Here you will find just some of the weird and wonderful that happens on this journey we call life…. (F.Y.I. – the only fiction here is the extract from The Harvest of Inadequate Lives.)
|The Death of Stephan Buczko – (An extract from The Harvest of Inadequate Lives) Available in hardback or as an EBook – just click the link above!|
The bus leaves the terminal at midday, which had given me enough time to visit the impressive Grand Central Station, marvelling at its grandeur with the light streaming in from the glass ceiling. Habitually, I sat at the rear of the Greyhound almost chain-smoking as for some reason I was a bag of nerves. The two-hour journey passed slowly and I was bored shitless unlike the previous adventure of the past year, recalling that I had met Stephan then, which cheered me somewhat. The bus crawled into New Haven as the last vestiges of snow fell from an emptying sky. The place was virtually at a standstill with snowploughs forcing furrows along the main arterial routes. There was no sign of the station wagon. I was not unduly worried when I tried to call the bungalow, as I reckoned both power and telephones would be down. I hailed the one intrepid cab driver braving the atrocious conditions who took me as near to Hamden as he could, leaving him a healthy tip for his trouble. I jogged the final two miles home. As I turned into the drive, I instinctively knew that something was amiss. There were no tire tracks or footprints outside the house, and no smoke billowed from the single chimney pot. In panic, I fumbled with the keys, dropping them twice before my freezing fingers managed to turn the lock. The interior was bitter with cold, and the power was off. There was no sign of Stephan, which I found odd. Even the bedroom was empty and had not been slept in. I checked the fridge, realizing that the insulin had been used. Distraught, I tried to fathom what he might have done, but the sickening weight in my gut muddled my logic. Slowly, painstakingly, I made a thorough search of the house and close surroundings, finding no clues as to his whereabouts, not even a note of explanation. As I lit the fire, the penny finally dropped, and I correctly deduced that with the roads being closed, he had set out on foot to the nearest pharmacist for his prescription. That was the anomaly in his voice that I had detected. He was in need of medication. Frantic, I pulled on his lumber jacket and my heavy timber boots, heading in the direction of North Haven along the route through the woodland that I reckoned he would have taken.
Two hundred yards along the snow-covered track, I happened upon the frozen corpse of Stephan Buczko curled in a fetal position against the base of a tree. Numb, I bent down, touching his chilled pale cheek, knowing implicitly that he was dead and had been out here from the previous day. I stood over him like a lonely sentinel unable to move, unable to compute what lay before me. Only the bitter nip of the night air forced me to return to the house. I was chilled to the core, rekindling the fire totally dazed, nothing registering except that I could not feel my toes. I stayed crouched, searching the dancing flames for redemption, screaming inside, but no sound passed my lips except for the exhalation of controlled breathing. It was totally dark when I returned to Stephan, carrying two blankets, wrapping one around his lifeless form still curled protectively, swaddling him as if he were a newborn baby. The second one I lay flat, lifting him gently on, then dragging my burden back to the warming house.
What I did over those next few days passed in a fog of grief that remains with me to this day. I did what I felt was necessary to keep my sanity, to keep me going, to keep Stephan alive in some form, to stop my heart from being ripped from my chest. We were all we had. I was all he had. Later, as the sky filled once more with pregnant clouds obscuring any moon, I began to form the pyre that would ac- company Stephan to his lonely grave. Slowly, I assembled his tools into the box I had given him less than three weeks ago along with the gold Zippo. Then I neatly packed the new leather travel case with his favorite clothes, folding them with studied care, stroking them flat, saying goodbye with every soft sweep of my palm. All this I wrapped in a third blanket along with the garden shovel that had been propped up at the side of the bungalow. With a flashlight in hand, I went to the station wagon, retrieving the tow rope from the trailer, tying it around my waist, attaching the two laden blankets I had double knotted together. I felt nothing as I began my journey, straining forward determined to make my destination. I did not feel the fresh falling snow whip across my face or the chaffing of the rope on my abdomen. I felt nothing. My pace was steady as I talked to Stephan, tell- ing him all the things I had not had a chance to, crying as I recounted my evening with David, apologizing for even a hint of unfaithfulness. I screamed into the gray sky at a God that could not exist because such cruelty held no celestial bounds, crawling on hands and knees on uphill stretches rip- ping my nails from the quick, not seeing the blood and tears stain the pristine snow. Time had no quantity, but it was still pitch dark, deathly quiet when I finally reached Stephan’s Place. It was not recognizable from the daylight visits, for it was now a gray, silent graveyard at the end of a funeral cortege. Mechanically, I found the appropriate spot, beginning to dig with even the solid frozen earth offering little resistance to the strength of my grief. Calluses formed and burst on my palms, sweat ran down my entire body as if a purification, and I dug and dug and dug. Jolting pains shot up my arms as I hit rock or stone, which were dispatched in short shrift, and all the time I was talking to Stephan. I told him that I was glad he was part of my life, that fate was a good thing, that our love was the best thing to happen to me, and that it could never be diminished. As the light of day began to outline the surrounding trees, I lined the five-foot deep hole with the blankets, gently lowering Stephan into his final resting place. For a while, I lay alongside him in a final macabre embrace, kissing his cold lips as a last goodbye before placing the case and box at each end of his tomb. As steady as a metronome, I began replacing the unforgiving earth, my heart breaking with each dull thud. I was mechanical, cold, and numb as I stamped the final pieces of turf into place as an eternal seal. I dumped the excess soil into the pond as the wind and snow took over, scouring the ground of any evidence of disturbance.
Few people passed this way, and I had chosen a particularly secluded spot for my lover, a place he had shown me once with a lovely vista across the water. There was no need to mark his grave, which is now nearly obscured as the light morning breeze freshened, threatening a blizzard. I know where he is. He is with me, inside me, touching every nerve end, every twitching muscle, every cognizant moment. I sat with him in a silent vigil until the cold urged me to seek warmth. Aching, I trudged back to the cold, soulless house, crawling fully clothed into bed, crying myself to sleep.
I awoke in the afternoon when the power came back on. I was hardly able to crawl out of bed, which was stained with dirt, blood, and urine as I had wet myself at some point. With the electricity back on, I fired up the boiler, running a steam- ing hot bath laced with disinfectant, flinching at the heat and stinging of my wounds both inside and out. I dressed in the remainder of Stephan’s clothes, dumping mine in a pile to be incinerated later as a further purge of the events of the previous twenty-four hours. I dressed my hands with a bandage soaked in antiseptic, letting the pain wash over me. I did similarly with the thick rope burns on my stomach and back. I lit the fire, building it to a roaring inferno as the storm outside strengthened its grip. I sipped steadily from a bottle of whisky, staring blankly into the fireplace until the flames began to die, whereupon I threw on some more logs. I remained like this as the day turned to dark, falling asleep as the bourbon took its toll on my wrecked body.
I awoke shivering on the floor in front of the hearth, sobbing uncontrollably with deep, wracking outbursts of loss. Again, I ran a hot bath, remaining in it until my fingers were shrivelled and the water was cold as if it were a womb where I was protected from the world outside. At some point, I shaved my head, donning the small round spectacles I removed from his body, looking at myself in the mirror where Stephan looked back, for all intents and purposes, two inches shorter and twenty pounds heavier. The Germans call it “doppelganger,” a person on earth who is strikingly similar to another human being, and here in the reflecting glass I have found mine. But in my crazed head, my lover is very much alive, he is with me forever. I resuscitated the fire with damp logs from outside where finally the storm had abated, leaving a white silent landscape bereft of life, reminiscent of myself. I found more alcohol in the kitchen, returning to my solitary vigil in front of the fire where once more night turned into a clear crisp morning. Hunger gnawed at my abdomen, not having eaten since the Italian off Times Square a lifetime ago. I had to stir myself into preparing sustenance, which came in the form of a half-frozen pizza. My aching body was slowly recovering as was my mind, though I was not the Finn of old. I was mechanical as I systematically rooted through the bungalow, building a pile of Stephan’s possessions to be incinerated, later keeping the sweaters and shirts that fit me. I turned demonic detective, hunting for paperwork or the existence of a will but found nothing in the upturned draws or slashed mattresses, figuring that at twenty-six years of age no one in their right mind would have drawn up a final testimony. I was his last and only testament. I returned the furniture to some sort of order before dressing against the bracing morning air and began a bonfire at the back of the bungalow using diesel from the station wagon as a catalyst for the ceremonial fire. Thick black clouds rose upward during the cremation, stinging my nostrils with the acrid bitter discharge, mirroring my psyche which had no order, susceptible as the smoke was to the wind, changing shape and form without warning.
As evening encroached, I raked the dying embers, sparking the flames briefly back to life, making sure everything was burned to a cinder, then turned my attention to the interior of the bungalow. Here I began cleaning with manic verve, needing to keep occupied so that I did not have time to reflect on the recent events. In later years, I returned to this behavior in times of strife or stress, throwing myself full tilt into a project with the expenditure of such energy taking the form of a purge or cleansing. By midnight, the house was immaculate, perfumed with disinfectant and air freshener, while I was exhausted, even forgoing the obligatory alcohol as I showered and then fell into the welcoming, protective cloak of sleep. Eight hours later, I was back outside clearing snow from the drive and the station wagon, pleased that the engine turned over on the first try. I left it running to defrost the windows. While the motor was warming the cab, I began digging the cinders into the earth laid bare by the heat of the fire, digging what looked like the beginnings of a vegetable patch. I still ached, and wearily I hauled myself into the driver’s seat of Stephan’s vehicle, heading for North Haven, wearing a baseball cap to cover my shaven head and gloves to hide my damaged hands. The roads were passable as the thaw set in and I picked up enough supplies to keep me going until I was in physical and mental shape to figure out what I was going to do. I used an unfamiliar supermarket, avoiding the chance of meeting anyone who recognized me. Physically, my recovery was progressing well, although mentally, I had no inkling of the scarring within. After I had put the groceries away, I lunched on a bottle of bourbon, let- ting the recriminations eat away at my insides, blaming my- self for the loss of my lover—if only, if only, if only. I was awakened by the insistent ringing of the telephone, which I ignored for the time being, not having the wherewithal to become Stephan just yet. Somewhere in my warped, twisted logic this seemed the only possible way forward, keeping him alive through myself.
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