My plans for the evening had been thwarted by the rain. The sudden, violent downpour with occasional strobe-like lightning streaks made an outdoor walk impossible. Standing before the sliding glass door, I sipped whiskey and water and watched my carefully planted flowers being pelted into the mud. The persistent drops of rain drumming on the roof made me wonder how much actually separated me from the wetness outside. How protected was I? Suddenly, I appreciated the warmth of my house and the comforting buzz of the liquor in my temples. With nothing else to do, I drew a contented sigh and went back to work on a drawing I had begun early that morning. I leaned back from the table once in a while to take another slurp of bourbon. Sometimes routines were pleasant. At least, they were safe. After a few more drinks, I felt so comfortable that I fell asleep, face down on the drawing table.
I awoke at one in the morning, sweating. Looking outside, I saw that it was raining harder now, and the lightning flashes appeared at shorter intervals. I had been dreaming, but now I could not remember what the dream had been about. Something disturbed me. I had never been apprehensive in solitude before. In fact, I had always preferred to be alone, away from the interference of other people. I was uneasy, now, in my solitude. But it wasn’t because I was alone; it was because I feared that I was not alone. I took a sip of my drink, now nothing but melted ice, shivered, shook the moisture from my hand, ran my fingers through my hair. It was just an impression. Since I was awake, I decided I would finish my drawing. The perpetual patter and whish of rain against the windows and roof gradually became less ominous and turned into a kind of comforting accompaniment while I worked.
I paused to look out the sliding glass door. The light from inside the house afforded a range of vision outside that stopped abruptly at the edge of the patio. By this light I saw endless sheets of rain water washing across the cement. Lawn chairs blew to the ground under sudden, crushing gusts of wind and spray. Beyond the patio, I could see the silhouettes of tangled maples struggling valiantly against the relentless force of the storm. I stared. I was glad to be inside. Whenever lightning flared, the entire backyard was visible for several seconds. In one of these instances, I glimpsed a strange man vaulting over the side fence into my yard.
My throat constricted. I felt the impossibly rapid flopping of my heart in my chest. My legs were paralyzed by the stinging blood coursing through them. It couldn’t have been real. I leaned my elbows on the table, my hands grabbing fistfuls of hair. No, not real. Half involuntarily, I looked up again. He was at the sliding glass door.
He simply wore a sleeveless white T-shirt and a pair of torn bluejeans, drenched and plastered to his body. Thoroughly soaked tendrils of clustered black hair clung around his temples and forehead. I noticed the face. The lower lip hung, exposing crooked teeth and fixing his lower face in a frozen sneer. Tendons stood out on his neck; his head shook. His green eyes, focused on mine, seemed to glow with an insane kind of anger. It was a face vehement with wanton fury. In a flash of lightning, I saw the glint of a blade. Only now I realized that he was jiggling the door handle ferociously and screaming at me. At first, a sense of surrealism about the situation pushed me down by the shoulders and encircled me. My mind was not a part of my body. Then, panic shot through my nerves and galvanized my mind into frantic calculation. This was real. This man wanted to hurt me. Suppressing a sob of horror and pain, I forced my numb and weakened limbs to move. I knew I had to find a weapon; the latch on that door was not going to last.
“Aren’t you going to let me in, you asshole?” he screamed.
I left the room in search of a defensive tool. I didn’t own a gun; I wouldn’t have known how to use a gun even if I had had one. After looking through the whole house, I decided that a stool would have to suffice as a safety device. I returned to the room, armed with the piece of furniture, holding it at shoulder level. The man was not outside the door.
“Looking for me?” I whirled around to find him in the room with me, shaking in silent spasms of mirth. “Your puny lock wasn’t enough to keep me out. That pathetic pile of sticks won’t save you either, bonehead. I’m still going to kill you. Say, I was just admiring your work here.” A long, knobby finger indicated the drawing table. He knitted his brows and stared hard at me. “You know, you don’t deserve your ability. In fact, you don’t deserve to live.”
He was probably right about the futility of my weapon, but after hearing him speak I immediately knew what kind of human being he was. I thought that this knowledge might be to my advantage. Though I felt hesitant, I affected an appearance of confidence throughout my reply. “Well, maybe not, but you don’t deserve to live, either.”
“Oh?” he snorted. “Why not?”
“First, because you’re ugly as all hell. Shit! Hair growing out of your ears, crusty snot on your face, crooked teeth–”
His face changed. “Shut up!” he screamed.
“And you’re stupid. You have the IQ of a rock. That’s why–”
“No, damn it!”
“You’re a reject. Society doesn’t want you. Your own family wouldn’t accept you. You’re–”
“Shut up, god damn you!”
I continued, thrusting the stool in his face. “You’re afraid!” My voice shook. “You really are petrified! You have no potential. You can’t make anything of yourself! To feel good about yourself, you have to bring other people down so you can look better, superior! Like you’re going to do with me, right? You have to hurt, even kill, people to make yourself feel good, to be secure! You’re sick!”
Without warning, a flash of lightning blared into the room like a spotlight, framing the man’s figure against the wall. He collapsed on his hands and knees, moaning.
“Don’t you see?” I exclaimed. “We’re both trying to avoid the same thing. It’s this damned lightning. We just deal with it in different ways. Look, try to do something productive; make something of yourself. Concentrate on creating things with your mind rather than destroying.”
“I can’t change now,” he groaned. “I feel like I can’t do anything now, like I’ve been destroyed. I’ve…lost something.” He stared at the floor between his hands. He never looked at his hands.
I turned away. “Whatever it was, I think you lost it a long time ago, not just now.”
Thunder drummed on the roof. Through the deafening crash, I heard only one footfall. I snapped my head around. The man was half way across the room, knife raised high above his head, teeth gnashing, masticating nothing. The legs of my stool met his rushing body in the chest and deflected his charge away from me. Knife still raised, gasping with pain, carried by his momentum, he crashed into a lamp. The hand with the knife flailed wildly, slashing the lampshade to lacerated tatters. Suddenly, a small shower of sparks erupted around his hand and his body stiffened, quivering. I heard a sizzling sound. It took me a moment to realize what was happening. I remembered having neglected to put a new bulb in the lamp. It was also possible that I had forgotten to turn the lamp off. Evidently, the point of his knife had found the empty socket. He was trying to scream. By the time I had pulled out the plug, the man was dead. I had to go outside, to get away from the putrid smell.
The rain had stopped. The liberated moon shone sadly on a broken tree, whose trunk had been split by lightning. A little remorsefully, I thought of the man inside. It seemed that violence expired violently. I chose not to call the police right away; I wasn’t looking forward to their questioning. I wanted to be alone. Looking up, I stared at the moon, my moon, all surrounded by a fathomless vault of black. I wondered if lightning ever struck on the moon.
Robbie Graden, November 1986