes of life, provided they disrupted the unbroken drollness he called a routine. 

On the day of his death, he swung his heels over the precipice of his bed, soles mashing down the matted fabric that had the gall to imitate carpet. He grounded himself in its rattiness, flexing his toes and stretching his shoulders as the light trailed kisses across his face. He blinked it out of his eyes and turned toward the bathroom door on the far wall.

The floor creaked until he felt tile cold underfoot and shivered, and the water was tepid as it fell from the pipes into his outstretched hands. He wet his hair with a quick sluice from the faucet, jostling the long curls he had left uncut for months while stopping to admire his handiwork.The thick strands tumbled around his head at precarious angles as if assembled by a toddler playing with blocks.

Despite a manicured haircut or lack thereof, the same defeated smile stared back at him. The same Colin. He didn’t bother checking the mirror again as he dressed himself, slipping on the collared shirt and slacks he’d left hanging the night before. 

He knew the picture he painted in the morning light was the same. And as he sat on the train car hopping from station to station, he was positive that no one noticed him, even those who saw him every day. “The next stop is---!” 

He blended into the canvas, filling the background like the dullest spot of color, enough life to be there but not be seen, a forgotten extra— “Stand back from the closing doors!”

No one looked at him when he got off at his stop, and no one looked up from their screens as he stepped into the bullpen on his office floor. Except for a grunt at the water cooler, and a cleaning lady attempting to unlock his bathroom during an afternoon constitutional, no one really acknowledged his presence. No one seemed to be weeping, and there was little laughter, so maybe they were all alone in this together. 

There were emails and video conferences and “quarterly KPIs that appeared to be on target” and in that fashion, his day creaked by, pictures on screens and cursors blinking in and out of existence. And that’s what his life was—images behind glass and a flitting sense of awareness that he may just be in the background of the Truman Show.

He pulled the door handle with entirely too much force as it swung wide. Stepping from the muted lights of the dive onto the streets was concussive–the sky was hazy and the air smelled of ozone and stale rainfall. He gripped the bottle he had managed to exit with like prayer beads, rubbing condensation off the glass with his thumb between swallows as he put one foot in front of the other with the faintest hint of clumsiness. The music from the bar grew fainter, replaced by the gentle collision of rain with saturated asphalt. 

Passing a driveway, he tossed the half-empty bottle towards an open trash bin. As the glass smacked the hard plastic, he heard faint shuffles from further down the outlet, source hidden between the darkness of the evening and the murkiness. His drunk mind dismissed it without a pause, shuffling up the street at his even pace.

He didn’t know how long the dog had been following him, just that the soft padding of its paws had blended with his own footfalls, fitting in between the splashes of shallow  puddles on the street. Fog hung in the air, thick opium clouds filling the streets and branching off in wispy tendrils between stop signs and garbage cans. The street was washed in its haze as moonlight slipped through gaps in the umbrage, another voyeur spying out his near-loneliness peephole.

And that’s when he knew that today was the day.

The rain had started at some point between Colin’s second or third beer, and the pavement shifted from ashy gray to black as water seeped into the cracks on the asphalt. Much later, he had scrawled his signature on the receipt, worked his way down from the stool, and lumbered towards the entrance of the dive. He didn’t remember much of anything else as the remaining sediment from his beer worked its way through his teeth and over his tongue.

Waiting for him at home was dinner, tucked alongside the remnants of meals from earlier in the week. On another day, he would have long since peeled the lid off the Tupperware, placing it in the microwave, and staring down at the sink until the beeping broke his concentration.

Instead, he wandered his imitation of a neighborhood in almost total silence, accompanied by footfalls, breathing, and the patter of the stray behind him. Armed with liquid courage, today would be different. 

Each time he turned to look over his shoulder, the creature stared back at him without flinching, cocking its head like it was questioning his pause. Its eyes drank up the pockets of light on the street and reflected them at Colin, filling the several yards spanning the distance between them.  It seemed well enough fed, with a glossy brindle coat slick with rain. It was rather large, tall at the shoulders and broad across the chest. Minus its even cadence, it was silent.

The entire scene was rather eerie—the empty streets, Colin drunk and damp, loping in and out of drifting fog and through patches of light from the moon and streetlamps. Yes, this was the imitation of a neighborhood—neighborhoods had noises, and people and cars passing in front of storefronts. However, he and this dog were alone in the fog, porch lights and the glare from windows unable to cut through the viscous soup curling through the streets.

It was only reaching the park that let Colin know he was heading in the right direction, towards home. He sat down as he reached the park bench. Normally, it faced a sheer rock face overlooking the rest of the town below and the city in the distance. However, tonight, tendrils of mist swirled together obscuring any view more than five feet down the retaining wall. In the distance, a few dim lights pushed through the mire beneath him, small little beacons swallowed by gray. Higher up, thousands of brighter ones lurked in an amorphous cityscape on the horizon, all grouped at different altitudes and luminosities. 

Even behind the fog, the mass of the skyline was roughly outlined by the lights it held. It was a world creeping around the edges of his own, one that he could almost make out, maybe just maybe if he was a little bit closer.

“Just a small light amongst a million others,” he thought to himself before the silence brought him back to the park. There was a very soft patter of rain, yes, and perhaps a bit of breeze, but the only sound that had been real had faded into nothingness and once again Colin was in time. 

He turned to search for the dog and found it several yards back in the grass, as rigid as a statue. Its muscles were wound tight against its fur and its snout pointed proudly in his direction as it sat unblinking, eyes casting judgment. 

Its gaze was familiar, one he’d seen a few times before. There was a look that people had when they stumbled upon something that was supposed to be invisible. First, it was surprise as they were jolted into awareness. As they noticed something that hadn’t previously existed, that surprise turned to anger, then disgust. 

And he wasn’t supposed to be there. Not on that bench, not in that park, not on that street. As Colin stood, he considered approaching the dog and extending his hand before thinking better of it. So, he removed his coat and felt the rain and mist kiss his skin as he walked towards the retaining wall. He hoisted himself up on steadier limbs than he had possessed a few minutes ago. The indents in his hands were jagged but he barely noticed them, placing one boot beneath himself, then another.

Far in the distance, lights cut through the obfuscation, standing out in the vagary as dimmer beacons peppered the horizon. Beneath him, the fog swirled in patterns that collided with each other endlessly, impossible to make out as they mashed against each other. A few feet lower and there was absolutely nothing, just viscous gray.

The footfalls were gentle as Colin turned to watch the dog shuffle away, once again blind to his existence. It disappeared into the tendrils of smoke stalking their way across the grass. He couldn’t help but laugh, cutting a pulsing silhouette in the dim light. He took a breath, staring at the city in the distance, then submerged himself in the fog. 

Contributor(s)

Morgan Roberts

Possessing one of the nicest mustaches in the New York City metropolitan area, Morgan spends his free time doing the kind of things expected of someone with his style of facial hair.

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Morgan Roberts