This is Act III 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.
As he lay in bed, he opened his eyes to a loud crash followed by a car alarm, the nightmare of his childhood whisked away through the folds of his brain. He got out of bed, put on his robe, then walked out of his house. His car, a white sedan with absolutely nothing interesting of note, had become suddenly interesting because the back half had caved in by a much larger, fecal brown colored SUV. A young woman spilled from the car as she forced open the front door. Gerald ran to help her. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” she said, shaking.
“Hold on, let me call an ambulance.”
“No, no, please don’t. I don’t have health insurance. I’m totally fine.” She trembled in a loose blue top and jeans. She looked at Gerald’s eyes, “I’m fine,” she said again. He hesitated, but continued.
“Okay, well, do you want to sit down for a bit, or something?” If anyone else heard the crash, nobody seemed to think it worth investigating. The young woman looked around, then at Gerald. She asked him his name.
“Gerald,” he said. She considered his disposition.
“I know there is always danger in entering a man’s home. If this is too creepy or uncomfortable, we can exchange information out here. You do have car insurance, right?”
She nodded, then turned to retrieve her documents from the glove box.
“Inside is fine,” she said.
Gerald held the door for the young woman as she entered his home. Gerald was embarrassed by the way it resembled a college dorm room with the odd exception of empty peanut containers littered throughout like effigies in an animist shrine.
The day his throat scratch healed, he drove to the suburban megastore, a considerable distance from his home, and purchased 437 dollars and 26 cents’ worth of peanuts. His white, uninteresting car was packed so high with plastic containers of peanuts he couldn’t see out of his rearview mirror on the drive back. The ensuing weeks were decadent. He lay either in bed or on his pickle green couch consuming nothing but peanuts. He savored every salted, honeyed, or plain bite with the fleeting hope it would be his last, that it would be the spark that lit his gasoline-soaked existence into flames. In these weeks however, it seemed that his gasoline had degraded into turpentine, his life soaked in a foul-smelling liquid not even capable of combustion.
In these weeks he didn’t go to work, nor did he do much but dream back on his past like Proust in his bed. He dreamt or thought or reminisced about his childhood, of which you have already seen; about his miserable existence, of which you are surely aware; and about his death, for which you have been patiently waiting. For three weeks all he ate were peanuts, and if it wasn’t for a young woman who momentarily reached for the book that slid off the passenger seat and missed seeing the parked car along the curve, Gerald Neesh may have lain around his house for only another hour, or the rest of his life. Of that, we will never know.
Contact Jake Zawlacki at jazawlacki ‘at’ stanford.edu.