Friday, July 27, 2012
He found some leftover pizza in the fridge, tossed it into the microwave, and watched it revolve on the glass plate like some slow-motion juggler’s trick. It tasted like cardboard when he pulled it out but he didn’t much care. The hunger was there, but appetite was another story; still, the beer he had opened to go with it didn’t taste half bad. Bill had lived on his own long enough that he could manage for himself in the kitchen if he had to, but mostly it wasn’t worth the dishes or the bother. Living mostly on take-out took a chunk out of his budget, but since it was pretty much his only indulgence he could swing it without any problem. He had never entertained in his apartment, except when his family flew in for a visit, and even then mostly they wanted to go out on the town while they were there.
The view from his balcony wasn’t so much of the river as over it, although naturally that wasn’t the way they put it in the real estate listings. The city had grown up along both shores, leveling hills and filling in marshes and brackish pools, abolishing the topography as it went. There had to be hundreds of thousands of living human beings, right at that moment, just in the buildings that were visible from where he stood. They were out there in the projects, in the office towers where people were still working late at their desks, at the stadium in the distance that was lit up for a home game, in the cars whose headlights were moving soundlessly along the encircling expressways, and yet he knew barely a soul among them. He had felt the same way once before, years ago, peering through the window of a Shanghai high-rise, when he realized that no one in that unimaginably vast metropolis knew his name or what had brought him there, that he was a stranger from another country who barely spoke the language and had no real reason for being there that he could clearly articulate, even to himself, that whatever his life was going to be about was of infinitesimal concern to the people whom he passed in the street or who waited on him in the crowded markets, that he was only of flickering interest even to his teachers and fellow students in the university where he attended classes five days a week. He had reconciled himself to the fact of his irrelevance and made it safely through, just as he would make it through tonight, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something, somewhere deep down in his gut, was slowly, relentlessly hollowing him out from inside. No one around him would notice, of course, because it wasn’t necessary for you to have anything inside you in order to get by, in fact it made it easier, you fit in better with everyone else who was in the same predicament, showing up on time, keeping your head down and your desk in order, breathing in, breathing out, going through the motions. He had abandoned some indispensable part of himself somewhere along the way, but one of the symptoms of the disorder — maybe the hardest of all to bear — was that he could no longer remember clearly just what it was that was now lost to him forever. All he knew was that it wasn’t somewhere lying ahead, in his future, waiting to welcome him with fanfares and open arms when he finally landed on the shore. It wasn’t even in his past, for if he had ever truly been the person that he now knew that he would never become, then there would always be a piece of that being tucked away somewhere deep within, no matter how scarred over or neglected it became, something he could call on in his darkest moments, if only to have it reproach and mock him him for forsaking it. But even that was to be denied him. He knew that now.
He flipped the TV on with the remote and lay down on the bed, still wearing the same pants and shirt he had worn to work, setting the half-empty bottle on the nightstand. He flipped from channel to channel, watching the news. In the other room his BlackBerry chimed every few minutes but he didn’t bother to get up and answer it.