“How ya doing?” I say to the empty chair next to me, like I actually expect it to talk back. It won’t, of course – I know it won’t – but there’s something refreshingly simple about being able to talk to inanimate objects and know they’ll never talk back. You don’t really wait for a response because you know one’s never going to come. It’s a known, and I find myself liking knowns more than ever. There’s a saying – better the devil you know than the one you don’t. A lot of people would disagree with this, namely my older sister Tess who’s got a habit of finding devils everywhere, known or unknown, but I find it to be one of the only truths in life.
Anyways, the chair obviously doesn’t talk back, so I close my eyes and imagine my father sitting there, life-size, a twinkle in his blue eyes, a pipe in his mouth, and a friendly smile on his face. I’ve never seen any of the former on my actual father, of course, who’s an overweight balding man with beady brown eyes and doesn’t smoke or smile, but dream-Dad is a lot better than the reality. I find that to be another truth – dreams are always better than reality. No exceptions. Even nightmares bring me a sweeter pleasure than the humdrum of daily life.
Dream-Dad grins at me with that kind twinkle in his eyes, and I know he gets me right away. Because he’s my imagination, I can make him perfect. I can make him say what I need to hear.
“Doin’ all right, son,” he says. “How about yourself?” He’s got a Southern drawl and a low baritone that immediately comforts me. He leans forward like he’s genuinely interested.
“All right, I guess, Pop,” I reply. The “Pop” is another creation I’ve made up. If I ever called my real dad a cute name like that, he’d probably flip. I only call him “Father” or occasionally “sir” if I’m in trouble, which, of course, is more often than not.
As with all of my fantasies, I find my eyes welling up with tears. There’s something so cloying and sweet about this perfection that I know is unattainable. A father who cares about me and gets who I am. Who accepts me no matter what. I dream up mothers, too, but they don’t drink and sisters that don’t always get the benefit of the doubt. I draw up perfect fantasies, sweet images that resound in my head. When I lie in bed at night, my hands wrapped around my throat, pillow over my mouth and nose, I long to slip into a dream state so I can see them again. Their perfect, made-for-TV faces, impeccable clothes, gentle voices, soft skin. But the main part is they all have a twinkle in their eye and their kindness is genuine. I can’t explain their color, not in words. It frustrates me to even try.
When my dad says “Fuck off, you little prick,” dream-Dad twists those words into “Just a moment, sonny boy. I gotta take this phone-call, then we can go throw a baseball around or something, neh?”
When my mom says “You’re a fucking failure, Jason,” dream-Mom says “I’m proud of you, honey.”
When my sister says “You’re actually the most unattractive person I’ve ever met, no wonder you can’t get a girlfriend” dream-Tess says “I love you, Jason. I’m so lucky to have a brother like you.” OK, it’s a little cliché, but the words are sweet and dream-Tess means them, one hundred percent.
“I’m scared,” I whisper to dream-Dad. I’m not afraid to admit my weaknesses to him either. He knows I’m scared but then he also knows I’m no coward. I’ll do what I have to do. But he also knows it’s okay for me to feel uneasy. This is an irreversible action and it’s the most important decision I’ve ever made in my life. “Help me choose.”
“I can’t help you choose,” he says. “You know that, son. But I can tell you that we are waiting for you. We love and miss you, Jason. Me, and Mommy, and Tess. We want you to be with us permanently, not just in your imagination. You’ve been through a lot in your 16 years. We want you to not have to experience the pain and hurt anymore.”
“I know,” I say. “But what about Roger?” Roger’s my dog. He’s pretty much the only thing in my life that doesn’t beat, mock, or taunt me, hence why he’s my favorite out of everyone in this shitty family.
“You got dream-Roger,” he says kindly.
“OK,” I say. “Okay. A roll of the dice.” The end of it is that I’m not really gonna choose. I don’t believe in God but I believe in luck. I’ll let luck choose for me. A roll of the dice, a bullet in one of the six chambers. I spin the chamber so I don’t know where the bullet is, take a breath, throw the dice.
The chances of this being the end are high, so high, that I feel my breath quicken and my heart begin to wake up.
“You’ll stay with me, right?” I beg, not embarrassed, because he knows why I need him there.
“Of course,” dream-Dad says. “I’ll even get Mom and Tess here.”
“No, no,” I say, shaking my head. “I don’t want them. I just want you.”
“Okay,” he replies. “I’m here for you, son. I’m so goddamn proud of you. I know I don’t say that enough, but it’s true. You are the light of my life, boy.”
I sniffle. This is embarrassing. If anyone were to walk in right now, they’d see me crying on the floor of my room, gun pressed to my temple, and they’d draw their conclusions. “Always knew he was a fucking freak,” they’d say.
Fuck them, though. This is my life. Dream-Dad watches me, a calm smile on his face.
“Okay,” I say. Here goes nothing.
The click happens quickly, almost instantaneously. I’ve closed my eyes and scrunched up my face as if for impact, but the lack of it has left me reeling. I shake my head out and exhale quickly. My heart is beating faster and I feel exhilarated and scared all at the same time. I smell the color copper in the air, but not the copper of blood. Like, a softer copper. A penny copper. The smell of excitement is the best way to describe it, I guess. It smells metallic, and sweet, and apprehensive. It's kind of red at the same time too. Not a bright red that's like a firetruck or something. A cooler red. A deeper red. The red of sunsets. Kind of the red of regrets. A red that makes me want to see more reds.
I love it.
The gunmetal feels cold and heavy in my hand, but warm at the same time. I strain my ears to hear for footsteps, but none appear. Father’s off doing God-knows-what, Mom’s probably getting drunk at some bar and flirting inappropriately with married men 15 years her junior, and Tess is… well, I actually don’t know where Tess is. Very few people do. She sort of just does her thing, popping in to insult me from time to time. I assume she’s fucking some new trick now, because I saw her with her STD test results a few days ago. I wonder how she doesn’t have any STDs considering she’ll sleep with practically anything that moves. Fucking whore. Sometimes I wish she'd get syphilis and die. Except I'm pretty sure you can't actually die from syphilis.
Either way, I'm alone.
This time, I relax slower, and my breath doesn't return to normal. I feel sweat beginning to pop out on my forehead, and I breathe a little heavier. I reach out for some liquid courage and shake my head a few times, down the whiskey, which burns my stomach. I cough at the acrid taste but feel better almost instantly.
“Drinking age in the U.S. is 21, son,” dream-Dad says disapprovingly.
“I know,” I say. “But I need something to get me through this.”
“All right, boy,” he says quietly.
I’m full-out shaking now, trembling like a leaf in a summer storm. One of the next two will be it, I know it will. My death is on the horizon and I’m a ship looking out from shore. It’s looming over me, getting bigger now and–stop. Jason, calm. You’ve got this.
“Wanna talk?” Dream-dad says hastily.
“Okay,” I say, glad for the out. It relieves me, and I feel my heart stop pounding quite so fast. “Whaddya wanna talk about?”
“I dunno,” dream-Dad says. “How’re the Giants doing?”
“All right,” I say. “They won against the Braves yesterday and today. Think they beat the Brewers too. Oh, and they swept the Dodgers.”
“That’s my team! Damn straight. Nobody plays like the Giants.”
“You’re damn right,” I say, grinning from ear to ear, and we both erupt into laughter together.
“I miss the Panda, though.”
“Me too. But Duffy’s got third base down pretty well. Hell of a swing, too.”
“Posey’s still got it as well. You see that homer he hit a few days ago? Knocked the seams straight outta the park!”
I chuckle. Dream-Dad loves baseball as much as I do.
“You ready?” he asks, gesturing to the pistol I hold.
“Yeah. All right.”
He’s the first to speak. “Damn. You have some crazy luck.”
“Tell me about it,” I breathe. “I don’t wanna do the–I need a moment.”
“All right, son” he says quietly. “You just sit there real easy and take your time. We got all the time in the goddamn world.”
I laugh but it comes out as more of a snort because I’m crying at the same time. It’s like this tear-filled snot bubble just sort of erupts down my face and I suddenly feel wetness everywhere. It's disgusting but oddly pleasant at the same time. Like the color yellow. Certain things about it makes you want to puke, but other times, it's exactly what you need.
I lay the gun down, get up, and stretch.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I want to go take a shower and put on my Sunday best. There’s just something so final about pulling that for the fifth time. I just have a feeling.”
“OK,” dream-Dad says. “You do that. I’ll just wait right here.”
I stand up on shaky legs and quickly undress. I dart into the shower, allowing the hot water to ease the tension in my shoulders, relax my muscles. I didn’t actually lay out my Sunday best but I put on a fresh pair of boxers, my ripped up, fraying Tim Lincecum jersey (not that he’s doing much these days, but he’s still my favorite pitcher) and a pair of jeans. I run a hand through my wet brown hair, wash my face a couple times, and look into the mirror. I see myself as I am, which may not sound like a lot, but your self esteem kind of gets crushed when you’re told what a hideous freak you are each and every day. You start to see yourself the way you think others see you. Like some sort of social pariah, but their words hurt you. Scar you. Twist you. Shape you.
I manage to see myself as a moderately attractive teenage boy, with clear skin, dark brown hair that’s swept back messily, blue eyes, and olive skin. I know I’m not like, Brad Pitt or something, but the symmetry of my face is oddly pleasing.
“I like you,” I say to the mirror. “That’s why I’m doing this.”
The mirror doesn’t respond.
“Proud of you, bro,” dream-Tess says, stepping out into the light. “I’m excited to finally be able to spend time with you. You’re a pretty cool guy.” She grins at me, baring her perfect white teeth. The real Tess has teeth that are stained yellow from all the cigs she smokes and she's missing two of them from some fist fight she got into with another whore who slept with her man. Personally, I think she deserved it. Dream-Tess grins at me, knowing exactly what I am thinking.
“Thanks,” I say.
“I love you, honey,” dream-Mom says, smiling at me and my reflection. I exhale upon seeing her because she looks just like the flesh-and-blood figure of my dreams. Tall, matronly, dressed in a blue cotton dress, blonde hair in a short bob that’s swept over so there’s no parting and the same blue eyes as me.
My real mom is grossly overweight from all the alcohol she drinks and fast food nights and mornings she has with different men. She’d be stuffing her size 20 ass into a corset or something that would look onloy moderately attractive on a women 30 years younger and 100 pounds lighter. It makes my mom look like a bit of a beached whale.
This mother, dream-Mom, is demure and loving, wears sensible clothes, and works at some big investment bank with a fancy name that everyone's heard of.
I smile and walk back into the room, where dream-Dad is dozing. He wakes up upon my entry though and relights his pipe.
“All right, son,” he says. “We sure about this?”
“I’m sure,” I say. I’m not, but semantics, right? The fantasy is always better than the reality.
The gun presses into my temple again. I feel the weight of the jersey pressing down on me, feel the buckle of the jeans dig into my stomach. I smell, like, sulfur and copper and this time, it’s more the scent of fear. Apprehension. The color grey tinged with black. But I still inhale deeper, short, shallow inhales that make my chest heave up and down but then slowly allow it to settle.
My finger closes over the trigger and
Suddenly, in a flash of light, I realize something. All along, I have known the color of dreams.