FICTION: They Live on the Other Side of Language – Part One/Chapter Five
Big Joe Wilson wants to stay rational, but a cult has brainwashed his wife. They convinced and taught her to forget language in pursuit of an uninterpretable heaven on the other side. Now Big Joe has to decide. Will he relinquish complete control over his wife’s catatonic state to doctors, or will he give into the cult’s nonsense and go in there after her, on the other side of language?
“They Live on the Other Side of Language” is a serial novel whose chapters will appear monthly, exclusively on Tuff Gnarl.
Part I, Chapter 5
“Falling Head First”
Antoine’s facial scars captured shadows. The shadows grew with the day’s end, as if at some point they would engulf him.
On Antoine’s porch, Joe leaned back in a rocking chair. He remembered waking this morning to anxiety and the smell of extinguished cigarettes.
The bright moonlight had cast a blue shadow on the otherwise black motel room. He had sat up and stared at Alija’s bare back. Tiny muscles rippled down her fragile frame.
Joe slid from the sheet, dressed in his jeans, and snatched the dirty ashtray from her nightstand. He dumped it into the toilet, flushed, and grabbed the sides of the sink. He stared at his empty outline in the mirror. He felt as though he had lost something.
Now, as he stared at Antoine’s face, he felt as though he were going to lose so much more.
He stared at the blue shadow over the room and wondered how long he stood there staring at it.
He descended to the floor and curled into the child’s pose. Although he intended only to stretch out the stress through the one pose, he found himself undergoing the entire routine. No matter how hard he tried to focus only on the movements, the back of his mind beat himself up pretty badly.
He decided whenever he left the motel, he would leave the area permanently.
Outside the motel room’s door, the sun rose above the mountains. The soft glow shaped trees from their shadows.
Joe called his wife’s nursing station. He listened to the update, which wasn’t really an update at all.
“I know you can’t promise I’ll find her, let alone bring her back.” Joe sat still in the rocking chair. “But are you at least convinced I can do this, that I’ll even make it there?” he almost pleaded. He tried to make eye contact.
Antoine drew a match and relit his cigarillo.
Joe felt himself like Antoine appeared, lost in thought. He remembered staring quietly at his cold coffee in the diner. Alija struggled to make eye contact with him. She touched his hand. The shivers up his neck made him nauseous.
“Are you always like this in the morning?”
“Did I do something wrong?”
Joe shook his head.
Alija hid her face in her hair. Her sigh blew strands. “You know Antoine’s only doing this for my mother.”
Joe said nothing.
Antoine slid the cigarillo from his leathery lips. He leaned on the porch’s railing and tossed the match.
Joe held the diner’s door for her. “Can we see Antoine today?”
“Yes. Please. Let’s get this over with.”
“Good.” Joe pulled the phone from his pocket. “I have to tell my sister where I’m going.”
Alija fumbled through her purse for her phone. “I’ve got to tell mama.”
Antoine stared at the setting sun. The gold streaked across the folds in his face.
“I’m okay, mama. I’m with—. I’m with Mr. Wilson.” She turned and looked at him with uncertainty.
He glanced at Alija, caressed her back, and smiled. “No, we’re free to talk. She’s not with me right now.”
She tilted her head, raised an eyebrow. Alija grinned. “Yeah, he’s right here next to me.” She giggled.
Joe chuckled. “Listen, Kathy. No, I don’t know how long I’ll be gone. And I’m going to be unreachable, too …. Yeah, unreachable. I’m—. I’m—.” He laughed. “Jeez, how do I even say this. Kathy, I’m going to the other side.”
He reached for her hand. She clutched his fingers and squeezed.
Antoine shook his head. “You don’t stand a chance in hell.” Smoke trailed from his hand.
Joe heard Alija inside the house, coming down Antoine’s stairs. “Then why should I do this?”
Alija burst through the door and plopped into Joe’s lap.
Antoine nodded into the wind. “I should ask you.”
(Click HERE to read chapter 6.)
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