The pit in Ben’s stomach churns at about 5:01 am and reminds him that his life has become a zoo of rattling cages. It’s the same pit as yesterday and the day before, etc. Nerves come next, dry mouth too. He gingerly cranes his neck to glance at her sleeping next to him. No movement, so he guesses her demons are sleeping in this morning. Baby curls up like a shrimp next to her, waiting for the next round of mother’s milk. Gently he kisses the baby’s soft brow and rolls out of bed. He grabs some clothes as he tip-toes out of the room, the dog heavy on his heels.
He stares blankly at the coffee maker while getting dressed in the kitchen. The dog casts the same glazed stare at him. Neither of them knows quite what to do. Coffee sounds like the last thing he needs. A walk, somehow, is the last thing the dog wants so early in the morning. He trailed Ben downstairs out of conditioned loyalty and now wishes he was sprawled on his dog bed upstairs in the cold darkness again. Ben dumps the remnants of yesterday’s coffee and spills the muddy grounds of the cone into the sink before muttering, “Fuck it. Let’s go.”
Pennsylvania Avenue is empty; no surprise there. Panhandlers are fast asleep on park benches and makeshift cots. In the creepy stillness, Ben imagines himself to be on the set of a zombie flick and for a moment swears he sees one of the undead stumbling toward him half a block ahead. The dog sees it too but doesn’t feign much interest. As the zombie draws closer, Ben makes him out to be just another crack head walking off the comedown. He wonders if he would be better off trading places with this outcast. He considers if a broken soul is worse than a broken mind. When he smells the funk on the guy as he passes, he decides he would rather contend with the former today. At least he won’t make himself retch.
On the Capitol steps he sits and takes in the blurred view of the Mall. The first edition of mist lingers on the scene, casting dusty shadows and bending the morning light in a way that stings his eyes. As he pulls the brim of his ball cap lower, the burn in his eyes yields to a sudden stream to sweaty tears. A quick glance around proves he is still alone, so he doesn’t bother to wipe the wet trails from his cheeks. Recently he has become comfortable with the sadness, almost relying on it for some sense of purpose. It allows him to feel like he walks and moves in slow motion, like some tortured soul trailing off into the horizon at the end of a bad music video—his gait broken but determined to keep walking in spite of everything. He stammers and snorts as he breathes. This concerns the dog, who is still trying to decide how to respond to these new human emotions. He applies his wet nose to Ben’s neck and wags his tail, but his face is buried in his hands, hiding any potential glance of approval.
Anger shows up wearing a tattered black cape and 3 days worth of stubble. It backhands sadness in its quivering jaw, calls it a pussy, and sends it along. Ben shudders and gazes ahead, deciding, for the 23rd time, he will kill that son of a bitch.
“Matter of when, not if…”