Happy, Ergo Futureless – Teddy Burnette
November 4, 2021
T listened and watched his phone, waiting for it to ring like a mother with an ear always turned towards a child. He glanced one more time at the phone on the kitchen table; volume set to high, and went outside as he pulled gloves on.
Some of the weeds grew up between the green and variegated hosta leaves, and others stayed close to the ground, or mimicked the leaves or flowers of plants around and nearby.
He pulled them one by one, firmly feeling the roots coming up with the emergent weeds, a satisfying sensation of the loosening of commitment down there, entrenched and undisturbed until his yanking. The dirt flies carelessly around him, wanton movement, he thinks. Brushing dirt off his arms, T gently pushes back the plant leaves and hunts for hiding hideaways, those that are there and out of place. Meant for the sides of highways and medians, alleyways and behind dumpsters. In amongst the wanted he always leaves a couple. They come back regardless.
Ringing. The leaves wobble in the wind, freed of neighbors, with space now and latitude, ringing. The flowers drifting upward, above, are gentle in their disturbance. Petals fall, he catches them, ringing, he catches them and lays them on the leaves, swaying, ringing. He remembers ringing a bell when he’s ten years old at a hotel and his mom shushes him while his two brothers run around them. He rings it again and a woman comes to see what they need; checked in and up to their hotel room, they lay in bed and waited to be told what do, what is to be done. At the mercy of a new town in a new place, outside the door all the doors were the same. T had not enjoyed vacations as a child. He still didn’t. Following around, hand gripped to back of shirt, tagging along behind, choosing to be leashed so a disconnection cannot be made real. He lay on the bed and gazed at his mom and readied to follow her, wherever she might go. Ringing. He walks inside and answers the phone.
—I…I was outside. I’m here. The phone was inside, and now I’m inside…you can, I’m inside now, but you…you’d see me either way…inside or out, inside and out…the house is the barometer of those two states…yes…it’s all nature I agree…the history of…a dictionary possibly, the genealogy…yes genealogy, an “a” after the second “e”…easy, easy to forget…the history of the word “inside”…but either way you’ll see me if you come over…
T places the phone down and walks back outside.
He had napped earlier with a sweatshirt on. He tried to do this more often now. Take naps. He was getting better at it. The hood pulled over his head, his cheekbones were too sharp, too well defined, they didn’t agree with his firm pillow. He was the only one who noticed their severity.
Ringing. He turned around and walked back inside. He remembered ringing bells at Arlington cemetery; he couldn’t remember if there actually were any, it could’ve been a firing squad – wrong phrase, he knows that, ten-gun salute? How many are there? – which sounded like bells in their own way. A violent chiming of death so perfect for the occasion and the place that anything else would feel unnatural. Still, he remembered ringing bells. He thought the logical conclusion to knocking down statues was tearing up cemeteries. A collection of everyone, with every history, they would have to go, for this was a monument to everything that had passed, far bigger in scope than anything adorning the front of a city hall somewhere. He didn’t care for either. One of them occupied a considerably larger amount of space than the other, he knew that.
Ringing. T stood in the kitchen and listened to the sound. The smallest hosta plants become the biggest sometimes, which was a cliché but those were allowed in nature. Outside. He wondered if they had any ego, knowing they would sprout into these jungle-like, dominating and beautiful, broad-leafed, ringing, beings that breathed a world into the dirt underneath their foliage. Ringing. He randomly groups different types of hosta plants and watches them compete for space. He eventually moves them when they become too big, but a couple days of crowding, ringing, weren’t terrible or life ending he thought. Watching the leaves, ringing, press and curl upwards as they feel neighboring plants grow and mature towards them, straining at sunlight. There were no egos, only clichés in nature.
T picked up the phone. A note he had written the night before in a fit of something resembling inspiration, but most likely not, sat on the table near his phone. He hadn’t noticed it earlier. This made the note appear new, as if he had forgotten the moment of inspiration in between trips inside, thus a return of meaning.
The note read: If plastic surgery was banned, illegal enterprises would arise, and legal enterprises would be allowed, and they both would remove unsightly parts of the body. We would all soon be smooth, limbless beings, devoid of ears and noses.
He hadn’t eaten anything today since a small bowl of cereal for breakfast with almond milk. He was hungry but it was easy to ignore, to continue moving and know there was more to burn up inside him. There is always more. T knew, and it didn’t matter to him if this was false, he didn’t need to eat again until he couldn’t rise from a seated position, willing food to float and fall into his open mouth. He liked to feel parts of him slipping away. He thought most people did.
He answered the phone.
—I…yes, yes, I leave my phone…leave it inside so I’m not…well it’ll get dirty and…it’s nothing, anything more than that, I’m sure…it’s more, what did you say?
He doodles on the note. Scribbles over the words.
—Why would you tell him…he’s a good friend and person?…he’s our brother…you know…what good is that going to do? You…
His brother hung up and T puts the phone down on the table again.
The brother on the phone lived a couple blocks away, close to the beach.
The spoken about brother lives where he lives each night.
No one cared if other people were good friends or people, T thinks. Or they did. He didn’t think people did though. He cared if he was.
He realized he hadn’t washed his hair in a week. This was not a problem. An observation only.
T went back to the plants and began slowly removing some of them from the ground. Ringing. He struck a shovel into the dirt deep and away from the main stem of the hosta. He pushed. He pushed down on the handle, the shovelhead coming up, the hosta pulled upward along with. Ringing. He set the plant aside and began the process anew. A bag of dirt sat nearby to fill in the holes after. He felt prepared and ready to finish his work today. Ringing. He felt satisfied. He went to answer the phone again.
His brother on the phone called often. He would call about his work. About his relationships. About his writing. He had said last week he was trying to write more sex scenes into his work. This would help him explore intimacy and desire, he said, and other themes he didn’t feel he could write about yet. He had to talk about these things over the phone. Face to face exploration of self was out of the question.
His brother had said he thought desire happened so far before sex that they were connected only tangentially. Did people experience them in reverse?
Of course, T told his brother, everyday this happens.
His brother had said he came to his relationship with his current girlfriend from a place of love. He doesn’t think he’s as sexual as other people. Or that it’s not worth creating an image of himself as a continuous and wild sex-haver. This seemed unnecessary.
He had sex. He loved his girlfriend, he said. He hadn’t ever had loving sex, in a relationship or anything of the kind, before now, before this relationship. He emphasized this; he thought this was the difference. He was introduced to, indoctrinated in, sex as something to be done through love. Because it was nothing of the kind before. So this had to be the logical conclusion. Or the lucky one.
Their brother who lived where he lived each night had been in and out of the hospital for most of their childhood. A ventilator, the distinct sound of medical breathing, in and out. Struggle in, struggle out. Rhythmic pain. He sat there and breathed, and they all watched, the family watched him live. He fought for his breath wherever he was now. Same as before.
He pulled up two weeds and put them in a bucket. He had moved a couple hostas into patches of dirt that would allow them to grow more easily. He would move more later in the day. The term for the moving of plants and rehoming them in a new spot in the dirt was trauma. He pulled another weed. Lives ended, they needed to be. Ringing. Ringing. Ringing. Usually he cut the flowers blooming, the long stalks with delicate buds. T pruned them away and left the foliage to remain. They looked the same, almost carbon copies of each other without the flowers. The light purple flowers did not add to their uniqueness. He gingerly stands amidst the plants and moves toward the door. Ringing. The rhythmic return again.
—Are you going to…to come over? Or just call? Do you…I see…I…the view of the beach from a window…is far less sandy than…yes…I get it…stay there…I’m…I’m…yes I’m outside, still out here working, and…I have another call…
He gets off the line from his brother who lives by the beach and answers the other call.
—Oh. Thank you.
He returns to his original call.
—It…stop…please stop for a moment…he’s…he’s no longer struggling…they found him somewhere, where he was living…
His brother didn’t speak for a while and then did, and then they both didn’t speak for a while and then did, and tried to reminisce but couldn’t figure out how. T told his brother who lived by the beach that he was glad he had told their brother who lived where he lived that he had been a good person and friend. Living by the beach, having said that, would make his life a little easier. You didn’t have to say that to him, T said. T liked knowing his brother had said that. He would think about that while he was weeding, working in the garden, among his hostas.
—You’re a good…yes…so am I…I know…