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Small Cruel Party
The End of A Line
The end of the line is, for some people, I suppose, a location to be avoided. As is
the bottom, rock bottom, or the darkest alleys of the mind's village. I have never been
afraid of these places. I have always been drawn to these strange corridors, the obscured
rooms of memory, the barren mountains of solitude. I say that I have been drawn to
them, but that is not the truth. The truth, my truth, is that I was born in them, a
permanent resident in these questionably scenic locales.
I can tell you that from a very early age I have been withdrawn in public, hesitant
in society, uncomfortable around others. I spent a great deal of time alone by choice and
by necessity. My parents were both killed when I was young. I was away for the
summer, out in the country with my grandparents on their farm when my parents were
murdered on their way back from a night at the theatre. The story is one I've always
considered cliche: a failed robbery attempt. My father resisting, trying to protect my
mother and his unborn child. The thieves, reluctant to fight, drew their weapons and shot
my parents. Two bullets for each of them, two bullets in the face. The would-be robbers
were, of course, never caught by an inept, amateurish police department, and also true to
our story, I was not allowed to attend the funeral, nor even know the cemetery that holds
my parent?s bodies.
My grandparents then, my paternal grandparents, took on my protection, and
sheltering as their last orchestration. But they were old and I was young, a challenge that
they were not up to. I was sent away to boarding schools, which I ran away from. I was
pawned off to various other family members, whom I mistreated. I eventually went back
to the farm, and so long as I was doing well in the country day school and working in the
afternoons I was left alone. That time I spent reading, of course. Horror, science fiction,
mythology. Then poetry and drama and history. Then the great letter writers, the
diarists, the philosophers in literature. All of it outside any frame of reference I had,
beyond the understanding of anyone I had any contact with, an entire world apparently
created for my own personal benefit.
It occurs to me, at this point in my story, that the form and style I have chosen
may be reminiscent of other stories. This similarity, while not intentional the first time
around as I was laying the foundations of my life during those years on the farm, is
significant now. The great lesson learned, as it has been presented. The growth of a boy
into a man. The loss of innocence, as scholars are fond of describing me as a young man.
Appropriate, even if it is an overused theme. It should be a truth universally
acknowledged that no one is unique or special in any way. We are all blind, foolish
creatures doomed to stumble on with only a chameleon like mimicry of what we see
around us until, mercifully, we die.
My present circumstances are no less rich for having come to this realization early
in my life. Rather the opposite. I have been unencumbered by the ties of friendship and
love that dictate the lifelong disappointments of other men. I have, by chance, enjoyed a
freedom that is unknown to most in this world. That freedom is the opportunity to act
as I choose, without the fear that what I do will destroy the lives of others. At least, I
have the impression that this is what we mean when we consider true freedom.
And though I am at home in the abandoned lanes of my little village, there is no
loneliness. Loneliness is, I think, a need for validation from others. Isn't that why
people seek each other out, make random and hopeful connections, suffer at the hands of
others? Because at some deeply buried level, hidden in a room we dare not enter, each of
us has a need for pain. And what better hell, our writers have noted, than other people? I
have such nightmares, and you are all in all of them.

My grandparents died. First Grandmother, a heart attack in the night. She was
gone before the town's volunteer ambulance driver could be roused from his drunken
stupor and make his way out to the farm I was to inherit once Grandfather followed his
lost wife less than two months later. I felt their absence more strongly than that of my
own parents. Though we were never close I had become used to them, and after the
trickle of their mourners had stopped, I discovered how solitary my life could be in that
empty farmhouse. I had no interest in working the farm, in scratching some meager and
backbreaking existence out of the surface of the land, and so I sold the fields to a
corporate interest. There was some stirring from the townspeople, the neighboring
farmers who would probably have liked to add to their own acreage, or the local business
owner who wrote letters to the editor deriding my introduction of "big city lawyers" to
their precious little town. No local buyer was prepared to meet my price, and while I am
used to my deficit of friendship I am uncomfortable without a surplus in my bank
accounts. These letter-writing campaigns amused me, and I carefully razored all of them
out of the newspapers to save in an envelope before I declined to renew my grandparent's
subscriptions. In the years that followed my lack of concern for the townspeople became
clear and focused. I did as little business in town as was necessary. I embraced my

I am not a dangerous man. You may have heard rumors. Rumors, it seems, have
followed me all my life. Ask one of the townspeople over a bottle of cheap beer at the
bar about me. You will hear that I am insane. I am never seen in the daylight. I rape
children. I am responsible for murders.

When I had established myself in a lifestyle that suited me, when I had established
my routine, my day to day, it became necessary to fill hours in some productive manner.
I was soon to enter my twenties. I should, I thought, have some direction for my life. I
began to think on politics, on economics, on the state of the world that we are forced to
inhabit, the same world we strive daily to make uninhabitable, a living hell, a nightmare
The problem is not that we don't want things to change. Because I can look
around and see that change, the desire for change, is alive deep within us all. The problem
is that people go about realizing that change inappropriately. People look to the outside
world, to other people, hoping that some random connection will be the one that allows
an opportunity to forget and rebuild. Friendship or love, it's all the same. The fool idea
that we need anything more than ourselves, that connecting with others will somehow
erase all of our faults and all of our failings. This idea is wrong. Real change can only be
achieved through struggle, through conflict, through a direct confrontation with the past
that we perversely strive to befriend to make friends. I set out to discover and confront
my own past for myself. I looked to my unfinished parents.

Late at night, in the country, is when the ghosts come out. These are not the real
ghosts, not the real spirits of our dead ancestors. Instead they are fear, anxiety, second-
guessing, and loneliness. Despair. My fear is that I am alive, that I am not dreaming right
now, that I will never wake up and breathe in the relief of morning sunlight. My anxiety
comes from an understanding that I am forced to share this world with the rest of you,
and more, that I have no choice, and more, that you are the cause of my uneasiness. My
second-guessing is my exploration and rejection of everything you believe in, but never
being able to let go. My loneliness is my normal state of being alive, knowing that I
remain unconnected to the world around me, bound to nothing, created from nothing,
moving toward nothing. My despair is my constant.
We might say that these are emotions that are common to everyone at some point
in their lives. That it is normal to roam the strange corridors of the mind from time to
time, holding out our feeble candle for some desired guidance. But I wonder, have you
ever lived in a once great city now gone to ruin? A town where the businesses that lined
Main Street and State Street are boarded up, where the houses on Oak and Elm are vacant,
given over to rats and squatting bums? Have you ever walked through deserted railroad
yards, around the rusted hulks of boxcars, into a dusty office with rock broken windows?
Ever heard the wind, ghostlike in the trees, as it whispers for you to step deeper into the
Would you be attracted to those places? Or would you run as fast as your need
for others could carry you? I believe that you would run. I believe that you believe in the
comfort and truth of light, and the less pleasant realities of darkness.

I was in the attic. Outside the wind was heralding the approach of a late summer
storm. Rats clattered in the eaves of the old house, skirted along the shadows away from
the electric lights. Set in one corner of the dusty expanse was a vast oriental carpet, moth
eaten and threadbare, that had once proudly dominated my father's home office. Stacked
on the rug were a pair of worktables, straight backed chairs, and a wooden packing crate
full of rusted typewriters, rotary telephones, tarnished plaques and trophies. His files
ageless in row upon row of enameled steel cabinets were well past relevance. I had taken
it as my job for that afternoon to separate any materials that might be useful for my own
security or learning. My intention, once this task was completed, was to hire two men
from town to remove and destroy the remainder of the files, cart off the heavy cabinets,
and take the furniture and rug to the dump.
It was tedious work. I went through the packing crate and furniture quickly, for
there was little that was serviceable, and less of antique value. Even the old rug, when I
looked closely at it, was moth eaten and discolored by animal waste, its once ornate
patterns now a graying blur. The files were well organized, however, and I was able to
move quickly across decades of real estate deals, powers of attorney, crumbling stock
certificates, and gently browning press clippings. I paused infrequently, preferring not to
know my father's business dealings, but stopped once or twice to read newspaper
coverage of striking workers, twice to examine wartime production figures, and once on a
curious item about the wholesale dismissal of his senior management team, never replaced.
I listened to the great noise of the storm breaking outside, of trees clattering against the
windows of the house, of impossibly loud roars of thunder. When the storm paused to
regroup the house was quiet. The rats had gone now. There was only my shuffling of
dry paper. I moved to the last rack, the last year of his life.
The seventh set of files was thin, held only work that was in process when my
father was killed. Memoranda, newspaper clippings on potential opportunities, a
projected budget for a construction project. How disappointing it must have been to
work every day at the same desk, reviewing the same files, simply going through the
motions because it was what society expected of him. I imagined him sitting behind his
desk in some great office high atop a skyscraper, the jacket of his grey flannel suit draped
across the back of a huge burgundy leather chair. The telephone ringing, constantly
interrupting his plans with the pleas of weaker men. His wife calling late in the day to
ask what time he would be home. Finally pulling on his jacket and hat, walking across the
street to have a drink and a cigar before returning to the trap of his home in the suburbs.
How dull a life like that is, how routine and banal. I opened the last folder.
I had never seen a dead human. But instantly I recognized the chaotic spray of
limbs, the pool of spreading darkness on a light concrete sidewalk. Instantly I recognized
the face of my mother, open with terror. I turned the photograph over, saw KODAK in
an endless repetition, turned it over again. At the bottom of the file, her wedding rings
clinked sadly together. The air in the attic had become a choking solid. I tore my eyes
from the thing in my hands and saw the one item I had saved from my father's crate full of
office equipment. A pocket sized Kodak Duaflex camera.