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Knot and String

“Scott,” I said, as he walked across the threshold. “If I could only tell you - ”

“Well, you know,” he said, “I have time to listen. I am underemployed. I am a 32-year-old man and feeling lost and unguided. I am at the coffee shop. Someone has pierced their nose, eyebrow, tongue, and likely they have nether, secret peircings as well. They ask if I want dairy or soy milk in my coffee. I don't want either. I don't want the coffee. I want to be transported to a city in the sky filled with interesting things. I want someone to gently stroke my forehead and tell me I'm okay. Certainly I am not alone in this.”

He walked across the floor, sat down, and I saw he was thinner than the last time I saw him, his eyes brighter.

“There are some couches in the back of the coffee shop,” he continued. “There is a painting on the wall. It is an ironic portrait of children in Halloween costumes. One is dressed as a bee. The other is dressed as a flower. I overhear a woman tell another woman about her colon. So I turned around and left the coffee without paying, and I walked the length of 5th Avenue from 50th St. to the Park having to pee the whole time, my entire groin filled with pressure, until I had to stop and hold onto street signs to avoid spraying hot blasts of urine all the way down my pants, simultaneously wishing I had a cup of coffee, feeling like an extraterrestrial, apathetic. We have to really cut holes in our foreheads to feel anything? To be primitive? We're not primitive enough? Can I stay here tonight? I can't face my apartment.”

“You are welcome to stay here,” I said. “But there could be a rat if you stay here tonight. There is open sewage in our basement. We are disappointed with the landlord. He has allowed there to be flowing open sewage in the basement. It is green and bubbles. The exterminator showed it to us. There is your problem, he said, pointing at a hole in the basement where the open sewage was. You don't have rats. You have a rat expressway. I have been traveling to avoid being here. I just got back an hour ago.”

“Paul.” He smiled. “We will face the rat together. We are friends. We have love and history. We will sleep in the same room and the rats. We are stronger. We will form a community and keep out the vermin. We will be less alone.”

“So,” I said, “let me tell you about myself. I took a great length of string.”

“What is the string?”

“I don't know. I have the vehicle but not the tenor. And I knotted it up. I did this over 2 years. I made some bad decisions. But I did it in an ingenious manner. If you looked at it it was as complicated as a monkey's brain. An infernal knot, a huge ball of interconnected foolishness. But then things happened - ”

“The rat.”

“The rat, and the sudden peering off the precipice, and my loneliness vanished -”

“A girl - ”

“No, not for a while. Haven't looked or listened much, you know. No, a sense of control. But I sort of vanished, sort of pulled back from the world a bit while trying new things. Traveling. Seeing the world a bit. Shutting myself off from almost everyone. Because honestly I was sitting in bed a lot and thinking of bad places to go. Digging around myself. And feeling tugged and pulled. Feeling very random.”

“So the knot.”

“The knot, it was one of those knots that you just pull one little thread and it all comes loose. One of those sailor's specials. So. So listen, I said. Here is what happened, the short version. I pulled the knot.”

“And?”

“And I am a straight line, not an endless looped pathway. But I am so angry, just boiling.”


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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