As on any other day, the sunset is yawning between the buildings, its edges stretching past my feet as they carry me home. The light does not bother my road-worn heels, shielded as they are by the reflective surfaces of shined leather shoes. It does bother my eyes, as reflections off those sole shields shine too bright through my irises, which are unprotected from the evening sunlight. I squint my eyes, placing my left hand between them and the ground as a makeshift shield. The light shining through my hand turns my fingers an eerie red hue.
Though by my best designs shielded, my eyes still ache. There is some pressure building behind them, as if my brain is swelling through my eyes, hoping to photosynthesize every last ounce of sunlight. I ignore the aching sensation, which seems to have a mind of its own, as it travels along the bridge of my nose up to my forehead. I squint a bit, hoping it will help. It does not, though I could not have been blamed for trying.
As if sensing I will not find my way home absent some “medical intervention”, my feet untold lead me to the door of our small corner drug store. The store owner, as he looks at everyone, looks up at me with a mixture of suspicion and distrust as I open the door. His eyes follow me along the aisles, his hand almost subconsciously reaching over to the phone, dialing three numbers, and putting the receiver to his ear. I feel the weight of his eyes on my shoulders as I snag a bottle of ibuprofen from the pharmacy aisle and a blue Gatorade with a red label from the fridges. I have never particularly liked this store owner – he was always looking at my wife a moment too long when we would slip into the store for snacks. Now he is looking at me with a similar too-long glance. I shiver as I hand him my items to checkout. He scans them without touching them, his eyes never leaving my face. The phone is still to his ear as I walk away and his gaze following me to the door quickens my pace, as if my feet can sense the uneasiness of my mind.
I no sooner leave the store than I forget the whole scene that has just transpired. So focused am I on home that all else washes away. I tap two pills from the small red bottle and pop them into my mouth. They taste like iron in the back of my throat and I wash them down quickly with Gatorade. So disorienting is the taste of iron that for a second I must pause, finding steadiness in the form of a col metal fence post, one of many bracketing the small gardens along our street. The cold – conducted from the fence post – traces the fingertips of my left hand, shivering their dimly-lit edges. I scratch my head with that fence post chilled left hand as I take in the mundane familiarity of our street, taking in the uneven pulsing that echoes my temples, distorting my mental picture of that oft seen scene. I tap two pills from the small red bottle and pop them into my mouth. They taste like iron in the back of my throat and I wash them down quickly with Gatorade.
Maybe in dim light my eyes deceive me, for I have some difficulty in making out the number next to our door. Is this my home? Suddenly all the houses on the street look the same, their distinct features melting into a grey monotony as the sun by degrees hides its weary head behind our cookie cutter homes. Twice I blink, trying to clear the fog rolling from under my eyelids. It takes a few seconds, but finally I recognize our tall wooden door, hidden amid the lengthening shadows. Through the front gate I walk, my frozen fingertips fumbled among spare change and crumpled notes, seeking my keys amid the chaos of my front coat pocket. Our doormat interrupts my search to say: “I hope you like dogs”. Did we have a dog? In that moment I was so tired I could not even remember our dog, go figure.
From within the house I hear the rustling sounds of comfort, the scrambled footsteps of a lively home. I give up on my search for my keys, so eager am I to see my family, my wife, my daughters. The door handle is strangely slippery as I turn it with my left hand and push it open.
A man I do not know is the first thing that greets my tired eyes. My wife is the second. I look at her with red eyes full of disappointment and pain. She looks at me with the eyes of a stranger, one of my long ago nicknames hanging from the corner of her trembling lips. I spill into the hallway, my bare hands forming fists, fueled by an unthinking fury. The man steps forward, looking at me with eyes full of concern and fear. He holds up his hands, soft and gentle hands, my name also on his lips.
A glint from his ring finger catches my foggy mind in its gravity, my own hands paused in halfway formed fists. I glance down at my own left hand and find that the sunset red tinge is dripping down my wrist and over my bare ring finger. I pitch forward in the hallway, my limp body almost colliding with my wife’s husband as he approaches me with tender hands raised. The last thing I remember is my daughter’s face peeking out from behind the man’s legs where she had hidden from me. The last thing I see through reddening eyes is fast drying red-brown blood caked to my naked ring finger.
What do you think has happened to the narrator in this prose poem? Let’s discuss in the comments below!