I utter my nightly prayer to the moon. It is always night. There is no alternative and no cure. Eventually, I am expected to acknowledge, even embrace, the notion of perpetual nocturne. But there is only rejection. As I gaze out the arched, leaded glass into the darkness, my mind whispers to me that it is always the same night. And the moon is a poor mistress.
The oil lamps burn in the cathedral across the street. I hear the priests praying, repeating to each other in reverent murmurs the ancient children’s stories of shepherds, water, and sons. They talk of death although not one of them has experienced the sensation. I am reminded of an accountant, whom I had for dinner one night, stating the only certainty in life these days is taxes.
I run my long fingers through my thick, flowing beard. It has adorned my face proudly for ages. I have gardened and tended and nurtured it from a tiny patch of moss to the dense rainforest to which it has flourished, giving it the care and attention typically reserved for a child by its mother. It has aged into a loyal and constant companion. However, the crass maiden of social correctness beckons me to trim the old jungle down to a manageable shrubbery. And if I am to finally walk among the people of this village without causing alarm, I must do what I must do.
These are the times when I rue the nature of my people the most. Long ago, I ceased ruminating about the large issues that concern most men. In my circumstance, the only place to really go is inwards. So I find that daily tasks like the simple shearing of the fascia, which these same men perform without a second’s thought, require me to plan in the most complicated manner. Since I would never allow my precious façade to be contaminated by the foreign touch of another, the situation presents a dilemma. In short, how does one in my singular situation shave?
Through my window, I see three children approaching the back lawn of my house. Boys wanting to be men. Boys who have heard rumors of this house. Rumors of its occupant. Rumors that this is the house where those things happen.
They have dared each other over the tall wrought-iron fence and onto the grounds of this neighborhood haunted house. As usual, I have no lights on. They hide behind one of the elm trees, darting their heads from behind the tree, hoping to catch a glimpse of these rumors.
As they do, I also observe them and take their measure. One of the boys, a red-haired lad, seems to be of sufficient height and type. He may do nicely.
The boys gather up their courage. The rhythm of their breathing changes as they remove themselves from the tree’s shelter. They creep slowly towards the house, not realizing that I am standing inside in full view, the window framing me like a coffin.
Their actions please my eye. They decide to storm the house via the side alleyway. One of them trips over an empty 55-gallon steel drum in the alleyway. The drum crashes on its side and begins to roll, making a frightful noise. The boys scream, not caring a whit about what the others will say of their lack of courage. They turn and run back whence they came.
Two of the boys escape over the wrought-iron fence and return home, where they will never speak of this night again. The red-headed boy’s getaway plan takes an unexpected detour the moment my lithe hand clutches his shoulder.
Before I lead the boy into my house, I require him to straighten the 55-gallon drum and place it with the others. To some, these steel containers are an eyesore but they remind me not only of my homeland but of my journey to this country. They are a monument. When these drums arrived years ago, they were filled with soil. I landscaped and carefully tilled my native soil into the grounds.
Safe within my house, I resign myself to gaze again into the timeless world through my window, the thick pane of glass separating me from those not like me. I have observed, of late, the glass melting, slowly sinking, its liquid base growing thicker over time as its top thins.
Each year, I retain the services of a local servant whose sole responsibility rests in reminding me of my birthday. The rest of the year, he is free to do what he wishes, so long as he remains on the grounds. He begins his unique apprenticeship to me as a young boy and continues on until his retirement. Thus far, I have procured eleven such servants.
The reason for this employment has to do with providing me with a small amusement. Time means nothing. There are great expanses I can recall where my servant would enter my room, wish me a happy birthday, take his leave and instantly come back. I knew that his frequency of visits was once a year but it seemed like seconds, as if a revolving door had been installed at my threshold. In these instances, I saw the man aging before my eyes and I knew that his counsel was of men and mine of the devil. But I digress.
Upon his reminding me each year of my birthday, as a small diversion, I write a suicide note. Mind you, I don’t act on it in any physical way. How could I? But when the note is discovered by a reliably nosy cleaning woman, it does stir the blood of the locals and makes for the most fascinating denouncements by the clergy. Lately, however, the tradition has taken on a darker tone. These days, I alternate between my windowed view of the village outside these walls and the hallowed inspection of my past suicide notes, each carefully catalogued.
One note talks of longing for a girl I don’t remember. Other missives speak of being a misanthrope, of the mad dreams of blood and silver, and of sharpened poles being thrust by a faceless enemy. But they are a former romantic’s delusions. I am embarrassed sometimes in re-reading them to discover my past naiveté.
Though I am mostly introspective these last several years, something about the wind outside, as the leaves stir across the lawn, triggers my memory. Perhaps it is the smell of motor oil when the drum was disturbed by the boys. It reminds me of my past. My childhood in Romania. The Berlin Wall falling. How I had been finally invited across the Atlantic when the Wall came down.
The U.S. Army had set up camp in Budapest. They accidentally spilled hundreds of gallons of their peace-keeping fuel onto the native soil and were obliged to clean up the soil and dispose of it. I came to understand later that it was referred to as a “cradle to grave” policy. Europe was about ten years behind in environmental practices and America’s disposal requirements could not be met there. The contaminated material was sent off to the U.S.A., mostly in 55-gallon drums, to be buried.
Within one of the drums, hidden and crumpled under the soil, was yours truly.
God’s just a sentimental, old fool. Why else would I still have these memories? Thankfully, my hunger returns and I surrender to it completely. It acts not only as a herald to routine and nourishment, but as a temporary distraction to depressing thoughts of days gone by. Nights blend into nights. They are all the same night.
Beyond the window’s view, the animal pen suddenly goes still. I step outside and enter the pen. I slake my thirst, my throated teeth gleaming silently in the dark. I return inside to concentrate at the task at hand. Shaving.
I am correct. The red-headed boy proves to be of sufficient height. The boy stands in my house facing the window, his countenance a familiar blank. Mirrors had been removed from this house upon my ownership. The darkness of the night outside combines with the candelabra light inside to create the boy’s reflection dancing with the glass. The boy helplessly stands in front of the window. My whiskers are lathered and ready for editing. I command the boy to shave his face slowly. I stand behind him and watch his reflection as he plays out his pantomime. I have no reflection and must rely upon his. I mimic his moves and thus am able to shave.
When my task is complete, I drink the boy. My servant throws the rest to the animals in the pen. The moon shows its face from behind the cloud, curious again of my nocturnal activities. I utter my nightly prayer that perhaps one evening, I will persuade the moon to enter my humble abode. I would lock her up and never have to suffer this interminable night again.