THE BEGINNING OF DUSK by Jon Berger

I was at work when the Governor told everyone to go home. The news kept reporting hospitalizations and deaths and everyone was scared about uncertainty, but it was also great because I didn’t have to be at my horrible job. I didn’t have to deal with horrible people. I made more money off unemployment. I slept in and drank beer and smoked weed and watched anime and played video games and read books. I was familiar with uncertainty. My whole life had been uncertain and I accepted that a long time ago.

My mental health improved after the first month. People close to me said they noticed a positive change. I got to hang out with my mom and my brother all day.

But eventually we ran out of weed. My brain started feeling like scrambled eggs from not lifting weights. Exercise reset my body and mind. We decided to make a run into town to buy dumbbells and weed.

My mom had Alzheimer’s and couldn’t be left alone.

My brother drove a murdered-out Ford Taurus.

We sat Mom in the front passenger seat. She was always cold. She kept losing weight. I bundled her in a blanket, tucked the blanket underneath her chin. I buckled her in. I sat in the backseat and goofed off on my phone. My brother played a video of this guy who used to be a Navy SEAL but now told scary stories on YouTube. His stories kept my mom’s attention.

The streets were empty like in a zombie movie.

The dispensary was busy.

We parked out back and waited to be called in. I had to help my mom with her mask. Once we got called in, we had to show identification. My mom didn’t have her ID and I asked the front desk girl if that was okay and she said no, it was not okay.

My mom and I waited in my brother’s car while my brother bought his weed.

My mom didn’t understand the pandemic. She didn’t understand the mask or why my brother and I got to hang out with her all day, or why her friends didn’t come over or take her anywhere. Her eyes darted back and forth all the time, unsure about what was ever being said and what was ever happening.

She was diagnosed in her 50s. She threw temper tantrums sometimes. I secretly felt proud of her for shaking her fist and screaming. This whole thing was a bunch of Goddamn fucking bullshit and she should be angry about it.

My brother finally came out of the weed shop. A conquering smile on his face as he showed me what he got and told me what to look at once I was inside.

I had to sit in a waiting room with some Mexican construction workers. They spoke Spanish through their blue mask. I leaned my head back, closed my eyes and imagined they were talking about a secret underworld only they had access to through a portal in a random back alley. A place of magic and mystery where anyone who entered had a chance at solving their problems through heroic actions.

Some guy with deep pock marks on his cheeks and face tats over the pock marks came in and motioned us into the other room.

I told the guy at the counter I wanted their strongest indica. He pulled out some mid-grade hybrid shit and tried to talk it up. “Nah, man. I have a lot of trouble sleeping. I just need shit that will knock me out.”

He tried selling me some weird THC shit in a vile.

“Bro, give me something indica. I just want weed that’ll help me sleep.”

He rolled his eyes. He was a young kid, pale and skinny with blonde spiky hair, trying to hit quota.

I bought an eighth of Northern Lights and some edibles with my unemployment money. Inside the car my mom smelled the weed and said it looked pretty. It had sticky crystal trichomes. She held a bud in her shaky hand like it was an injured bird. She blew it a kiss. She dropped it on the car floor and felt bad.

***

I lounged in the backseat, grinding weed up, packing a bowl. We cracked the windows because my mom didn’t like the smoke.

We pulled into the parking lot at Dick’s Sporting Goods. It was in a big plaza with a Michael’s and a bookstore, a dead Toys R Us.

I used to work at the bookstore. It was dark inside. I wondered how my old coworkers were doing.

The shelves at Dick’s were empty. I stood around stoned. There was a pink 5-pound dumbbell. I walked over and acted like the dumbbell was impossibly heavy to lift. I grunted and made a goofy face like doing an exaggerated deadlift but the small pink dumbbell wouldn’t budge. My mom doubled over in laughter grasping her knees. Her laughing made it funnier than it really was. Me and my brother giggled.

There was one of those machines where you clip your ankles in and hang like a vampire. I climbed in and hung upside down and closed my eyes. My lower back cracked and my body shifted and I felt lighter for it.

The weed was hitting good.

They had one of those punching bags that looked like a thug. He had a mean face like Doomguy from Doom. When I worked in corrections, we did our custody training with one.

I started punching Doomguy and my mom laughed. My brother hauled off and decked Doomguy in the face as hard as he could. Doomguy was on a black plastic platform filled with sand. He tipped back but not over. I clobbered Doomguy and he tipped almost completely over then made a loud thud when he bounced back.

We had my mom punch him in the face. He jiggled from her frail hands.

My brother punched him again. I punched him again. I felt better. Like clobbering the goofy-ass Doomguy accomplished some missing part of myself.

The booming from our punches echoed through the empty store.  They started to get louder, faster. It was obvious. We were all trying to knock Doomguy over. No one had to communicate it. We just knew. We just had to.

I threw a solid right hook and Doomguy wobbled to the side. Then my brother kicked Doomguy in the chest and he went over with a crash. Dead.

We high fived.

“Come on, guys.” We turned around. It was one of the workers. An older lady with curly hair. We couldn’t make out her whole facial expression from the mask, but we knew it wasn’t good. She looked like she baked Christmas cookies.

“Oops, sorry, ma’am,” I said waving at her, breathing hard.

She didn’t care.

We lifted Doomguy back onto his platform, dusted him off and hugged him, patted him on the head. My brother wrapped his leg around the platform like he was going to dip Doomguy onto the carpet and fuck him right there.

We left instead.

***

The giant parking lot laid bare and silent and massive at the beginning of dusk. Someone rode a bike towards us. His head bobbed in rhythm with his peddling legs. He yelled but we couldn’t understand him.

We stopped, we stared at him. He waved at us, yelling like a fishing boat lost at sea finding an island of magical creatures.

“Hey guys!” he screeched as he got closer. It was Jared.

“Whoah, what up, Jared? Haven’t seen you in a while,” I said, amazed.

He looked homeless. A haggard grey shirt and gym shorts. Nobody was taking care of him.

“I’m fucking riding my bike, fuckers.” Jared spoke in a deep guttural voice that echoed in the darkest recesses of his neck.

“That’s cool, man.”

Jared and my brother bumped fists. My brother worked in the cognitive impaired classes. He was Jared’s personal aid during his senior year of high school.

My mom stood with her arms dangling by her sides. Her mask drooped off her face. I reached over and fixed it.

“You working anywhere, Jared?” My brother asked.

Jared laughed and mumbled.

Back in high school Jared would come to our lunch table and say the craziest shit to get a laugh out of everyone. We would egg him on and tell him to go to other lunch tables and say the same vile shit.

There was a weird silence. I was too stoned to speak. Meijer was across the street. I thought about buying Jared groceries.

Jared looked at me like he did at the lunch table back in school. He lowered his eyes at me evil villain style. A grin spread across his face.

“Guess what?” he said.

Oh no.

“Nah, man. I ain’t guessing.”

“No, guess what,” he said, rocking his whole body back and forth.

“Don’t say it, Jared.” I shook my head. Now scared of the monster I helped create all those years ago.

“Nooo! Guess what, biiiitch!”

“Dude, you can’t be saying that shit anymore.”

He looked at my mom, “Guess what?” He said it like a demon whispering.

My mom’s lost eyes focused for a split second. “What?” she said, more like she hadn’t heard than in response to anything.

“I fucked my goat last night,” Jared laughed.

“Come on, dude,” I said throwing my arms in the air.

“It true! I did!” He was angry for not getting the response he wanted. “I fucked my goat right in the ass!” he screamed. Spit flew from his lips. He threw his head back and laughed.

I shook my head.

“It true, bitch! I’m gonna fuck my goat in the ass tonight.”

My mom started whimpering. I looked over. Her mask was on the cement. She was sobbing big heaving sobs. A deep frown. Crocodile tears down her cheeks. She’d become a mix between a little girl and an old lady. “Why does he keep saying that?”

“Man, get the fuck outta here, Jared,” I yelled.

My brother yelled at him too.

Jared howled at the sky.

“Fuck you guys.” Jared croaked.

He started riding away but I kicked his back tire. I instantly regretted it. His bike wobbled, his legs came off the peddles. He toppled over, the bike clanging against the cement.

My brother rubbed my mom’s back, her shoulders heaved.

Jared stood up. His elbow was skinned but not bad. He twisted his arm up into the crook of his neck to look at his wound. When he saw the scratch, he stuck his tongue out and his eyes went wide, “Ahh, you hurt me!”

My brother was already walking mom to the car, his arm around her.

“I’m sorry.” I felt guilt settling into my smokey chest.

“I’m going home to fuck my goat!” Jared looked hurt, not physically but like emotionally.

The lady working at Dick’s Sporting Goods flipped the deadbolt and the closed sign, shaking her head at us.

Jared got back on his bike and rode off into the sunset, towards the dollar store and the abandoned Long John Silvers. The sun gleaming off the flat tar roofs. His head bobbing, screaming nothingness into the sky completely alone.

I walked back to the car, head down, my stoned hands tingling in my pockets. The sun was setting in the distance, its incoming gravity pushed me down into the cement and melted me between the cracks. My shoulders sagged. I leaned into the passenger seat of the car, wrapped my mom up in a big hug, and told her sorry. Mom was still sniffling but didn’t remember why.

I laid down in the back seat on the drive home. I peered out the window and watched the streetlights pass like UFO tractor beams pulling my soul out, leaving home, looking down.

Growing up.

Everything I once knew was a lost shadow.


Jon Berger lives in Saginaw, MI. His short story collection GOON DOG is forthcoming at Gob Pile Press. He tweets @bergerbomb44.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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