White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
WHITE WHALE REVIEW
Adam Gianforcaro
Adam Gianforcaro is the author of a book of poetry, Morning Time in the Household, Looking Out and a children's book, Uma the Umbrella. He has had several stories and poems published in print and online magazines, including poetry at The Hive: APIARY Digital Edition, HOOT, DEAD FLOWERS: A Poetry Rag, and Stray Branch, amongst others, and fiction has appeared in Battered Suitcase and is most recently forthcoming with the Los Angeles Review. He lives in New Jersey.

Featured Work
Loading...
Subscribe to RSS     Share

Walls

Adam Gianforcaro

 

T | 1

 

The sun yellowed the room from the thin window this morning. I’ve counted each cinder block hundreds of times. I’ve divided the number of blocks from one wall into the other, I’ve multiplied them, rows and columns, and I’ve played with x-coordinates, y-coordinates, square roots. The window that invites the soft radiance is one cinder block in height, one and a half in length, probably sound resistant glass. My fingernails hurt. I’m tired. Without a mirror I can’t see myself, but if I could, I’d image skin sagging from my face. I’d look into the shallow holes of my jaundiced eyes inching closer to the reflection. My eyes might not actually be jaundiced, but there is so much yellow in the room, it actually feels contagious, like my eyes

 

could catch the glow. I’d imagine the closer I got to the mirror, the steadier I’d be, all the concentration holding my body still. I’d step back, and after a second or two, my head and limbs would start again—the tick in my neck, squeezing my thumbs, my eyelid clenching. I can push my neck far enough to crack without pushing my chin. I close my eyes tight, squeeze them hard and I feel better, but then I have to do it again and again and again until I fall asleep, or if it’s morning, I just blink and blink and press harder. I image my eyelids are the jaws of a wrench squeezing and squeezing, or my own jaw, my teeth biting strong.

My name is Thomas if I didn’t tell you already. Thomas Allen Thomas McCollin. Thomas is my first name and my Confirmation name. I thought I’d be funny years ago but now I just find it annoying. I don’t use it often, but sometime I think when I die, people might wonder if I had a middle name and an extra middle name from the Catholic Church. I wasn’t one for religion before, but I wasn’t going to pass up on an opportunity like making my name Thomas Thomas. I probably should have spelled it differently to throw people off, like Thomas Tommis, or Thomas Toe-maze, or with an accent


like Thomas Thömás. I don’t even use my middle name Allen anymore, just Thomas or Thomas McCollin. Sometimes I do use my full name, I guess, if I’m being formal. I remember a time when I said my name out loud, shaking the man’s hand, the man wearing a salmon shirt with a blue-dotted tie. It was an introduction. “Thomas Allen T. McCollin,” I said. I stared at his chest, my eyes going from blue dot to blue dot to salmon, blue dot to salmon, blue dot to blue dot to salmon again. “So what does the T stand for, Thomas?” I told the man that I already told him what the T stood for. He said I didn’t. I was adamant, insisted that I did, and then I didn’t get the job.

I did have a job, though. In fact, I’ve held several jobs, most recently with Trader Paperbacks. I mean, I may still have the job when I get out of here, especially after they hear my story. My boss at Trader’s goes by the name Bubba, but his real name is George Stern. You won’t have to remember his name because he is not an important character in this story. The only reason he is brought up is because I’m thinking about him and I’m typing at the same time I’m thinking of him. If these sheets actually get into the hands of an editor, the editor is

going to laugh, the editor is going to mark up each sentence with red pen and with blue pen and with #2 pencils. The editor is going to think I’m a moron. I picture this editor to look like George Stern, who also goes by the name Bubba, an overweight goon with salt and pepper hair, the average length of each hair being about five and half inches. I know this because I found him scratching his head and a ruler about two feet away from a fallen strand, so I measured it. I measured Bubba’s hair and now I know.

He hired me in November without background check. I know that because I got the job. He told me I would get paid under the table so I didn’t have to fill out those annoying forms where I never can figure out if I should write-in a one or a zero. I liked it under the table.  Isn’t that a great saying? Under the table. It reminds me of a job when I was fifteen at Uncle Joe’s Dairy Farm. It wasn’t owned by my Uncle Joe. I don’t have any uncles so that wouldn't be possible. That was just the name of the place. I used to walk there from my house. Do you remember when Uncle Joe's caught fire? After that, I didn’t have a job anymore. I was interviewed and I still had on my uniform even though it was the day


after, and by then, the fire was already put out. I was on the news as a victim. That’s how I want to be portrayed when I get out of here. I want to be on the news. I want to be the victim. Although, theoretically, I am victim right now, but no one knows, so it’s not a good victimization. Do you know what I mean?

I’m not a prisoner or anything, just to be clear. I haven’t been kidnapped or taken as a hostage or anything like that. I haven’t been abused in here either, no teeth missing or battered nose. It’s just me, the walls, a locked door, and my window. I asked to be put here. In fact, I planned it all. That way, I couldn’t be distracted. All those noises: cars, people talking, everybody walking loudly, typing, breathing, sinks running and pipes singing, electric tools, the television set, music, pets, wind. All of it a distraction. It’s amazing the sounds you can hear when none of that is issue, how breathing through the nose and breathing out of the mouth sounds completely different, how a simple sniffling from the cold can make a whistling sound that also resembles a person crying, how grinding cinder block into dust between your teeth can sound exactly like chewing a Life Savers mint.

I haven’t eaten in several days. The food ran out. It’s been two days from anything of substance in my body. It’s frustrating but I’m quickly losing the energy to remain so. I still have a full pile of paper, which is promising. Probably five-, six-hundred pages worth. Blank. Maybe I’ll tell you about what I wrote before I started writing this note, but not yet. I have stories from my past I’d like to share with you. Since I can’t ask you questions, I’m trying to decide where I should start. I’m deciding between two starting points. I think I’ve decided.

 

 


M | 1

 

 

I always thought that if this work was somehow published that I would write the introduction. In fact, I wrote draft after draft, scribbling notes on stickies, loose-leaf paper, marble notebooks, typing and backspacing in a word processor for weeks. I wrote preface after preface, but none of it felt right. How do I introduce someone like Thomas? He was sui generis, almost ghostly in his solidarity. After much deliberation, it only made sense to have his work act as the introduction. The debate on the introduction went on with the publishers for quite some time. I participated on what seemed like countless conference calls, which were essentially teleconferenced debates. I was first advised that an introduction was in the best interest of the work, where I stood my ground and insisted otherwise. By the fourth conference call, I felt berated by some prick in their marketing department, continually talking down to me, his tone of voice pretentious, and I left them with a sour taste, some saliva tingling on the sides of their tongues hinting that

they’d never get a signed contract out of me. They may’ve had the rights then to some of Thomas’s works, but they'd never get commentary out of me. My agent told me to cool off a bit, that they were probably right, that an introduction from me would be a good thing.

By means of the publishing house, I got an all expense paid trip to New York City to work things out. The flight was short, first class. I kicked my legs up in the limo on the way to the hotel, five-stars, California king bed, spa, a treadmill in my room, the works. On a Thursday morning, it was May 2013, I felt the warmth shining through the tall wrap-around windows of the conference room. I was seated in a leather swivel chair staring at the editor-in-chief, Breanne, small breasts, perfect ass in a mid-thigh length skirt, gorgeous face. I was wearing the shirt my agent left me at the hotel, a Brooks Brothers all-cotton, pastel with top button undone, no tie. I had packed slacks, but Jonathan, my agent, left me two additional pairs, one brown and one navy, in addition to expensive loafers, socks, and stark white undershirts.

I was anxious, but the scenery calmed my


nerves a bit. New York looked even bigger than I remembered as a child. I wanted to walk the vicinity of the room dragging my fingers across the floor-to-ceiling windows. Instead, I took my seat, accepted an offer of espresso, filled my cup of water from the metal basin in the center of the table, and gave the editor-in-chief a soft smile. I was rubbing small circles with my middle finger on the cherry-wood when a large man came rushing in.

“Good morning, good morning,” he said flamboyantly, a folder and laptop under his arm, a Starbucks coffee in the other. “So sorry I’m late.”

“You’re not late, Greg. It’s still early,” Breanne said.

“Well, late for me,” he smiled.

“Good morning,” Jonathan said. I echoed the greeting while the three of them began getting situated, opening folders, scattering papers, clicking pens. I sat sipping my espresso and chewing my lower lip.

The night before, I had met Jonathan at the hotel bar. Over glasses of gin, ordered and paid for

 

by Jonathan, he persuaded me to accept the offer Greg was going to propose: instead of an introduction to the book, Greg wanted me to provide footnotes to Thomas’s works, providing clarity, opinions, timelines, et cetera. With accepting this offer, I would be granted a $40,000 stipend and .25% royalties. I was surprised at the amount, almost half my annual income. He said this was more than he thought I’d get, much more, and I’d be an idiot (his words) if I didn’t accept.

The sun was illuminating the dark table forming amber patterns I wanted to trace over and over again. The espresso was churning my stomach and it was hard to look Greg in the eyes when he was proposing the contract. His eyes were bright and his lisp was strong. He could have proposed something completely different than what Jonathan had told me, completely low-balling, and I would have signed the paper just to get to the bathroom quicker. Lucky enough, the stipend and royalties still held true. I signed the bottom of two documents with the metal pen slipping from my moist fingers. I began working on the footnotes that week.


T | 2

 

 

“Have you lost your fucking mind?” That was Cindy who asked that, my girlfriend at the time. She pronounced each sound in each word with distinct clarity, raising her voice, but not so much to

describe it as yelling. I laughed that crazy person laugh you hear in the movies when Jack Nicholson goes completely haywire in that huge hotel or when any girl gets put in a straightjacket. I told her it’d be the three of us like always. Just you, me, and Mark. Then she said, “Just stop it, man. Sometimes I think you really are crazy. Like, literally insane. My mother was probably right.” And that reminded me of a hundred other movies that she liked where there’s always a happy ending. Life isn’t always a happy ending. Actually, come to think of it, it never is. People die. Fires and car wrecks and rigamortis.

This specific outburst from Cindy happened after a shift at Sea Coastal Community Bank. I was working there about four months when the plan was discussed. I was at Cindy’s place drinking a can of

beer after I got out of work, and I was telling Cindy the plan. This is what triggered the outburst. To put it plainly, I got the job at Sea Coastal by lying. Not a big lie, more like a fib. Fib is such a weird word, though, isn’t it?

After the Dairy Farm, I worked at a bowling alley where I hooked some pretty boy in the jaw for calling me a retard. I don’t take to that word lightly. That was awhile ago, but it still hindered me from some future jobs. So it was four months or so since the punch of unemployment and I didn’t have any money. I was living with Cindy in a terrible apartment near the 7-11 on the pike, and she paid for all of it. “Get a fucking job or get off of my fucking couch,” she used to say. “I can’t keep paying the rent by myself and having you eat all of my fucking cereal.”

When I think of money, I think of greed. I think of happiness. I think of drugs and I think of banks. I needed money, so I decided to apply to the bank. If that didn’t work out, I’d try to sell drugs, but I didn’t even have enough money to buy my first batch. Sea Coastal was a smaller community bank that I passed by frequently, but it was one that I saw so often that I almost forgot it was there. It


blended in, I guess, but, when I passed it from the passenger seat of Cindy’s car, I noticed it again. I was going to ask her to pull over and I was going to go in, but I smelled of pot and was wearing cut-off jeans and sandals.

When we got back to the apartment, Cindy walked directly from the door to the couch, landing perfectly a lounging position, ankles crossed. “I love Saturday mornings,” she sang.

“Hey, do you think we can actually go back around Sea Coastal so I can get an application?”

“You’re kidding me, right? The bank? You want to work at a bank? Do you think they would actually hire you, dude?”

I didn’t say anything. I stared at her but her eyes were closed.

Then, she sat up and opened them. “Jesus, Thomas. You’re stoned right now,” she said. I continued to stare until she said. “Sorry, man. I don’t mean to be a buzz kill. Just do it online.”

“Okay,” I said slowly. I walked to the small table outside of the kitchenette where her laptop sat. I

opened up the old Dell, sat down, typed in Cindy’s password (grateful69DEAD) and searched the internet to see if you could own pet koalas in our state. Apparently, that’s illegal.

“Did you find it?” she asked after some time.

“Not yet,” I said remembering what I went to the computer for.

The search engine pulled up multiple Sea Coastal banks, so I had to search Sea Coastal bank followed by the name of the town. I got to the right website and found a small link on the bottom of the page for careers.  In the careers section, it read Please visit one of our conveniently located branches and apply today!

“We have to go back there,” I said. “There’s no application online.”

“Yes there is. What fucking year is it? You’re probably on the wrong site or something.”

“I’m serious.  Quote ‘Please visit one of our conveniently located branches to apply today,’ end quote,” I read in a nasally voice from the back of my throat.


“Jesus. Fine. Go get a shower and change into something nice-er.”

Showers were never warm enough at the apartment. I turned the nozzle all the way to the left (which was the opposite direction of the hot water in my mom’s old house) and waited for the heat that would never quite come. It was warm enough to handle, but never warm enough to really enjoy. I toweled off and changed into a nice polo and slacks that I had leftover from my mom’s funeral. I was surprised it still fit.

We walked down the steps from the apartment. It was getting cloudier and muggier as the morning turned into early afternoon. Cindy’s car still smelled of pot and I was nervous that the stink would cling onto my clothes. I was shaking my leg. I was rolling my arm out of the window. I was singing the songs on the radio. Cindy parked in the back of the lot. “Well,” she said. I got out.

The bank looked outdated, however bright and clean. There was a woman at a desk to the left, another woman behind the counter to my right, and in the far back was yet another woman in an office on talking on the telephone. The woman behind the

counter to my right asked, “Hi, can I help you?”

I ended up taking the application home to fill out. The woman in the back office must have heard me ask for an application because she kept craning her neck to look at me. Thankfully, it looked like she was still on the phone even though she wasn’t talking. “There’s some pens right behind you, sweetie,” the teller said after rummaging through a drawer for the paper application. I thanked her. I really didn’t want to fill it out inside there with all the people, and especially the cameras, looking at me. You must think it’s weird since, if I was going to work there, the cameras would be on me all the time. There are two reasons why the cameras wouldn’t bother me when I started working there:

1) I thought security cameras were mostly for people coming in and out of the branch (which now I know is not true); and

2) I felt like it would be the same as those people in documentaries where they almost forget the cameras were there. (I never forgot the cameras were there.)

When I got into the car, Cindy just stared at me. “What?” I asked.


“You’re not going to fill it out?” She asked.

“I’m going to fill it out later. I want to go home first. Everyone was staring at me.”

“Just fill it out.”

“But, the—” I stopped. “Okay.” I began filling it out on dashboard. After I wrote in my name into the first field, I began scanning the application. I flipped the legal size paper over, and on the back of the page was four or five questions with a small area to fill-in the response, the last being Please list any not-for-profit organizations with whom you have volunteered in the last three (3) years.

“Can you take me to the library?” I asked her.

“No,” she whined in slow motion.

“Can you please take me to the library,” I asked again, a bit more childish this time.

“Why the fuck do you need to go to the library? Just fill out the goddamn application.”

“Cindy, can you please take me to the library.

You can just drop me off. I won't be long. I’ll be about an hour tops.”

“An hour?” She was yelling and the windows were still rolled down. I slouched in my seat. “Only an hour, huh?”

“Well, if I get the job, I can give you rent money, but I need to go to the library to look some stuff up first. I’ll walk home.” My hands were fidgeting. I didn’t want to sit home and try to research on Cindy’s laptop because I needed full concentration. That, and because the laptop was unreliable, overheating and shutting down more times than not.

She sighed.

I walked into the library trying to remain absolutely silent, walking heel-to-toe. Itwas small and smelled of dust. It bothered my nose and my eyes. The air was cold and gray. I felt like I was stuck in a large air vent. The air was cold and gray. I sat down at one of the six open computers near the back of the building and took the library card out of my wallet. My card was crumpled and dirty, but thankfully, the number was still legible. I signed on to the computers and gained an hour’s worth of Internet access. Plenty.


I searched Sea Coastal’s home page and clicked the locations link. All six or so local branches were listed. Each was sectioned off with the town the branch was located, a small digital photograph of building, the mailing address, phone number, fax number, business hour (M-F and S), and the name of the branch manager. I scrolled to the bottom of the page.  My local branch’s boxed-off section looked like this: West Milford, a small photo when the trees were orange, 460 Crossbridge Rd, blah, blah, blah, convenient Saturday hours, Margaret Walters, (Across from Olive Garden). Next, I searched for Margaret Walters. She was part of the Chamber of Commerce and I found her name, along with the Sea Coastal logo, on a page hosted by the Alexis McBell Foundation website. I pulled up a new tab and pulled up my favorite search engine. I typed the words under the colorful letters. I looked up the Alexis McBell Foundation and found the woman who ran the company: Lucy McBell, in remembrance of her daughter Alexis.

I opened the application I had folded next to me. In the section How Did You Hear About Us?, I checked Other and wrote my story on the short line provided, my words overflowing down the margin

of the page. I was trying hard not to smear the ink or misspell anything. I wrote that Lucy McBell, founder of the Alexis McBell Foundation, recommended me to the bank per her client-partnership.

Previous Employment: Uncle Joe’s Dairy Farm and Deli.

Reason for leaving: Fire victim. I left the references section blank.

My head was hurting, so I scribbled the rest of my application, not even sure if I had the right phone number.

When I was interviewed at Sea Coastal, I wore the same slacks and polo that I wore when I asked for the application and when I returned the application. The Head Teller asked me a bunch of questions about my hobbies and I didn’t lie when I said reading and philosophy and classical music or when I said that I am a supporter of wildlife. I just lied when I said I am a contributor and a sponsor of the Alexis McBell Foundation. The woman I interviewed with wasn’t Margaret Walters, the branch manager, but regardless, when I mentioned the Alexis McBell Foundation, she told me that the


bank was a large donor and participate in the 5K walk in the spring. I said, “That’s so great,” and she said, “Yeah!” Then she told me, although there was another interview, she was sure I got the job so we discussed dress code and policy and all that typical job-interview/hiring stuff. All that jazz. That’s a great saying, because 1) jazz is a wonderful and emotional genre; and 2) because I really just love that saying.

Within the week, I became employed as a white collar American man. Thomas the Banker. Teller Tommy. When I eventually got my name plate it read: Thomas McCollin. I was disappointed and after a big fuss, they still wouldn’t let me get my full name engraved on a new nameplate.

This is where I met Mark. Mark is a main character in this story. He is the third person. Remember? Just Cindy, me, and Mark. Well, Mark is going to be a protagonist, I think. And Cindy is also protagonist, but sometimes antagonist. I am the narrator. I am a protagonist sometimes and an antagonist sometimes and that makes me upset because I just want to be the protagonist and do good and get rich and live happy and not in this tomb I put myself in. Not anymore.

M | 2

 

 

I actually have trouble remembering the first time I met Thomas. I remember seeing him for a split second in the office when he was interviewing, his back was turned to me. I do remember him being dressed in all black. I thought it too morbid for a job interview, but I guess it worked just fine seeing as he was hired. The first time we were introduced, I was settling my cash drawer at the bank. I think it was his second or third day; he was working what my colleagues called the Chill Shift. The Chill Shift was when the lobby closed and only the drive-thru was open. The drive-thru-only was the only service at the bank open past four o’clock, closing at seven, a short three hours with little customers and lots of free time. I shook Thomas’s sweaty hand and after a brief introduction, I got out of there pretty quickly. I remember it being a bad day at work and I didn’t want to make small talk with a new employee. It was the end of my work-day and I just wanted to get out of there. Thomas


was wearing the same all-black outfit he had on when he interviewed.

As previously noted, Sea Coastal Community Bank (or S.C. as I usually called it) was unbelievable slow at during the Chill Shift. The tellers would come in at three o’clock, set up his drawer, and  take any last-minute lobby customers as the other tellers were settling. The vault was already shut and locked at this point, and the tellers working the Chill Shift had to put their drawers in the mini-vault, a weighty square safe that held up to six cash drawers, each with it’s own key lock and spin lock, and a separate spin lock for the main door. There were always two tellers on the Chill Shift since it was policy to have two or more workers in the building at all times for security reasons.

When the lobby closed, the tellers were lucky to get 20 customers total, each being mindless deposits or simple check cashing. In between customers, one of us would play one of the many card- or board-games housed in the supply closet. There were pull-out shelves just below the teller’s desk where we placed the games, each of the employees rolling their chairs and fixing its lift to

the appropriate height.

Saturdays were also extra slow. We were only open in the mornings, and some of the Saturday regulars would peek their heads of the counter to see what we were playing?

“Life, huh?” One of the old men would say. “And two daughters? Oh, man. Good luck with that, Mark.” Or “Uno, again? Don’t you get sick of that game?” Some of the ones who’d visit on Saturdays would also come mid-week, buzz in from there cars, and ask, “So, who’s winning what game tonight?” Most customers knew not to bring this up when the lobby was open, just in case the manager was in, but when it was just the part-timers, they’d joke with us, envy our carefree attitudes, and take the bank envelope stuffed with cash in exchange for a signed check and a smile.

I worked the day shift until I started taking classes full-time again. Luckily, my supervisor didn’t have a problem moving me to the Chill Shift. My paychecks were significantly smaller, but I thought focusing on my studies was more important. I was studying Botany and Plant Biology, which ended up not being as easy as I


hoped. They hired some older lady named Kathy to take the day-shift position, and I was now a Chill Shift regular.

If I wasn’t playing a game during the first few months during my new shift, I was more than likely doing homework. The first week working with Thomas, we barely talked. He was quiet and a bit strange anyway, so homework was a bit of relief. I wasn’t always the best with small talk and I’ve been told that I often come across as disinterested when in reality I just didn’t know what to say. Not knowing Thomas then, I could almost feel the awkwardness behind the tellers’ line when it was just the two us. I would try to concentrate on my science textbooks, fingering each word as I read them in my head, highlighting each definition, and passively making notes. It was hard to concentrate with Thomas just staring into nothing out of the large bullet-resistant window to the drive-thru. We’d chat some, but both us didn’t really have much to say. It made my first couple of months on the Chill Shift long and monotonous. It was a godsend when I had exams and finals, giving me an excuse to fully focus on studying, but when I was slow both in school and in work, and it was just

Thomas and I, there was this indescribably energy in the room that slowed the clocks and made me sweat. 

When classes ended and I was card-gamed-out, I’d read books instead. I was always a big reader, even as a kid, reading every child-themed mystery known to man. When I started working at S.C., I learned that many of the day-shifters were also big readers. Anytime I really liked a book, I’d leave it at work for one of my co-workers to read. Even after I joined the Chill Shift, I’d leave them in the same spot as I always had, letting my coworkers know how I felt about the book before they left for the day. Oftentimes, the books would stay untouched as most of the ladies in the daytime were fans of poorly written bestsellers and romance-themed 800-pagers. I was on an experimental kick and Thomas started picking up the books and reading them right when I dropped them in the “pick-me-up” spot behind the teller line. It seemed that Thomas was the only person who was interested in the unconventional novels I liked to read that year. And that’s how Thomas and I opened up to each other, these books being the initial icebreaker.


It was a wet winter and I’d been on the Chill Shrift for several months. I was back in school again but trying to read. I would start a book on a cold night and read them before class started and during work. I spent every second of free time devouring books. One I left a used copy of God's Debris on the slide-out shelf where we usually played games. The next night, I was drafting an essay for one of electives and Thomas told me he took God's Debris home and read it in a single sitting. It was a short book, interesting enough. It built the base to some really great conversations beginning that night, conversations about parallel universes, beginner quantum physics, and Truth. We opened the paperback copy in between us, reading the titles of each chapter, and discussing each at length. I remember having the small space heater by my feet, my shoes kicked off and my thick socks sucking in all the heat. I view this night as the beginning of a friendship, this night lodging the first real conversation I remember having with Thomas. I heard different tones of his voice, saw different facial expressions, and saw a character I hadn’t noticed before. I felt that evanescent presence of apathy I held toward him dissipate.

T | 3

 

 

Mark sat to my left in a maroon swivel chair. After 4PM, the lobby closed. Since we were open ‘til 7 in the drive-thru, Mark and I got stuck with each other quite a lot. We had really good conversations about sciences, but also, we talked about childhood and family and parties and he got to know me pretty well and I got to know a lot about him. I learned that Mark was a homosexual, whereas I am not a homosexual. I don’t remember exactly what he said or if he said anything at all, but it was fact. In a short time, I believe it was actually after a single heartfelt conversation some time later than the story I am about to tell, he taught me respect and patience toward different types of people. He taught me many things over the years, and I hope he would say the same for me, including the one night when we were very slow at work, I taught him how to punch.

“I’ve never been in a fight,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to take karate or jiu-jitsu or some type of martial arts.”


“You’ve never even hit anyone?” I never told him that I’ve been in fights but I was hinting towards the fact that I knew a thing or two about fighting, when in fact, I didn’t. I’ve never been in a fight either. I remember a child wrestling around with some cousins, but that was the extent of it. My mom died young, dad left before that, and I lost touch with my family shortly after. I hung around Cindy a lot, was taken in by my her dysfunctional family, and I never had the chance for the wrestling with my cousins to get out of hand enough for it to be categorized as anything but roughhousing.

“Stand up,” I told him, making fists and holding the left fist by my jaw and the right fist by my chest. I didn’t really know what I was doing, just mimicking actors I’ve seen. “Here,” I said opening my hands and extending my palms toward him. “Come on. Hit ‘em.”

He hopped up for his chair smiling.  He jabbed at my left palm with his right fist. He continued. After my palms began to get hot and ache, I squeezed my hands tight and placed them by my chin and chest again, the ready-to-go stance. My fingernails were long and I felt them press into my fiery palms as I

made my fists. Mark and I boxed a in the lobby a bit, playful, making an effort to jab away from the body, extending too far to the side as to not make contact. He’d give my moderate taps to the side of his head with an open hand and I began doing the same. I remember a customer drove up and must have seen us through the large glass window. He buzzed right in. Every drive-thru lane has a buzzer to call into the lobby. Most customers think that by pressing this button that we can automatically hear anything said. I heard the buzz, looked out at Mr. Graham’s lips moving in silence. I pressed the communication button on. He was laughing at whatever he has just said.

“Hey, Mr. Graham. How are you?” I asked.

“I’m going to call the police and let them know you two are fighting to the death in there.” He laughed loudly throwing his head back into the head cushion.

“He started it,” Mark yelled from behind me.

I cashed his $40.00 check and he drove away.

I remember short silence after that and we both just sat and stared out of the drive-thru window. I


don’t want to side track too much but I’d like to take a moment and reflect on this window. I’m thinking about it now. I’m closing my eyes. I’m breathing steadily. There were still cars by the discount grocery store and the mattress place, but they were pretty far from the bank. I never thought of it then, but now I think about the sun’s rays, beams as thin as lasers and as energetic as rubber bouncy-balls— a band of light spit from the sun, bouncing off of the dark tar, bouncing through the panoramic window, warming the work area. Through the place I now type is temperature controlled on some level, I still get chills, very much so. Paralyzing chills, but they don’t last long. Do you know how hard it is to feel the warmth of sunlight when all you have is a small window too high to even tough? It’s like dying of thirst with a young child making pretend drinks, supping air from the miniature mug, exclaiming how yummy the tea is. I’d do anything to have a window that size. Maybe then I’d be able to concentrate, absorb some motivation, and actually do what I cam here to do.

After some time looking out the window, we were back at it. Mark playfully pushed shoulder. He then swung hard. I felt an intensity in my tooth and

my lip. I backed away and pressed the back of my hand to my mouth, finding blood on my fingers as I moved my hand away.

“Not bad for a, for a fag boy,” I said, shocked.

He said thanks, but it sounded more like a question when he said it.


M | 3

 

 

I know for a fact Thomas didn’t use the word fag. Well, actually, I’m not positive, but I am pretty sure he called me a fairy-boy or something along those lines, but most certainly not a fag. It was something playful, something to prove that he was comfortable around me, not something degrading. But believe it or not, after I hit Thomas in the face, we got much closer. I don’t know if it was a sense of respect, a sense of fear, or a little bit of both, but it seemed like he selected his words more carefully around me and did less rambling. The remainder of the night after we were shadow-boxing was awkward, a sense of nervousness in the air hovering around both of his. He was patting his lip with a tissue and I told him he could settle his drawer early. I’d take any last minute customers and he could start another book I left at the branch, A Brief History of Time.

Thomas usually talked my ear off during our shifts together, unless I was busy doing homework,

where I’d have to adamantly tell him that I needed to concentrate. Our first shift together after the punch was almost a week later. It was busier than usual in the branch and I remember having to pause our conversations frequently. Although we mostly discussed Hawking, the beginning of time, what-was-before-the-big-bang, and is-there-a-higher-being, what I mostly recall was a simple statement: he said, “We should ask Cindy to come rob us right now and we could split the money.” He said it jokingly and I forced a giggle. I knew who Cindy was from living in town my whole life, and I knew she and Thomas were best friends.  He talked about her frequently and I she became a common name among us despite that I hadn’t met her.  I first heard about her during the do-you-know-so-and-so conversation. No, I didn’t know Brody McDermitt;  No, he didn’t know Mike Miller; Oh, yeah, I know Brent, I used to skateboard with him all the time; No, I don’t know the Brummels; Hmm, I’ve heard of Cindy Lawrence, but I can’t picture her now. I think she was a grade ahead of me.

Looking back, it scares me how real that became, the passive statement of calling Cindy to rob us. It didn’t happen just then. It took a while,


but it was like Thomas knew what he was doing all along, placing the seeds of ridiculous ideas into my mind to grow into weeds the size of redwoods. I wish I would have plucked them when I could, but I never knew the ideas were really there. Like black mold in the floorboards, like blaming the chronic coughing on the season changes, I didn’t pay much attention to it until I was designated the driver of a bank robbery. It almost sounds childish now, but I guess we were all still children in a sense, Thomas the youngest of us all, both literally and mentally. Even now, as Cindy and I matured (as best as the prison system let us), Thomas never really changed. It was like he stopped growing mentally in his late-teens, but he was reserved enough let it fly under many people’s radar until it was too late. People assumed his rambling was a nervous disorder, which was technically right, and all of his other unconventional antics were just him being eccentric. Little did they know how disturbed he really was, a heart of black mold.

T | 4

 

 

It’s morning. I’m thirsty, hungry, exhausted. I left awful. I was throwing up throughout the night. The port-o-john is filthy and I feel like I am swimming in its stink, the blue-shit humidity. We should have thought more about ventilation, a blue-shit humidifier. There is some ventilation. You’ll see. I’m sure they’ll accompany photos of the place in the news reports. There is a venting pipe that goes through the four stories of the building from the top right of port-o-john roof through the building’s layers, but poor port-o-john is sick too and needs a shower.

Some people might say ‘I feel like hell’ but I’ve never been. I don’t know how it would feel. I also find it strange that people would say they feel like hell since Hell is a place. Do you also feel like Jamaica? Do you feel like the Adirondacks? Well I don’t feel like hell, I feel malnourished and unwhole.

I remember as I kid going to mass every


Sunday. I’d go alone and sit in the back. I was dry and welcoming, and I’d leave with a sense of calm that I definitely needed back then. I can still remember one homily given by the young priest with the beard about an angel who visited both Heaven and Hell.  He confirmed that Heaven wasn’t puffy clouds with pearly gates like the fables tell, and Hell wasn’t all fire and brimstone.  They were just like places on earth, like Pittsburgh maybe, or Austin, the only difference being that the residents didn’t have any elbows.  He said in Hell, the people were eternally starving, with endless amounts of food at their fingertips, just no way of feeding themselves. In Heaven, it was just the same, only the people there weren’t so selfish and fed each other with extended arms, while the Hell-community continued to struggle to feed themselves. I told Cindy about the homily one night before the robbery. She said it was a crock of shit and the government invented God to put fear into its citizens. Even though she wasn’t buying my story, I made her promise me that if shit went down, not to be selfish and we’d feed each other. No one is feeding me now and my head is pounding. Knock knock, but LOUD.

 

 

I want to keep going. I want to tell you everything so you don’t find me and think what an idiot, this kid. Look at the trash he wrote. Scribbles and attempts at pi. I’m going to finish and then you can piece it together. Bank robbery. Bank robbery. Remember it. Bank robbery, bank robbery, bank robbery, ok ok ok.


M | 4

 

 

Thomas said he needed a break from “that deep stuff” so he took a book recommendation from Cindy. I was working a double shift when the Head Teller was on vacation. It wasn’t a true double shift since the Chill Shift was so short. I opened the branch with Betty, an older woman who walked with a limp, and I was set to close the branch with Thomas when she and the others left for the day. When it was just Thomas and I, he was reading The Beach by Alex Garland and I was answering some questions for one of my first serious botany classes. I hadn’t read The Beach, but reading the back-cover synopsis, I didn’t think I’d like it very much. I was taking customers and going back and forth between my homework. We weren’t busy but we were definitely steady that night, steadier than the usual near-dead, and I just let Thomas continue reading.

After a lull in the drive-thru withdrawals, Thomas turned to me and asked, “You don’t smoke do you?”

“Smoke what?” I asked. Thomas spit air and started buckling in laughter. I didn’t really get it, so I just smiled until he was done convulsing.

“Smoke what?” he mocked. “Smoke what?” he said again in almost a whisper.

“What?” I asked seriously. I couldn’t tell if he was poking fun at the way I said it or what. I felt myself getting defensive.

“It’s just, it’s just the way you answered. I was talking to Cindy whether she thought it was cool to ask you that and she said there were three possible answers: yes or sometimes, that counts as one answer because it means the same thing really; no; and then sometimes, which means that no, I don’t smoke cigarettes, but yes, I smoke the pot.”

“Wait, wait, wait. The pot? What the hell is the pot?” We were both cracking up by this point.

“I didn’t mean to say the pot. Oh god, Cindy and I always joke about that. That’s what her brother calls it. The pot.” He was holding his stomach and I let out a puff of air instead of laughing again. I was exhausted and felt light, slaphappy, everything was


more humorous for me than usual, and Thomas just had this goofy look on his face as if he was impersonating someone, but I couldn’t tell who. “So, do you smoke?” he said grinning.

“I asked you a question after to clarify.”

“Just, do you smoke?”

“You can’t just ask me that if there are only three answers and the one I gave you bringing up uncertainty. I need some guidance on what you’re looking for.” Thomas just stared at me and looked annoyed. He turned back to his book and started reading again. As not to ruin the mood, I confessed. “Okay,” I said. “Yes to the first part of question two-a, and no to question two-b.”

Thomas got like this pretty regularly. We never discussed if he had some mental instability or imbalances, but Thomas was surely one moody bastard. He couldn’t always get out of the moods as quickly as he fell into them, but luckily, this was one of the times he bounced right back to normal.

“Oh I knew it. You’re a pothead, aren’t you?”

“No I’m not a pothead. I could pass a drug test

right now.” I was getting defensive, but I also didn’t want to push Thomas back into the dark hole of aggressive silence, but he was still laughing.

“Yeah right, Marky-at-the-Marquee.” he was laughing again.

“What? Did you just make that up? That’s terrible. What are you high now?” His smile was falling. “So, what about you? Do you smoke?

“Smoke what, Marky?”

“Smoke clove cigarettes with your mother?” It slipped. I knew his mother was dead and it slipped. He never told me but it was something everyone in the branch knew. The words just spit from my mouth like a sprinkler shooting weed killer.

“Fuck you,” he said.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I was playing and it slipped. I am so sorry.” I didn’t know what to say beyond that, so I didn’t say anything. I stared at him for a full minute as he opened up his tattered Alex Garland novel and stared at the jumbled text. I knew he wasn't reading, he was thinking about his mom, the tube through


her throat, wheezing. I didn’t want to stare at him any longer so picked up my pen and started browsing through my textbook.

“It’s all right.” He finally said. “It’s been a long time but it doesn’t feel like it, you know.” I put my pen down.

“Yeah,” was all I could muster.

“So, yes, I do occasionally indulge in burning cannabis flowers and inhaling its smoke.”

“That’s cool. I’m sorry, again, man.”

“I know. It’s okay,” he said solemnly, and then it was like a light switched and he forgot all together about his mom. “Hey, you should come over sometime. Cindy has this really nice bong. It’s got red frogs all over it.”

“Yeah, maybe. That would be cool.” I didn’t think I’d actually go. I really didn’t. I just thought I’d accept and let it be forgotten. I should have known that Thomas never forgets anything. Ever.

The next three or four following shifts, he asked me to come over after work, and each time, I said,

“Next time.” I eventually went there from work on a breezy Wednesday knowing that my morning class the following day had been canceled. This is the night I met Cindy. This was the first night it was the three of us, the beginning of that long adventure.

The apartment was dismal and dirty. The sink was overloaded with dishes, blankets were spewed on the floor, and the couch was made of denim. I wasn’t planning on staying late, but I felt the need to impress them both, Cindy and I being newly acquainted and being with Thomas the first time out of the working atmosphere.  I really wasn’t a smoker. Like I told Thomas before, I could pass a drug test. It was a thing for special occasions, only a once or twice a year occurrence.

That night, I smoked more than I ever had in my life. I was anxious and sleepy. I probably drank about a gallon of water that night hoping it would sober me up. We were laughing at the TV, and the next thing I know, we are all asleep on that denim-lined couch with the title screen of the Grandma’s Boy DVD illuminated in the background. I was lucky enough to have an end of the couch to rest my head on the stiff arm. Around two o’clock, I got up to pee and snuck home.


T | 5

 

 

We started talking about bank robbery. Mark and I. Mark. Maaaarrrrk.

Deep breaths. Open eyes again. Breathe. Keep eyes open. Try not to vomit. Breathe slower. In through mouth. Blink eye (singular). Blink eyes (plural). Blink again. Inhale through nose. Exhale through nose. Choke back tears. Hold it. Try not to puke. Blink eyes. Breathe. Choke back. Try harder. Regurgitate. Breathe in through mouth. Repeat several times.

M | 6

 

 

I’d like to elaborate on how the conversation progressed, how we got to the plan, that whole process. It was about a month or two in the making, and then Cindy walked into the branch with a gun in her waist. Thomas never saw the gun, he never knew about it, and luckily, she never had to pull it out. If she did, this would have been a completely different story.

After our drugged sleepover, I thought everything was going to change. That it did, but not in the way I was predicting. When leaving the apartment after nestling my way out of the Thomas/sofa-armrest clenches, I felt, in a way, used, like I had just been the victim of a one night stand, feeling like I was the one being left to sleep while someone snuck out pulling up his pants. It was strange. Despite feeling (I know this isn’t the right word but I cannot for the life of me find one closer to how I felt) “used,” I felt a sort of relief, too. I felt an instant connection with Thomas and Cindy.


I had worked with Thomas for long enough to get a pretty good sense of the person he was, but with Cindy, Thomas was more vibrant. There was less reserve in his voice; he didn’t care if he was talking fast and stuttering. There was a visible sense of reassurance with Cindy. It was not as if he was a different person all together when she was around, but most definitely a sense of comfort. Compare it to old photographs of Albert Einstein or Mary Todd Lincoln that were retouched, colored, added with details, more depth, scratchless. With Cindy, Thomas was retouched, polished.

I didn’t know Cindy pre-Thomas, only knew of her, but I predict the same vibrancies that radiated from her when they were together were much dimmer when apart. It was difficult working with Thomas from then on without the presence of Cindy. Thomas was like a man with a prosthetic leg who only wore long pants and, one day, you find this man voyeuristically in the comfort of his own home, in boxer-brief underwear and one leg, one stub above where the knee was beforehand. Cindy was Thomas’s prosthetic.

After feeling used and leaving the two ass-to-

ass, both sitting, leaning on the arms on the opposite sides of the sofa, I went home and laid in bed sleepless. I don’t recall the days following much, I think I probably kept it low-key. I honestly can’t remember. I knew I was being awkward the next time I had to work the Chill with Thomas. He was talking a lot about a film move he’d seen with Cindy, Shawshank I think.  I was being quite, passive, involved in a homework assignment that wasn't due for another three days. “Are you okay there, Mark?” he asked halfway through his rant about Andy Dufresne. “Are you mad at me or something?”

He must have seen the shock in my face. It was forced, but when we playfully mimicked my expression, so artificial were his open eyes and stretch mouth.

“No, Not at all. Just busy. Preoccupied I guess. Sorry, Thomas.”

“It wasn’t the pot, was it?” I’m sorry if you felt—”

“No, no, it’s not that, really.” I didn’t know what it was but I did feel guilty and I knew that Thomas


could see that. And I don’t know why I did feel this way. It was like I knew something was going to happen, a premonition if you will. Despite this, I tried to force my way through it. “Listen, let’s get together tomorrow night. I can’t stay late because I have class in the morning, but we should hang out. Are you free? Do you feel like hanging for a bit tonight?”

“Oh. Um, yes. I am free I believe.’ He smiled. He turned away and continued on about the movie. “So I don’t want to give away the ending, but oh man, I’d love to go to that beach. I loved the contrast in that scene. The sand, the clothing…” He went on and I kept an ear listening.

I began hanging out with the duo a lot, usually just at their apartment, watching movies, listening to the radio, playing board games, ordering cheap take-out. There was something about their vivacity together, but also something, almost, forbidden, and I think that’s what kept me coming back, but also made me feel guilty in the beginning. My chest was heavy but I just blamed it on the excess smoking I was doing. We’d become inseparable after a short time. Oftentimes, we’d just stay inside,

play old video games with hazy eyes, eat cheap take-out, and watch movies. Other times, we’d go to the park, walk around the mall, take a bus into the city, and frequent this dive on 5th called Schwartson’s.

We were in the apartment one night, smoking and drinking Lites. I remember my licking my dry lips, salty from potato chips I’d been devouring. Mad Money with Queen Latifah was on the TV. I think we’d all seen it before, but we were still laughing at all of the jokes. The movie is about these co-workers at the Federal Reserve and how they began stealing money that some of the characters were employed to destroy.

“Why don’t you two do that?” Cindy asked hollowly while exhaling thick smoke?

“Huh? Do what?” I asked.

“Steal from the bank?” She was coughing lightly. “I mean, don’t you ever just feel tempted, all that money right there?”

“I don’t think about it.” Thomas said passing the joint to me without hitting it. I looked at it, stubbed


That was the first time. During Mad Money. Cindy would start bringing this topic up every once in a while, being more descriptive each time, yet somehow seeming more apathetic, too, until the time we all agreed it would be worth sitting down, thinking it over in detail, mulling it out, and methodically planning it if it seemed feasible.

“Bonny, Tommy, and Clyde,” she said. We were the kitchen table playing cards. I was drunk on wine. She swiped her hand across the tabletop, flinging the cards in every which way. “Baby,” she said to Thomas, “go get Bonny a pad of paper, will ya?”

T | 7

It was theoretical at first. We’d joke once in awhile, but we ended up having a full-fledged conversation about it, talking logistics and timelines. We drew maps. The star was the bank, the square-thing was the car, the lines were the roads, obviously. Before the Pinochle cards were spewed on the floor, Mark and I had a little conversation about if one (or three, I guess) were going to successfully pull off a bank robbery, what would be needed for seamless execution.  This was on a Tuesday. I remember because Tuesdays were the bank’s slowest business day. When it was slow, we talked more, naturally. We got deeper into conversations, sometimes about life or death or religions or space or the economy or education or the death penalty or bank robberies. This particular Tuesday we talked about how one would go about a successful bank robbery. This is it:

a) It’s easier if one is an employee of the bank. So, let’s say you are an employee.

b) You need two helpers, three people in total, one who has to go into the bank and actually be the


robber, and someone to drive. People you can trust.

c) Ok, you check the schedule and plan to do it on a day where at least one other employee is away. At a doctor’s appointment or something, or maybe they are taking some extra time off to go Christmas shopping. It doesn’t matter. It just makes it easier if someone is away. Ok.

d) Ask your boss if you can come in a little earlier that week because you need the extra hours and since so-and-so isn’t there, maybe you can work the morning shift. Great. Whatever. So it works. At least it did for me. (So remember that extra person working with you, the one who goes into the bank? That someone for me was Cindy. And the driver? The driver was Mark in his dad’s Lincoln. Mark was off of work that day, obviously.)

e) So, your robber, (your Cindy), is instructed to come into the branch around 1PM when the boss is at lunch and the one lady is away on paid-time-off (full-time employees got PTO) and your other co-worker is probably helping somebody with a loan or a certificate of deposit. Since it happened to be a Thursday when this was happening, it was payday

for the Township, and I was required to carry an extra $8000 for their paychecks. Men would come in with reflector vests and work boots. I would hand them $1000 dollars or so for each paycheck. I made sure to get the extra money from the vault before she (Your Cindy) came. I told my boss that I was short on cash and needed extra for payroll before her routine bathroom break.

f) Now, the robber (your Cindy) comes into the branch. She’s been scoping it out and there is a lull in customers. The robber (your Cindy) wears a slightly oversized sweatshirt, jeans, and a snapback cardinals cap, her hair tucked inside. She comes to your window, passes you a note that demands all of the money in your drawer, including your bottom drawer back up money, and no bait money, which is registered and logged of serial numbers for these types of incidents. You need the note so when they check the cameras, you are not a suspect. A note helps. So, the robber (your Cindy) has a bag, a large canvas tote from the grocery store, go green!, and you load her up.

g) The robber (your Cindy) leaves the branch. Others may have looked at her and became


suspicious but when she gets in the getaway car parked across the street with the driver (your Mark), she...

h) ...has a change of clothes and…

i) ...she goes to a rest stop off of the highway where she dumps her clothes and untucks her hair from the ball cap.

j) Back at the bank, you alert your co-worker of the robbery, but she already knows, she’s suspected it by the way she entered, nervous, alert, and you go through all the procedures, the forms and phone call, you act shaken up, confused.

k) When the cops come, you give them a bad description, just a tad off. You do the same with the forms. How tall was the intruder? Weight? Clothing? I don’t know, I was so nervous. I don’t remember. I don’t remember! You may get let go early because of the incident like I did. You may not, though.

l) Your robber and your driver (your Cindy and your Mark) head into the city just crossing state lines. I don’t know if that really matters, but it probably does.

Not a great list. I’m sorry. That’s just how we did it.

Cindy didn’t touch a thing except the note that I handed back to her and she ended up leaving with $19,334. We counted it several times. We divided it up like cards. We played Go Fish with the faded bills.

$19,334 may not be a lot for the average robber. I actually don’t know the average. Maybe it is a lot. But, you know, we weren’t trying to hit it big. I didn’t want to fill a duffel bag or anything. I didn’t need a Maserati. We were just trying to get a couple grand to split. Get a better apartment for a while. Pay 6 months in advance. It wasn’t as thought out as you’d think. It just worked for us. Later that evening, I met Mark and Cindy at Cindy’s dad’s apartment in the city after I left work early. Everything was good for a while.

It took week or two, but then things happened quickly. Lights and court dates and lawyers and guilty.


M | 7

 

 

Thomas surprisingly lists everything pretty accurately. That’s how we did it. It took a lot of convincing, each of us doing the convincing, but at the same time, each of us needing convincing ourselves. One of us would question if it was going to work and the other two would have to tell him or her “Yes, yes. Of course it will. We mapped everything out. It’s flawless;” and then somebody else would get cold feet and say “I can’t do it,” and the other two would go “Yes you can. You can’t back out now.”

I was actually working when the cops came to get me. It was about three week since I drove Cindy to her dads with a tote full of olive-colored currencies. It was a cold morning, but all was normal. I was asked to work the morning shift since one of my coworkers was ill. I didn’t think anything was wrong, but as soon as I saw the large men in uniform walk into the branch, I turned my head to see out the teller’s window at the other marked car

parked just past the drive-thru. It was right before we were due to open, around twenty-of or so. I just signed onto the computer and was re-stocking my low coins in the coin tray. The doors open and my head-teller, the only one back behind the teller line with me then, side-stepped away from be as the blue suits made their ways in. My manager stood up and walked into the lobby from her office. I recall her smug face, her shoes clanking against the tile in the lobby, her erect posture. The customer-service-rep just stated at me from behind her desk shrugging her shoulders. I put my hands up, kicked back my rolling chair back, and just sat there in the middle of aisle, exposed, until I forced to stand up and wasn’t so gently placed in handcuffs. I was escorted out of the branch apologizing. Before I was able to sit myself in the backseat of the car, I turned my head and threw-up in the parking lot.


T | 8

 

 

I feel like I can’t breathe at nights now. This tomb is becoming stuffy.  It’s going on four days without food. I’m hallucinating and it’s getting harder to write my story. I guess it’s better to know you’re hallucinating than hallucinating and not knowing, right? There was a crack in the wall when I was peeling away the paint. I was eating the paint shavings and parts of the cinder block. I wasn’t even due to hunger. That’s the worst part. The paint chips I’d put on my tongue like those dissolving mint strips and the cinder block I’d grind with my teeth into a sand and swallow. I’d try to imagine I was on a beach, seagulls singing that ugly squawking, sand in my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But I knew I wasn’t there. The hallucinations were never controlled and never a positive hallucination. Except maybe one: there was a plant, a short weed, two small leaves on a thin stem branching out of the crack in the wall. It sensed it was around noon. The sun snuck a thin

beam of light near the middle of the wall illuminating the budding plant. I looked up at the thin window and back to the wall trying to follow the invisible beam. I would guess it was about a 70-degree angle. I started picking at it, petting the small the plant, finding joy in its life, but when I started playing with it too rough, picking a tiny, tiny leaf off of the step, I realized it wasn’t a plant at all. Between my thumb and index, I was rolling a fingernail back and forth.


M | 8

 

 

I refuse to get into the court appearances and sentencing as much as the publisher wants me to do so. I’ve always hated court-themed book (with To Kill a Mockingbird as the only exception, of course). You won’t hear it from me. It was all pretty generic. Coworkers testified. So did Cindy and Thomas. I was sweating. I was sobbing and pulling my suit-pants at the thigh as they stuck to my skin. Almost everyone left the courthouse to find their cars somewhere in the small parking lot and drove home. I didn’t get that opportunity.

T | 9

 

 

I fell in love with Mark during my prison sentence. We were in the same prison but in completely different wings. We didn’t see each other much. I made a deal with an old friend of Cindy’s who used to come over and smoke with us. Lanky Larry. That’s what we called him. He sent me a letter about two weeks in, just asking how I was making out as such, and I wrote him back that day. I made a deal with him. The deal was that I’d send a letter to him that was really for Mark, then he’d send the letter to Mark pretending to be from him but it was really from me. Do you get it? I told Mark one time I ran into him in the bathrooms. He had a job scrubbing sinks and toilet bowls but the place was still always dirty and I didn’t see him much so I guess he wasn’t that good at his job cleaning. I said “You’re getting a letter from Lanky Larry but it’s going to be from me.”

“What do you mean?” He wasn’t even looking at me. He was staring at the sink and swirling his rag around.


“I sent Lank a letter for you but it’s going to be filtered through him so no one get suspicious.”

“What are you talking about?” He wiped the mirror. “Suspicious of what?”

“I don’t trust anyone in here.”

“You don’t have to. Suspicious of what, though?”

“I don’t trust anyone in here. No one. It’s like everyone stares so much harder, talks louder. I hate this place. I hate it.”

“Calm down.” He was whispering to me. “Just calm down. Okay. I’ll send a letter back. What is wrong with you?”

“Send it to Larry, man. Don’t send it to me. And sign it L.L. so I know it’s from you. All right?”

“Yeah. Fine.” He stepped to the next sink and I walked out.

I seemed like a lot of people had cliques there. Reminded me of a high school in the 1950s. Most were divided by race, some by age. I didn’t have a clique. Nope. My twitch warded people off. It

started as a voluntary tick, something my uncle taught me. He used to tell me stories of when he worked in a bad part of the city and he’d have to walk fifteen blocks to the subway. He told me it was always dark out, and he didn’t mean nighttime. I think he was being racist, but I am sure it was nighttime as well. He said he’d twitch and talk to himself the whole way and no one ever fucked with him. “They think you’re crazy and no one wants to fuck around with a crazy guy.” I kept that in mind. They called me Ticking Tom in prison.

Mark responded right away to the first one. The letter, not the twitch. Mark liked his cellmate, he said. So did I for the most part. Bunkie didn’t talk much and neither did I. Our silence cubby was a great place to ponder. I started getting book recommendations from Mark through his letters. He was really into that finding-yourself, Buddhism stuff. I started with Siddhartha per his recommendation and ventured out from there into studies of religions and traditions and philosophies. I became obsessed with it: with life, finding oneself, Truth with a capital T. Mark provided me recommendations of book after book. All of the books he recommended were in the prison’s


library. That was really our only resource for books. I wonder if he read them all beforehand or if he read them before the incarceration. I always wondered if he was the last to touch the book before I’d check it out. I’d smell the sale-stitch binding. I’d fan the pages in my face. Most times, they just smelled old, smelled of dust, smelled of my old couch I missed so much.

Regardless, it took me away from those walls. It let my mind go find a mountain breeze despite the dust smell. All of it was because of Mark. I found love through Mark and naturally I fell in love with Mark. I took time and it grew slowly, but grow it did.

Cindy didn’t get it. Sometimes I’d write her with these theories, but she wanted nothing to do with them. She’d write that the walls were making me crazy, told me chill out, read something easier for a little bit.

Cindy tried committing suicide twice in her facility. She tried to hang herself with a bed sheet and the other time she tried cutting her arms in the cafeteria with a blade she bought from another inmate. Desperation, I guess. She was in a women’s

prison out of state. She’d write some nonsense about the outside world, all materialistic garbage. It was really irritating. I could sense my letters became angrier to her, but I didn’t filter my thoughts.

I can remember one in particular. It was in response to her letter about our plans after our release. She spoke of jobs and housing and materialism and some other trash. I was too involved in my studies at that time to even remotely want to answer her. This was the start of our downfall. The letters became less frequent, and after some time, they stopped all together. We lost touch for a handful of years.

Prison wasn’t even that terrible. The showers could have been warmer and the food could have been nicer and they could have served red wine once in awhile, but all in all, it gets a bad reputation. The letters from Mark kept me levelheaded for the most part. Well, maybe that’s not the right word. It kept me grounded. No, no. It kept me hopeful. Yes: hopeful. Now, I can’t say I didn’t have my days, but the overall experience wasn’t particularly negative. Plus, I never spent time in the hole, as they call it.


Solitary confinement. That’s what this is now. A self dug hole, caked earth underneath my fingernails. And how did I get here you may ask? I’m getting to that so stop complaining. I’m almost done.

M | 9

 

 

The letter idea was nonsensical but I did it anyway. Thomas was losing it in there. He went to the psychiatric facility one time and he was never the same. I don’t think they did anything in particular to make him that way, but he seemed less himself when he came back. He was there for several months. To be honest, I didn’t even know it until I asked around after I hadn’t heard from him for a while. No letters, no bumping into him in the bathroom or mess hall. “

“Yea yo he white walled. Shits fucked. Playa ain’t got them screws though ya heard?” is what the man in the toilet stall shouted. I didn’t him. I didn’t even know he was there. I wasn’t paying any particular attention. My mind felt hazy. I was swimming through the cloud of routine. But when I asked the other guy, he stood at the sink shaking his head, so I’m glad someone had heard and had an answer for me, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.


“Okay. Thanks.” I said.

“White walled. Straight pads prob’ly.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

When he did come back, he was happy to see me. It was in the bathroom. I was half naked and he hugged me tight. I didn’t notice it then, but there was something missing. Over the next two-weeks it was easy to identify. He was less social than usual, which wasn’t much to begin with, so no one else really noticed anything was different. He wrote me more letters. Sometimes multiple letters a day and they became harder to respond to. If he wasn’t writing, he was reading book after book as if the words were the only thing keeping him alive, which may be true since he started skipping most meals.

T | 10

 

 

She started up again just two months before I signed the papers and left the prison. She must’ve heard from Mark that I was leaving, wanting to rekindle our relationship, and the letters started again. She wrote a little better than her old letters, so she was probably reading more, and she wrote softer, if that makes sense. She apologized for cutting me off and filled me in on what was going on with her life. She got a new cell mate, she said, a ballerina cokehead named Sarah.  Apparently, Sarah used to teach dance at some fancy high school. Cindy and Sarah used their tiny space to conduct ballets for themselves. A set of guards even let them perform once for the whole prison and it went over really well, supposedly. It was nice to picture Cindy dancing. I’d breathe deep, close my eyes, and think of her in the old apartment, always noodling her way through songs on the radio, but it was difficult for me to image a her in sync with another person. She always had a way of spontaneity, a way that was all her own. I wondered


who choreographed. Was the music played live? What song did they choose?

Cindy used the word ‘art’ in her last letter. I found it fitting. I was soon to be released and I was happy the way things turned out with our relationship. We rekindled. I was happy for Cindy. I really was. She had found her art. This is when I knew I loved her again. I loved Cindy as an artist, Cindy as her old emotional sense, Cindy dancing again in my head in the old apartment. I wanted Cindy in my arms on that filthy couch. I wanted Mark dripping wet in a towel. I wanted all the sex both of them could offer. I wanted to touch another body so badly. I wanted someone to touch my arms, the back of my neck, my inner thighs.

I was beginning to feel all right again. My brain felt like it was getting healthier. It felt like the lungs of an ex-smoker, pinker, purer, the man now jogging, now hydrating, now breathing better. But then I was released and I was finding myself alone again.

I got out of jail on August 19th and I remember the cold hitting me like needles. Needles tapping the skin, not enough to puncture, but the incessant

annoyance of hinting pain was there. It was much chillier than I remember August being. It stung my nose. I was the first of the three of us free, out in the cold, while Cindy and Mark were warm inside the prison womb.

I spent my two years out writing letters to Mark and reading. I didn’t have to go through Lanky Larry anymore. In fact, Larry let me sleep on his couch until I found a small room of my own. I still had money from my mom’s death coming to me in increments and this piled up over my time incarcerated.

Out in the world again, I had this routine: I’d wake up, make myself some coffee, and read the paper. I liked to see what was happening internationally, especially with the war. After browsing through and checking the weather, I’d continue on whatever book I had been reading. After lunch, I’d rest for a bit, exercise, shower, and meditate. I’d read some more after that. At night, I would write. I’d write theories, stories, anything really. And before bed I’d write to Mark. That was my last task of the day. Sometimes I’d write to Cindy in that second to last period of the day, but


my inquiries to Mark were always the last before turning off the light and trying to sleep. It was nothing against Cindy personally. I usually wanted to write about my theories or send Mark my stories and I didn’t think Cindy would be interested in them. I also knew Mark would write me back with productive and criticizing feedback. We’d debate and share our thoughts with each other. With Cindy, it was like writing to an old friend with whom one has drifted apart. With whom. That’s funny. I have to hurry this up. I’m draining again.

Mark got out a little less than two years after my release. It was something with his attorney. He ended up moving in with me in the apartment I rented out on Bainbridge. I was working temp jobs by then. Landscaping stuff. In my free time, I found myself writing less and reading more. I sit on the couch with my feet up while Mark watched the TV. Sometimes my feet would touch his outer thigh. He’d look over and give me a closed-mouth smile.

And now I have to admit it. I have to before I can’t anymore. Okay. Inhale. Exhale.

It was New Years Eve. Mark and I got physical. I’ll spare you the details, but it was something that

he and I never discussed again. Our relationship started diminishing. It was like as soon as I woke up on that January 1st, the whole demeanor between us changed. To avoid conversation, I’d read constantly, even more than before, I’d meditated a lot, I’d write and wite and write, scribbling philosophies. I started obsessing over science and the world and the universe. It drove me crazy. Like how the universe is always expanding and how scientists just found a planet in our solar system that has a 100% chance of life. 100. That in our galaxy alone. Sometimes I’d go to the library and just look at pictures of outer space from telescopes and space shuttles. It makes my hands shake. I’d move my fingers rapidly and crack my knuckles and keep pressing my knuckles as if they’d crack more and more. Space and infinity. That’s what got me. Infinity.

Mark and I would eventually talk about the sex but I was too involved in knowledge of the unknown and didn’t listen to him much. I thought of Jupiter’s moons as he apologized. In the weeks after, we’d acknowledge each other, say hello in passing, occasionally conversing in the early evenings, but it was nothing like before. I just wanted to read. I


just wanted to write. I wanted to expand my brain like it was its own separate universe, always expanding, as if I could leave it for a period of time like rockets breaking through the stratosphere to the mesosphere and beyond.

We’re getting close. Really close.

It’s when Cindy was released that everything becomes fuzzy. There was so much going on inside my head at the time. Still is going on. In my head, that is. Mark and I were still living with each other but I was too involved with studying and experimenting with mathematical formulas and sketches and sciences. It was like he was an imaginary friend that no one else could see.

When Cindy was released, she left town with some deadbeat named John or Jake or Jehovah and was doing drugs and wearing short skirts, which wasn’t like her (the skirts). She left a letter under my door one day. I didn’t know she was back in town. Did she even leave? She said that Mark thought I was going crazy and wanted me admitted but become too obsessed with me to have me locked up. Obsessed isn’t the right word. Anyway, she said

I wasn’t safe. Can you imagine? She told me to stop reading. Even worse. She told me to eat something. She told me it hurt to see me and that I drove her to painkillers and other terrible forms of self-medication and self-mutilation. She said that was her art now.

I folded the letter and used it as a bookmark in a book about time travel. I was going to kill myself that night. My mind was too small to comprehend what I wanted and too big to not comprehend what I didn’t. I wanted to talk to Mark because I knew he still loved me and I didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye. That goes back to my mom. That’s what the psychiatrist would say. And not like it mattered, but it was something I needed to do for myself because I was still in love, too, to some extent. No, I may not have been, really.

I sat Mark down on the couch after he came back from somewhere. This couch was green plaid. I sat him down to say goodbye. To tell him to call the police in the morning and not to open my bedroom door. I’d write him a letter he could find in the refrigerator in the morning.

I didn’t get a word out.


He was in a strange mood. A rare excitement was written all over his face. He was fidgety, eager, searching for the right words. I could smell the pot on his breath.

“Thomas, listen to this. Listen. Are you listening? Don’t think I’m crazy or anything.” He chuckled. “Okay. Just listen.” He was talking fast and flailing his arms about. His pupils were dilated. I was a seated statue gazing at him. “So you know how you’ve been reading a lot of those books about space? How space and time are one? Well, you know that conversation we had, like, a month ago? About how that one scientist thinks he can actually make time travel a reality? You know. Well, It got me really thinking. Not about time travel, but science-y stuff in general. That deep tingle every time we try to think beyond our capability. You know what I mean.” I shook my head. “It got me thinking deeper. If it sounds too crazy, just tell me. What if– okay, what if we isolated you, like a true isolation, locked up per se, with food and all, but you spent the whole time meditating, maybe a month or so, and just write. Meditate hard. Get out of your body. Go beyond your mind. Find Truth.”

M | 10

 

 

If this sounds out of character, it’s because it is. I never had this conversation with Thomas. It very well could have been Cindy, but then again, it may not have happened at all. Now, looking back and seeing how crazy it really all sounds, I can’t believe he even ever convinced me to do it. I know it was the feeling of guilt. I look advantage of the kid. I still haven’t forgiven myself for it, but he kissed me softly on  the chin and that was it. I let it happen. In fact, I egged it on. When he was backing away after the kiss, I could see him questioning himself, unsure. “This was the Truth you were looking for,” I said. “Embrace it.”

Thomas cried right after. He was banging his head on the bathroom door.

The next morning he told me about the plan. He had the blueprints and everything. It was really well thought-out to be honest. I had stared at the blueprint for a long time, less of the actual design


itself, but how it was articulated. I studied the lines, obviously drawn with a ruler, but I could see where is pen stopped, questioning his arithmetic, then drawing a half-inch or so more. There were indents on the page where I could see he placed another sheet on top writing equations. Xs and Ys and a handful of numbers.

He used his Mom’s death money to fund his own little tomb. He hired some guy he knew (from where I don’t know) to rig up a room in an abandoned warehouse deep in the slums of the city, an abandoned self-storage facility. Three Porta-Potties were purchased, each welded with ventilation pipes going through the above floors to the roof. He stocked up on non-perishable goods, paper, forty or so gallons of water, and I bought him an IBM Selectric Typewriter. The room he set up for himself wasn’t large, but enough for three toilets, a sink (with no running water but to be used as a drain – running water was too expensive to install in there without anyone noticing), and an old mattress, and the smallest desk I’ve ever seen desk.

“You know, the cops are going to be looking for you when you don’t check in with your P.O.,” I said

before shutting the door on him.

“This is bigger than that,” he said.

“I hope you’re right,” and I locked him up. I stood there for quite some time, but I left him do what he’d been planning for months. I still swear it was the guilt of sleeping with him, of using him, that made me agree to help him. It was stupid. I was so, so stupid.


T | 11

 

 

I did think he was crazy. I thought it was childish, almost stupid to think that humans could find Truth, the absolute Truth, you know, but it was his enthusiasm that got me to agree. It was the same look in his eyes I saw so long ago as we schemed the bank robbery. Only this wouldn’t be illegal. Completely crazy and irrational, but legal, except for the check in with the government and all. I figured what the hell. I’d postpone my death date til next month.

We spent a long long while setting it up. Mark chose an old building on 43rd Street for the space. It was an old storage place that closed down after the owner disappeared. I remember the news story. Mark bought boxes of paper and found on old typewriter for sale online and I just stayed in my room and read more, trying not to kill myself. It wasn’t too hard. I was reading short stories by J. D. Salinger that I found under a pile of clothes in the bathroom. It was the first book of fiction I read in

twenty-five years. Off track again. Okay, okay. We’re really close this time. And I’m exhausted. Dying. I’m wrapping it up. Stop it.

We called it D-Day (for no reason in particular). I wasn’t in the least bit nervous. D-Day was the day Mark locked the doors behind me.

It was hard to meditate in the beginning but once I was used to the walls, going around the small space, fingering each crevice in the walls for the first full day, jumping to see if I could reach the thin window, and once I was okay with releasing my bowels in a blue pool of chemicals, I could spend the rest of my stay meditating and writing. Mark wanted me to focus my thoughts on God, or a god, or Truth, or whatever other synonyms he kept babbling about. It wasn’t about religion because neither of us were even theists per se. We just wanted to know. It was one of the great mysteries.

So this is it. These writings have taken me days and I cannot go on much longer. I am sorry for such a terrible ending to the story. When you find my corpse, you’ll find this note and you’ll find what I’ve previously written. About God and the Truth. You’ll find it all. You’ll see how far I’ve went. I went


beyond the walls. I was hungry for something more and I thought I had found it. I really thought I did it. But rereading them before typing this out, oh god, it was just desperation. Don’t be upset when you read the papers and know that all of it was a waste. The equations equal nothing. The words ramble. Read with caution. I should have said it before. Warning: now you know. Everything I wrote is a mock of real intelligence. I am just as smart as the body you find. As I sit, hunched in pain, I know more now than I have ever known before, and that’s not enough. It’s nothing. The typewriter clicks and it makes me want to live in pain. Each click another stab wound. This slow death is what really brought me the light. Thank you, Mark. You put me in this room to think and prepare me for the end. You didn’t want it to be a rash suicide. Did you Mark? Are you reading this?

I think I can hear the same clanging I used to hear when Mark still came and sat next to the locked door in silence. This is not the end. Maybe. When I get out of this room I’ll look in the mirror and I’ll throw up. I will look like a skeleton. I’ll feel like Elie Wiesel at the end of Night. Was this it, Mark? Was I supposed to be reborn?

My last thought in this room comes from the window. The gleam that represents it all. But the sun is going down and I’m getting dizzy. What does that represent? The worst part is that Mark may not see that I’ve gone beyond the walls. I am still here. He’ll read my filth from the past month, but my dying takes me beyond. Not as nicely as I’d hoped, but I’m getting there. We may not meet again, but there is more than this. There is no end. There are ashes and planets and energies that can never be destroyed. There are more than these walls. There is an infinity somewhere. There is a rotting corpse behind the doors here but there are thoughts and energies beyond that. We are our own walls. I am in my bedroom. Mark is asleep on the couch. I am not dying. I hear the chains and I hear the keys. I am all four walls staring in on myself.


M | 11

 

 

And that’s it. When I went in, he was passed out in his own vomit. Face first. I threw up as well. The smell was worse than anything I’ve ever witnessed. The vents weren’t doing a thing. Oh Jesus Christ, it was repulsive. Like the time I had a cast removed after a heat-wave summer. The skin on my forearm was scraped of dead skin, the smell was unspeakable. My arm then was Thomas that mid-August. The room was surprisingly warm, but it could have been my nervous sweating and my heart rate that made me think there was an inscrutable heat coming from the room.

Thomas Allen Thomas McCollin’s body died in Pennsylvania Hospital on August 12, a week before his prison-release anniversary. His brain long before that.

I am still not through with all of the papers he’s written, at least not with undivided attention. I’m lucky enough to have been able to scan them into my computer before they were confiscated. I was

lucky enough to have had them printed out and shipped to my new holding cell to review. I am still awaiting trial and trying to decipher his endless equations, his sketches of spheres, his Greek symbols, his encrypted messages.

Thomas’s story made national news. I’m sure you’ve seen the clips if you didn’t see it live. It was everywhere. My name was leaked in one broadcast and within the hour, I had over fifty missed calls on phone. My inbox was pages long. I stashed my phone away with the battery removed. I shut down my computer. I closed my blinds. News vans waited outside for any movement through the windows. I could see the silhouettes of cameramen walking back and forth on the sidewalk. I am in a tomb myself now, curtained away from reports and curious neighbors. I only have a day until my trail, and I know I’ll be locked up again, this time for good.

I hope to [whomever] that Thomas is right, that there is something beyond this, something beyond penitentiary walls, beyond empty self-storage facilities, beyond the bad decisions we make. We may be all four walls staring in on ourselves,


humankind locked-in syndrome, but at least we are capable of identifying it as such.

His name was Thomas if I didn’t tell you already. Thomas Allen Thomas McCollin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright© Adam Gianforcaro. White Whale Review, issue 6.1

 

 


Issue 6.1 Prev Next Author