The Last of Me: Holes
In the darkness, the walls could be mud, could be peanut butter, could be the fudge icing his mother used to allow him to lick off of the tins, the taste of chocolate mixed with the taste of metal. If he doesn’t move, he can disappear, evaporate, dissolve. Joey—he is not Joe, yet, nor J.D., but still little Joey Donne—Joey cannot hear his own breaths nor the beating of his own heart. He is immersed in a fluid darkness, an arena of silence. Once the edge of the tin had made a tiny cut on the side of his tongue, so that along with the chocolate and the metal there was also the sour taste of blood.
Maybe he is dead. He has no fervent religious beliefs as his mother has, is not expecting angels as company or clouds as grass; is not expecting a chair of pitchforks or a coat of fire. Maybe death is simply this: a darkness, a stillness in which one sits for an indeterminable amount of time—Joey is not sure if he has been sitting one minute or one hour or one day, it does not matter in here—but if this is death, does one continue to have thoughts? Or is it just emptiness? Is it like slowly sinking (because it is definitely not floating - he feels himself moving downward not upward). Despite the lack of oxygen in here which has made his head light, his breaths shallow, the bruises on his body keep him tethered to this place. Even the bones of his fingers seem to have absorbed the cold, the damp, as if they could break off like icicles if he were to move them. His fingertips seem very far away, like distant planets lost in the dark, Neptune, Pluto.
He is beginning to feel his leg now, bent at the knee, and he is beginning to discern that the walls are not mud, are not peanut butter, are not fudge icing, but simply rubber, and he is beginning to orient which way is up and which way is down and which way is, perhaps, out. But one could not get out of death, could they? Death was a place where one stayed, and so the bit of light which creeps into this place must mean that he is not in death but in someplace earthly, and as he realizes this, he also begins to hear the beating of his heart and the sound of his breaths coming steadily, because if he is still in life, then he has to get himself out of this place, and if he gets himself out of this place, what is waiting for him on the outside? Would they still be out there, a cruel trick—now he remembers the dead dog in the trunk, the smell of shit and piss, and the less pungent, stale smell of death, the leg stiff when he had tried to bend it away from his face. But then again, the piss could have been his own, his white underwear stained yellow, the white fabric dutifully bleached every Sunday by his mother now soiled. He will have to throw them away if he ever gets out of this place. His mother could never see them.
But perhaps it is better to stay here, somewhere between sinking and floating. Now there is the feeling of his left eye glued shut by some alchemy of blood or tears—the memory of both is returning—and the dull pain in his head, and what feels like a bruise in his diaphragm when Joey—not yet “Joe”, not yet “J.D.”—sucks in and lets out his breaths, as if the breaths are terrified beings who do not want to enter nor leave him, but stay hidden, like little Joey Donne himself. In his head, he hears his mother’s voice whispering, soft as sandals across a bare wood floor, one of her favorite sayings: “Sink or swim, sink or swim, sink or swim.”
It will happen, he thinks: he will reach up and feel the roof or the lid or the covering of this place, and eventually lift it—which will not be difficult, despite his lack of strength, his bruised limbs, because Dallarosa thought only of putting two bags of cat litter on top in lieu of a lock, that is what Dallarosa thinks of him as, cat litter—and he will climb out and he will make it home, and he will see his mother’s face, the mixture of shock and concern, of sympathy and incomprehension, and he will not be able to explain. Scripture will have to explain it for her—“The wages of sin are death.”—and none of these bruises will heal quickly. It will take years before he will stop remembering them every day, and even then their ghosts will linger, hovering about, whispering in his ear late at night, and he will wonder what would have happened if he had simply stayed in that place, that place of stillness, the walls peanut butter, or fudge icing, like the tins his mother used to let him lick, where he did not have to move, where he saw nothing but darkness in front of him, enveloped by it, where it was not warm and it was not cool, where he did not exist any more than a rock existed buried beneath the soil.
If he could have stayed there forever, would that have been the better choice? But to know this answer, he would have had to consider the whole story, and the whole story could not be digested in one piece, nor could it be remembered as such; it could only be taken in by fragments, like the jigsaws he helped his mother with when he was little, to occupy his time while she worked nights, and since they were puzzles gotten secondhand at the church, often there were pieces missing, and though one could imagine what the complete scene of the puzzle might look like, one could never, one would never, know for sure.