by Matthew Salyers
He was fifty-two and he had hair but not a lot of it and the hair he did have was more gray than blonde, matted to the skull with a licked palm or sometimes a loogie that had a yellow tint because of phlegm from a smoker’s cough, and he would be the first to tell you on a scale of one to ten with one being a job and a family and a roof over his head and ten being the lack of all these things he was a conservative nine because he was the type of person to tell it like it is, maybe not exactly like it is but maybe more like how he saw it, and his mother used to tell him An honest man don’t got nothing to hide but his birthday suit, though he came to learn that in all reality an honest man doesn’t have anything and that is why he slept on an inflatable raft in the back of a storage closet at First Baptist Church, two blocks off of Main Street, the one with the stained glass that was real stained glass and it depicted a scene from Hebrews 12:1 – which says something like run with patience the race that is set before us – and he has undoubtedly been patient but maybe he missed the word run because the race was over years ago and he has been stealing bananas from the church kitchen – eighty-seven in a span of fifty days from June to July – while Bobby, who sat in front of him in twelfth grade homeroom and got a scholarship from Villanova to play some sport with his hands and met a girl with hips wide enough to naturally birth three boys with cantaloupe heads, drinks double malt scotch in front of his television set but that is not to say that life is without blessings because he found a package of meat sometime around the end of June, and he kept the meat in a microwave that he used as a fridge next to his raft and next to the three dozen Gatorade bottles full of piss lining the floor even though a functional bathroom was adjacent to the closet door and this made his living arrangement reek of stale salt water and ammonia (the Gatorade bottles were collected in a bin to be recycled until he found a use for them and a single bottle could last over a day because he never drank too much) and the microwave was not plugged in he wasn’t stupid it was just for storage, a sense of privacy and definition as if to say valuables do not belong next to piss and for good reason the smell of urine and raw meat does nothing for an appetite and everything had a place in the closet and he knew where everything was, like he planted a garden and could pick out the tulips lined in the back row or the marigolds clumped in the middle, and he had amassed a small collection of items intended for the homeless and needy and he thought that although he was not homeless – he did have a closet with a raft that only had a slow leak and a microwave that could hold a twenty ounce sirloin – he surely needed a plastic keyboard from the Toys For Tots box which did not have batteries but he liked the way the keys felt when he pushed them down and he could close his eyes and turn the click of a black key that he did not know as a sharp into a sound that was more reminiscent of a trumpet, unsure of how a piano actually sounded, and he imagined what his mother would say if she could see him composing like Bartok if she knew who Bartok was and she would probably say Boy you got my toes tappin’ like a dog’s tail on hardwood floor and sometimes when he was not waiting for a spring to reload underneath a plastic piano key or looking through assembly instructions for a coffee maker that had never been used he wondered if he gave his mother too much credit and maybe he blocked out all the godawful things she had said to him before falling over dead from a brain aneurysm when he was fourteen years old but it was hard to complain when he rested his head down on the green inflatable raft, pulling his shirt up to expose a bare stomach and rubbing the curly hair of his torso in circular motions like a relaxed man applying suntan lotion at the beach belly up to the clouds and it was hard to complain because he was not homeless or he was not homeless until a diminutive Peruvian man began yelling in his general direction You can’t be here! You can’t be here! and there was a moment of confusion as he felt as though he was being harassed by an intruder in his own house and questions ran through his head Who are you? What are you doing in my home? until he realized that he was actually the intruder and this was not a house this was a storage closet in a church and he gathered up all of his essential belongings in a backpack which he wore high and tight for no other reason than it was a child’s backpack and that was the only way he could wear it and there was a waddle to his walk like a mallard or more like a penguin with the weight of his entire body quickly shifting from one side to the other as he raced past the small man wearing a carpenter’s belt and holding a hammer and in the hysteria he knocked over a stack of folding tables which he would have avoided if he had time to grab his cardboard map of all the items placed throughout the closet; even in the dark he knew where everything was because a map was the only honest thing he had left anymore and he did not have many things except for what could fit in a bag made for a child.
– Matthew Salyers is a writer currently studying and teaching at George Mason University. He is a native of western Pennsylvania, not to be confused with eastern Pennsylvania. Hobbies include nail-biting, vacuuming, and obsessing over Doctor Who with his girlfriend.