"Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before." Edgar Allen Poe
The morning came with the sun shining through open curtains. It was bright, and at a low angle, having just cleared the small hills across the valley. I could not see outside for the glare, or I might have noticed the darkness earlier. As it was, I squinted into the light seeing nothing, allowing it briefly to pass over my face as I rose from bed.
I could hear the children outside the door to our bedroom. Every morning my wife would rise early, anticipating the ritual of the children and their always-scheduled lives. If it were not a school day, it would be some other group, club, lesson, practice or game. It seemed there was never a break. So she would rise early and dress, making herself ready in a hurry, then leave our bedroom, closing the door slowly and deliberately behind her, careful to suppress the sounds of its closing, allowing me the extra hour of sleep before I too rose to find my way to the office, or the train, or the airport, or, if I was fortunate, to a breakfast meeting with one of my local clients.
But this day was a rare Saturday with nothing scheduled, for me. I dug into my slippers, using my toes to pull each foot in snuggly, and shuffled across the cold marble floor that seemed to be the fashion in this neighborhood. I did not go into the bathroom to relieve myself as I might have, as I almost always surely did. So I did not lean forward over the toilet bowl, placing my hand on the wall in front of me and staring at my reflection in the glass of the framed ‘Sitting Duck’ print mounted above the toilet tank. I did not regard my unshaven, aging face and thinning disheveled hair, and tell myself how I still looked pretty good for coming up on fifty. Had I, I might have noticed the darkness then.
I trod downstairs to find the kids at the kitchen island on high stools, munching toast and cereal. My wife said ‘Hi’ and gave me a light kiss, and the children all said ‘Hi Dad’ without looking up from their iPhones. I poured coffee and leaned against the counter looking at them as they gathered up and scurried out the door into the garage to pile into the mini-van. I waved and offered 'goodbyes' and 'have funs'.
Inside I wanted to scream. Each small movement, all the little sounds of their congress, each exchanged bicker, each ignored request from their mother, in fact, each request from their mother, all of it, inside, ripped at my sanity. Surely, I had to scream. Of course I did not. I smiled.
The sound of the garage door motor pushing closed, and the motor of the minivan accelerating, fading into the distance, signaled the silence and aloneness I craved. They would be gone for two or three hours, then it would start again. All the meaningless, emptiness of this existence, of my existence, of theirs, I could not bear it. And there was no escape.
Until I saw the darkness.
But this day, I decided to go for a drive, one I had taken before, but not often. This day I was at the end of it. My private, self-made, prison hell closed in around me and I needed some kind of release.
I used to travel, on business. I was away a lot. Things were better then. I could breathe then. I did not need my lost afternoons.
Those afternoons, and today, I would lie to my wife. ‘Ran into a past client when I arrived at the club. Never got to my practice round.’
She never suspected anything. It was not that often. There were no telltale signs, no scent of another woman, or of alcohol, or even of cigarettes. No lipstick on the collar. No forgotten hotel room key card. Nothing. But maybe, she just did not care.
I did not care. Or maybe I did, after all, I lied.
This day, this lost afternoon, I would see the darkness, and I would change.
I kept them hidden in the spare tire well of my Porsche Targa. They were neatly organized in a locked, black case. Everything I needed was in the case. It was a long drive to my favorite place, but once there I could be lost in the thing, fantasies rampant, great power surging in my hands, driving up my arms into my shoulders and down my spine. I felt focused. Purposeful. Although really it was wasted time; fantasy, acting, pretending.
I cleaned them and restocked my black case before leaving. I stayed until closing. They waved me out the door, locking it behind me and turning out the neon sign along side the highway.
In the early evening light, alone, spent, I leaned against the Targa and close my eyes, the black case held at my side. After a moment, and a deep breath, I put the case into the tire well, snuggly, so it would not make any noise or be damaged.
This night, I saw the darkness. It had been near me all day, but I had not seen it until night, driving home. It sat next to me in the car, as I drove. I don’t know if it was there when I dropped down into the low frame, closing the door and firing the engine, or if it had come in somehow as I drove.
I noticed it at the edge of my vision as I turned slightly onto an entrance ramp to the freeway. I thought there might be something wrong with my eye so I reached my hand to wipe my closed eyelid, hoping to free some obstruction. Of course it was still there, an absence of light, a deep darkness at the corner of my vision. I was sure I had done something to my eye, my right eye, the one I lay level with the riflescope in some of my lost afternoon fantasies.
Entering the freeway, traffic was heavy, demanding my attention. I continued to rub my eye hoping to clear that portion of my vision. It was then, as I negotiated my position in the moving traffic, I saw it move, and that the light from the cars and signs outside framed it. It was in the car with me.
I jumped with a start in my seat, swerving in traffic, drawing the sound of horns and unheard exclamations. The darkness spoke.
In what passed as an unending moment, I struggled to bring the car to the side of the freeway, past a bridge barrier, finally at an odd angle with the front tire well out onto the slope of a dirt embankment.
It spoke with no voice, a terrible empty resonance pulling from the base of my skull into my chest, a horrible draining, sickening feeling; a dead zone.
I sat in the Targa, staring at the consuming darkness as it addressed me, my body shaking in a cold sweat. I understood. Then the darkness came into me, filling that space created. Filling the dead zone where resided my soul.
My family did not notice the darkness when I walked into the kitchen. They did not seem to notice the black case in my hand. They fell into their ritual, and I mine, with smiles and ‘how was your day’ and ‘yes went to the driving range but ran into Paul’, all of it with my black case, the heart of the darkness, resting there on the kitchen island, and I, with darkness looking out behind my smile.
I stood, leaning over the kitchen island, propped up on my elbows.
I was in no rush to leave their presence, as I would have been before the darkness. I lingered and looked at them with new eyes. They ignored me, as I had taught them over many past comings home. They were each to their internal dialog, expecting me to disappear and leave them again in their clutch with mother, gathered around the kitchen island. But I stayed and studied them. The darkness helped me to see the fear, and the hope, in each.
My oldest, fourteen, she wanted to have sex. But she was afraid. She knew the boys thought she was cute, pretty even. She had already let her wannabe boyfriend feel her up outside the gym at a school dance. It was exciting. Made her warm inside. But she had to push him away and ended up slapping him when he would not stop. I smiled openly as I looked at her. She was texting a girl friend; maybe they should meet the older boys who wanted to take them to a movie this weekend. The boys had a car.
Maybe I should make sure the little princess got laid this weekend.
I chuckled a little and she looked up from her phone with a question on her face. My wife looked up from stirring something in a bowl with a similar question on her face. I laughed a little louder and waved my hand in front of my face, dismissing their interest.
“Just something I heard today. Nothing.” I took hold of my black case and raised myself, “I’m going to get into something comfortable. I’ll see you guys in a minute.”
For just a moment they all looked at me, then, almost in unison, eyes fell back into their phones, and the bowl.
As I left the kitchen a small voice caught me.
“Daddy, are you OK?”
I turned to see my youngest looking at me, his mop of sandy hair piled on his head and falling down across his eyes. He looked really cute.
I’ll take him for a haircut tomorrow, a buzz cut!
I smiled broadly at the thought.
“Yes son, I am great! I feel really great!” I said enthusiastically, in a somewhat raised voice.
“OK dad!” He returned my enthusiasm and smiled big.
He had seen the darkness, just a glimpse, but he did not know what he was seeing.
Something’s wrong with daddy.
I turned quickly, crossing the large open living room to the stairs that would take me to the family room and bedrooms of the second floor. I paused at the bottom of the stairs, the little guy was still watching me. His smile was gone. I smiled.
Maybe he will have an accident soon.
I climbed the stairs almost in a skip, feeling great.
I set the black case on our super-king bed and sat down with my hand on top of it. I sat there, still for a moment, and just felt the great emptiness all around me, and the darkness deep inside me. How had I not known this before? It was an amazing thing, darkness, and once it had come into me, filling all the emptiness inside, I no longer cared, I no longer asked or sought to understand. Myself. Life. Purpose. Love.
Darkness filled the emptiness of my life. It came to me through, and really from, the two small, but powerful residents, of my black case. I smiled.
“Sweetheart.” I called to my wife from the bed in a strong voice. There was no answer.
I pushed off my shoes, standing, unbuttoning my shirt as I walked out of our bedroom toward the stairwell. I pulled my shirt off and discarded it on the floor as I walked across the family room.
“Sweetheart.” I called in a raised voice down the stairwell to the first floor and the family assembled in the kitchen. “Can you come upstairs for a few minutes?”
I did a small waltz step toward the bedroom, kicking my discarded shirt into the bedroom with a flourish, opening my belt and unbuttoning my pants as I passed the open door.