The waiting-room used to be filled with darkness, a faint light, its walls were scarlet red. There were windows now, light shone brightly inside the olive green room. It was a pleasant place to be, a man would feel calm here.
Her next patient sat there, smiling around him. It looked much better than before. A woman came out the room and smiled at the person in the waiting-room, he smiled back. Perhaps there was a certain attraction the man thought, perhaps I still got it.
The patient entered Dr. Benway’s office. To Dr. Benway, it was like seeing a ghost.
”I really like what you’ve done to the place. It looks much better now.”
”I can’t believe it, it’s really you.”
”It’s me, I’m back.”
He sat in front of her, looked around. The room was another pleasant olive green. There were paintings on the wall. The paintings evoked the natural beauty of this world, a transcendence one could capture if we were to really look.
”When you called I thought it was some practical joke.”
”You recognized my voice did you?”
”You didn’t sound the same. You sounded like a different person.”
”I’m the same person but with a different state of mind.”
She looked him over, he looked better. The scruffy hairs were gone. Clean clothes. His eyes were clear, it evoked even a calmness that seemed so unnatural to him.
”You look good.”
”Thank you, so do you.”
”You’ve been missing for over a year Harry. You can’t blame my reaction. People naturally assumed you were dead.”
”I needed to wander the world a bit, be invisible, do some soul-searching. I needed to get acquainted with America.”
”Where did you go?”
”I’ve been about everywhere. I’ve met a lot of people, so many beautiful people…” Harry paused, as their faces came back to them, ”I’ve fallen in love with his country again. For a long time, I thought it was lost, without a chance of salvation. I forgot how beautiful this country really is. I went to all these different states with different laws, I’ve talked to people. People took me into their houses. I’ve even been with a few women,” Harry smiled, thinking about the young girl he had, the older woman, a woman of his age. How beautiful they are. How there was nothing more beautiful than a woman.
”Maybe I’ll tell you about this one day, but I’m only here for a few days. Hitting the road again soon.”
”So why have you come back?”’
”I wanted to come clean. Been doing a lot of thinking on the road. Even about the things I didn’t want to think about. You were there for me for many years, you’ve tried to make me confront them. And now I have. I wanted to thank you for pushing me as far as you did.”
”Well it’s my job,” she smiled, feeling touched.
”When Sheryl left me I was a wreck. Deep down I knew it wasn’t going to work. I spend years convincing her that I was worth loving, but it shouldn’t have been like that. Her love had faded, it was her choice. When she left me, I lost it. I was a wreck…”
He took a deep breath.
”During this time, my mother was enduring a relapse. A failed relationship had brought her over the top, she called for me. I didn’t answer because it was too painful for me to admit that my relationship had ended. She killed herself and I blamed myself.”
He took a deep breath, it still hurt, he went on: ”It wasn’t my fault. I should have picked up but I didn’t know what was going on. There were signs sure, but you can’t blame it on yourself. She was a troubled person. I loved her and she loved me. She wouldn’t want me to feel guilty about this neither.”
”No she wouldn’t Harry.”
”So for years, I locked myself in a little sound-stage and committed myself to my weekly podcast, leaving my literary ambitions behind. I think I’m going to write again, though I still miss my podcast. I had an audience, even met some people who loved my show.”
”I miss it too Harry.”
”I really miss mom. She was my angel. I like to think she’s still around. I like to think she’d be proud of me.”
”She would be. I’m sure of it.”
”It still hurts and sometimes I want to hide again, but I’ve learned to deal with it. I’m ready to move on.”
Dr. Benway smiled, she felt paternal over Harry, just like she did with many other patients. She was so proud of him, so hopeful.
”I need to go now Dr. Benway, I have a schedule to keep.
”So where are you going to go?”
”I don’t know. I still think there’s this place in America somewhere, where there are people like me. People who want to devote themselves to truth, the values of what America once stood for. Maybe I will find that place and if not, that’s okay too.”
He got up and when they shook hands he said: ”life is an absurd fucking place. Sometimes I don’t see it. Sometimes it looks like an endless series of human tragedies. But then I look beyond, then I think of you, I think of my mother, I think Crispin, Dale, all the people that I loved, all the people that loved me. And things seem better.”
They wished each other good luck on their journey. When he left the room, he said ”auf wiedersehen.”
They were packed and ready to go, when there doorbell rang. ”Could you get that!” she yelled from upstairs as she was finishing up her make-up in the bathroom.
”Honey, you better come downstairs,” her fiancée called out.
When she went downstairs, to the front-door, she couldn’t believe her eyes.
”I’m sorry I couldn’t be at the wedding,” Harry said, ”but I just heard about it.”
”Harry,” Sheryl said, her fiancee patting her shoulder, ”you were messing. It’s been a year… We thought you were..”
”Yes, I know. I’m sorry for making you that. It was selfish of me. I was in a different place back then. I just wanted to say sorry for this and congratulate you on your engagement.”
She held back the years, it came so close to bursting. For a period of time, she had blamed herself for his disappearance, even mourned him. The romantic love had been long gone, but she still cared of them. This will always be, even if they did not share the same bed together.
”I know you probably blamed yourself for a while, but you shouldn’t. You should do what’s right for you, and I’m happy you moved on…”
”Thank you Harry…” She didn’t know what else to say, she felt like hugging him but composed herself.
Harry turned to her fiancée. A year ago he saw him making love to Cheryl through a webcam footage. He watched it in a wail of tears. Now this memory was laughable. You have to laugh at the absurdity of life.
”I’ve heard your a good man,” Harry said, ”I know you’ll take good care of her.”
”Thanks, nice to finally meet you” said the fiancée who was in a loss for words as well, ”We are going for a little road-trip, meeting some family.”
”Good, it’s a beautiful world out there.”
She could see he was the old Harry, the happy person she fell in love with so long ago.
”I’ve got to get going now, but good luck on your journey. I always wanted you to be happy. In the end that mattered most.”
She reached out to hug him, she told him she was sorry. She was sorry she couldn’t love him the way he needed to be loved. He said there was no need.
”I’m glad your back,” she said.
”So am I.”
It was a cheap hotel-motel room, but it didn’t matter to Harry. A luxury life was alien to him to him now, if it were offered to him, he wouldn’t know what to do with it. On the road, you have to give things up. There was a king-size bed, a TV screen on the wall, a closet, a tiny bathroom, that was it. He would be only there for a few days and to be fair, that was all he could afford anyway. He was running out of money, the trip back had been expensive to him. The savings were almost gone. He didn’t know what he was going to do for money, but he didn’t worry much. He had made some friends on the road, people would try to help him. In America, the people are there for you. In America, you are not on your own.
When he entered his small room, there was a box in the center of his bed. Walking up to it, he saw that there was an envelope taped on top of it. A familiar voice then: ”you expected a package?”
Stone came out the bathroom, steam following from the shower. A towel was covering his middle, just like the last time he saw him.
”You remember what you told me last time we saw each other?”
Stone looked worse than he did before. There was a bigger gut, an unshaven white beard, receding hair but with a long mullet at the back. There was a tiredness in his eyes. The ferociousness was still there but the year has aged him rapidly.
”Am I supposed to be scared,” smiled Stone, walking up to him, inches away from his face.
”I don’t think you get scared,” said Harry, smiling back, ”it’s not in your nature.”
”You know, you look good, I thought you would look worse but you look better.”
”You look worse.”
”My lifestyle, however thrilling, comes with a few sacrifices,” Harry grabbed a chair and sat down, grabbed a cigarette from the pack on the table and lit one. He offered Harry a cigarette too, Harry shook his head.
”For old times sake.”
Harry took it then, Stone lit it for him.
”They just let you in this place?”
”I said I was an old friend and then I gave the manager some money and he didn’t care either way.”
Harry sat down on the bed, ”you’ve been busy I guess, knowing what’s happening with the world.”
”Yeah, president is not doing such a hot job. Tell you the truth, I don’t think I can save him.”
”He hasn’t changed much after the campaign, he pretty much seems like the same guy.”
”He was the people’s elect. The rumors were there in the campaign, the signs were all there and the people were still stupid enough to vote him. They got what they voted for. Don’t know why people are shocked.”
”How have you been Stone?”
”I think I should ask that question to you.”
”You thought I was dead?”
”For a while I did, it took me a while to find you. You just disappeared into some black hole. My guy eventually found you in some fucking hippie commune in the west. Then later you were in Alaska for some fucking reason. I thought about confronting you there but I was a busy and I thought you needed some time.”
”I would tell you I’m sorry but to tell you the truth, I wanted you to think I was dead, but I wasn’t naive to think that I could pull that off.”
”You were hoping I would take you down, just to be safe?”
”A part of me hoped this in the beginning.”
”Shit man,” Stone took a deep puff, ”you still don’t see me as a friend, do you?”
”I’ve thought a lot about you.”
”Did you figure me out?”
”In a way, I do think you wanted to help me. But I also think you were enabling the worst in me, that my unhappiness was a prove of your success. That your dream, your America, was the superior than my America.”
”Now you’ve returned. Did you expect to see me?”
”I expected to see you eventually.”
”You happier now?”
Stone smiled, not sure if he was happy about this myself, ”so my instincts were correct. You needed some time with yourself. I guess my handling of your situation…”
”The boy’s name was Alan Kurd.”
”The boy’s name doesn’t fucking matter,” said Stone ferociously, ”what matters is that you never bothered again.”
”They send me the boy’s file, that’s all.”
”Good,” Stone was tapping ash from his cigarette on the floor.
”How long are you staying?”
”Not for very long.”
”Let’s have a couple of drinks.”
”I don’t drink anymore.”
”Come on, for old times sake. We can go see Dale, you know he’s working for that piece of shit Sean Reilly? He went from you to Reilly, poor guy. He’s not even allowed to smoke weed in the sound-booth.”
”I wanted to see him before I go.”
”Perfect, let’s go then, I’m gonna brush my teeth,” Stone went in the bathroom, ”I’m really happy to see you Harry. It’s easy to lose touch with old friends. Hope we can pick up where we left off.”
Harry said nothing, but turned to face the box. He ripped the envelope lose and opened it. There was a piece of paper, it said: ”WHEN YOU’RE READY.”
Harry took a deep breath, got up and opened a door of a cabinet attached to the wall. There was a box full of separated cutlery, he grabbed a knife. He used this knife to open the box. Inside the box was another wooden box. Harry looked back to see if Stone wasn’t coming. Stone was brushing his teeth, whistling a tune as he did. Harry opened the box. Seeing what was inside, Harry knew what was expected of him.
Art by Thomas Pramhas