Matthew McGuirk: The Invisible Man
Image: Unsplash, downloaded (https://unsplash.com/photos/rHOFrE0aO1s) 3.7.2021.
I learned to hold my breath the first time I tore the remaining scraps of flesh off a drumstick that I found in a dumpster. I tried not to think of whose lips the cigarette had gone to before mine when I picked it off the street before high priced loafers kicked it along or snuffed it out. I remember smiling when I spied a blanket someone stuffed in a black trash bag in the big, green dumpster behind the apartment building that I hunker next to. The blanket was soft, but had patches crusted with dried vomit or blood. The smell is putrid, but it keeps me warm. The first night with it, I huddled under the fire exit watching the college kids pass by after leaving the bars and their emptied glasses behind.
I wonder if that was where it all started, thinking back to streams of puke in the toilet bowl and spittle dripping across bed sheets into a wastebasket after nights with too many drinks, music that played too loud and rooms that couldn’t stay still for long enough. My friends wondered about me after I had forgotten the code to the dorm building and put my head down and slept right outside the door. Campus security found me before they did and I got a citation for public intoxication.
Now warmed hands outside exhaust pipes sends cold air rushing away as it pushes up against the puffs of smoke in the night. I found solutions, but mid-December didn’t really feel that different from late November and would January really be a contrast to what I was feeling now? I’d done this long enough to know that the month really didn’t matter and these are things you get used to. I wore a long beard, pulled a winter cap tight over my greasy strands of hair and smiled with gaps of black and yellow instead of white. The sparkle of my teeth was long lost to a life of fixes and streets where toothbrushes weren’t thrown out as frequently as they should be. Dentist bills took a backseat to a bottle stuffed in a backpack or a borrowed needle.
It may have started with that quick toke in an attic at a friend’s house. The smoke was blown out the window to avoid attention from the parents downstairs, because floor joists can’t hide the smell of weed and parents have noses that track that sort of thing. A quick one became many and many became a habit. Soon that habit needed friends and the edge wasn’t as easy to take off. Grades had already been shipped out to colleges, I’d been accepted and mine didn’t really slip that much, but those riffs of smoke off that bowl and the plumes of grey into the black night look back at me in that window through eyes I don’t recognize.
The hat I wear was pulled from a metal trash bin on a sidewalk before the lumbering garbage truck could collect it. I can feel the lice digging in my hair and making my scalp itch. At least they were finding a new home, something I couldn’t relate to. I watch the rush of people that slide by on busy sidewalks with their updated phones, paper coffee cups and morning pastries. I see the collection of colors they wear and the important messages they pass through texts, phone calls or conversations.
I wonder when I’ll be picked up again and thrown into a cold cell with some fresh water and a little bit of food, but then I think about the sweats that will come and wonder when the next fix will be or how many times I’ll throw up before they dump me back on the street like the other things that are thrown away. I watch the coffee cup between people’s hands and the pastry delivered to their lips; I watch the phone slide into their pockets and the lapeled suits pulled tighter around their chests. I wonder about a couch at my old roommate’s house or a spare bedroom at my brother’s place, but I know those are reserved for wanted guests. I think about how I must look to those people walking by on the streets. Am I any different than a half-smoked cigarette littering the streets, or an empty plastic bottle that skitters along with the wind or a handful of forgotten headlines stuffed in a metal can?
About the Author: Matt McGuirk teaches and laughs at his puns by day and scribbles stories nightly. He lives with his family in New Hampshire. Published or forthcoming in Drunk Monkeys, Goat’s Milk, Idle Ink, Literally Stories, New World Writing, Sledgehammer Lit, Versification and others. Follow him on Twitter @McguirkMatthew and Instagram @mcguirk_matthew.