UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
Hey, Dave Roswell
Now it’s dark.
Huddled in the shadows of a dusty corner, Dave Roswell sits. His heart pounding, gut bleeding, breath labored. He strains to see, unable to distinguish friend from foe,
A newspaper keeps him warm. The headlines reaffirm what he knows: they’re looking for him, hunting him.
Just paranoia, he tells himself, reassures himself. He takes comfort in knowing his sanity exists in a conspiracy, in a way of life that involves his death. And death, while tragic, is ordinary. Except people will be thankful when he is dead.
Newspapers. He thinks the headlines are a farce, lies, manufactured by a purchased media, whores who will fuck anything for a story, mostly fucking fact.
“Jesus, they’ll believe everything they’re told.” He tosses the newspaper to the ground, the headline obscured in a mud puddle and he runs and runs and runs.
The bleeding is worse now. He ducks into a back alley for closer inspection. He peels his shirt, the makeshift bandage fashioned out of cloth, from the gaping wound. He watches the hole in his stomach rise and fall with every labored breath. He can’t go back to the hospital. He looks for shelter. He compromises his safety. He stumbles over intelligence, rational thought, logic, spends his days running from it, from them, trying to understand why he can’t stand still. Dave Roswell fears for the sake of paranoia, he fears for the sake of fear.
He passes out.
He sees whirling lights when he sleeps, when he dreams. He hears gunshots, sees Elvis. Memphis, New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Dallas, the moon.
“Everyone was looking up,” he mumbles.
Dave Roswell is alone. The sun beats hard, pelting his flesh with bubbling boils of sweat. His eyelids fall to half mast, wilting in the heat. He blinds himself with an attempt to see the sun, to see the sun as he saw the moon, with men walking upon it, to see the men walking behind him, racing faster, catching up with him. He sees his reflection in a shop window. He can’t remember if this is the picture Marina took. Still, the shadows on his face distort. He squints, tilts his head; he can’t make the shadows fall within the realm of possibility, within the realm of guilt.
“Paranoid? They think I’m paranoid.” He repeats to himself, he deceives himself.
He checks over his shoulder, dodges inquisitive neighbors in the hallway of a broken apartment building. He runs – stairs – corridors – doorways – dropping the clues of a sacrificial lamb. This is for Stalin. For Khrushchev. For Marx. For Lenin.
Lennon. He remembers meeting him, in passing almost. They exchanged signs: Lennon’s in peace, Dave Roswell’s in victory. And he sees the dark-cloaked man lingering, watching, waiting to send Lennon toward a violent catcher in the rye. Pop, pop, pop, New York City, Memphis, Washington, Los Angeles, Dallas.
He scurries with the cockroaches as he enters the confines of his living quarters. He clutches his stomach, reminiscent pain burrowing outward toward the palm of his hand. Tears almost too dehydrated to fall squeeze from his ducts. He finds the floor, pressing on his stomach, pushing back the demon, the bullet in his soul, in his memory.
He trusted Jack, still trusts Jack. He gulps in the stale air of a dusty, boarded up, dark apartment.
“Where did all the dust come from?”
Dave Roswell has been here before: this is home, this is sanctuary, this is his resting place. Still, it’s different. He breathes in the air. Breath is involuntary he reminds himself, convinces himself. His lungs fill with the dust mites he fears.
“How long have I been away?” He asks himself, interrogates himself.
Bottled water waits for him on the table. On his knees he makes his way to it. He inspects the safety ring, closer – closer, checking for any miniscule evidence of tampering. He nods affirmatively, repetitively, convincingly. He twists the cap off the bottle of water, looking closely, closer. He sees powder. On his feet he shuffles to the bathroom.
Dave Roswell stares at the water in the toilet bowl – this they could not have poisoned. He scours the bowl and leaves a half empty bottle of bleach on the ledge of the bathtub. He kneels in front of the toilet.
“Wait.” He stops himself, calms himself.
He reaches across the sink, tipping a small cup, blowing out the accumulation of dust. A bottle of pills falls to the floor. He suspects cyanide in his Tylenol; he knows that was meant for him. He turns on the faucet, lets it run and run and run. He lets the clear water deluge into the cup until it brims.
Bossanova rings in his head, a welcome relief from the unmerciful replay of Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard. He rationalizes that if they tampered with the bottled water, perhaps they haven’t tampered with the water supply. Still, he imagines the lethal filter releasing a government’s wrath as water escapes the confines of a faucet. He hesitates before sipping. He could live with the fear of fluoride, the rumor, hoax, conspiracy, dental preventative.
He lowers his nose to the rim and inhales. He thinks he smells almonds – arsenic – no, it couldn’t be. He dips his index finger, seeking a faint taste of metal – iodine, mercury, lead – no, they won’t kill that way. Atropine, lasic, he fears all poisons. He pours the water down the drain, he looks back to the toilet, gulps a dry swallow. He submerges the cup, brings it to his lips, holds his breath, and takes a cautious sip, a gulp, choking back a quenching swallow of fluoridated water. Dave Roswell likes the taste of chlorine. He falls asleep on the floor.
He wakes from the same dream, the dream of a single bullet. He knows it wasn’t real. He knows he didn’t do it, but he was there. He didn’t stop it; he didn’t want to.
“Still dark,” he calms himself.
He leaps to his feet, pulling his shirt up to his armpit, inspecting the wound, making sure there isn’t a fresh tear, blood – only scar tissue. He examines the scar closely in the fog of an early morning mirror. He treasures the obstructed view, the distortion, the time when he understands why nothing is clear. He convinces himself he still bleeds on the inside. He weeps because he cannot make it stop.
“They landed on the moon. Elvis is dead.” He mumbles, repeats himself, still mumbling. In the shower he inhales deeply, coughs, inhales again. He fears germs, be it lethal or benign. He shakes uncontrollably looking in the mirror, straining to see the microorganisms that live, that breed on his eyelashes. He fears the changing of his body, the cancer he can’t prove is there. He feels it growing inside, infecting his brain. His head hurts, pounds, throbs. A permanent ache drones in his belly. He fidgets with the scar on his stomach, a tactile reminder of who he used to be. Scars never fade. Dave Roswell searches the apartment, searches for the door. He feels trapped. He’s hungry. In the refrigerator are involuntary science projects, curdled milk, fermented juice, micro-organisms swarming on the tops of left-overs he’s too despondent to eat. He hasn’t eaten in weeks. His stomach churns. What he does get down, he vomits. His body trembles, chilled to the bone. He forces himself to stay inside. He forces himself not to run.
He pulls a stack from the shelf and starts sorting through them. Reagan assassination attempt in one pile, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. in another, Robert Kennedy still another. He burned JFK’s. Sempre Fi, he reminds himself, motivates himself. He needs strength. He crawls back into bed, deflated. He sleeps to dream and dreams to wake to a different fate. In his dream he is a hero – a shot rings out, direct hit – success.
Crowds cheer instead of sob. Only tears of joy, of triumph, of relief that Camelot is dead.
He leers through the blinds on the window. Dave Roswell squints in the bright light of a midday sun. His eyes adjust, pupils constrict, and calm casts an apprehensive spell. He pieces together images from a moon landing he doesn’t think happened. He doesn’t believe anything is real: Dave Roswell is not real.
A woman with a stroller passes by on the sidewalk below. It doesn’t seem that long ago, babe in arms, that the world was different. June he thinks of fondly, the second daughter, he can no longer remember her name. She was so innocent that day, thoughts trapped inside her mind, unable to mix with the thoughts of others, as she was too young to speak. He still thinks he can change the world. He can change the world for her. God speaks to Dave Roswell. He leaves ominous messages in the voice-recorder in his head. He never mistakes the voice of God for his own imagination. He knows his imagination is not that skilled.
He carries a piece of Berlin Wall in his pocket. Someone sent it to him with a note reminding him of his failure. He destroyed the note, but kept the rock. He hears footsteps in the hall.
“It was supposed to work,” he tells himself, reassures himself, bargains with himself.
He remembers the Cold War, the fall of communism, the fall of a mankind that showed promise. The Cold War disappointed him. The fear, the threat was never what he wanted it to be. He does not share in the collective sigh of relief that global annihilation is no longer eminent. He wants destruction. He still wants Soviet triumph. Perestroika makes his skin crawl. He wants to die.
A reprieve of fate, he calls it, a reprieve he doesn’t want. This is not how it was meant to be – just pure feeling unadulterated by intellect. So he cut his losses and ran and ran and ran.
Now he’s here.
Now it’s over.
The footsteps stop, firmly planted in a past that creeps closer to him every second. He hears the familiar rattle of a gun readied in precision.
Dave Roswell raped democracy, stealing its innocence in a panic, in a revolution. And he never did a thing. He didn’t try to stop it. He didn’t try to change it. He just let it happen.
He was there. He watched, he stared, he gawked with sheer fascination and disbelief of what he knew was to come, what he knew he was a part of, what he knew was history. And in that moment, that albeit brief moment, he became a victim, a traitor, a villain, an excuse. Dave Roswell knows his legacy, nefarious and true.
A voice bellows from the other side of the door.
“Hey! Dave Roswell!”
The door crashes to the floor with a thud. Dave Roswell stands frozen in a time capsule of fear.
“They landed on the moon. Elvis is dead,” he reassures himself as he fidgets with a news clipping in his pocket. The paper is brittle, yellowed, nearly crumbling to the touch. He reads it everyday, a constant reminder of how things could have been different. He longs to see it one last time in this revolving purgatory.
He pulls the paper from his pocket as a single bullet soars, piercing his chest like a ruby.
The news clipping falls to the floor, the November headline glaring:
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