Needing some warmth; a break from Northborough
(Wherever that is: north of Westborough
and east of Southborough – a wide spot in
Route 20 with 4 gas stations and houses in the woods)
I went to visit Tom Daniels in Hell.
He met me naked, having given away
the shirt on his back and everything else.
“How are things up there?” he asked. “Cold,”
I said, “and too many trees reaching out
to kill each other, those I love, and me.”
“We don’t have trees here. Too hot,” he said.
“Have a beer.” I declined. He reached
behind him to grab one from a refrigerator.
“How do you rate that?” “They seem to like me here,”
he said, “I get a lot of perks. Just no clothes.”
I twisted a little inside, remembering
The clothes he sent my way when he worked at Sears
Sports jackets, pants, sweaters, underwear.
I never paid a dime. When they caught up
with him, he asked me for money, but I hadn’t any.
Still he stayed my friend. Why? Because
I drank like him. Because when I wasn’t looking
he chased my girl friends, and I was after his
(particularly Carol Kiloski). Because we were
both spoiled kids who used to have money.
1967. Too old to be kids now; no excuse.
Get a job; dodge the draft; get out of town;
drink the scotch and get on the motorcycle, dammit.
Skull fracture in uniform on the way to Fort Dix.
Dilantin and beer for the rest of Tom’s unnatural life.
“How do you like Hell?” I asked engagingly.
“Not too bad,” he said. “You don’t get
older. Some well known people are here.
It is not like being alive. There is certainty.
Nobody cares if I lie. There will be beer.”
“I will have no clothes. I will have nothing
to give away, and so no friends. No internal organs.”
“Why no organs? Do you not need them?”
“No, they got destroyed before I died.
Although it is also true that I do not need them.”
“The last thing I remember is falling
down a flight of stairs. First my spleen,
liver and pancreas, then heart, stomach,
lungs and intestines were ruptured, liquefied.
All weakened by alcohol, and all dissolved.”
“Did you fall or were you pushed, by chance?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care,” he said,
and reached behind him for another beer.
Wherever Tom was in Hell always was
a refrigerator full of beer behind him.
I owe him much. The clothes; the damage to
his van the night I sideswiped that Mercury
on Duncan Road in it. He was generous and had
a jet of brown hair that fell from his forehead
between his smiling blue eyes. A true friend.
“Why did you come here?” he asked, seriously.
“And how? Was it expensive? Did you fly?”
“Expedia,” I said. “Quite cheap. No hotel.
No auto. The earth just opens and you go.
And I hadn’t seen you before you died.”
“I didn’t get a chance. You were drinking,
every day, a lot, and had been for years,
and I avoided you for that reason, having
my own problem. But I need to tell you, Tom,
how much you mean to me, dear dead friend.”
And then I saw the old, slow grin break out.
This, in the red flickering light on the expanse
of his naked, curiously baby-like body
turned him young again for a second. I
remembered his former looks: handsome; well dressed.
“Where do we sleep tonight, old friend?” I asked.
And the grin vanished. He reached for a beer.
“Let’s get this straight,” he said in a tired voice.
“There is no sleep here. Sleep is about change,
waking in the morning with something to live for.”
“There is no hope here. No change. Just beer.”
And I realized that Tom had finally got
what he wanted for himself in life: nothing.
For a place to sleep, I left Hell a day early,
through the same fissures whence I came.