Christopher Daniels

Forgetting the Easy

Although Garreth's dreams that night were rocky crags that he was forced to stumble down in order to arrive prostrate in his bed, he awoke feeling thoroughly good, aside from a sizable hangover. The sun had only recently come up, and few cars were skulking through the street just past his window. Garreth closed his eyes and then opened them, enjoying the show of sparks and light and pressure disperse towards the periphery of his vision, feeling much like a child arrived wet in the world.

His bladder, soaked the night before in alcohol and having moved little since, pushed impatiently on his kidneys. He waited for a while, playing an old, childish game of waiting as long as possible to pee until the pressure on his central plumbing was almost volcanic. He played the game without ever remembering the game's starting point, only the reason. It was a story his brother had told him often, that if he set foot, even one toe, upon the ground, and then did not immediately run to the bathroom, leathery fingers would surround his ankle, and drag him down through a portal under the bed to another world.

Where the leathery fingers, when Garreth's eyes followed them upward, would lead up to a leathery, wicked body of some terrifying, dream-craggy being. Where the being, whose description was never the same but rather frighteningly mutable, would drag Garreth back to his horrible home built of human skulls, insulated with human fat, and protected from the elements by a covering of streched, tanned human skin.

Where the leathery being would happily chomp first on Garreth's feet, up the legs, devouring his knees with relish, and then proceed next to his fingers, sucking each bone clean before chucking the rest of the lot into a pile for use later.

The story had been told to him in just that way, hundreds of times with terrifying sound effects, by his brother. However, this memory, as well as his urgent need to micturate, disappeared when he noticed his hands and forearms had been transformed into the chelipeds of a lobster.

The claws, black at the tips, wet and smooth with a hollow hardness, scrabbled at the sheets until he could lift them off and pull himself out of his bed. In the bathroom, he ran the new claws under the faucet for a long time, first under scalding hot water until they began to turn a translucent fire-red, and then under freezing cold, where they regained their deep, ruddy hue.

He began to calm himself then, speaking in his own head like a tiny therapist finally awakened by the violent, crying need for a tiny therapist. It's simply a dream, he told himself. Too much red wine last night. The opening party had gone quite late, a party celebrating the success of his latest showing, a party at which there had been exactly one person he knew. That one person had left after a while because, she told him, she felt like she was standing in a room full of cannibals. She had also said, apropos of something he could not figure out just then, that he shouldn't wait for her to call him again. No offense, of course, she said, but you're just too much of a victim for me.

Of course he wasn't offended, he remembered saying to her through thick lips.

He had drunk too much and remembered being warned by his agent that he was getting the tiniest bit out of control. The agent had introduced Garreth to people many times over in an effort to keep him busy and not drinking, but that strategy had proved less than successful. Everyone else had spent the evening preening around, gushing over the prints that Garreth had created. The images were all the same, as far as Garreth was concerned. Broken clay pots with seeds pouring out of them. A simple enough image. One he had been seeing in his head without rest for the last five or so years. Rather than using it as a motif, though, which was the way everyone preferred to discuss his work, Garreth was simply (and this he would tell this to anyone who listened, whether critic or potential customer) trying to get the picture right.

All of that time hunched over copper plates, etching grooves by hand and using acids only sparingly, preferring instead to get the effect straight from his own hands, by feel rather than by sight. All of those prints of different pots, Native American, Incan, Japanese, Sudanese. All of them at a different angle, with subtle shifts in light and different approaches in shadow, from the realistic to the cartoonish and back to a middle realm that was neither. And the seeds. Clusters of tiny ovules from innumerable species of plants, real and imagined. All of that, and each one just not enough. A feeling he couldn't put into words, or obviously onto paper, but a slow, maddening itch taking up permanent residence in his fingers that would not stop no matter how many pots of seeds he drew.

So the showing had been more or less a success that Garreth had endured very well he thought, all things considered. On the way home, he could only remember snippets, his agent telling him how he hadn't completely fucked things up. That all but three of the pieces had sold. He remembered falling down stairs. Being carried back up to his door. The creak of one board as he crossed the threshold and was tossed into bed. His agent telling him that he was supposed to be eccentric anyhow, as all artists were. That Garreth's public visage could stand to get even weirder, as personality sometimes sold as much as talent did. His future, he remembered hearing from a source somewhere above him, was just in front of him. If only he wanted it. That, he distinctly remembered saying back, was total bullshit.

But now, with these claws staring at him, he was blinded by the monstrous expanse of his future. The futility of the operation of putting on clothes, much less working with etching tools, brought him to the verge of tears, and he finally just walked into his studio naked, determined to work on his art that morning whether by hook or by crook. He looked at the small plastic Mexican wrestling figures he had originally seen on a trip to Tijuana, a lonely driving trip through Mexico he'd taken by himself after his father died. He remembered seeing them on a small table wrapped in a plastic bag, one hundred for roughly a dollar. He had picked up two bags, not sure of what he'd do with them, but certain that they were useful. The last five years (give or take six months) had been spent thinking about them every day, while printing his images of broken clay pots which sold for head-scratchingly-large prices. He was unable to even put the figures in a drawer or a cupboard during that time, much less throw them out.

Screwing up his courage, Garreth began sculpting landscapes for the figures. He reasoned that his left claw, the larger one, was likely better for crushing. The right, the smaller one, was curved and hooked, which, after a few tentative snips at a steel bucket filled with water, proved better for cutting and biting through materials.

He found old paint cans and buckets and gently crushed their sides with his left pincer, so that they looked wounded, but were not punctured, and filled them with the hot wax and figures, one by one. When they cooled, he was able to either slip the blocks out of the cans or cut away the buckets with his right claw to reveal the piece. The figures hung suspended like bugs in amber, each one grasping a small sign on which was painted a word, the tiny populace resembling drowning passengers. The signs were barely readable, as he encountered trouble first popping the lids of the paint cans, and then trying to pick up the paintbrush in his monstrous, powerful claws. He simply poked two small holes along the top of the lid and poured the paint into a coffee cup. As for the brush, he had settled on holding the stem in his teeth. The signs looked like this:

Dying     Living      Lonely     Inheritance

The next month was spent in the same way, and it went quickly. His agent ordered pizza for him nearly every day, and brought Garreth money, slipping the envelopes inside his mail slot. Every three days, a new envelope, more money from the paintings that had sold, found its way into Garreth's claws, and supplies arrived outside his door in large cardboard boxes. And so, with logistics taken care of, he worked on the figures in wax, and on the signs.

When finally he ran out of figures and wax, he began twisting metal into sculpture. The sculptures were horrifying, his agent said when he actually came inside the apartment one day, like you took your insides out and stretched them over wire. He also said he could sell them in a heartbeat, and that Garreth should maybe move into a bigger studio, that he could command a bigger budget now that he was working with bigger materials, no more of that Mexican wrestler crap. But his agent also asked if they could continue to do their business from the phone from now on because, he said, he was a little frightened of Garreth. But, he added, at least for the image that was probably a good thing. Think of Dali. His agent never specifically mentioned the claws.

When he went out, Garreth covered his hands with old scarves so that no one would see them.

The days slipped past without much notice to either Garreth or his work. He sculpted all day until his body gave out from exhaustion at around seven or eight each night. His body was taut and heated by this point, cleansed and virtually wrung dry of any strength. In his chelipeds he felt almost nothing. Only long strands of muscle and nerve running together, caressing each other beneath the section where his own pink flesh reddened and ossified, connecting his human arms to the claws.

He sat in his chair, listening to the drone of cars outside his window, or to the weak voices of other people in his building whom he never saw. He would sit because he was too weak to stand any longer, holding his claws out before him with the last of his strength, turning them over in the light, looking for some connection between his past life without them and the new one with them. He barely remembered what had come before. None of his prints were left, each piece sold to someone else, even the copper plates themselves, so he could not even conceive the images he had once created. His other memories were dry and tired, too, and flaked away like old paint in the evenings.

He was able to eat only by holding the pizza box in his larger claw and sliding each piece forward until he could grasp it in his teeth. When he was finished, he stood for a few moments and looked out his window. One night, three months and three days after the claws had first appeared, found him as always watching from his window, tired and full. His eyes followed a plane of light from somewhere above to the large oak tree across the sidewalk from his building. When he relaxed his eyes and focused on the spines of the leaves, darts of rain appeared. The whispering sound of a storm began to increase to a steady chatter of clacking, and the street awoke as the gathering rain hammered its skin. A female figure in a dark coat, her long hair flattened by the downpour, passed on the street below. The heels of her boots clacked against the pavement with more alacrity than the pellets of rain, making her heard well above the sound of the storm. She stopped just in front of the tree and raised her arms. The simple motion struck at Garreth as he felt himself raise his own arms, placing a claw on either side of the window frame. She gathered her hair and tied it into a simple damp knot. Garreth felt an itch underneath his crushing claw.

While she was tying the knot, more footsteps bulleted up from down the street. A voice dopplered, getting clearer as the footsteps gained volume, and finally another figure, holding an umbrella, hurried up to the woman. "C'mon," he said, "C'mon." Garreth heard. The woman lowered her arms. "C'mon. It's fucking raining. C'mon." Garreth watched her turn and walk away from the other figure, who ran a few meters to catch up with her. The man grabbed her arm and whirled her around, the damp knot swinging. His face was obscured by the umbrella. Hers was not, although Garreth could only see slivers of flesh, a cheek, one small, round ear. Her coat stopped just above her knees, and Garreth could see her dark boots reflecting the streetlights.

The knot swung again and Garreth was stunned to see her lunge for his building's door. She slammed the row of doorbells with the heel of her hand repeatedly, and Garreth's apartment was flooded with noise. "Open up!" She was screaming into the intercom. "Open the door! Open the goddamn door!" Startled, Garreth held up his hands and backed away from the window, unsure of what to do. The screaming continued, and now he could hear the man's voice over the loudspeaker too, urging the women to shut up, a voice dosed liberally with threat.

The cacophony rose, and Garreth continued backing away from the window, until he reached the intercom box and pushed the IN button with the tip of his tongue. Almost simultaneously, the din ceased, his tongue still resting on the button, leaving the apartment filled only with the sounds of the storm outside and Garreth's open-mouthed breathing. In the center of the room his body stood, no longer exhausted, eyes open and alert, arms at his side.

He walked back to the window and saw that both of the figures were gone now, the foyer door shut. Garreth waited for the sounds of footsteps to return, or the pounding of fists on his door to recommence. He went and wrapped the scarves around his hands before returning to the window. His claws, covered in soft material, shook. Thoughts of violence crossed his mind, of damage his claws could inflict on human flesh given their effectiveness on steel and iron. But these thoughts aggravated the itching in his pincers.

Peering through the Judas-hole, he half-expected to catch the slivers of her face again, but saw only the stairs and banister, the cheap black carpeting. In his mind, he turned the slivers over to try to fit them together into a complete picture, eyes, hands, damp hair tied in a knot. Blood rushed in his ears, and his head and hands grew warmer as the rain increased in volume.

He stayed that way, in the center of the room, for nearly three-quarters of an hour. His hands drooped as gravity hauled them earthward. Weariness prowled back into his limbs and brain, and before long he sat down crosslegged, and, in a few moments, was fast asleep on his floor.

Upon waking, he shook the scarves off of his arms and realized that his hands had returned.

He cried for a long time, almost the entire morning, unable to decide whether he was crying out of joy or from loss. The man and woman from the night before were mere shadows in his brain, and by the time the sun hit its zenith in the sky, he could only remember the buzzing of his doorbell.

Walking into the front room was painful. He tried twisting a large corroded iron bar that he had selected from the dump nights before. But without the claws the operation was useless. He dug out tools from the basement and tried those, but the movements took too long, and by the time he bent the bar a millimeter or so, he had forgotten what he'd intended to make with it.

And so at the end of the day, he went to the store downstairs, bought a bottle of paint thinner and vodka, and sat in the front room, in front of the last few remaining landscapes imbedded with Mexican wrestlers, next to an iron sculpture hanging like a dead tree. He unscrewed the bottle of vodka and drank three-fourths of it, and then unscrewed the container of paint thinner. He drank half of that quickly before he could vomit it up, but began throwing up liters and liters of liquid before losing consciousness in a pool of stomach contents.

The next three days were a series of screaming, warbly snapshots that came and went faster than Garreth's brain could process their contents.

Miles of road strewn with thumbtacks and scraps of smoking iron in front of him, and that somehow became Garreth's dog when he was ten years old, which he only owned for one year. One whole year when he was ten years old, until his own brother Richard, seventeen years old at the time, left home and took the dog with him. His brother had hated the dog since it set foot in the house, yet it was the one thing he took with him when he left. Garrett had always wished that his brother had simply killed himself and left it at that. Why did he have to take his dog, his only dog ever and in fact his only pet since? Richard never came back, though he'd written years later to say that he'd gotten married, had two children, and that they loved the dog very much.

Many others, too many others that had little or no meaning, and many that had too much meaning for him to focus on. Other friends, other family members. His father who died of cancer two years earlier, rotting away remarkably fast from the inside out, not slowly like it always happened in books and on television, but rather infinitely more terrifyingly. In and out of hospitals, seeing nurses and doctors conditioned to be stoics by their close proximity to death. Watching the body that had once towered over him turn into a husk, an insect cocoon that held nothing at the end but dusty seeds. His father's hands, rough and strong and gnarled from loading trucks throughout his years, barely able to grip Garreth's, the fingers and palms drying into papier-mâché. The whole time Garreth telling himself that it was a learning experience essential to his art, locking away the terror he really felt. After watching the hospice company's truck drivers haul away the oxygen tank and the bed, he sold the house, bought a car, and drove to Mexico. Where he found the wrestlers.

More mind-photos of lesser import: artist friends who had come and gone, people with talent and others with drive, almost all of whom had stolen something from him-a toothbrush, money, a rug, ideas. His first car, a beloved brown Cutlass Sierra he bought two years before he had a license and totaled a week after. People and people and things and things.

On the third day he woke up, his body wrung like wet cloth, his insides burning, throat coated with glass. Somehow Garreth pulled himself up on his hands and knees, retched more, and then slipped on his own insides. He cried to feel some moisture come into his eyes, but cried harder when the only thing that came out was a yellowy pus.

Somehow he was able to pull his inflamed into the bathroom, afraid to look in the mirror, afraid to see what had happened. He chose instead to turn the water on in the tub and wash himself clean. When he returned to the front room, he fell on the couch and slept, hoping he would finally die.

The next day, instead, found him feeling better. He cleaned the apartment, wiping up the water and blood and vomit with old t-shirts, filling the leftover cans and buckets that he'd fashioned into moulds with his claws with the refuse. Used the tools to cut up the remaining lumps of wax and filled garbage bags with old metal that looked only like old, twisted dead metal again. And when he was finished, he threw everything else away inside the small apartment, all of the paint and tools and figures and books. Finished the whole operation by cutting off all his hair with an old pair of orange-handled scissors.

That night he pulled on a large grey coat and walked down the street to a small restaurant called Johnnie's. H took a small sign off the frosted front window he'd seen a million times before, one that had been up for so long that the edges had yellowed and started to curl upwards like eyelashes, that said DELIVERY PERSON WANTED, and went in.

"Sure you're not gonna scare the fuggin' customers are you?" The owner, a short stout Greek man who belched near seven times during their fifteen minute conversation, and had sad eyes that Garreth decided he liked, looked Garreth over and finally said "Well, we'll give it a shot, won't we?"

He bought a bicycle from the second hand store after his first week of running around, an old Chinese model that had three speeds and a grating bell and weighed something close to fifty pounds, a bicycle that could hit a tank and get only minor scratches and wouldn't be stolen by the most nearsighted thief. He liked the fact that it was solid, and unmoving.

The delivery business was by no means brisk, but Garreth was there both mornings and evenings, with a few hours off in the middle of the day for walking as far as he could one way and then back before his next shift started, or else taking the train in the exact same manner, back and forth. Just as long as he didn't have to go back home. Johnny didn't really need him there so much, and even told him so after a couple of days, but Garreth didn't care, and only said I know, I know.

He worked for weeks that way, pedaling all kinds of sandwiches to the different neighborhoods encircling the Greek's store. He would go anywhere, even places that the owner said were too dangerous before slamming down the phone on the inquiring customer. Garreth made him call back and tell them the sandwiches would be there in twenty-five minutes or less. He went into any neighborhood, no matter how far away. The owner laughed because his was the only restaurant whose delivery area included the entire city. Garreth never encountered trouble, never had a single person try to rob him or hit him on the top of his skull with a metal flashlight, never was scared of anyone or anyplace.

He was out. After months of self-exile, he was out on his feet or on his bicycle and very little else mattered to him. His thinking was arrested. The loneliness he'd felt hanging on him like an unwanted gift was gone. Burnt up in the flashes of wind hitting his face, the sun infecting his skin.

Johnnie's volume tripled, quadrupled. The owner saw business like he never had before. Since he as a rule always paid the delivery person less than the cooks, he fired the three cooks he had, hired three delivery boys, and moved Garreth behind the counter. Now Garreth worked all day, non-stop, from the time the shop opened until the time the shutters slammed shut. Instead of the few hours of walking or riding the train during the day, he rode his bicycle thirty or forty miles in the dark after the shop closed, going as far as he could and then coming back exactly the same way.

Garreth was unsure about the change, but the Greek refused to hear any arguments.

Perhaps against his own wishes, the sandwiches Garreth made became art. He made stacks of cheeses and sauces that made people nearly fall down in tears when they opened them. He baked breads throughout the day, fresh loaves of wheat and grains that reminded people of their grandmothers and other pasts that they might or may not have had. He roasted huge slabs of lamb and pork and beef in gravies and sliced them all off the bone.

The shop took out half page ads in the newspaper and the owner even toyed with the idea of opening a second store. Of course, there was only one Garreth, so the idea was forgotten as quickly as a dream.

On the same night the owner thought briefly of expanding his business, at roughly the same time, fifteen minutes after the shutters closed, Garreth was riding his bicycle on one of his forty-mile circuits, and found himself behind a truck with an open back door. Inside, he could see flats piled with wide sheets of metal. Trying to empty his head of all but the menu for the next day, he drafted behind the truck to give his legs some rest. The heavy bicycle glided along the street, relieved of the wind pressure in front of it, and Garreth tried to stack all of the things he had to do the next morning upon opening the shop. Setting the meat to slow-roast was first, followed by all the vegetable prep work. Sauces and dressings could be started then. Of course all of this depended on whether or not the meat was delivered on time.

While he was deciding whether or not to try figs in the stuffing, he barely noticed that the truck slammed on its brakes. The driver was trying to avoid hitting someone streaking across his path, that someone being someone who had just robbed a liquor store a few blocks down, which information was unknown to Garreth, and would have made little difference in unfolding of the following events. Garreth was simply unable to stop in time, could not even tap the brakes, and threw his hands out in front of him to brace himself. Crashing head on, his arms thrust forward a few feet into the back of the truck.

A small bolt wiggled loose from the impact, allowing the two hundred pound door to fall with such force that it severed both of his hands just below his wrist. The liquor store bandit squirreled off down the street. He found himself wishing for death again, the sound of his own blood jetting out like a washing machine in his ears before the pictures came again. This time, they were longer, slower, calmer.

His mother in her workshop days before she died, killed by a transient who stopped to help her carry the groceries into her house one day after work, on her way home from the store, just twenty feet from her front door. Instead, when she turned to grab the other bags, he pushed her inside the car, locked the doors, drove her out to the country, raped her repeatedly with various objects that Garreth couldn't recall because not even the newspaper would print their names, and then dumped her in a drainage ditch somewhere outside of East Moline.

But the image was from a pre-time, of his mother in her workshop because she had been a potter. Sold most of her pieces in one store that wasn't there now, that was, instead, the back party room of a bar. Pictures of her floated up to the surface, working at her wheel with Garreth watching, she aware of his eyes on her shoulders but not wanting to break the spell. Her hands smoothing along the sides of the wet, warm clay, curves and elegant lines seemingly pouring out of her fingertips onto the vases and bowls. After his brother took his dog, he lost interest in other children, and would spend all day in the garage that was her studio. There, he became fascinated with her hands. Hands that she would cup his face with, still warm and clayey, and then kiss him on the top of his head. Fingers almost like magic, palms soft as sunshine. Hair pulled back and tied into knot with grey streaks that shone like silver.

When he woke up in the hospital, he was almost unsurprised to find that his hands had been replaced by large, sad-looking white daisies.

He found out from the doctor that the driver had stopped to fix the latch on the door when he saw Garreth. He had torn his shirt in two and used the pieces to wrap tourniquets around the blooming stumps where hands had once been. He had even picked up the hands and thrown them in the beer cooler he had stashed behind his front seat, but by the time they had arrived at the hospital, saving Garreth's life and not his hands became the main priority.

The doctor said nothing about the flowers.

Garreth was released after a week. The Greek came once to bring him chocolate and tell him that he'd fired all the delivery people, rehired both of his cooks, and invested the money he had made in the stock of a small Internet company. The whole time, he looked at the floor and said nothing about the flowers.

"Can't say that I'll rehire you. You know."

He knew.

"Not that I wouldn't like to, but you know I'm just a small businessman. Right?"


The Greek didn't come back after that day, although he did send a card wishing Garreth would get well soon. He appreciated it. After all, who else had come to visit? Of course, he laughed to himself, who else was there? At the end of two weeks, Garreth left the hospital and went back to his apartment.

He spent seven days in his home, eating bad takeout food, watching television, not sleeping, and generally trying to move his mind to a less lonely place. While the petals of the flowers hadn't much force, he was able to move them, with languid yet controlled thoughts, for small tasks like picking up a plastic fork or pushing a button on the remote control. He watched infomercials, news, sports, biographies, dance parties, tapdancing dogs, children's cartoons, talk shows, ugly people wanting to be beautiful people, beautiful people lamenting their imprisoning beauty. He watched everything, including the flowers growing brown and limp from lack of sunlight, until the eighth day, when the power was cut off. Since he had been in the hospital, his bills weren't paid promptly, and things began to shut down, like a giant beast headed for sleep. First the electricity, and then the phone (not a big loss, since he had barely used it since his father died anyway), and finally, the water. By the time the shower stopped running, Garreth knew what he was going to do.

Throwing some clothes in a bag, Garreth walked down to the bus station and bought a ticket to the city's outskirts. The next bus was already in the dock, half-full of people fifteen minutes before departure. It was an old bus that had been freshly washed, the air around it smelling faintly of oil and stale air conditioning. The green and blue paint made the picture of a long racing dog stretched across the silver side, from stem to stern. He thought of the dog that had been taken from him by his brother. The dog had been a mutt, sort of German-shepardy looking with large eyes and a huge tongue. He remembered the way the dog would stretch out on the floor of Garreth's room to sleep, so big that he could almost reached both walls, right forepaw and left hindleg reaching out in polar directions. The doors stood open, inviting him in.

The flowers were too big to cover up with scarves, so Garreth simply went and sat down on the seat, his giant petaled hands gleaming. No one on the bus paid him any attention, so wrapped up in their own loneliness, people talking to themselves or their children who wouldn't sit still and behave, men going home or going to look for work, old people with no other place to go at that particular moment. Folks who had families and lives chopped off from them like a useless appendage by the closing of the bus doors. Garreth decided that he liked the bus.

At the city outskirts he walked in the opposite direction that the bus had come from. He walked through a field of dead wheat that hadn't grown that year, through fields of corn and soybeans leveled by drought or other natural destruction. He slept on his bag, curled up behind a fence to keep the wind at bay. When he awoke, he looked back at the fields he'd crossed, at the path he'd taken, and it was all colored a young, bright white. He looked where he had slept and saw the outline of his form circled by a wreath of white flowers, still in their buds. The form was long and stretched out, from the tip of his right index finger down to the toe of his left foot.

Looking down at his hands, he saw that the flowers had disappeared. The stumps where his hands had once extended from were now cauterized and clean. Garreth rubbed them together and felt the warmth that the friction generated.

He smiled a bit, a sad smile perhaps, but a smile nonetheless. His smile was soft white too, a shining thing that would lead him all over, he knew. Stretching his back, he looked in front of him, saw dead fields and more fields, empty lots, dead land that he would eventually cover. Saw trains he would take in the upcoming weeks, months, years. Saw people he would smile at along the way, and, if he was lucky enough, speak to.

Christopher Daniels lives with his wife in the north hills of Kyoto, Japan, where he teaches English and generally putters around. He has been previously published on the web in Carvezine and Hackwriters, and tries to keep his blog updated (



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