A rat comes up to me. He is gray-haired, gray-whiskered, gray-bearded.
I am in my dark room. The bed is shifting, sliding into darkness.
The rat comes up to me. His squeaky voice whispers in my ear that the sink is clogged.
I nod at him. Uh-huh. The sink has been clogged for the past three months and a cesspool of filth and food residue is now swimming in it.
There’s more, the rat keeps squeaking, spitting out hair and dust balls from his tiny mouth. He tells me that the shower and bathroom drains are clogged too.
They have been for months. The water had overflown and the drains were spouting liquid like fountains. It was nearly impossible to walk in there. Only I’d forgotten about it.
I got up and paced the room. I stared at the square floor, the little cuts in the ceiling and the cracks in the walls. I remembered walking into the apartment on the first day with my landlady screaming over my shoulder: RENT IS DUE ON THE 7TH OF THE MONTH. DON’T BE LATE. I never was, since then.
I distinctly remember a beam of sunlight perusing the room on that day. Now shades of dark groom me in my sleep, in my wake, in my existence in this place. The shadows make for good company when you are alone: they constantly remind you they are there, they are present, they are watching.
I hear footsteps upstairs. Is it a plumber, finally coming in to put me out of my misery? It’s hard to have your life depend on someone else’s job.
Everything was coming to me now: the rat squeaking, the water gurgling, the landlady screaming and harassing people at the reception desk, the plumber that might or might not come, the faltering pipeline behind my walls, the rusty sewage system implemented beneath my floor.
Walking in filth put a man in touch with reality – it brought him closer than making his own ham and cheese sandwich and eating it in the cold with no heating in Parisian wintry weather, it brought him closer than hand-washing clothes when the washer was out, it brought him closer than killing the deathly spider and leaving it there to dissolve on the floor because there was nothing to pick it up with.
The rat scurries now, he goes back to his small hole (that I hadn’t noticed until now) in my wall to join his other rat friends and possibly tell them about what he saw in the bigger world. I think how much tidier his hole would look than my room, and if I could possibly visit it someday or live in it for a while.
I crack open my window, just small enough to ensure no creature will crawl or fly or fit into it. The natural world is much more organized and lively than mine.
I look over at the lyrics books stacked on my bed. The songs I’ve written over the years are no closer to saving me than that no-show plumber.
I have been playing the guitar and performing everywhere for the past twenty years. The people who listened to my music told me it transported them to other worlds. Now I want to slit open this dimension and move away from it all: the performances that don’t seem real, the music that doesn’t seem real, the lyrics that don’t seem real. Hell, even this room doesn’t seem real. Everything is sliding sideways, and I am the fairy-killer hell-raising captain steering this sinking ship.
In the distance a dog is barking. I could seldom hear women screaming out my name in an almost unified chant. Now it is just the dog and he sounds much more pleased than me with the way life is shaping up ahead.
Another pounding against my ceiling. There is definitely movement upstairs but it doesn’t interest me. It doesn’t even stir me or trouble me anymore.
I open my side-closet and check for my guitar. A black mid-range Cort G350 series with a vinyl flame glazing the body. I don’t feel like touching it, I am ashamed to touch it, just prefer to leave it there. Leave it in the shade of the wreckage surrounding it, leave a separation between it and the rest of the room.
In the bathroom the water keeps going, and it is strange how much more powerful a sound it makes now, how acutely it is heard. Maybe it was me thinking about it so much, thinking about stepping in shit the next time I wanted to shower.
I should have been a circus clown. I wouldn’t lose out on the thrill of performing and entertaining crowds while being provided a decent room and some warm food to live by. My only handicap would be lucking in with women, but they have been scarce even in this life.
Having a woman here now would have certainly made things easier. It would have split the pain if anything. She could have been smoking a cigarette sitting half-naked on my bed with the rest of her clothes laying all about the room, dusting off the tip of her smoke on my floor and scattering the ashes on my dishes. That would still have been good for me.
A restless quiet sets in. The music of the gurgling water fades, the pumping of the water reservoir heater dissipates and the tapping of the clogging pipes behind my walls recedes.
The shadows are gone, I don’t feel them anymore. They’ve disappeared entirely and pulled out of this toxic atmosphere. I no longer hear the whiskers of the rat fretting and rubbing off whenever he speaks. I no longer hear the music of my own compositions.
The only thing I hear is the dog still barking at a distance.
Hanna Abi Akl is an English poet, novelist and short story writer. Born Lebanese, he was raised in Beirut before moving to France at the age of 25. There, his writing became more prolific and some of his work is featured in literary magazines and anthologies, most notably: The RainPartyDisaster Society, Talking Soup, Centum Press, Turning Point, Peeking Cat Poetry, Beirut Poetics, Ten Million Flies, Kiss My Poetry and Ink In Thirds. Hanna published his first work of poetry in 2017. He has two novels and two poetry collections to his name.
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