Mark couldn’t hold up his enigmatic misanthrope act. Today, he let me see his friendly side. The scotch made him chatty and I was nice and cozy in a beer-fog. Perfect match. The late afternoon droned with the noises of the forest’s edge.
The bugs screeched. Meme, the dog, barked from the shore at us. Some campers shouted and scream-laughed somewhere on the side of the lake. Chainsaw noises faded into the distance, and the dark waters of the lake whispered to the purplish hue of the fading daylight. Bah! Took a swig from the bottle. Looked like a nauseating postcard picture. A big cheesy blown kiss from Mother Nature that smacked me right where my heart was. A kiss, like poison ivy rash; itchy, blistering feeling, where I just couldn’t reach. Swollen. Red. A raw spot. My hands shook and with them the fishing pole.
Mark’s pity had been my salvation. It bestowed this gift of this ambivalent protection upon me. A safe place to relax, accompanied by an annoyingly stoic dad-friend and his equally annoying horny dog. So this was what last chances looked like. Me and my pathetic crater of misery had consented to this kind of help. When Mark had found me, I had been sure what my final steps would look like. What needed to be done. But, here I was, not taking those steps. What was wrong with me? I couldn’t even bring myself to think about tomorrow… Who needed determination, when you could have this comfortable snare of numbness? Who was I kidding? I looked at the man across from me, holding the fishing rod as relaxed as if he been born with it. The boat we sat in rocked gently.
Cicadas screamed from the surrounding trees, and the army of mosquitoes had a hefty meal. I was on the menu, as the only meal. Mak wasn’t bit, not even once. Otherwise, Lake Wazee has been good to us. The floaters bobbed peace-dully in the water. I stared mine down, but it didn’t move. I never caught anything good.
Still, this was one of the best weekends since my grandma’s funeral six months ago. I emptied my bottle and opened the next. I’ve had a head start, so it didn’t matter that my tally said nine beers. Mark spoke. Something I didn’t hear, so I started to pay attention again. “Huh? No luck on my end,” I said dumbly. Mark, blessed with extraordinary fortune, pulled another rainbow trout out of the lake. I was jealous. He was a great hunter, a great fisherman, and the friend I needed… Fuck.
He put the fish into the bucket. That made four unlucky fish. We had one huge walleye, making eye contact with me, and now three rainbow trouts aiming for the translucent moon. They looked like they died in astonishment, trying to take in, what was happening to them. I looked at the sky. The last trout kicked, jumped and gasped desperately. It was – beautiful.
Three hours of sitting silently sounded a lot like punishment when slightly blitzed. “Are we there yet?” I piped up. My stomach growled. The cabin fridge hid some steaks promised to me. Meme had given me a disdainful snort, as I claimed them. That dog understood every word spoken. He later humped my backpack to explain in detail how much he liked me. Creepy dog. I slapped at my cheek and nape. “I’m plastered. I’m the ms’keeto-bar!” There was some slurring, and I swore it wasn’t me. Mark understood. He waved nonchalantly at me and the damn gnats eating me alive. Suddenly I got this strange tingling feeling, probably the beers. The cloud of hellish insects lifted. Huh. “Neat-o. Trick-o.” No more annoying screeching in my ears. Mark just snickered.
“Come on, Frank. Let’s feed what’s left of you.” I tried to stand up. Instantly, the world shifted and Mark yanked me back.
“Sorry,” I blubbered, while Mark swore. “Mabad.” Forgot. I sat in a dinghy, in the middle of a lake. I was a dumbass. “Mark? Why are you so nice to me?” I leaned forward, my forehead touched his shoulder. Or was it my own knee? The surrounding kept spinning and something in me twisted. I scraped past the edges of pain. It did that way too often. It should stop. “What am I doing here?” This weekend had been a merciful act of letting me breathe again, lifting this crushing feeling. Ever so gently, ever so carefully. The booze helped too. “Oh-uh. The beers want to say hi.” I mumbled. Acidic taste crept up my throat.
“Not into the boat!” Mark yanked me to the side by the scruff of my shirt.
Meme eyed the leftovers I couldn’t finish. I sat, stuffed beyond healthy, feet towards the fire pit, face up to the night sky. The warm red glow of the embers chased away the cold. Amazingly, the gnats kept staying away. Mark threw herbs onto the remains of the fire. It sizzled and burst into aromatic smoke. After a good meal and hot coffee, I was myself again. We shared the steaks, and that walleye seemed out of this world. Mark was a great cook too. Everything he touched went well. He was superman. I heard Meme scarfing something down.
The perfume of the night soothed all that got me thinking earlier. The pain had been sharp and itching, burrowing through my chest. Although it kept stinging, it was bearable. It was liveable, out here, with the scented smoke, the fire, and the darkness, with the stars above the black forest. This was a life belt I could get used to.
After he plucked me from the top of that cliff, I asked why he took me in. “Eternity is eternity. Doesn’t matter where or when you look at it. Unchangeable. You’re the one to change and regret. Why not give it another day? Think it over. Here, in the forest? And if you still want to do it in a week, or a month -I’ll even help.” Those half-understood words kept coming back to me. Why was he so nice to me? Would he really help?
I broke the silence. “Mark? What did you mean by where and when to look at eternity?” It has been such a strange way to put it. Between the plumes of smoke, our eyes lock. Was that suspicion? His eyes narrowed at my question and Meme sat up bolt upright. Why were they tense? The where and the when… Weird. Mark’s hand found Meme’s head and scratched behind his ear.
Mark took a deep drag from his pipe. Hey! Where did that pipe come from? I really should pay attention to my surrounding. Meme chirped and put his big heavy head into Mark’s lap. “I will explain if you are sure, that you want to know.” He pondered. “There is no turning back into your world, after hearing this. You have to be certain.” Now that was interesting. He pretended this to be rocket science, and I would play along.
He had been kind to me from the moment he found me. And if this was a piece of his philosophy, then: “Sure, sign me up.”
Part 2: threshold voids & useless gods