A finality came crashing into him when he felt the bullet pass and he looked up to see Pam standing there holding the gun. Up until that moment he’d believed, a very small part of him had believed, that he could fix things with her. They had been through so much together. As the lead flew maybe a half-inch from his face, he swore he could see angels dancing in the weeds.
For a moment he felt he must be dead. Reality came back swiftly: were he to die, he’d not be seeing angels anywhere, not in his world. As long as he was seeing angels and things that had no place or reason to be in his world he knew he was still alive. The finality was not about death . . . that bitch seemed to circle him like a vulture and wait for him at every corner. It was the realization that this dream of Pam, this image he had attempted to create, the imaginary life they had together, this illusion of her had now finally crashed to the ground and shattered before him in a trillion little shards of glass. A once strong and beautiful crystal fortress now lay in pieces on the ground.
As he watched the illusion fade, he wanted to lean into the bullet as it passed. She did kill a part of Frankie that night. A very real part of him died yet continued to live on, maybe even more disconnected than he had been previously. He’d always had a fascination with ghosts. He’d always known, deep down, but had never spoken about, never even acknowledged, never whispered to anyone that if things such as ghosts existed, he knew it was his fate to become one: A soulless, empty spirit walking the earth aimlessly, possibly until the end of time. Frankie took a strange comfort in this.
This was his plan: to live forever, to put off the inevitable, whatever that may be, to haunt. The old woman was the only one he even mentioned this to—it was only once—and it was long ago. She wept when he said this, as if it were an affirmation of a nightmare. All of her religion and spells and songs and words, she realized, could not save her boy from a fate he’d convinced himself was his: to walk the earth aimlessly as a disconnected spirit, never thinking, never caring, never connected. It seemed somehow perfect.
For another moment, while his hands were still covered in the mix of his own blood and Billy’s blood, before the cool night air forced it to dry on his skin, still kneeling on Billy’s seemingly lifeless chest, Frankie recalled the words of the old woman. She said when he died the devil would be there to welcome him, long before the angels were even aware he was gone. He fought constantly with the old woman and her superstitions and stories. She often told him she loved him, but there was something wrong with him. He lacked a goodness. He was broken, possibly before birth. He told her the only place he was going when he died was the cold dirt. His was no spiritual journey, no welcoming cherubs waited to escort him to some other side. This was the only side. And he was okay with that, although slightly terrified that he might be right.
When he’d leave Cora’s house and walk down that dark road alone, he’d get lost in her words and her warnings. Sometimes he’d walk to the family cemetery, a small, well-kept, and pretty place in daylight, but a cold, dark, forbidding, terrifying place at night; especially alone, especially after one of his talks with the old woman. Frankie would sit there surrounded by the tombstones of his dead relatives. He had no inclination to pray. He’d just sit there waiting, sometimes for hours, for the spirits to come, to talk to him, to guide him.
Nothing ever happened as he sat there. Occasionally he heard a strange noise. Sometimes he’d see Sarah, his great-grandmother fifteen generations ahead of him. He’d watch her pass in the distance, never reaching out to him, never even looking his way. Some nights he’d bring a quart of vodka and or some weed. He’d sit there working on becoming unconscious; maybe that was the pathway to talk to the ghosts. All he accomplished was passing out among the stones, only to awaken with the sunrise, or a few times in the local jail. There was a cop he’d come to know. This cop had given up arresting Frankie. He brought him in on the nights it was really cold or starting to rain. Each drunken night in the cemetery in silence, waiting, hoping for connection, just broke Frankie a little more. Each time he went there he left another piece of himself.
These were the moments when he would wonder, silently, if he could be wrong and the rest of the world, the believers, all the saints he seemed to deal with every fucking day of his life were right. He’d still hear the old woman wailing out “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Jesus Loves Me,” and “Amazing Grace.” Songs of comfort and joy that left him sad and confused and feeling even more desolate and alone. He was like a baby that refused to nurse, like a broken, lost child.
Her songs and her friends at the church terrified him. The confusion terrified him. He felt left out and suspicious of them and their magical faith. The more they pressed him to join into their fold, the more he resisted. He could politely resist or burst out in an angry rage. The more they talked sweetly to him of confusing promises, of believing, of faith, the more he would push back and run.
He’d run to a bar and drink, consume, and become consumed and become perfectly drunk. Absurdly drunk. He possessed a legendary ability to consume huge quantities of booze and chemicals. He’d sit quietly, appearing completely sober and then for no reason, he’d remember a past wrong, a debt that needed to be settled, or simply an imaginary war raging in his head and he’d attack. I could never quite understand why. Was he waging war with himself, the world? He had no death wish, death seemed to him a million years away and yet somehow imminent. Frankie’s war was based on his inability to connect to this God that everyone else seemed so cozy with.
A preacher told him one day that he had to have a personal relationship with Jesus. This made Frankie’s blood run cold. He totally lost his mind. Too bad for the pudgy, white, balding preacher, a nice enough guy who believed in his heart what he spoke of, but to Frankie it was the last straw, the last nail in the coffin.
Frankie screamed, “I can’t even maintain a fucking personal relationship with people I can see and you want me to be buddies with your imaginary friend? Fuck you, get the fuck away from me. They say I’m fucking crazy, I’ve had it with all you delusional assholes trying to get me to drink your poisoned wine.” That was usually the way it went. Something like that.
If Frankie was ever going to come to terms with this God, it was going to be a journey and it was going to take a long, long time and it would sometimes be on his own terms.
When he was deeply drunk, when the hallucinations came, he’d sit down with the Devil and drink even more. The Devil was someone he could relate to. Another liar, another cheat, another rambler, another smooth-talking ladies’ man, another stud with no game, just a line and a story to tell, just a guy trying to get what was best for him. Frankie had no fear of this Satan. If he was out looking for souls, Frankie knew he was going to fuck him over.
Sometimes, when he slept—a rare event—he would dream of a field, a twisted place where no laws of man or physics applied; a barren, grassless plain, with one dead tree standing off to the left side; a barren plain under a deep blue sky. Sometimes there were lions. They were the only companionship there. Everything else was a fading illusion. It was a place of terror and a perilous peace.
He would sit on the dry, barren plain and be totally alone. Frankie could empty himself of his rage here. He could feel his perfect and complete loneliness here. It was not a place of solitude. Solitude was a positive, refreshing thing, a meditative thing. This place was anything but that. This place was a place of perfect desolation, of complete separation. Sometimes he would sit in the middle of the dry, dusty field and wonder if this time he’d gone too far, if this time he’d never come back.
The scene never changed. There was no morning or evening. No sound. Time, the passage of time, the markers along the journey didn’t exist here. He had no reference point. No yesterday, no tomorrow, no now, no then. This world was as dry and barren and completely empty as Frankie’s imagination would allow. He could be here. He could sit and try to fathom the world before time, before this God, before the Big Bang. There could be no beginning of time. Time always existed, but he tried. He needed to get back to that moment before time . . . to that completely empty, completely perfect place of absolute nothingness. Not even blackness, not even gray, but absolute nothing.
That is why he found this place. That’s why he came here. He could sit here for a second or a year or 10,000 years and he’d never know the difference. Sometimes he would sit there trying to remember the words, Cora, the old woman, said to him, but they were just noises rattling inside his head. They made no sense here, no sense at all.
At times, he’d see images of all the people he had wronged, treated badly, lied to, cheated, robbed, or beaten, or only simply sinned against by talking to them. There was a deception, a larceny even in simply speaking to him, for which atonement was required. They would stand before him in silence. He would see them standing there, but he didn’t feel any need to speak. Frankie did not need to apologize. He simply looked at them and they looked back. Times would pass where he would feel the pain he had caused them. He would sit next to the lions, without fear, but as one of them. He would feel the pain he had caused these people and let it pass away into oblivion. He could consider and ponder the old woman’s words for hours. However, this was not the place where he would take a knee before someone’s God.
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