-Queens Boulevard, 2004
He forced his very own metaphorical boulder across a boulevard associated with death. He always found it amusing to liken himself to the mythological Sisyphus, though he was no ruler of Corinth, no ruler of anything, nor was he Greek. He didn’t need Tartarus to hand out a sentence. He punished himself for the misdeeds of others. He rolled his stone five days a week, and at times it could easily be mistaken for eternity. He delivered mail. When he marched down the same streets each day, he dreamt of writing and receiving love letters. Kettle or Charles, as people referred to him in Forest Hills, dreamt about all those lovely words that would never kiss paper. It helped pass the time. Those words tag teamed with his Walkman eased the monotony. Morrissey spoke directly for him when he sang ” Never Had No One Ever.” He wondered if a lifetime of loneliness combined with a specific action executed every day would be his hell. His sneakers were green, that gave him some minute happiness. He found it very funny how patriotic he was for an island he never set foot on, or better, caught a bloody nose on.
“Cathal? Cathal, is that you?”
He heard his name over The Smiths. He heard his birth name, not some nickname or anglicized version that he hated but everyone’s tongues seemed to prefer. He heard it, pronounced properly, though he wished he didn’t. He wished he was deaf. Cathal turned his boyish face toward the now unfamiliar voice who called out for him. His expression may have appeared to be something along the lines of bewilderment, it was pain and fear that shocked his face and paralyzed his legs. It was her and he wanted to run onto Queens Boulevard into oncoming traffic, to strike up a conversation with the grill of a truck or a livery cab. He was never one for socializing though. It was the once pretty immigrant who bestowed life upon him, whom he still hasn’t forgiven for that. Cathal was nine pounds, five ounces when he was offered to her in the delivery room. She placed his Gaelic name on his forehead with the caress of her cheek, he doesn’t remember that. Cathal couldn’t answer you if you asked him what hospital he was born in.
“Cathal. Hello, she said in a voice drained of confidence, “It’s your mother.” She stood before him in tattered clothes, clothes the salvation army would wave off. He remembered them from when theywere new threads she purchased during his childhood, when she put them on he would compliment her. Now there was nothing nice to say. He was certain this was his mother, but she did not look like anyone he knew anymore. “Do you have a minute?”
“Hi. Yes. Yeah, I have a few minutes then I have to deliver this. you know, mail. Post. How are you?” Cathal asked exactly the question he told himself not to ask. He knew the answer, and the answer was staggering. He tried to not appear awkward but the attempt was failing and nothing had even transpired yet. They were both guilty of trying to pretend they knew each other, that they were still family, or that a speck of connection lived between them.
“How am I? peachy. How do you think I am?”
“Not good? A little sad. I’m sorry that came out sarcastic. I was sincerely trying to answer your question.”
“Were you going to leave without saying goodbye?”
“No.” Yes, he was.
“Yes, you were.”
“You don’t know that. Don’t jump to conclusions.”
“Who’s jumping? You were going to leave and not say goodbye to me.”
“No. I would say goodbye to you.” No, he wouldn’t.
“No? This is what you’ve always wanted. You’ve always wanted to leave me. You’re such a coward. Where are you running off to, anyway?”
“Who told you I was leaving?” The fact that she knew anything at all about his possible departure from New York solidified that Cathal can not tell anyone anything without experiencing some mild form of betrayal. Who told her? He knew it could only be a handful of people. “Let’s not get carried away. I’m not even sure that I am leaving. Nothing has been approved yet. I am waiting to see what happens. Who knows? With my luck I will be denied and I will be stuck here. Forever.”
“What’s wrong with right here?”
“I don’t think I have to justify anything. Why must you be so defensive?”
”Where do you want to go? Far from me, I’ll bet.”
“I don’t usually gamble.”
“How did you become such a cold person you were such a sweet-
“I applied for transfers to Nebraska, Washington state and Hawaii. Although, I feel like everyone tries to get transferred there. I don’t even like the beach.”
“You can’t surf. Nebraska? Good luck with that.”
“Maybe I will like those places. I’m not really enjoying my time here. You would think that there would be a small part of you that might be happy for me if I were to possibly go somewhere that could bring me happiness.”
“Happiness in Nebraska. Everyone is Nebraska is happy?”
“I don’t think I am enjoying our chat. I have this innate yearning to leave, and if I can I will. I can’t explain it.”
“I don’t want to impede,” she said waving her wrinkled fingertips in front of Cathal, “on any innate yearnings you may have.”
Cathal drew his lips into mouth and shook his head. The conversation had become something familiar he tried to bury years ago by distancing himself. The friction and spite had been exhumed in front of the chesstables on Yellowstone Boulevard.
“You are going to go and move far away and you can’t even dress properly.”
“That is the most,” he held back laughter, “insulting remark coming from you.” The red Cursive t-shirt beneath his uniform shirt was a shade darker due his perspiration, might have clashed with his sneakers. His shorts were once pants. Maybe his mother did have a point. “I don’t know.”
“You do know. You just don’t want to talk to me. You don’t know how to talk. This is why no woman will ever love you. Look at you, delivering mail. You’re such a loser!”
“You suggested I take the civil service examination! Look, Ma, I have to go and fulfill the requirements of my meaningless job. I am looking forward to our next chance encounter. It’s uplifting. Pure motivation.”
“We used to be pals.”
“I did everything for you. No one else, just me. Do you realize that? Now you can just leave with a clear conscience and forget about everything while you’re living in some fucking place I don’t even know where.”
“Listen to me, okay? There is a structure, picture it. It outlines or defines our relationship. It is nuclear in every sense of the word. The relationship is radioactive. I’m not pointing fingers. It is supposed be more than what it is but, and I am not trying to insult anyone, anyone meaning you, but you have squandered our relationship and decimated the structure. You don’t know what thoughts idle in my mind nor do you know what affect this great friendship has had on me. You don’t even know me well enough to guess how I might feel about anything.”
“Fuck you, Cathal. You ingrate. You hate me so much.”
“Riposte. You will never understand anything. You are incapable of comprehending anything beyond the scope of your delusional world. We have carved out a very sad existence, you and I. I don’t hate you anymore than I hate myself. I feel very sorry for us both. I have to be going.”
“You’re a piece of shit! You’re torturing me! How long are you going to treat me like this?”
“Postage rates are increasing. You might want to stock up. Take care.”
Cathal walked away from his mother when she removed an old boyfriend’s service revolver from her knock-off handbag. Cathal had first handled the Smith & Wesson model 64 when he found it in a hamper. It was like he ran into an old lover, uncertain of how to act, staring down the barrel of the gun. It panged him to admit it might be something he needed. He took a deep breath, coming to terms with the scenario. In forty-nine days he could have a fresh start, if you subscribed to those old chubby buddhas.
“If you say something like ‘I brought you into this world I can take you out’ just hand the gun over and I’ll kill myself.”
“You can’t keep doing this to me.” She raised the barrel of the gun, Cathal walked over, the gun shook as it pressed against his lips. It reminded him of those joyous old days when things would get out of hand. If she struck him, he would smile, snatch her by the wrist and draw her fist into his own face, repeatedly. She would call him crazy and he’d reply, “Thanks mommy.” He thought of the little stings as her rings dug out little divots of skin in his face. Cathal looked past the red and damp eyes of his mother at the normal world behind. No one wanted to make eye contact but everyone wants to see.
“This brings a whole new realm to late-term abortion,” Cathal joked.
He could see such pain in her eyes, his eyes. He saw all the variations of the woman he met over the years. There was nothing funny about any of this. This joke that is our lives isn’t funny anymore. He knew that now. He recognized in her hardened face the nurturing as well as the negligence. She said something, but Cathal didn’t hear it. It might have been I love you or I’m sorry, He couldn’t be sure. It really made no difference at this stage of his life. He saluted her, about faced and marched off. The gun cocked.
Cathal marched at the helm of a bag full of other people’s lives. Cathal, ruler of nothing. There was no looking back. Behind him a single shot rang out. The sound had a myriad of possibilities. The birds left the comfort of the trees in an artistic display. Trucks and cars drove without worry. People carried on. An old lonely man told another old lonely man, check mate. Cathal would continue to forever punish himself. He would walk these busy streets for an eternity, while the immigrant who named him misunderstood the world she barely lived in, trying little by little each day to remove herself from it.
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