In the corner store, 3501, is where I found him this time.
Hunched over his desk in the same place I left him, cold, but responsive; it’s happened again. I dropped my bag at the front door and began to clean up the mess he had made, picking up the bottles strewn along the entryway as the clock chimed six; I always hated that noise.
It made me uncomfortable to see him like this, because this is not who I remember. He used to be formidable, standing outside of the fire department with his old uniform on, his hand on his helmet that day I came to take pictures. I would come by on Wednesdays and we would sit outside on a bench and he would tell me funny stories of cats in trees and buy me chocolate bars from the gas station.
He used to come to the store and pick me up from behind, swing me around on my heels and kiss me slowly, before The Thing happened.
Every time the fire alarm rang I used to get nervous, and he would kiss me on the forehead and tell me he was invincible. He called himself the invincible man, and for the longest time I believed him.
We were young then, and we had plans.
There was a map in the living room that was covered in bright push pins. Each and every place we wanted to go, stuck on the wall with yellow yarn connecting locations. A plan that had been forming for ten years or so. After The Thing happened, I used to sit and just look at it. I don’t know why I left it up there until now, perhaps I had hoped it would make things better, maybe I thought we could go back to those days, booking last minute flights and wandering off in the middle of nowhere and making love in the woods.
The map sat on a large cork board, and every so often we would attach a ticket from somewhere we went, removing the push pin and repurposing it. It was an odd way to do things, given that most people would mark where they went, not where they wanted to go, but I liked all the colorful pins, I had found them at a flea market somewhere. It seems like a million years ago.
The Terrible Thing happened one night on the corner of Ridgely Street at around three in the morning. He couldn’t save her, but he didn’t believe that. He couldn’t save any of them, sometimes that’s how a fire works. He had his very first drink the next day, and now I am left with living ashes.
It wasn’t his fault, you have to understand.
He looks at me now the same way he always does, apologetic and sorry, and I know he is, and I hope he knows I am too.
I put my arms around him and stayed there for far longer than I should, there are places to go and things to see after all, and I knew he couldn’t come with me.
“There are two men waiting outside, and I want you to go with them.” I whispered this in his ear and stroked his hair, even though I knew he couldn’t hear me, and I cleaned off the places where my tears had touched his skin.
I want places to go, I want people to see.
I let go and began to pick up the bottles, waving through the window before grabbing the garbage bags. The two men came in and picked him up by each arm, gently placing him in the backseat. I wondered what would happen when he woke up, if he would know what I had done, if he would hate me.
Picking up my bag I followed the men out to the van, and placed a letter in his jacket that included my apology for when he remembers.
It has been thirty days since I found him in the corner store, I know this because he called me, saying that one of the steps was to make amends, and that he never meant to let it get so bad. He said he got the postcards I sent him, and that he’s trying to make things right. I told him that I loved him, and that I’ve been to thirteen places we put on the map.
And every single time I get there, I take out this black box I stuffed away in my bag and remove one push pin and drive it deep into the ground.
And that I do for the invincible man.
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