map A Dark Place

by Andrew Mercado

Published in Issue No. 244 ~ September, 2017

There were priests there. Must have been taking a lunch break or in town for a conference or seminar or something or other. I imagined a troupe of mimes or construction workers or clowns walking in. At the moment, the most I could read into anything was taken directly from practicality, functionality. Priests: healers, maybe? Purveyors of the dream to be healed? Penance. It’s soothing just because you think they’re there for someone else. Could be me in some context. But everyone else, indistinguishable from one another: civilians in casual garb, including me. You can’t really tell someone’s demeanor from the jean jacket they’re wearing. I mean, you think relaxed, but that’s what you think. There was some magazine where some star somewhere was wearing a jean jacket draped over a button-up flannel—sorry, only half-buttoned—and the caption described his style as “relaxed.” So there’s that.


It’s Friday. If I see something as a confirmation of what day it is, that’s what I do, I internally declare it. It’s 6 pm; there’s a lot of people in the train with jean jackets and/or a button-up shirt smelling like flowers or leather and some vague woodsy smell — spruce or birch. It’s Friday. Maybe that means I need to plan accordingly. Actually, it probably means I need to think about giving a shit about what day it is first. One guy drums on the back of my seat, and I tried to get his attention, but he can’t hear me. He’s listening to loud music, banging his head—not the 90s kind, I mean like a little more than a head bob, but maybe significantly less than 90s thrash metal headbanging. It probably seems like I should have described it differently, but we haven’t invented the words yet. It was a Dionysian trance. There. That works as a sort of temporary patch I’ll probably never revisit. I’ll blame our infrastructure, or the mindset we have taken that led to the cause of it. It was recently given a D+ by some agency I don’t remember, which sounds legit because I saw it on The New York Times and other sources to confirm. I’m just saying, you get caught listening to the music of something, and the world is crumbling under you, and it’s your fault. You get me. But yeah, I was pissed at the drumming, although I kind of envied the state he was in, and I didn’t feel like putting in the effort to break through this sonic and emotional barrier. It was funky dancey music—yes, I said funky dancey—the kind you can move to (there are other kinds), but this guy was flying. No jean jacket.


The mail came. Of course. Of course the mail came. This is more like saying I am alive. If the mail doesn’t come on mail days, I feel like I have left something behind. And I know it’s not my fault. There isn’t anything I can do about it, but it’s gone. It’s not here. Should I continue to do what I was going to do? Should I call somebody? Some things I measure like I measure my pulse. But I have never sincerely measured my pulse. I imagine it’s something like checking to see if the mail has come. Something that acknowledges your existence. Something that says, “We want you to be there,” or, “Feed me,” or, “We’re scared.” But what usually happens is I get the mail and I don’t look at it and I throw it on a pile of other mail that proves I am alive and also that maybe I don’t want to deal with it anymore. Not the mail, specifically. Yet I’ll frantically await my next mail delivery—ads, schemes, anything—just to know that I’m alive, or at least to tell myself I am.


Sometimes, there’s a place under the bridge near the train stop I use that I like to visit. The first time I went down there was the first time I didn’t receive any mail—again, that’s the story I like to tell myself. We are all magical in this way, because all magic is is believing our own lies. There’s graffiti, insignias, the smell of something arid that once thrived, like a type of crab grass growing through cracks of pavement, I assume. Syringes littered the ground, bags of things, paraphernalia, stains, sheets and cardboard draped to create makeshift walls, mattresses, the stench of something rotten. I called out. I knocked on what I assumed were meant to be doors. No one. I breathed in the silence. I lay against the paint-stripped wall where now it just looked like colored concrete—drier, without the obvious layer of paint.


The pipe jangled in my shirt pocket. I never bring it with me. I never smoke. I got it as a gift—almost as a joke—along with a card that referenced my usual pensive mood. I noticed almost as abruptly as I heard the jangle that I couldn’t really hear anything else down here, but there was still a lot of noise, which struck me as curious (curiouser than what would normally be considered curious, and I never use this word in this context. I said this internally in a British accent because it reminded me of Alice in Wonderland and I like to pretend someone is there to laugh with me). I stopped breathing and listened. Everything was coming from above—it was a lively and cantankerous jumble and I could listen to it if I wanted to, but I could also sit in this tepid pool of ghosts and talk to whomever decides to listen. Something about dead things. I don’t know. Maybe everyone that was down here before is still alive. Maybe they got their shit together and packed up and left. For me, dead things are things left behind. Things forgotten. And I like dead things, because I can find them and they are no longer dead. That’s how Lazarus came back to life. Jesus found him. So there’s the world and the world as I decide it has to or can be, and I felt free to travel between both destinations as I saw fit. Maybe free is relative in other contexts, maybe this one as well. In my quiet reverence, I heard a rumble, a growl of sorts.


“You’ve never been down here.”


And I didn’t respond. I didn’t know where he was—it sounded like a he, could be a velvet-paved smoking woman’s throat—I just nodded. Somehow, I knew he (she, they?) could hear me (see me?).


“Do you know who I am?”


No indicator was given, no clue. But I looked around. Decay had seemingly ceased. The evidence was there, but it was like even gravity forgot about this place. Now it was just a black and white photograph in a gritty filter. Like something far away. And somehow I knew. This time I did not nod. I just looked into an undisclosed area with broken glass on the wall that was almost unrecognizable as a mirror. There was no reflection, no multiple representations in its many pieces, just vibrations, but somehow I knew what I was looking at.


“You don’t have to search anymore.”


I walked in the direction of the mirror, or pieces of something shiny, cheap amulets of a reflection. Like a promise. Fumes sprung from somewhere. I looked up as if surveying the skies among spires unseen, all covered in a sheath of a tangible brine of black. Then, I realized the smell was coming from inside me. It was strange. I mean, it wasn’t coming out of me. It was in me. It was a color, but only how I think of that color. Purple. There’s something you can’t see, but something that’s trying to make itself known, no matter how much it seems like it isn’t. The obvious answer would be flowers or leather and some vague, woodsy smell—spruce or birch—and that’s in there somewhere, but it’s more like wet eyes in between stale coffee, and the absence of blood to the heart. Those people were there. They were not waiting. I did not see them. They were dead, and they were never found, and now I’m walking toward that dark place.


And that was the first day, which is the only one that mattered. Everything else kind of just moved in the same direction. We just came together. What I’m saying is there are some people you meet regularly, but you never plan on meeting them. They just happen to be in the same place as you frequently, and you’re friends, but you don’t act like friends outside of those meetings. It’s almost like sleeping or waking up. It becomes a function of you. Because now I sit on the train with stale coffee and wet eyes, and you’d think I would find the others, but we’re just like purple, and we can’t find each other. Our hearts beat out of sync, but with emphasis on every note. Because we only have our dark places. They found us. And maybe the others see what I see. Maybe they see priests and the others with casual garb, the ones we all can see. And maybe they envy the seemingly inconsiderate revelers in involuntary spasms of bliss (that’s not to say they’re still fucking annoying).


The train starts moving and I hear the silence from below. I hear a head tilting. I hear the beckoning of broken things, then a new dead thing, and behind it, a marketplace of sorts, an exchange, a community of dying eyes and the temporary soaring of spirits—a sort of heaven.

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Andrew Mercado is a budding writer in pursuit of the extraneous things that comprise our identities. He has been published in Eunoia Review and was a staff writer at Sodapop Magazine and Art Walk News in Los Angeles, CA.