Fred Mugford




I can’t sleep anticipating my birth. I keep looking at the clock. It's right next to my bed, hanging upside down from a screw in the wardrobe I put there when I first moved in to my basement room. It's a cheap digital clock, round with a flip lid, with a hole through it, from where it's hanging. I reach out groping for the button in the dark and press the button again. I squint at the turquoise light. It takes me a second to make out the digital numbers upside down - h0:E. I promised myself I would get an early start and be born before the sun comes up, but it's still too early. I tuck my hand back under the warm duvet cover. My heart is thumping like crazy. I can feel it in places I've never felt it before, in my fingertips, my earlobes, even in my lower lip. Why just the lower? Makes me feel like a blossoming teenage girl, but I wouldn't know anything about that. I'm a grown man with growing hairs on my arms and some other places and I still don’t understand how I am going to do this. I tell myself that maybe it's more a matter of logistics than logic, but I don’t really know what that means. Maybe it's better not to think too much about it and just do it. How does one go about being born anyway?

I didn’t tell anyone about my plan. I hardly know anyone to tell it to anyway. It isn't so much a plan as something I want to do and now I'm going to do it. Can my new life be anymore stupid than my current life? I will let you in on a little secret. It's not other people that stop you from doing yourself in. It's a little bit of hope that delays you. There, I'm not saying anymore.

I stare at the black ceiling, thinking about my new life and what I’m about to do, and see the night sky in my room. I really do. Am I going crazy? I see billions of stars, tiny white specks all over the black ceiling, with the swinging arm of the Milky Way spiralling clockwise, or is it counter clockwise. I guess it depends on which side you're on. And then I think, why is gas ball Jupiter considered a planet while tiny ice ball Pluto no longer is one. So many questions, so many answers, shifting with every passing solar wind. I close my eyes and open them again. The stars are no longer there. The magic is gone. But I'm used to it. Losses seem to be my only gains.

I won’t be wearing a watch. Why would I need to tell the time? I have no appointments to keep, and besides, I tend to keep to myself. I won’t be taking any money or my phone with me either. I’m leaving behind all the necessities I tell myself I can’t live without. Isn’t this how you start fresh, by wiping the memory clean?

I have no preconceptions about anything. I’m not happy or sad. I feel no sympathy or empathy towards anyone, including myself. I feel no guilt, but truth is it’s still there. I must get rid of it before I can start again as a new person. You can’t be open by remaining attached.

I hear tiny drops falling on the construction of humans. There are better words for these things - rain and city - but I’m trying to get used to not knowing words, or at least coming up with creative ways to say what I want to say. It won’t be possible for me to tell my story if I’m not supposed to know words. I can already see that I have set myself an impossible task if I’m supposed to start from zero again. But what the hell. Do we know how many times the universe has restarted again?

Wouldn’t it be better to stay inside where it’s warm and dry instead of going out there into the cold and wet unknown? But I made myself a promise. I really want to see how my new life is going to turn out. The unknown is where it’s at.

I forgot to say that I don’t have any expectations. So no disappointments. Isn’t that Right? Isn’t that the way it works?

I reach out and press the button on the clock. Oh no . . . Time to get up. I close my eyes and sigh, it’s a deep sorrowful sigh, weighted with all the weight of huge things that don’t want to move, things like mountains and comfortable asses sitting in lounge chairs drinking drinks. I beg myself for five more minutes, just five more. But I know if I don’t get a move on, I won’t get moving. I stretch under the covers, cracking wrist and ankle bones, twisting my neck around, squeezing my eyes tight, making a howling moan of some animal, a cross between a wolf and some other animal, with hair and no tail, but still a mammal, maybe a human. So I’m human after all. Am I disappointed?

I throw the covers off - whoosh! Cold air surrounds my bare feet. I lay in bed telling myself, I don’t have to do this. But my mind is already a snowball set in motion. I sit on the edge of the bed, scratching my hair, yawning and farting. Last chance to fall back into the warmth and despair. Did I say despair? You mean it won’t be coming with me?

I stand up with my bare feet on the wood floor, take two steps forward, reaching for the wall in the dark. When I touch it, I move my hand around until I find the light switch and turn it on. I close my eyes at the bright light, rubbing my forehead, trying to remember who I am and what it is I am going to do but not why. An artist never asks himself why. Mission control: we have life. We’ve started our trajectory. Copy that. I take another two steps towards the sink, raise myself on my toes and pull down my jogging pants and briefs down and urinate in the sink. I turn on the tap and run the water for a few seconds then turn it off. I stand flat on my feet, pulling my pants and briefs back up. I scratch my head and yawn, turning around and walking three steps to the kitchenette. My room is my womb. It is small. The walls are yellow and strong, protecting me from the cold and wet outside. I push the grimy green curtain to one side to look out into the back garden but all I see is pitch black and the face of someone who looks like me trying to avoid my eyes. I wonder what is waiting for me out there. Will the sun forget to rise?

I make myself breakfast, a bowl of corn flakes with sliced banana and milk. Hmm, I love milk. My mother used to give me milk in bottles when I was a baby. I would throw the bottle against the wall before I finished. I don’t know why. Maybe I will know in one momentary flash of insight before I start my new life, bringing this present life full circle, but I’m not counting on it. I can still smell the putrid milk running down the walls. It makes me feel like vomiting. I eat my breakfast standing up. Milk dribbles down my chin as I hurry to finish. This could be my last meal for a while. It must keep me going. I wash the bowl and spoon in the yellow stained sink, then place them on top of the counter. I make my bed, always a sign of an industrious mind. I want to leave a good impression to the first person to enter my room.

I take three steps and sit on the edge of my bed. I lick my teeth, scratching under my left armpit, thinking about what I will be doing in my new life out there. Fool on the bed. I call myself The Fool on the Bed, for trying to envision a life I haven’t lived yet. Only by going out there will I know what it is like out there. This bit of wisdom leaves me satisfied.

I look up at the ceiling as I scratch my left armpit. A high pitch whine sucking in air is coming from up there somewhere. A jet impregnated with living souls is making strange noises in the clouds. I’m always hearing them coming and going. Sometimes I imagine they are angels coming to visit me. These angels are mostly barefoot adolescent boys or girls, with long curly hair wearing white robes, able to hover without any means of propulsion. But these angels are different. They would torture me with my own thoughts (How? Telepathy? ESP?). They would remind me of all the things I did not do for those I claim to love. If these angels did exist, I would ask them, is this supposed to make me virtuous? And then I would ask them, after presumably not receiving an answer, what is sin, and who defines it? But so far, no angels have visited me.

I grab my large bath towel, it’s thick and bright green and soothes my soul, and sling it over my right shoulder. It still smells damp from my shower yesterday. I then grab my vinyl bag with toiletries, open the door, walk out my room, closing the door behind me and go upstairs to the shared bathroom. The bathroom is clean today, not like it was last week, when someone had smeared their shit all over the tiled walls and floor. I brush my teeth then sit on the toilet and have a bowel movement. After wiping myself with toilet paper, I take off my clothes and go in the shower stall. I turn on the water and take my last shower. I scrub myself hard with the loofa, removing my old life away, preparing for the new one. My skin tingles raw. I lather my hair with peach scented shampoo and spread it all over my naked wet body. I forgot the shaving blade, so I walk out the shower with shampoo suds dripping and blocking my eyes, I open the vinyl bag on the floor and take out a disposable razor and walk back into the shower and shave the hairs off my legs and crotch and chest, but not my face or arms. I make sure to shave under my testicles. I want to be as smooth as a newborn baby. So why didn’t I shave my face or arms? Do newborn babies have hair on their arms? I throw the razor on the floor and wash the shampoo off all over my body. I start rubbing myself, my brain providing all the necessary wifi images to get the job done. I wipe my hand under the running water. Who knows, this could be my last session. I turn off the water and dry myself quickly with the bath towel, wrap it around my waist, grab the vinyl bag and head downstairs to my room.

Back in my room, I put on my clean clothes, the ones I had set aside on top of the chair (I only have one) for my new life. I put on my cleanest briefs, my favorite jeans, then three layers of tops (two deodorant encrusted black T-shirts and one long sleeve black jersey). I wear my favorite two tone jacket with hood. It’s purple with green sleeves, made of vinyl, but looks like leather. I press down on the piece of silver duct tape covering a tear over the left sleeve. The tape is frayed, but it will hold. I put on thick grey socks then slip on my water resistant shoes. They will come in handy for splashing in puddles, or if I give in to sink my feet in deeper water. I keep a small black notebook and a pen in my jacket’s left pocket and a fresh green apple in the other. The apple is to keep me going.

Last night I went to see Jason. He lives in the room next to mine. Jason is about the only person I know in this city since I moved here. I gently tapped twice on his door with one knuckle. I heard him say ‘in’, so I pushed the door open. His room was dark. Jason was sitting on top of his bed looking at the small screen on his tablet. He was wearing his usual white cotton shirt and pants without shoes or socks. I closed the door behind me and walked closer to him. He looked at me and said, I want to show you something, and then he started playing a movie clip he said was based on true events. I looked at the screen. A mob of people, mostly men as far as I could tell, were running with knives down the street chasing other people running for their lives. Jason said it was his people attacking other people, or his people being attacked by other people. I wasn’t sure. It irritated me when Jason called his people ‘my people’. I have no people to call my own. I was born of two immigrant parents in a third country. Jason went on to say that they cut them up, from bottom to top, with the knives. He said women cut their hair short and wore men’s clothes, but it was no use. Men were raped too. My head felt woozy and I felt like throwing up. I told Jason to stop. Why would I want to see this on the day before I am born? Jason looked at me with both eyebrows raised. I hadn’t planned on telling anyone about my plan. But I couldn’t pull my words out of his ears, so I went on. Haven’t you learned? By claiming people as your own, you must take sides, and by taking sides, you must be prepared to defend, and to defend you must be prepared to kill. I don’t want to be born into this again! All people are mine! I belong to all people! Jason sat staring at me without saying anything. He wasn’t smiling, but I could tell his whole body was one big smile. I don’t know how I knew this. I’m sure he suspected that I was up to something. So I told him, Tomorrow, I’m going to be born. That’s all I said, to egg him on, or to hear the insanity of my own words. Jason didn’t say anything, which was a kind of disappointment, but also a relief to be left alone to do as I wished without comments or judgment. I started to leave his room without saying goodbye, the way we usually do. That’s why we were good friends, because we didn’t pretend or lie to each other, wasting words on societal proprieties. What I liked most about him was that he took his playing seriously. This was important to him as he was studying for his PhD in theoretical physics where play often leads to new discoveries. Jason wished me a Meppy Newsmass as I left his room, some kind of pun or wordplay I had no desire to decipher just then. Then I went back to my room and that’s when I got my clothes ready for my day out.

I check my jacket pockets one last time. Notebook. Pen. Green apple. I think I’m ready. There is no one to say goodbye to, unless you count the mice and the rats. I look at the wall next to my bed. I forgot about the cockroaches. I walk to my bed and lean over my bed, rubbing the bumps on the yellow wallpaper with the back of my middle finger. It is one of the most sensitive zones of the human body. I pretend the bumps are trapped cockroaches underneath. That’s what the bumps look like to me.

Goodbye, my little ones. I’m leaving.

I say that with the pleasure of someone leaving a prison, someone going out to live a new adventure, of someone who hopes to never come back because what they found out there was better than what they had. Or because they died.
I notice a new slit in the cracking wallpaper. I take this as a sign of my impending exit (womb slit), or of the short amount of time I have (like the tiny gap between forefinger and thumb held close together denoting a very short life span). I turn my head sideways looking at the clock. It’s four in the morning. It’s time.

I have one last sentimental look around the room, at my bed, at the cheap wooden wardrobe with gashes from knife throws, at the handwritten notes of encouragement taped to the walls (It’s not DO or DIE, it’s DO AND DIE, I am creative like the universe, Just Do It).

I keep my room key inside my pant pocket but then change my mind and leave it on top of the small folding table in the room. A final look back as I turn out the lights, I close the room door behind me, head up the steps two at a time, walk through the entrance hallway, open the front door to the building and walk outside.

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© Fred Mugford