Grey Days


            Who would ever have thought hell would be so ordinary?


            A round fluorescent light in a grimy plastic holder. One sliding frosted glass windowwindow, utility frosted glass, in a flimsy aluminum frame. Dark mottlings of mold in the corners of thewindow sill. A cheap green rug on the floor. Girlie magazines scattered about, and crushed beer cans and unemptied ashtrays. A smell of old tobacco and stale beer, and dirt in hard to get at places.


            The dankness of September, typhoon season- not much drier when the rain stops than when it falls. Too humid to wear clothes. Too cold not to. A constant grubbiness to one's skin and one's hair. Lying in bed, between sheets soft with use, feeling the small ever-present sweat, watching the fine dust-webs in the corners of the ceiling moving in the draft. Hearing the kettle whistle, smelling the instant coffee in its cup. Front door of cheap wood, lacquered brown,thin plywood that bangs when it closes. A window. A bed.bed. A chest of drawers. Twelve-inch TV. One kitchen table, two chairs. Small gas stove in one corner, small apartment refrigerator beside it, door to the unit bath next to that. All commonplace andcommonplace, cheap, and utterly unremarkable. Oddly cozy in their very ordinariness.So everyday and ordinary a place, hell. Almost cozy, in fact.


            A space, a pause. Time ticking quietly by. I lie in bed, looking upwards, looking at the greasy smears on the lamp frame and the filigree threads of dust in the corners, at the four walls and the ceiling that have become the world. The rest of my life is elsewhere, inaccessible. Beyond the window that's opened an inch to let in the air but not the rain. On the other side of the door that shows a glimpse of the thick trees outside each time it opens and shuts. He goes through that door every day, banging it behind himday. Some day I will too. Go back into the world out there, back into that forest, back to all that went before that still waits for me again.


The cut in my abdomen itches as it heals, uncomfortable in the humidity. I I'm not sure how I got that. I think it must have been my feelings that did it, slicing me open.


            I don't forget. This isn't a place to forget, just to sit back and look calmly at it all. A place where feelings are small and manageable, and I am myself again, Cho Gonou, able to think about what happened and what I did and what I have become. I suppose that's why I was sent here and not to one of the hells of torment. The torment was before, and will be again afterwards. But for now it seems that I'm simply to remember and understand.


I have himMy companion is here to remind me, should I ever be tempted to forget. Like someone met in dreams,you meet in dreams-- a strangerwho feels as familiar as my own arm. He talks to me like an old acquaintance and takes the liberties of an old friend. His name is Gojou, almost the same as my own but not quite. His hair is blood-red, and his eyes are blood-red. All the innocent blood that dried sticky on my hands through all those how many months- all the blood that stained my clothes and made them stiff as cardboard about me for however long it was-- they're concentratedI see it now in his hair and his eyes. Always before me in the day under the white fluorescent light, always by my side in the bed at night.


            He doesn't smell of blood. He smells of cigarettes and beer, and his hair smells of Co-op shampoo, the cheap brand. The signs of my crime, like everything else in this quiet place, are present but distanced. I doubt he even knowsHe doesn't know himself what his role is. He brings me take-out food to eat or cooks me scrambled eggs. Helps me to the toilet when I need to go. Makes me cups of coffee. Lends me the shirt and pants I'm wearing. The chill of September gets into my bones. He gives me a cotton pullover to wear, warm and dry. The humidity of September makes him run with sweat. He ties his long red hair up in a ponytail, free of his neck, and doesn't bother with a shirt. There's adamp sheen on his tight muscled shoulders under the bright overheadbright overhead light. The short dark hair in his armpits goes into little wet spikes. When he stretches there's an odd warm smell there, like a clean animal's. We play cards in the evening. He drinks beer and chain smokes and loses, good-natured. Looks up and grins at me from his blood-coloured eyes. 'Another game?' he asks.


And I want-- I'm not sure what I want. To clean the greasy plastic square around the light ring- and clean the light too, because I'm sure the top is black with grime as well. Get at the mold in the corner of the window frame with some good strong bleach. Silly things like that. It bothers me a little that I can't. Maybe cook something for him, just once- a proper meal. At night he sleeps beside me, warm and alive and unconscious. Guardian, friend, jailer, demon, whatever it is he is. A strange man withblood- blood-coloured hair and blood-coloured eyes who seems to have known me all my life and who doesn't know what my name is. He sleeps beside me, just a little bigger than I am.It's like having a cliff at my back, a wall I can lean on and rest against at last, trusting myself to its support.Intimate, unknown, like the brother I might have had but didn't. I am alone, still, but still, not alone.


This cannot last forever. There are things I have to do. I don't wish it to last forever, because there are things in the universe far more important than one man's transient comfort. Things like justice and retribution and amends, and I must do all of thatthose things too. But I must also be grateful to whatever Mercy it is that gave me this little space- this nondescript room and its casual occupant in the washy grey wetness of September- before I go back with open eyes to face my damnation. Though I know I am damned, a murderer and a monster with the blood of innocents on hismy hands, including that of the only person I ever loved- still, because of this room and this man, I think I may yet have saved my soul alive. For who would ever have thought that hell might be, in the end, not so very different from heaven?




June 2001