This is Act II in a five-act fiction story: The Tragedy of Gerald Neesh.
Editor’s note: the following article contains references to suicide that some readers may find troubling.
Gerald Neesh had always been frustrated by the boorishness of others. He never liked the charismatic, charming, obnoxious people that seemed to rule the world. Instead, he believed in the precision of speech and movement to indicate larger, deeper orchestrations. Gerald knew that nothing could ever be completely covered up; he knew anything built by man could be destroyed by man, and he hoped someone would notice the care he put into every aspect of his life, from cleaning his shoe gums with old toothbrushes, as to not scuff the leather, to burning his peanut receipts nightly in the same unscented candle on his walnut living room table. He wanted someone to notice the soft brush marks he left behind as he meticulously scraped away his footsteps in the snowfall of his existence.
On the four hundredth and third day of Gerald’s daily intake of a pound of peanuts, he felt a scratch at the back of his throat. His sinuses were clear, his eyes normal. He didn’t have a headache, nor a fever, nor any other discernible trace of sickness. He was elated. For the following two weeks Gerald doubled his intake of peanuts with the same excuse to each of the cashier’s astonishment, “The baby elephant is getting bigger,” as he chuckled in his best dad voice impersonation. They always smiled, laughed, or nodded, turning away from him to scan the barcode in silence. He always winked and looked off to the left, waiting to grab his suicidal paraphernalia.
The scratch in Gerald’s throat left him after twelve days. He didn’t know if the scratch resulted from the peanuts, or if it was a common sore throat. He was devastated. He stopped going to work and lay in bed, staring at the mold-like popcorn ceiling that seemed to bubble from something dark and musty, as if he was in a mythical underworld looking up at the surface of the Earth.
He thought of a childhood moment when his older brother Tom had shown him a small cavern where he had found Indian pottery shards. The small cavern sat underneath a colossal boulder that looked like the egg of some giant mythical bird. Tom pointed Gerald to the little crevice just big enough for a young boy to squeeze through. The boulder, half overlooking a cliff, half submerged in earth, sat waiting for Gerald to see the treasures at its base. Nervous at first, Gerald poked his head into the darkness and forced his shoulders against the bottom of the granite, scratching his skin like scuffed leather under his shirt. After his shoulders entered the darkness, he kicked his legs, his brother trying to help him into the small waterless grotto. “Jerry, you see anything in there?” Gerald’s eyes slowly recalibrated to the darkness, the smell of wet soil filling his nose.
“No, not yet.” He heard Tom moving, and then laughing.
“Then you are definitely not going to see anything now.” Tom dropped a large rock in front of the crevice, blotting the light from Gerald. In almost total darkness Gerald heard the laughs of other boys. More rocks piled against the first before Gerald attempted to push them out. The rock was too heavy, and he, too weak. Through muffled stone he heard, “Don’t worry, Jerry, we’ll be back soon.”
Gerald, the 10-year-old boy, laid on his belly in the darkness. He had cried from fear, but the fear had all gone out of him, and so had the tears. He was no longer afraid of anything. He heard the rough laughs of coyotes as dusk fell, and the hiss of either wind or serpent. With his belly on the dark pulpy earth that rightly belongs beneath a toothless goldminer’s fingernails, Gerald felt something crawl on his hand. He didn’t panic, but rather hoped that it would it bite him. He hoped it was deadly poisonous, and he hoped his brother would cast away the rocks to find his dead body with foam at his mouth and a blackened patch of skin explaining his eternal exit. To punish the boorish with irony would have been worth the price, but as the spider gently crawled off of him, he felt a weight greater than the great stone egg above.
Contact Jake Zawlacki at jazawlacki ‘at’ stanford.edu.