THE YEAR I WAS MOST HUNGRY by Shane Cashman

When I wear my long, dark peacoat, I look like I’m about to betray my country; I instigate assassinations; I have affairs in 1964; I fly first class. 

When ex-presidents die, the whole nation wears peacoats and flags at half-mast. We all of a sudden show a strange love for someone we used to curse––it’s that kind of love people only show once someone’s gone. We only truly love you once we’ve thrown you in your casket––we’re a culture of goddamned necrophiliacs. 

The length of my coat reminds me I’m just over six feet tall; my height equals the common depth of a grave. If you plant me down there feet first, I’ll be eye level with the feet of those who come to visit. 

When I wear my long, dark peacoat I tell myself I could murder without consequence over anything––even five dollars. My boss steals a five-dollar tip that was meant for me. A customer gave it to him to give to me––for loading couches in his van. My boss folds the cash in half and slips it into his back pocket. A few months later, my boss goes bankrupt and has to sell the business. I lose my job of eight years. I apply to be a potato sorter, a truck driver, a background actor, a webcam guy, a cemetery manager, an assassin, and a professor. 

On my way out the door of my job for the last time, I wear my long, dark peacoat. The coworker I hated second-most stops me. I think she’s going to hug me. She pulls open her filing cabinet and finds a can of soup. “Here,” she says, “in case you get hungry.” Everyone at work thinks I’m going to live in a car. 

When I wear my long, dark peacoat, no one knows that I don’t drive an Audi.

When I wear my long, dark peacoat I think maybe this should all be a novel––that this string of events sounds too ridiculous for one day: A horse I know died, and I hoped he left me his skeleton in his will; I lost my job; I get an email that says: How To Be Happier At Work, I barely had enough money to pay for gas to get home; I jumped on someone else’s trampoline. 

When I wear my long dark peacoat, I appraise the sun moving through overcast skies like a rat down a python’s neck.

I wear my coat when I pretend to be a professor at a real college. Whenever a student calls me a professor I wonder if they’re mocking me, or if they’re mistaken, or if they just can’t tell the difference. One of my students left for a week to bury his father in Maine. When he returns we have class in the small chapel with the glass roof on the edge of campus. I ask the student how he’s holding up. He asks if I’d ever seen the catacombs beneath the chapel. I follow him outside. He lifts open the bilco doors that lead down damp steps, into damp earth, and there they are. Catacombs. Empty catacombs. But catacombs. We stare into each one. He sees an impression of his father. I see an impression of the future. 

I wear my peacoat at the diner with Nancy in Rockland as Notre-Dame burns up in Paris, and we all feel the flames hot against our faces from the kitchen.

When I wear my long, dark peacoat it could be lined with pocket watches and bail bonds and mix-tapes and nuclear briefcases and doctor’s notes to get you out of class or work or birthday parties.  

In my long, dark peacoat:

I chain-smoke.

I race cars.

I fight wars.

I pull teeth.

I decay.

I default.

I die on the hour.

I struggle with the truth.

I wear rejection with grace.

I’m your earthworm. 

Your church bells. 

Your sewers in drought.

Your head on a spike.

Your beloved cult leader.

When I wear my long, dark peacoat, I play like I don’t fear I will never be heard; I tell strangers on the street at night walking past me that there’s a big opossum foaming at the mouth just up ahead; I pretend the sunrise is a five-alarm fire no ladder can reach; I catch people leaping from the sky; I dream of my grandfather’s ghost, and we shake hands while everyone rushes to prepare a meal.

ART BY BOB SCHOFIELD @anothertower

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