The Idiot Without a Coat On (r)

by Craig Calhoun

1

As soon as I pulled my fist from the hole that I’d put in the drywall, I knew that there was nothing that I could say to make it disappear. Instead, I pulled the loose tag of skin from off my knuckle to make it start bleeding, thinking that you might feel sorry for me. You were standing by the television with your hands clasped over your mouth. Your eyes were panicked, but I knew that you weren’t frightened. Nothing I did ever scared you. I kept my eyes locked with yours, but you just shook your head. I clenched my jaw, but nothing.

“Why did you do that?” you half-plead, half-whispered.  The only thing that you’d ever been afraid of was that the neighbours might hear us argue. “What are we supposed to tell the landlord?”

There was still nothing I could say so I did the next thing that occurred to me, which was to go put my boots on. As I tied the laces, a trickle of blood moved down my finger and dripped onto the tile. You didn’t even see.

“I just can’t do this anymore,” you muttered, just loud enough for me to hear.

I gathered up my keys and wallet, but thought enough to leave my coat on the hook so that you’d think I was so upset that I wasn’t thinking straight, and I walked out the front door. While I waited for the elevator to come, you’d followed me out into the hallway.

“Where are you going?” You stamped your foot in frustration. “I’m trying to help you not feel like shit all the time!”

The elevator arrived and I stepped inside. As the doors closed you said through clenched teeth, “Just stay in your own little miserable fucking world. Be alone. I know that’s all you want.”

I walked through the lobby and stepped out onto the street. The cold air bit deep into the bare skin of my face and arms. I trudged through the snow-covered parkette right next to our building, making sure to keep beneath the streetlights where I knew you’d be able to see me if you were looking out the window.

 

2

I don’t know what time it was when I fell out of the elevator again, after having spent the last several hours as a figure of note, the idiot without a coat on, at whatever bar it was that I’d gone to. I shivered all the way to last call while other people laughed at me. Of course I took it, keeping my head down and my eyes on my glass, fanaticizing about knocking over their tables.

The hallway in our building was completely quiet and my body was completely numb. Bracing myself against the wall, I made my way along, dreading finding you in bed, furious and pretending to be asleep. When I was sure I’d found the door that had the right apartment number on it, I began the search for my keys. Right then my stomach began to churn, sloshing a bit of alcohol back up into my esophagus. Everything was spinning.

Our front door opened so suddenly that I fell back, hitting the wall and slumping down to the floor. You were standing there, wearing your toque, coat, and scarf. My coat was draped over your arm. You were on your way out to look for me. Tears welled up in my eyes and I knew that they were real tears. Kneeling down, you put your hand on my cheek and wiped some of the sweat away. Tears were in your eyes too.

But your voice was calm when you asked, “Where were you? Are you alright?”

“No, I’m not.” I covered my face with my arms purposefully. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

You helped me up and inside, sitting me down on the sofa. I saw that over the hole I’d put in the drywall you’d hung the framed picture of the two of us that we had taken at the Grand Canyon.

“Why did you do that to me? Tell me. I’d like to know the truth.”

I lied again: “I got embarrassed about what I’d done to the wall.”

You were so beautiful, ready to go out into the freezing night to look for me, to make sure that I was alright. It was the truth when I told you then that I knew there was no one in the world that cared more about me than you did.

I was just never able to figure out why that had always upset me so much.

“You make me happy,” I added quickly, my tone of voice just right, and your face softened.

We kissed and when we kiss that’s when I know the fighting is over. I took off your hat and coat and without thinking I asked you to marry me. A shadow of a smile passed over your face. I got down on my knee and I asked you again, holding your hand. The skin of my arms was still a little blue.

“Will you stop hiding alone in your little world?” you asked. “Let me be there with you. Promise me.”

I squeezed your hand, “I promise.”

You said yes.

Then we were in bed.  I wasn’t thinking about anything, about what I was doing or how you were reacting to what I was doing, if my face or my voice was right. I’d never done that before. Not once. It was nice.

 

3

Later that night I thought that I heard you crying from out in the living room, that gasping embarrassed sob. It was so faint. But you were there next to me, with your leg crossed over mine. In the early morning light I could just barely make out the details of your face. You were sound asleep, your mouth slack, so I closed my eyes.

I thought I’d heard it again. I sat up slightly, careful not to disturb you. I couldn’t tell whether or not there was a light on out there. Listening for a little while longer, I couldn’t catch the sound, so I let myself believe that it had been part of some guilt dream I was probably having and fell asleep again.

 

4

Rolling over, I noticed that it was morning and that you weren’t there. I called your name and when you didn’t answer, went out into the living room. I found you asleep on the sofa, wearing the same coat, toque, and boots from last night and clutching my coat to your chest. I nudged you gently.

Your eyes. I’ll never forget the way they looked at me. Without warning, you threw a fist at me. “Where the fuck were you?” Two years together and that was the first time I’d ever heard you raise your voice.

“What? I was here! What’s wrong with you? ” I rubbed where you’d hit me. “Why are you sleeping out here? Why are you dressed?”

Your eyes.

“Don’t fucking lie to me! I was out all night looking for you. Freezing our there!” You stood up and pushed me away. I tripped and fell backwards over the coffee table. “All fucking night I looked for you! You weren’t –!”

Suddenly everything was silent. Lifting my head, you were lying on the sofa, fast asleep and still clutching my coat.

I stammered, “Hello?”

You didn’t move. I got up and touched your shoulder again. Your eyes. You swung your fists at me again, asking where I’d gone. I grabbed you by the wrists.

“I was here last night! What’s wrong with you? I asked you to marry me!”

“Get off of me!”

You kicked at me and I jumped back to avoid it. Somehow the coffee table was standing right-side-up once more and I tripped over it again. When I hit the floor you were asleep.

I said your name, softly this time. You didn’t move. I said it again, louder. Nothing. I started to panic. “Hey!” I shouted, clapping my hands together. “Hey!”

You rolled onto your stomach. I walked over to the sofa.

“Hey!” I yelled again, dizzy now.

You shot up off the sofa, terrified. Your eyes.

“Why are you screaming? Wait. Where have you been?”

“Can you hear me?”

“Yes! I can fucking hear you!” Tears sprang into your eyes. “Why do you torture me like this? All the time? What have I done to you?”

You picked up the ashtray and threw it at me. The ashtray hit me on the nose and then rolled away. I don’t remember falling but I was on my back, watching the grey cloud of ash drift down over me. Everything was silence and you were asleep on the sofa once more. The ashtray was still on the table, undisturbed.

I wondered if I was dead as I crawled away.

I waited for you to wake up standing in the hallway next to the hole I’d made in the wall. When I heard you coming I got nervous and when you finally saw me, your eyes blazed. You started hitting me, your fists striking my chest. I let you do it. I deserved it.  We spun around.

“I was worried about you,” your voice scratched at me.

Over your shoulder, I saw another you down the hall, walking towards our bedroom, taking off your hat and dropping it on the carpet. I turned you around and pointed at this other you.

“Don’t you see yourself?”

You twisted free, “What are you talking about?”

You glared, breathing heavily. I let you go and stepped away.  When I took the fourth step you disappeared, like you’d slipped beneath the surface of a lake. I could hear you in the bedroom, talking on the phone, trying to find anyone who might know where I was.

 

5

At noon you went out again to look for me. I followed a few feet behind as you searched. The people in the street who passed next to me would yelp at seeing a man with a bloody gash on his face materialize next to them. As soon as they were away, though, their lives went on like I’d never existed.  I kept as close as I could, disoriented, terrified to lose you, spinning.

I grabbed a crippled old man who was walking with his head craned forward and held him there with my hand on his chest. When I looked over my shoulder, there he was again, the same old man, continuing down the street. When I turned back, the old man was speaking hurriedly in a foreign language. I wasn’t thinking and I pushed him as hard as I could. He vanished.

Turning back, I spotted you at the light and ran down the street as fast as I could. The old man was standing there next to you with his head still craned forward.

After an hour of following you, I couldn’t take it any longer and I touched your arm. You stopped and then other you who still thought I was missing continued on, scanning the crowd for my face.

“You are the worst thing that has ever happened to me,” you said. I’d never heard that tone in your voice before. I got on my knees, trying to explain what was happening. You shook your head and ran away from me, vanishing after a few steps.

I followed you for two more hours before you went home and called the police.

 

6

I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stand to be near you and have to see your eyes again.

All that first day I hid from you, keeping close to the walls, listening to the worry in your voice as you paced and muttered. You were trying to convince yourself that I wasn’t hurt or dead. That I had just run out on you instead. That I was happy now somewhere.

On the second day I began to feel sick, what an idiot like me gets for going out into the cold without a coat on. I started feeling feverish and, in misery I tried asking you for help but every time you found me lying there on the floor, you recoiled from me and vanished. I gave up and lay next to the radiator for comfort.

Almost a week passed. It was late and my throat was raw. You were sitting on the couch watching the news, expecting my face to appear. Your phone ring but you ignored the call. It rang a second time and you ignored it once more. It rang again. I edged along the wall behind you, coughing violently, trying to see who it was.

The screen read: Brianna Oliver. I didn’t know that name. The voicemail tone chimed but you turned off the lights and went to bed. In the dark I hacked away in the corner.

A few minutes later the blue light from your phone filled our bedroom when you called your voicemail and listened to the message four times in a row. It was a man’s voice. You sadly said “I love you” out loud. I got up from the corner and grabbed the phone from your hand. You shrieked while I held the phone to my ear. The signal was dead.

“Tell me who that was?”

I held the phone up to my face and you screamed in horror.

“It’s me,” I said in a more soothing tone, but that didn’t stop your screaming.

 

7

I was still sick when you decided to go back to work. Wrapped in a blanket I watched you dress, still afraid of being alone. You were almost out the door when the intercom buzzed. It was a man’s voice.

“I need to see you. Please. I can’t stand this.”

You pressed your forehead against the wall, “No. It’s not right.”

“Please?”

“Brian, I’ll call you in a few days. Promise. I love you.”

Furious, I lifted myself up off the floor and grabbed you by the arm.

“Who is this?” I yelled, but the intercom was dead. You struggled to get free. Not thinking, I shoved you down hard to the floor hard and limped back over to the radiator. I still had that terrible fever.

There was a tapping at the door. You stood at the door, never having fallen, and looked through the peephole.

“You can’t be here,” you called through the door. “He could come back any time.”

“He’s not coming back,” It was the man’s voice again. “This is what we’ve been waiting for.”

“I haven’t been waiting. Brian, I love you, I promise. I’ll call you next week.”

All I heard was the blood moving through me. I hobbled back over. All this time you were seeing someone behind my back?  Hiding from me?  Lying to me? I wrenched you away and swung the door open. The man’s face contorted.

“Who are you?” I hacked out the words.

“Where have you been? You’re hurting me,” you winced, digging your nails into my hand.  Before I could say anything, Brian lunged at me. We fell to the floor, him on top of me.

“Do you know that she hates you?” he barked in my ear.

“Stop, Brian! I love him!”

His grip on me relaxed and I laid there on my back. The two of you stood over me. You touched his arm, “I don’t hate him, I meant.”

I rolled away and crawled towards the kitchen. The two of you were standing near the hole in the drywall hidden behind the picture of us together, holding one another. Your head was on his shoulder and you were crying.

“I know this is hard, but he’s gone. He left.”

“I hate him,” you said.

“Gone.”

“I just can’t stand not knowing what happened.”

“Who cares what happened to him? He was hurting you.”

“I care.”

“That’s why I love you. You’re a good person.”

He kissed you.

“I love you.”

You kissed him.

I drew a knife from the block in the kitchen.

“We can’t,” you said. “This was our house.”

“This is your house.”

“I know.”

“Let’s just leave then. You don’t need to stay here. What’s going to happen? Let’s take all his things and burn them. You can move in with me. Why do you only want these little pockets of happiness, behind buildings, in movie theatres, the rare afternoon at my place? You don’t have to hide now.”

The two of you walked down the hall and I followed, holding the knife in my hand. I crept through the door, for some reason. He was naked, lying naked on top of you. In our bed. I put the knife into his back over and over, looking into your eyes.

“No,” you screamed.

Your eyes.

I brought the knife down until you didn’t scream anymore. I vomited on the carpet and then walked out of the room and sat by the radiator. I put my fingers in my ears and hummed. I couldn’t stand to hear you moan for another man for one second.

Half an hour passed. Then another hour. Pacing and humming. I was afraid to stop, afraid I’d hear the two of you. I started stomping hard on the floor. I took the picture of us at the Grand Canyon and stomped on it. I kept pacing, the hole in the drywall looking at me. I stomped to the kitchen and, turning around, saw the picture frame was still on the ground, still shattered.

I ran into our bedroom, calling your name. He was still on top of you. I could see your hair. Blood had soaked the mattress and shined off the carpet. I walked over and nudged you. You didn’t move. I coughed. The knife was still on the floor.

I walked down the hall and sat down next to the radiator for comfort.

END

Craig Calhoun is originally from Tucson, Arizona and began writing fiction when he moved to Toronto in 2008. His work had been published in Descant, The Incongruous Quarterly, Liars’ League NYC, Liars’ League London, In/Words,and Pilot. Currently he resides in Ottawa and is at work on a novel based on “The Idiot without a Coat On”.

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