Fred Mugford




I can’t sleep anticipating my birth. I keep looking at my phone, it’s right next to my bed, hanging upside down from a cord too short plugged into a socket too high. I reach out to press the side button again, groping in the dark, and squint at the turquoise light. I promised myself I would get an early start, leave before the sun comes up. I can still make out the numbers – L0:E0 – but it’s still too early. I tuck my hand under the covers, but not before I pull them up to my chin, the way I do when I’m excited or anxious. I can feel my heart beating in places I’ve never felt it before, in my fingertips, in my earlobes, even in my lower lip. Why just the lower? So, this is how we’re born, with our raging hearts setting the tone. Makes me feel like a blossoming teenage girl, but I wouldn’t know anything about that. I’m a grown man with growing hair on my arms and some other places, and I still don’t understand how I’m going to do this. Maybe it’s more a matter of logistics than logic. Maybe it’s best 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. Besides, it’s not so much a plan as something I want to do and now I am going to do it. 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 and see the night sky in my room. I really do. Am I going crazy? Billions of white specks, tiny stars, even the swinging arm of the Milky Way spiralling counter clockwise, or is it clockwise. I guess it depends on which side you’re on. Then I think, why is gas ball Jupiter still considered a planet but ice ball Pluto is no longer one. So many questions, so many answers, that keep shifting with every passing solar wind. I blink and the stars are gone. The magic is lost. Losses seem to be my only gains.

I won’t be carrying a watch. Why would I need to tell the time? I have no appointments to keep or make, and besides, I tend to keep to myself anyway. I won’t be wearing a watch or taking any money. I already said my watch. I meant my phone. I will forgo all the necessities I tell myself I can’t live without. See, it’s already happened. Time thinks it’s indispensable and wants to come with me twice. Would that make me twice as old or twice as young. I want to start clean and fresh, without any preconceptions of what it will be like out there. Isn’t this how we begin again, by wiping the motherboard clean? I’m already not happy or sad, a state I find invigorating because of the unoccupied space it fills in my brain. There are other things I’m learning to erase. I feel no gratitude or guilt, no sympathy or empathy towards anyone, not even for myself, on par with the best dictators and megalomaniac presidents past, present and to come. What, you don’t think we’ll have more of them?

I hear tiny drops of water 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 come up with creative ways to say what it is I want to say. I can already see that I have set myself an impossible task if I’m going to start from zero all over again.

I can’t understand why I want to go out there into the cold and wet unknown. Wouldn’t it be better to stay inside in the warm and dry known? But I made a promise to myself. You can’t make gains or take new ventures without leaving the sofa. The unknown is where it’s at! But I’m not so convinced by my own argument, or maybe my procrastination or laziness wasn’t. But deep, deep down inside, in that languageless world of putative microorganisms where we come from, I know I am right.

I reach out and press the button on the phone once again. The noise I make is the same one a sloth makes when it dies. I beg myself, give me five more minutes, just five more, and close my eyes. But my responsible, logical adult side makes a rare appearance and tells me it’s time to get up if I want to be born on time.

I stretch under the covers, cracking wrist and ankle bones, twisting my neck around, squeezing my eyes tight, making a loud moaning sound of some other wild animal, a cross between a wolf and another animal, but still a mammal, with hair and no tail, maybe a human. So I am 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, yawning, scratching, farting. Last chance to fall back into warmth and despair. Did I say despair? You mean it won’t be coming with me?

I stand up on the cold wood floor, shuffle two steps, groping for the light switch and turn on the lights. I wince at the bright halogen lights just eight inches above my head. They are giving me a headache. I rub my forehead, trying to remember what it is I am doing, and who I am and all that. Mission: We Have Life. We’ve started our trajectory. Copy that. I take another two steps towards the sink, raise myself on my toes while lowering my jogging pants and briefs, and urinate in the sink. I turn on the tap then turn it off. I stand up straight, pulling my pants and briefs back up. There is nothing like the freedom of living on your own to live up to the dictum to thine own self be true. I turn around and walk three steps towards the kitchenette. My room is my womb, it is quite small. The walls are yellow and strong, protecting me from the cold and wet outside. I push the grimy blind aside to look out the window of my basement room, but all I see is black and 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 cereal 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 them against the wall before I was finished. I don’t know why. Maybe I will know in a momentary flash of insight 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. Milk dribbles down my chin as I hurry to finish my cereal standing up. This could be my last meal. 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 the sign of an industrious mind). I want to leave a good impression for the first person to enter the room.

I take three steps and sit on the edge of the bed, licking my teeth, scratching my armpit, contemplating 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 have not yet lived. 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. I hear a high pitch whine sucking in air. A jet impregnated with living souls is making strange noises up there. I am always hearing them coming and going. Sometimes I imagine they are angels coming down to redress all my wrongs. With the way the jets bank above the clouds with their wings glinting in the sunlight, making them look ethereal, it’s not that hard to do. These angels are mostly barefoot adolescent boys or girls, with long curly hair wearing white robes, able to hover without any means of propulsion. They would torture me with my own thoughts (how, telepathy?), reminding me of all the things I did not do for those I claim to love. I would ask these angels, is this supposed to make me more virtuous? And then I would ask them, presumably after receiving no answer, what is sin, and who defines it? But so far, no angels have visited me.

I go upstairs to the shared bathroom, a bath towel over my shoulder and my toiletries in a vinyl bag. I brush my teeth and have a bowel movement. I take off my clothes and take one last shower, scrubbing myself hard with the loofa, removing my old life, preparing for the new one. My skin tingles raw. I lather myself with peach scented shampoo and get carried away, stroking myself to kingdom come, my brain supplying all the wifi images to help me along. Who knows, this could be my last session. I turn off the water and dry myself quickly with the towel. I wrap the towel around my waist, grab my clothes and toiletries and head down stairs to my room.

I put on the clean clothes I had set aside on top of the chair (I only have one). I put on my cleanest briefs, my comfortable jeans (always a bit too tight), then three layers of top (two deodorant encrusted T-shirts and one long sleeve jersey), I wear my favourite two tone jacket with hood. It’s purpled with green sleeves, made of vinyl, but looks like leather. I press down on the piece of silver duct tape covering a tear on the left sleeve. The tape is frayed, but it will hold. I put on thick grey cotton socks, then slip on my water resistant shoes. They will come in handy when I splash in puddles or give in to sink my feet in deeper water. I keep a notebook and pen in my left pocket, a fresh green apple in the other. The apple bulges, but I soon forget it is there. 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. 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. He was sitting on his bed looking at a small tablet screen. Jason was wearing his usual white cotton shirt and pants without shoes or socks. He looked at me and said, I want to show you something, and started playing a movie clip he said was based on true events. A mob with knives was chasing another mob through city streets. His people attacking other people, or other people attacking his people. It irritated me when he called them ‘my people’. I have no people to call my own. I was born of dual immigrant parents in a third foreign land. 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. I was feeling kind of seasick. I told Jason to stop. Why would I want to see this on the day before I am born? Jason raised both eyebrows. I hadn’t planned on telling anyone, but I couldn’t pull out 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 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 on his bed staring at me without saying anything or blinking. I suspected he suspected something was up. And since I still had his attention, I told him, Tomorrow I’m going to be born, maybe to egg him on, or to hear the insanity of my own words. I started to leave his room without saying goodbye or anything, the way we usually do. That’s why I appreciate Jason so much. We don’t pretend or lie to each other, wasting words on societal proprieties. Jason wished me a Meppy Newsmass on my way out, some pun or wordplay I had no interest in deciphering just then. That’s when I went back to my room and got my clothes ready for my day out.

I stand up checking my pockets one last time. There is no one to say goodbye to, unless you count the rats and the mice. I forgot about the cockroaches! I lean over my bed and rub the bumps under the yellow wallpaper with the back of my middle finger (a most sensitive region). I pretend they are trapped cockroaches underneath.

Goodbye my little ones. I’m leaving.

I notice a new slit in the cracking yellow wallpaper. I take this as a sign of my impending exit (womb slit), or of the short amount of time I am given (like the tiny gap between forefinger and thumb denoting a very short life span). I turn my head sideways and press the side button on the phone hanging from the cord on the wall. It’s four in the morning. It’s time.

I have one last sentimental look around my 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 in my pant pocket but then change my mind and leave it on top of the table. A final look back as I turn out the lights. Close the room door behind me, head up the stairs two at a time, go through the entrance hall and walk out the front door.

* * *

© Fred Mugford