by Kevin D. Annett
“They treat me like I’m invisible” said Joe, homeless and toothless.
“Well you’re not” I assured, extending my hand to him. “I see you.”
And life returned to his eyes.
The view out the window tonight appears unchanged from forty years ago: the same deceptively quiet slum and its hundred-window stare. But behind those shutters and my own reflection dwell entire lifetimes of wisdom, won drop by bloody drop.
I didn’t even own a typewriter in those days, and the words bled laboriously from my pen. I wrote on a wobbly green stand-up desk that I’d filched from a neighbour’s throw-away pile. My stories were barely-concealed autobiography, set in harsh and dried-up places that tested everything about their characters. I recurringly warred with a never-published creation, a novel about a young communist trapped in a Depression-era Saskatchewan town. My work never amounted to anything but a mirror of myself since nothing was making me grow up back then. And so the novel withered like any Dust Bowl wheat field.
Pouring through those surviving scribbled parchments is to plunge again into the acid-despair of that twenty one year old boy as the better world he sought evaporated even in its imagining. I had forgotten how crushingly lonely he was, how incapable of showing his heart to another. The boy’s writing was an escape valve for the cyclones of suffering in him and around him, from which he refused to take shelter. His words created what he and his few comrades could not conjure in the world. And so each night the young writer found solace and a renewed consecration at his broken but still-standing desk.
Most of the familiar land marks from that time have collapsed and blown away, save personal devotion. The world around me is as abandoned now as the ruined town my protagonist Samuel Wedge occupied while he lived through my pen. My voice still resounds in the wasteland but none are there to reply. An empty gallery once audience-packed greets me now; humanity has become an entire ghost nation.
It is unfathomingly strange to end up like Homeless Joe, unseen and invisible, after the tumult I unleashed. Joe’s tears at my greeting may have been more than relief, but the recognition that others like him still existed despite our erasure.
In my cheerier moments I interpret our exile as a necessary vindication of the few just souls: the way that the universe refines and sets apart its chosen warriors and messengers, and preserves its remnant. For have we any need any more of the sluggish and dead mass of people, or had we ever? But then I recall the Great Cosmic Shrug, and where Joe will try to sleep tonight, and reality returns.
I’ll publish this tidbit soon and it will be read by hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, but it will receive no replies. The pilot light in mankind has gone out. If there is to be a rekindling it will only come from something other than ourselves as presently constituted.