STRAWBERRY by James Jacob Hatfield

It’s not because I have Alzheimer’s, I’ve always been like this. The most fun I get nowadays is when I find things I lost. 

But I do remember her journal is underneath the couch. Before I’d never think to read her journal. But now that she’s gone I’d better retrieve it or else I’d forget about her completely. 

Reaching under our couch is like sticking your hand into that ominous hole in the wall of a cave. Feeling for a lever. Pencils. Dog toys. Remotes. Items that are sorely missed only when they’re needed. And are treasured only for the moments after they’re found and used. Then start their journey on being lost again. My hand grazes the profile edge of a gun trigger and my heart makes an excited lurch into my sinuses.

Henry appears and says there’s some strawberries in the kitchen. My lips get cold. 

Henry is on the opposite side of the island in the kitchen that we’re standing in now. He looks at me and rolls his lips in and tries to smile. 

Henry holds the pseudosmile. Points to his lips. 

I hear a noise resembling a yawn and realize it’s my own voice going “Huh?” 

“You have something on your lips.” Henry says. 

One lick and my tongue detects strawberries. I’m allergic, I think. Something happens when I eat something. Pretty sure it’s strawberries. 

My hand keeps sending food to my mouth. 

“What are you doing here, Henry?”  I ask. 

Henry leans his lower back against the counter. Presses his palms down to push up his shoulders and does that little head shake that says “I dunno.” 

Henry, he hasn’t aged a day since we left for college. Dresses the same too. Tight black hoodie. One time right before graduation I almost killed him. I think it’s what galvanized our friendship. If you go down Lake Wheeler Road, past some of the old monstrous farmer estates, you’ll see an enormous oak tree with a huge patch of bark damaged like a gorilla is covered with hair except its chest. A blemish made by Henry and me. My Volkswagen Golf got wrapped around it. It was a manual. Diesel. I guess I got distracted. Didn’t keep my eyes on the road. Because I couldn’t. Mainly because it wouldn’t stop moving. God, I loved that car. 

“I don’t remember what I did today.” I tell Henry in my kitchen. 

 “Funeral.” Henry says.

“Whose?” 

“Don’t know. Didn’t go. But you seemed real upset about it.” Henry says.

I’m trying to forget something that’s begging to be remembered, from some other realm or reality. I know when I’m forgetting because my mind goes blank and all I see is a dream of a silhouette. There’s shape and there’s sound but nothing distinct. I pull up my hand and see the bottom of the strawberry I was eating. 

Strawberries … are yummy … it’s a green hat with the pale, uneatable part of the berry pinched between my fingers. It looks like bloodstained brain matter on the back of the head of someone who swallowed the business end of a revolver. 

I feel self-conscious and look up to see if Henry notices I’m taking too long and acting weird. 

“Wait. Hey Henry, did you say funeral?” I shout. 

My heart horse-kicks my ribs and there’s a heat of color funneling behind my eyes. I erupt from within. As if pixelated light was exploding out of my body. That’s why the gun felt so delicious. There’s an electric freedom in knowing I don’t have to stay alive if I don’t want to.

“What?” Henry says as he came out of the downstairs bathroom.

My fight-or-flight senses tear out the back of my head, like a bunch of wires unplugged in one violent yank. I suddenly have no needs. 

The birds chime in the wind while watching the unique angle of the sun this good Earth gives us every single day … man, this is how I should have spent all my time … God, I feel weird. Is this what it is to be present? Am I dying? I can’t remember what my wife Irene looked like but … or was it Iris? Irene-Iris. Ireneiris. Yeah. That was her name. She was my wife. This is getting worse really quick. If I don’t get a hold of my thoughts I’ll forget about her forever. The microwave clock says it’s two on the dot. How many more hours until I can go to bed and not feel worried? Where’s Ireneiris? Where’s Henry? 

“Henry!”

“What? I’m right here.” 

It sounds as if he is saying it right into my ear, but he’s standing at the back of the property. I spot him as a dot through the window above the kitchen sink. I still feel weird. I need my ears to pop. It’s two forty-seven on the microwave. 

“Let’s walk.” Henry says. His words tickle and vibrate my ear bones. 

It’s still the afternoon, but grey storm clouds have formed. The temperature drops a couple. The wind is stale and humid. I touch the back of my head and feel nothing. Henry’s been quiet while we’ve been walking. I want to ask if we took drugs but won’t. Because if he says no that would mean I’m actually going crazy. Bad thought. Bad thought. 

Calm down. Breath normal. You’re not going to feel like this forever.

Henry pivots right on Lake Wheeler Road. He looks like he’s wearing eye shadow. 

“Henry, have you been eating?” I ask.

“No, man.” Henry whispers. Then folds his arms and shivers. He sounds irritated like I should have already known that. Like I forgot something.

I see him stumble. And it starts to rain. And he does this performance dance piece: falls, then gets up halfway, then slips, then repeat. I pull him up by the shoulders. And his tight black hoodie unanchored from his body which was no longer there. In the distance I hear the sounds of metallic bone-folding chaos drenched in diesel. There’s my Golf. Bad thought. Manual. Bad thought. Two door. Slouched like a wet towel around the tree’s trunk. Bad thought. Police car. Bad thought. Paramedics run right past me like I’m not even there. I remember this.

Past and present tense became one another like water washes water. I’m witnessing my own memories.

I try to peek over and see what my younger self looked like but my mind can’t process it. The area where my face should be is a warped blind spot. I see the EMTs moving a crash test dummy with a wig with hair styled like Henry’s. The cop takes the crash test dummy and puts it in the trunk of his squad car and leaves. Henry emerged from behind the tree when everyone else left. He waved me over as he turned around. 

Everything past the tree is desolate. Lifetimes pass. Parched and exhausted, I’m following Henry on my hands and knees crawling through the desert. I see a mirage of a tiny dancing city appearing out of red canyons in the distance. Henry ventured forward. I give up and collapse. 

I shout at Henry, but he doesn’t hear me. As he walks away his footprints immediately filled in with red desert sand. My insides wretch at the thought of open casket funerals. Ireneiris requested no cosmetic changes to her appearance for her funeral. The further the distance between Henry and me grew, the more I felt a separation not unlike a spirit and a body divorcing. Either he or I were fading away. The elusive Other being forgotten. I must be hallucinating, or dying. 

With my knees in the sand and the figure of the figment of Henry eroding in the blowing curtain of sand. I only felt brief relief in knowing what is impossible. Lost in the transiency of spirits who are everactive. Now I desire only clarity. 

I need to be with her again in some form. I need to go home. 

I turn toward the tiny dancing oasis in the sunset, away from Henry. The city on the dune turned out to be a bunch of whack jobs living in tents in the middle of the desert. And what they drew from their wells may look like water, but last time I checked water shouldn’t smell like mangy rotten dog dick and have an iridescent shimmer. The first time I drank it I passed out. Then I shot myself in a scary dream and woke up feeling selfish. So I drank it a second time.

And I dreamt I was back in my childhood backyard. It was the time of day where the bottom of the sky was a rosy peach neon exploding up above faint magenta. My favorite weather. Paradise. 

And I felt a soft voice taze me: Enter through! The door of the morning mist to the afterbirth of defined things. This is where you go. A cold wet field damp with sky.

And I whip around. The voice chimes and sparkles with dew. And I whip around. The memory of the cold dew is sharp on my feet. Standing still, I let my body heat melt the water which allows me to acclimate to this terrestrial plain. That excitement of combing an expensive rug with your toes. Borderline orgasm; euphoria. The world compresses into a tube-like shape that I am ushered through. It’s as if I’m walking through the shoot of a playground slide, as if my world is forming around me each step and Longleaf Pines start springing out of the sand dunes until desert and forest are one. I remember this city. I have a house here with my wife. 

Oh God. Irene?  …  Iris?  …  I really  …  I miss her more than I can handle. The moment she left this world I could feel my life being sucked away. And as if that thought was a magic spell, I’m in my living room with feet freezing cold and clammy. 

I feel lost in my own house. 

I shuffle, barely lifting my feet on the carpet. 

It’s like her spirit disintegrated into every corner of every wall in this house. Every blemish, every unfolded blanket, every mismatched coffee mug. Everything. 

I don’t know how I can live like this. All freedom curdles into a demand for sacrifice. It feels like someone else’s bad thoughts got planted in my head. 

I reach underneath the couch. Feel for something heavy. 

With the gun in my hand, I roll my wrist like I’m opening a book to point it at my face. Look down.

And I realize what I’m really holding on to. 

I let the pages of her journal fall open into my hands. There are words written across the middle in her script. Damn. She’s good. 

It says “Keep going.” 

And it all clicks. I was never          alive and never will

be dead. I do not exist          but I feel like I do. And I

disassemble at an atomic level          clearing the

psychic real estate         required to lay back

and suffer the natural exitance      of my natural flesh. It was

an honor            and a privilege to love you.


James Jacob Hatfield's work has appeared in Maudlin House, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Barely South Review, Chaleur Magazine, Cathexis Northwest Press, Havik, and others. He is a founding member of the Peebles Writing Collective.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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