SPOTLIGHT: Watchmen, What of the Night by Jeremy Gulley


At home, I found her in the kitchen, sitting with a cup of tea. I made her get in the car and we drove to the hospital and then I left. I drove away from her and didn’t look back – not even to say bye or stop to get my things.

I ended up in a little motel a few hundred miles away. I told the lady my name was Swenson Harris and I paid cash. I said that I didn’t know how long I’d be staying but that I’d keep her posted. The room was grade-school cafeteria yellow and smelled that way, too. I put my car keys and phone under the mattress and washed my face in the sink. I took a blanket from the closet and wished I was in California where all the girls are beautiful and the sun always shines and the streets are paved with gold.

I assume that Tuesdays are difficult for everyone, but I’m not concerned about everyone. I’m only concerned about myself. Tuesday’s are hangovers that linger piss stained in the memory.

I found a little dive that served coffee strong enough to kick my pancake’s ass. That’s all I could really ask for, and it’s really all I got. A photo of a dachshund hung behind the counter where I sat. He smiled toward the room, his eyes bright and kind.

I sat and watched the customers: skinny girls and pudgy older dudes. There must have been about twenty people in there and they all seemed to know one another. They talked about news and each other and ignored me.

I poured my coffee on my cakes because it was thicker than the syrup and the waitress asked what was wrong with me. That list is too long for a nice morning like this, I said. She smiled at me like she thought I was joking and gave me more coffee. I opened a sugar packet and poured it in my mouth and then used the coffee as a chaser.

She asked me where I was from and I said my mother, but she’s gone now. She laughed, walked away and poured coffee for another customer. The dachshund motioned for me to leave.

I walked around a park near the café and watched little kids playing as their parents ignored them. I smoked a cigarette and thought about freedom. I thought about the fact that the only time we get to be free is when we’re kids but even then everyone else tells us to do stuff. There isn’t really freedom, then, there are just different levels of being kept.

A little girl saw me watching her and waved. Her mom saw her and then saw me. She took her by the arm and led her away. I took a drag and leaned against a tree, watching freedom being dragged from imagination. This is the part of the movie where the cops come, I thought. I waited, but they didn’t come. I smoked a few more cigarettes and went and found a nice shady place to lie down and rest my eyes.

I spent the evening in my room watching television and chewing gum. I didn’t eat dinner because I wasn’t hungry.

I thought about the hospital and I wondered if they let her out yet. The kids were certainly hungry by this point.

After I cleaned, I walked to Wal-Mart and bought clothes. I watched an overweight wife beater wearing couple holding hands in the toilet paper aisle and thought that love is not painless, but if it keeps us from breathing it shouldn’t be encouraged to live. Painless doesn’t mean painful. At least not constantly. The trick is to find someone who loves you when you fart and cherishes the smell of your insides. Someone that wants you to breathe on them to see if your breath stinks. That’s love, I thought – that’s real love. The hardest part is knowing when you can leave the light on or turn it off, what music sooths and what agitates and how much deodorant makes us vomit. Those are the hard questions, everything else is just filler.

I went back to the same café and had more coffee over pancakes. The waitress gave me two cups of coffee and said she might put coffee cakes on the menu. Call them crêpes café, I said, it’ll make people think you’re fancy. She asked my name and said if they put the cakes on the menu they’d name it after me. I said my name was Howard Howardson and that I was from Hoboken. She looked at me like I said Nimrod from Calcutta.

I went back to the park and found a dead bird by the playground. I buried it under some leaves and patted it until it was covered. I knelt there in the dirt looking down at this pile of leaves and thought about dirty sandwiches on the beach.

One summer we dug in deep and took turns washing our hands in the ocean. There wasn’t any reason to surround ourselves with so many people, but we thought it was nice to get lost in the crowd. While we were there, after I ate my dirty sandwich, I swam out past the low waves and found myself surrounded by dolphins. There were twenty or thirty of them and I couldn’t remember if they ate people so I tried to be really still. She told me that I was lucky that I got to swim with dolphins but the next day the same thing happened and I thought I was more cursed than lucky because now every time I get into the water I would be expecting dolphins. The next day there were sharks in the water, though, and we could see brown spots around the waves where the dolphin flesh couldn’t hold. Lucky, I thought. Not so lucky for them, though.

The playground was full and that same little girl and her mom were there. The woman was tall and wore a jogging suit even though she had on make-up and had her hair done nice. She drank from a plastic coffee mug and wiped her mouth after every drink. I watched her talk. She had a way of talking without moving her face. She won’t wrinkle, I thought – not if her skin never moves.

I thought she looked like she recognized me or wanted to tell me something, but I left before I was able to decode her eyes.

I have eyes made for windows. I looked outside and thought I saw the woman from the park coming to meet me. She had on a hospital gown and pulled machines with buttons and magical noises coming from them. Behind her were animals marching two by two and holding hands. They had eyes for the wind. I have news for you, I said – Listen and don’t act like you’ve never heard this before. The woman raised her hands and the animals stopped. Our blood is blue when it’s inside our veins.

The animals laughed.
She never tried to kill herself over animals, I thought. That was the only thing I could think of: animals.

I didn’t go outside at all. I sat inside and thought about food and animals. I traced the tiles on the bathroom counter and imagined a car race. They would have trouble with the corners, probably, but I thought that would just make things more interesting. I talked to myself in the mirror, but didn’t say “huh” to show that I was listening.

The room never rang. It never grew comfortable; it just stayed where it was but invited me to interpret the voice in the walls. The blower on the air-conditioner sounded like a jet crashing on a pelican and the music filled the room when I wanted a little symphony of tepid air.

I dreamt about the woman from the park. I was arranging clothes in a duffle bag and she stood behind me humming hymns. That’s lovely, I said. She wrapped her arms around my waist from behind and pulled me to her. I could feel her bumps and curves and the outline of her womanly figure. I closed my eyes and exhaled. She slid her hands up my body and turned my face to her. We kissed, and in that kiss I felt warm and full and complete. She attached to me with her mouth and we breathed together. I saw myself diving into her kiss, glowing in her completeness. Her lips expanded and contracted to my heartbeats and her tongue split in fourths, exploring each corner of my mouth.

When I woke my feet were sticking out of the motel blanket and I was cold. The room smelled like frosty rotten eggs and my neck hurt.

At the diner I saw her through the window; sitting with a man and the little girl from the park. The woman ate waffles with strawberries and whipped cream. She finished half and gave the rest to the man, who finished them when his eggs were gone. He was bald and ugly and I didn’t like him.

I stood outside and watched them eating. I could still feel her lips and smell the smell of comfort. I could taste the fragrance of her desire for me. I wanted to introduce myself. Hello, I wanted to say, I wish to be known. Her daughter saw me and waved. I held up my hand and pressed my palm against the window.

There were too many people out there I don’t know. I’m not shy, but I just have my way of doing things and I didn’t feel confident in crowds, especially those who put blueberries in pancakes. California has artichoke festivals and the closets look inviting. California has closet doors that lock, that way Emily can get out. Sometimes I wish people knew how I felt without me telling them.

The lady at the motel told me that someone was looking for me. I asked when and she told me not long ago. I asked if it was a woman and she said yes. I asked what she looked like and she told me. I asked where she’d gone and she said she didn’t know.

I walked back to my room, washed my face, and went for a walk.

The park was already full when I arrived, families scattered everywhere. They wore matching clothes and played carefully. Fathers threw balls with young boys. Women sat on blankets and ate grapes. Dogs chased birds and squirrels and each other. The wind kept everyone interested and aware of who was in control.
The woman and her daughter were there, the daughter playing joyfully and the mother watching to see who watched her. I walked to the opposite side of the playground, in the shade where the mother couldn’t see me even if she was looking. I waved at the little girl when she looked my way. I motioned for her to come to me and she ran over joyfully. She must have been eight years old and was taller and thicker than she looked from far away.

Come take a walk with me, I said to her. She looked toward her mother and I said that I’d already asked for permission. I just want to show you something, I said.

Her little hand folded into mine and I led her away from the swing set.

Where are we going? she asked, her voice confident behind curiosity. We walked along the cement path. Her hand was warm and stiff and her steps steady. I squeezed her hand tighter and walked faster.

I just wanted to walk with you, I said, what’s your name?

Tessa. What is your name?

Patrick, I said.

You look sad, Patrick, she said, where are we going?

I am sad, Tessa.

Why are you sad? she said.

Because things aren’t working the way I thought they would, I said. I led her off the cement path
and knelt down in front of her. She started crying and asked me to take her back to her mother.

I caressed the sides of her face with my palms, her hair falling on my wrists. I moved my hands down her face towards her neck, then onto her shoulders. I pulled her close to me and could feel her shaking skin on my cheek. She shivered in my embrace and I stroked her hair.

I let her go and fell back on the ground, sitting with my knees in my chest. She stood in front of me, crying. I wanted to tell her about the sacredness of human touch and the intimacy that flesh creates, and how she should never take it for granted or cheapen it by giving it away. Instead I just said thank you.

For what? She asked

I smiled and told her to go back to her mother. She ran off quickly and did not look back.

This is the part of the movie where the cops come, but they didn’t.

I called Emily. When did they let you out? I asked.

I told her I didn’t want to come back. She said she didn’t want me to come back

It was the first thing we agreed on in a long time.

I packed my things and checked out of the motel. I drove out of town and toward something new. As I passed the diner I could see the dachshund through the glass. It motioned for me to leave – go find another park, it said, go find another chance.


I assume that Tuesdays are difficult for everyone, but I’m not concerned about everyone; I’m only concerned with myself.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s