Somewhere Far, Someplace Near by Wyatt Hester

Outside, birds were chirping, but I couldn’t hear them. The open window only allowed inside the noise of urban nightmares and machinery hard at work. Weeks, or maybe even months, of unopened mail and dirty dishes had found themselves accumulating around my apartment, giving me the feeling as though the gray walls were closing in on me. The stale air’s only release could be that window that taunted me with a view of the flourishing green of the city park across the bustling street down below. Taxis and angry commuters raced past, and unbelievably dense crowds drowned the sidewalks. The concrete below them was ready to break from the weight like an old horse on its last leg. But I chose to stay inside.

From my record player, Metallica was going at full blast, sludging its way through “The Thing That Should Not Be” while I paced around the living room, biting my nails and trying to think out my limited options as clearly as possible. Further stopping me from forming a coherent thought, my cell phone sounded off and I knew exactly who it would be. Checking the caller ID confirmed it. Rachel. Rushing over to turn down the music before answering, I stumbled over a mass of old fantasy and adventure paperbacks that had overflowed from the coffee table onto the floor.

For a moment, I stared at my phone, putting off answering. I released a deep breath I didn’t know I was holding and answered the call.

“He- “I cleared my throat. “Hello?”

“Hey there! I’m like three minutes from Cunningham’s. We’re still on for lunch, right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. The foot traffic is insane, but I’m just down the street.” I bit my lip and moved a curtain aside to stare down at the dense crowd that swarmed all over the sidewalk.

“Beautiful!” Her voice had such a lively spark to it. “If you get there first, just go ahead and grab a table if you can find one.”

            I agreed and gripped my sweaty forehead as we exchanged goodbyes and hung up. I groaned and shook my head.

“Did I not warn you about trying those dating sites, Lewis? I said you would never follow through.” My Toshiba radio said in the snootiest way possible with that familiar static tinge to its voice. That old piece of shit. I can’t even remember when it started speaking to me. Only me.

“I thought it could be a good way to give myself motivation to go outside.” I responded with the doubt hanging over my words. It was never anything more than a pipedream. A silly distraction from the aching pain in my chest I understood to be loneliness.

It was true, the radio had warned me that it was a bad idea, but I had never expected to get as far as matching with someone that would be interested in meeting up. I couldn’t recall the last time I had left the apartment for anything more than my food delivery person annoyingly requesting that I meet them at the entrance to the building.

My job could be done completely through my computer, thank God, and I got my fill of interactions with people from answering calls from customers and assisting them with their computer troubles. All, that is, except the Toshiba radio, my reluctant, sole source of companionship.

Over the past three years, I have lived on and off like this, barely stepping foot on the weathered concrete outside of my home. What was the point? Why brave the elements when a cold bleak world was so ready to step on me?

Normally, when faced with going outside, I would have easily come up with a reason to not go, but now the date was solidified, and it was too late to secure a way out of it. I had done many things I was ashamed of, and I did not want that list to continue with the standing up of a successful university graduate nice enough to give me a chance. Even if she did not know the extent of my reclusive world.

“That traffic sounds pretty bad out there.” The radio said condescendingly. “Do you know the statistics for pedestrians hit by motor vehicles at this time of year?”

“Fuck off. The restaurant isn’t far. I’ll just take the long path away from the busy roads and crowds.” I countered.

“Yeah, and likely get held up and stabbed by a mugger. Or worse. You could fall down an open manhole or you could you simply step in a pothole in the road while crossing and completely shatter your ankle. Explain that to your date.” I knew he was right. There were far too many possible dangers out there. At this thought, my legs gave out and I collapsed onto my lumpy futon. It felt more like a coffin. The ceiling fan rattled above me, promising a swift death.

The next track of the record started. “Sanitarium” released a clean guitar melody that filled the room, slowly building in intensity. The lyrics rang true to me in a way I had not felt before. Welcome to where time stands still, no one leaves, and no one will. I waited through the full length of the song and my mood only worsened. Is this all there is for me?

That familiar ringtone blared from my phone again, making me jump. I only let it go to voicemail. Moments later the phone chimed, alerting me to a text message. I didn’t dare check it.

The radio’s harsh, static-filled voice cut in.

“So, is that it, you’re throwing in the towel? Going to let that sweetheart get stood up on her date and eat alone? I almost started to think you were better than that.”

“I told you; her name is Rachel.” I removed my arm from my face and turned my head to look out the open window. Outside car horns blared and the busy chatter of pedestrians seemed deafening even with my record player chugging along.

“Well, at least you still have never been hit by a car or stabbed for your wallet. Left alone to bleed out in some alley somewhere.”

I lay still, focusing on my breathing.

The radio was silent for a solid couple of minutes. “Oh, come on, you wimp, are you really going to just lie there and feel sorry for yourself?”

“Enough!” I shouted in a way that even surprised myself. “I’m not a wimp. Maybe I’m just not cut out for all of this. All of life outside of this place.”

“Maybe you are right.”

Anger sizzled in my mind in a way that felt as though my brain were frying. I’d had enough. Enough of the sweaty, cramped apartment, enough of the empty escapism on my bookshelves, and enough of the fucking radio’s negativity. At this I finally stood up, giving myself a headache from the sudden burst of motion, and hurriedly stepped into the bedroom of my small inhabitance. I threw on my nice pair of pants, a plain white T-shirt, and my dark navy-blue sport jacket. The unruly mop on my head would have to suffice as it was.

With a shaking hand and white knuckles, I grabbed the doorknob that led out of the rooms which had become my entire world and I looked back. Maybe the air that had previously smelled so strongly of yellowing paperbacks and sweat smelled a little fresher. Or maybe not. As I turned the knob, I could hear that old familiar static whisper, “Best of luck out there.”, I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I had heard the faintest of chuckles before I stepped out into the grimy hallway.

Sharp, flickering fluorescence greeted me, scalding my eyeballs. The warm natural light of my apartment was taken over by the dark blue lighting that fell on the undesirable shade of green wallpaper. I trudged one foot in front of the other, each step more hesitant than the last. Somewhere a baby cried, and I could make out muffled shouting of what I assumed to be domestic turmoil in the apartment across from mine. I passed door after door before I reached the stairway to the first floor. Gripping the handrail, I kept an eye out for any nails that could be standing on the steps, waiting to pierce my foot. Every other step creaked, forcing me to imagine my foot falling through. My sweaty palm slipped along the railing.

I made it to the lobby. There, no one waited, only old furniture reminding me of the horrors of visiting the dentist.

I put my hand on the bar of the door and questioned if I had the strength to push it open. My neck strained as I turned to look back to my safe space for what could possibly be the last time. Heavy exhale. I stepped out onto the concrete.

Amber sunlight greeted me and touched my face reassuringly like that of a mother. I could vaguely hear the birds singing. People swarmed past me, some chattering amongst themselves and others staring at the ground in front of them. The car horns I had heard from above now blared with a more ferocious intensity. My weak first step was cut short by the grinding shriek of metal on metal. About fifteen yards ahead of me a rusty yellow cab slammed into the back of a Buick, causing both vehicles to skew in the road and other cars to slam on their squealing brakes. A large bald man stepped out from the Buick and yelled obscenities I couldn’t register in my state. A much smaller man leapt out of the cab, and before the damage to the vehicles could even be assessed, they were in each other’s faces hurling blame back and forth. Cars and vans behind the accident seemingly all laid on their horns in a deafening symphony.

This was it. This was all I needed to see. Swiftly, in one smooth motion, I threw open the door to the building again and jumped back inside.

I was back at the stairway in no time. I grabbed the rail yet again, but this time, I didn’t go up. I turned to look back at the entrance to the building, my head like a heavy, unbalanced swivel. Should I try again? My legs gave out, but I held tight to the railing, guiding myself down.

            I sat there on the first step with my face in my hands for what felt like several minutes, unable to look at my surroundings any longer. I couldn’t stand the thought of returning upstairs to the space I shared with the awful radio, but I knew I would have to. My phone rang in my pocket three times, but I didn’t answer, I knew it was Rachel and I couldn’t stand to even look. How could I possibly explain the situation to her? Maybe I’ll just be the kind of jerk who stands someone up on a first date, rather than openly admitting to being a coward that’s afraid of his own shadow.

The loneliness brought on by my situation over the past few years had been constant and unforgiving. But was that my fault? Was my cold life a product of the inaction taken to changing it, or was the pain coming from refusal to accept it as is?

I suppose I did give it a try and made it to the cold ground outside of the apartment, for whatever that was worth. Maybe at some point down the line, I could make it further. But really, who knows?


Biography: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to,” –Bilbo Baggins.