Robert “Robbie” Jeffery lived with his Father in a two-story apartment that was made of concrete and carved into the side of an ex-halfway house. Robbie liked to call his room “The Attic” because on the second story, the only light it got came from a square of glass cut into the shingles of the roof, which belonged to his Father, who called his house “The Condo.” On his last day living at home, Robbie sat on his bed, face to face with his old Simpsons clock, deciding whether or not he should bring it to college. Homer hands were the hour hand, outstretched fingers ready for strangling, forever grasping at the elusive Bart who ran in minute circles above him.
There was no way around it; his room was dirty. It wasn’t that he wasn’t neat, Robbie had just never been good at getting rid of things. Everywhere he went, the stuff seemed to follow him back home, pin itself to his walls, overflow from his closet. An old chemistry set, a model kit, worn shoes and socks from smaller versions of Robbie lay scattered on the floor. Amidst his ruins were a pile of duffel bags and a box labeled “ATTIC” for everything that was to go or to stay, respectively.
Robbie had spent the weekend deconstructing his childhood into boxes, and after a morning of sorting, it was this Simpsons clock, a present in the year he turned seven and Mom still lived at home, that now seemed to mean everything. He sat alone with his thoughts until the complaint of the stairs under his Father’s boots announced his return before two raps on the door did. Before he could respond, a man in a suit stumbled into the room, a black bag slung over his shoulder.
“I’m just joshin’ ya, Son. HA! How’s the packing coming?”
“Okay, I guess. I should be done by dinner.”
“Look at that list I drafted for you and don’t forget anything on it. A lot is going to change in college. Best day of my life when I left home, I remember it like it was yesterday.” He circled the room, pausing to examine a prize Robbie had won in the 2nd grade science fair. “A ribbon, eh? Back in my day, they used to give trophies for winning.”
“Only 1st place gets a trophy.”
“Ah, that’s right, I remember…”
Mr. Jeffery had this annoying habit of trailing off mid-sentence. He’d start talking, steadily building steam, until he’d get stuck on some train of thought, his words left hanging in the air, dangling like some unripened fruit on the family tree.
“I was the first one to go to college in the family, you know. I remember packing while your Grandma sat on front porch in silent protest until I took Papa’s keys, filled up the old truck, and left. Of course, Poppa was housed by then, but he would never have let me go…you know, I don’t think I ever looked back, after leaving. ”
Mr. Jeffery slung the black bag on top of the three black duffel bags, packed in a pyramid and turned to face his boy. He paused, not trailing off, but hesitating. The room seemed to shrink as Robbie sat there on the bed, his Father towering before him, the familiar hint of mouthwash cool on his breath.
“I’ve- I’ve got something I’d like to give you.”
The boy’s eyes grew wide as his Father procured a small white tube from his breast pocket.
“Do you know what this is?”
Robbie shook his head.
“Son, these are drugs.”
Robbie shook his head violently.
“I see you haven’t been around drugs before, and that’s good, I’m proud of you for- for abstaining. You know, I know what kind of cigarettes your friends are smoking behind the tennis courts after class.”
“We don’t have tennis courts, Dad.”
“During lunch then, whenever. This may come as a surprise to you, but I remember what it was like at your age. In fact, I was once known to smoke the occasional joint, back in the day.”
Robbie’s jaw fell from his face. “But Dad, you said that weed was for dweebs!”
“That’s right, Son, and I meant what I said. That was a long time ago. A very, very long time ago. That was in my past, I’ve done everything- everything I could, to put them behind us. I’ve worked hard these 18 years to instill strong morals in you, Robbie, my song, and it makes me proud to see that you have made these values your own. But it’s a scary world out there- there are people and drugs I’ve… what’s important is that I’ve had your best interests at heart, and I know you have the sense to see that.”
“I’m 17, Dad.”
“Everything is about to change! Don’t you see? You will be far from home in a strange world where you have access to alcohol, drugs, and women without leaving your dorm. It can be overwhelming! Some won’t last the first semester. Now, I’m sharp enough to know that you’ve tried alcohol before [Robbie became a tomato] so I’m assuming you can handle your booze. But before I let you leave, I need to know that you are prepared for everything else. Do you understand?”
“I think so…”
Mr. Jeffery procured a lighter and held out the small white tube.
“Geez, Dad, I don’t know about that.”
“It’s just a little drugs, Robbie, it’s not going to hurt you.”
“Can you smoke it for me?”
“Hold the lighter like this, then flick that down. Now hold it to your lips, set the end on fire, and breathe in deeply and slowly.”
Robbie did as he was told, then coughed himself back onto the bed.
“How- GHMFF – how long do I have to wait for?”
“About thirty seconds. Until your vision starts to shake.”
“I don’t feel anything.”
“You will.” He turned away from the boy. “Now, I’d like to show you something.”
“Remember that old Halloween costume we found in the basement?”
“I think so…”
“That’s from my fraternity days. We used to call it The Bunny. It was used to rank the pledges. One night at the end of their process, we’d grab them from the dorms and take them into the woods, blindfolded, and one a time they’d be led to this shack where the craziest, drunkest brother would be waiting dressed as The Bunny. They’d enter the room, empty but a candle, and then The Bunny’d come out, get directly in the guy’s face and just stand there, the pledge and The Bunny, silent and staring into each other. The point was to see how long the pledge could go without losing his cool. You see, after eight weeks of pledging, when you are dragged into the woods, miles from safety, alone, not knowing whether this is a trial or a game or the end of the line, it’s the silence that drives you crazy. Depending on how brave you were, it could go on for quite some time, the pledge and The Bunny. That was how we’d rank them: whoever lasted longest finished 1st in his class. The weaker ones would panic, and then a brother would appear and take the pledge away, but the tough ones could last an hour. In the end they’d break, they’d always break, but the last ones standing were the men we were after. I’ve worked hard these 18 years to instill strong morals in you, Robbie, my refrain…”
“I- I’ve always had your best interests at heart. I hope you’ve had the sense to see that.”
Robbie didn’t know why his Father was telling him all this, why a bunny or the woods mattered, but he knew it was best to be silent. Mr. Jeffery took off his pants, revealing two legs, except they weren’t his legs, they were the bottom half of a different suit, hairy gray pillars where he had just been standing.
“Now, Son, you must be brave. In a moment, you are going to start to feel very, very strange.”
“What rr uuu dooiinn -”
Mr. Jeffery unbuttoned his shirt, and beneath it wasn’t his chest but gray fur, tattered and wiry, with the hideous stench of cellars or beer left for waste and forgotten.
“How do you feel?”
Robbie was sitting on the bed. He was in a room, this was his room. For his 17 years, he had lived here, but now he was going to college. He looked around his room and it looked like a battlefield. His toys had been given or thrown away, old books shoes socks were on the floor scattered like ashes, and there was that box for (or was that from?) the “ATTIC.” The afternoon spilt into the room, and the dusts in the air were alive with static, falling and rising and falling again. He felt a heart beating in his chest and air flowing through his lungs. The man in the costume was just his Father and they were just playing.
Mr. Jeffery turned towards the duffel pyramid, the black bag he had arrived with perched on top, and paused for a moment, almost hesitating. Robbie watched his shoulders rise and fall with his breath, each exhale accompanied by a soft wheezing sound, as if some invisible weight lay heavy upon him. Slowly he twisted around, a toothy smile creeping up the corners of his face, banishing whatever uncertainty had lingered, then opened – no, tore – the black bag and stepped inside, disappearing one leg, the other, then the waist shoulders neck head until he was gone, gone.
One two three black duffel bags tucked in a pyramid in the center of the room. That black bag Robbie’s Father had just vanished into. Some science projects his Father had helped with, a 2nd place prize, shoes, socks, and laces on floor. There was a Simpsons clock by his feet. The reason that Robbie liked the clock so much wasn’t because he liked the Simpsons. No! They were violent and crude and Robbie had never “got” that sort of “humor,” but he had liked that clock, loved it, even, because his Father had bought it for him. Hanging between the bedroom door and the closet, Homer had chased Bart in circles for a decade, his fat fingers coiling (or was it caressing?) the Bart-ward air, but every time Homer came close, the boy slipped away, dangling on the tip of the minute hand, intangible. For a decade, they went round and round and round again, now Robbie was sitting on a bed, it was his bed, it was just his Father and they were just playing.
The carpet was green. He noticed how green the carpet was, or maybe he had just noticed green. Was this his room? Like a piece of the sky, above, in the roof, there was a window, there were two windows (which were blue) and then there was just a window again. There were these feet, dangling from his eyes, an inch off the carpet, which was green. Like really green. His body felt transparent but warm, as if his skin had thousands of tiny pores and the oxygen in the air was seeping into his muscles and the cells in his brain. Green. He had just noticed how green the carpet was. What was going on in his brain?
There were two windows, and then there were four of them. The sun was spilling through the windows into pools of dust particles, rising and falling and rising again. First there were two windows, and then there four of them, then just one and then eight sixteen thirty-two sixty-four of them, a waterfall of light flooding his bedroom, green and blue, was he underwater?
Was this just a room? Or was this like, a portal? And you could just look down at your feet and they were floating, inches off the ground, and you were a body, an object with mass, occupying space in some pocket of the world. Worrrllldd. Whirrelllledd. WWWuuuurrrrrrllllllllllddd.
On the other side where there used to be a room, there was that black bag where his Father had just been, there’s this black bag getting darker and bigger, seeping into the pyramid it perched upon. There’s this black bag, what kind of bag seeps into other bags, the four were three and then one again. A bag not a bag it’s like a door, and then there were eight sixteen thirty-two sixty-four of them, and they became the windows and shut the sun from the room and there’s this black mass and this terrible form comes bubbling up from inside.
Everything became dark, except for his old stuff, ashes on the floor. It began coalescing into a mass, a crescent mass, a zipper. At the bottom of the sea there was darkness and in the darkness was a zipper, shutting- no, sealing- the light from the world, so that the only thing that Robbie could see in the darkness was this zipper. So Robbie like swum towards it, surfacing with the intensity of someone who has been underwater for a very long time.
As he got closer to the zipper he saw that it wasn’t his old stuff, it was teeth, as in it was like made of teeth, smiling on some invisible face. His hands opened the teeth and the light spilt back from the mouth, but it was dimmed and gray, and on the other side there was this feathered corpse with a gnarled, red-eyed mask that sneered from floppy ear to floppy ear.
Mr. Jeffery had said something about a fraternity, a costume and a BUNNY, a red-eyed sneering BUNNY, and then there was a joint, he had smoked a joint, and omhmgomg he had smoked the joinnnnnnnnnnnn ewttt
The Bunny came towards him, only it didn’t quite walk, but the floor sort of tilted, upwards and away, like he was shrinking downwards and the Bunny was towering over him, a Bunny
a red-eyed Bunny
ATE THE WHOLE GODDAMN ROOM ALLL OV ER THE PLACE
He had smokkkkkkkkkdddd
ing a ging ingn ing a ning noinggg a oooinggg
ing a ning a ning
and Bunnies and Bunnies, pouring from windows
darkness in every direction,
and he was scared, Robbie was plain fucking scared,
of the zipper and those teeth and the BUNNY
because if those dangling pillars were his legs,
then this was his body,
what the FUCK was a body,
The Bunny and The Bunny could take it from him.
There was a heart in his chest. He could feel it pumping blood to his brain and the cells of his body. Floating, detached, there were hands, dangling like disembodied puppets. Suddenly he saw they were his, Robbie knew they were his, they belonged to him and he could command them in any direction.
There was a Bunny, Robbie grabbed The Bunny, its mouth was a zipper and he tore it open.
Eyes. All the room was eyes. Then the eyes weren’t eyes. They were bodies, red bodies on an axis, tangled on some invisible string. Dancing like the dusts, burning like the stars, chasing the same eternal circles around each other, over and over and over again
there were eyes, but they weren’t eyes, because he saw that all the eyes were only particles, and there were like millions of them, and then all the darkness was made of particles, everything in the sea and the room, everything was made of something smaller, millions and billions of atomic-bite-sized pieces, eyes were atoms floating, suspended, spinning around each other like the planets, celestial bodies, orbiting circles, atomically.
A room. All the room was particles, and there were millions of particles, billions and trillions of them, making up the fabric of everything, the eyes and the teeth and his hands, he was part of it, and it was part of him. He looked up (he knew what direction was up) and saw the sky, and beyond the sky were the stars, gas lamps of the galaxies, burning with the light they stole from the darkness. The constellations and the planets assembled like atoms, molecules and galaxies and the universe, cosmic masses orbiting each other, protons and neutrons like solar systems, electrons orbiting like planets, their cores like quarks and higsons and bosons, anti-matter, dark matter, all that, just bodies of mass and energy, nothing and everything, and every subparticled particle was as numerous as the stars, another universe, infinitely microscopic. There was a room, contracting, expanding, the speed of light, an infinity, the stars like candles in a cosmic theater, ever growing distant.
Robbie dreamt he was standing on the shore of a great lake. There was a sun and there was this giant fish, fish-pacing from shore to shore. It swam towards him, opened its mouth, and for a moment, looked like it wanted to speak, but then spat out a giant net to Robbie. On the opposite side of the water, there was the silhouette of a man, he had a net too, and he was trying to catch the thing. So Robbie took his net and when the fish came close, he cast it in its path, but every time, it dodged at the last second. He flung his net and the fish swam away back towards the shadow, only to turn around and swim back again, but still they cast their nets over and over and over. In the stream. In the dream. He was casting this net over and over and over. Upon waking, he remembered to breath, and jumped into the fish’s mouth.
The warm, welcome sight of familiar clutter. A bedroom, a window (just one), The Attic.
“There, there…” a man said, batting away the hands that clawed at his face.
Rob picked himself up from the floor.
Mr. Jeffery took off the gnarled mask and placed it back into the bag from whence it came. He returned to the same shape he had been before, his skin looking somehow weathered under the dark light that crept through the sunroof.
“Robbie, drugs are bad, mmkay?”