They were taking his desk. Two burly men, one black, one hispanic. They worked for the credit agency, to which he owed an obscene amount of money. Over the last few weeks they had taken everything of value in the house: the television, he hadn’t minded that so much; the computer, foul contraptions those, decent for a certain kind of crude research but not much more; his library of books, that had hurt; his suits, his furnishings, even his pots and pans. Now they were taking his desk.
The door clicked closed behind them and he was left alone in his apartment with only a pile of worthless clothing and his typewriter. The typewriter. For 15 years his most prized possession and now his most worthless. Nobody wanted a typewriter in 1988, and he had no use for it. Not anymore. Not since the gargoyle had taken up residence in his skull.
Once he had been a writer. An acclaimed one, though he had never earned more than a handsome living from his work. In certain circles his name was still recognized, remembered really. “Whatever happened to that guy...” “He was so talented.”
And he had been. Two novels. Dozens of short stories. A book of literary criticism. He had been in the prime of his career, just at the point where the contracts started to swell in size and the invitations to parties had become more numerous. Even the women he shared his bed with had grown younger and more beautiful. Until the last one.
She had been a ravishing redhead, a woman he’d thought out of his league. They’d trysted, quickly, with savage passion, and she’d fallen asleep. He’d stayed up until dawn, staring. Her beauty was intoxicating, he’d drunk it in. He’d fallen asleep just after the sun crested the horizon and when he’d woken she’d been gone. He’d been left with just a memory. A memory that had inspired him to...nothing. He couldn’t get her out of his head. For days after he could think of little else. He couldn’t call her, she hadn’t given a number. He’d asked other guests from the party where they’d met, but none knew who she was, though some remembered her striking face.
For several months after the experience with the redhead he’d tried to write about her. If he could not have her again in his bed, the bed that the two credit-agency men had taken a fortnight ago, then he would reconstruct her in his mind. He would do justice to her beauty through his words. Only...he couldn’t. Every time he set out to write of her he found himself stuck at the first sentence. He remembered those eyes. Two blazing emeralds set in pearl corneas, large and bright and beautiful. He tried to imagine seeing through those eyes, looking at the world as she did. Understanding it through her...
“She opened her eyes and saw...” Only he did not know what she saw. He could not, not for the life of him, uncover it. “She opened her eyes and saw...” The words were written a thousand times on sheets of paper throughout the apartment. He had tried forcing himself to finish the sentence. “She opened her eyes and saw...” It. Him. Them. The truck. The truth. Nothing. None of the words fit and he had soon abandoned inserting them at random in the hopes that they would. Her open eyes had to see something. Something worthy of her. A fitting tribute.
After a few months of fruitlessness he had abandoned his attempt to recreate her and tried to go on with the business of writing. It was an abject failure. Some time during his long foray behind her eyes his image of her had become warped and calcified. Supple flesh turned to hard stone. Wry smile into a hideous grin. She had become the gargoyle. She had taken up a perch inside his mind and she would not be moved, not by hook or crook. Not by psychiatrist, scotch, or marijuana.
His agent had called him, sporadically, for a few months then stopped. His friends had invited him to fewer and fewer happenings until they started to see that this was not just a temporary blockage, and then they had slowly disentangled themselves from him, as if he were the bearer of some terrible new disease that they were at risk of catching through mere association.
He had no family and soon lapsed into solitude. He spent his customary 6 hours a day in front of the typewriter, some days typing nothing at all some days spewing out page after page of stream-of-consciousness garbage, none of it usable. He spent one day standing on his head to shift his perspective and another writing “This is only temporary” over and over like the man in the Shining. Nothing. He’d taken vacations to Vermont and Cabo St. Lucas. He’d hired prostitutes and tried to re-enact the evening. None were near as beautiful nor as skilled between the sheets. He found himself unable to climax with them.
Eventually his bank accounts had drained and his credit had run dry. The agencies started pounding on his door. His lawyer advised him to seek bankruptcy but he had refused, believing that perhaps poverty would shock him from his complacency. He had achieved poverty, but it hadn’t made a difference. He subsisted on what food he could get with the royalty checks from his no longer popular novels. His landlord started eviction proceedings, proceedings that were nearing their end. It had been two years and still the gargoyle remained, as immobile as ever. It was laughing at him from within his skull. Determined to drag him down to hell.
He went to the sink and cupped his hands for a drink of water. There were no glasses in the house. He had seven dollars and a few pennies to last him for the next week and didn’t want to waste any on paper cups. The water was tepid and sour. He had used to boil it but the gas had been cut off and the kettle taken. The apartment seemed huge and depressing without any furniture in it. It was getting dark. There would be little light from the street and the electricity no longer functioned. He decided to go out.
The air was frosty and his breath came out in smokey puffs. The streets were nearly empty of people, the light from the streetlamps lying in undisturbed yellow pools. He walked quickly, crossing against lights and stepping through the path of oncoming cars without breaking stride. He walked like a man in a hurry.
After about half a mile he saw a bookshop he was fond of and decided to stop in. He’d done a signing there several years ago and enjoyed a nice chat with the owner. They’d given him $150.
The shop was more crowded than the street, with people getting a head start on their holiday shopping. After a brief glance at the bestsellers and new product he gravitated, as he always did, to the literature section and the place where his books would be displayed. At first he could not find any copies of his work, but a more careful scan of the shelf revealed two copies of his second novel, misfiled. He pulled them out to put them in their proper place and saw that they were both marked with 50% off stickers. He peeled the stickers off and put them in his pocket. He would not allow these books, these remnants of the man he had once been, to be cheapened like that. If someone wanted one they could pay full price. It was a matter of pride. He left the bookshop, vowing never to return. The gargoyle cackled mercilessly in his head.
The street felt colder than when he had left it and he headed for a subway entrance. It would cost a dollar to get on, but the difference between $7 and $6 didn’t strike him as particularly significant. Either was enough for a couple sandwiches and not much more. The station was warm and smelled of stale urine. The token booth clerk shot him a dirty look as he handed over a crumpled one dollar bill. It was like she could smell his failure.
Not having a particular destination in mind he got on the first train that stopped and took a seat. The car soon filled up and he was able to sit back and observe the sea of humanity that washed in and out. As a writer this had been one of his great sources of inspiration, to sit among the masses and try to project stories on to the individuals who caught his fancy. The teenaged girl with the low-cut jeans and pink-streaked hair. A runaway? A wannabe rocker? Maybe she was pregnant and hadn’t found out yet. Maybe she would meet her husband tonight at some high-school party and make out with him on someone’s parents’ bed.
Today there would be no such imagining. The gargoyle had rendered such thoughts moot. Instead his eyes skipped from person to person seeking the answer to one question. “She opened her eyes and saw...” Him? Her? Them. No. None of the people in the car were worthy of her sight. None of them fit.
He switched trains several times, losing himself in the crowds. After several hours of this he found himself back on the line he’d started on, and nearing his stop. He stepped from the car out to the platform and went up the steps into the dark night air.
The air was blisteringly cold. He could feel it clawing at his flesh through the several small holes in his jacket. The streets were even more deserted than they had been earlier, but traffic had picked up. People with dinner appointments or clubs they wanted to go to were taking shelter behind the metal shells of their automobiles. And why not? They had the money.
“She opened her eyes and saw...” The gargoyle was screeching with laughter. It was beating him He was nearly defeated. “She opened her eyes and saw...” He wasn’t giving up. It was on the tip of his tongue now. He was going to find it. He was not going to let himself be defeated by this creature of stone and thought. He was not going to let his books languish in crappy bookstores for half off the cover price. He was not going to...
He didn’t see the taxi. It took the corner hard as he stepped out into the street, and the front bumper slammed into him at thigh level. He was hurled into a parked SUV, his head snapping back into the frame with a sickening crunch. He crumpled to the ground, blood welling out from the freshly opened wound in the rear of his skull. The taxi driver honked hard, as if trying to issue a post-facto warning, or a rebuke.
As he lay on his back, looking up at the sky, the gargoyle released its hold on him and, as if it had just perched for a moment rather than congealing and staying there for two full years, it fluttered off into the night and was gone. The moon was full and ripe, but his vision was starting to blur and that didn’t matter now. The sticky pool was down to the nape of his neck, warm and growing.
“She opened her eyes and saw...” It was nearly there. “She opened her eyes and saw...him lying there.” A smile crossed his lips. Yes, that’s what she saw. Him. She saw him.