Arthur Davis

The Forest of Perfect Emptiness

“My name is Molly,” she said and sat down next to me. “I heard you killed someone?”I didn’t like her at once. I was certain she didn’t like me.

There was little reason to like me. Most of the time I disliked myself and many, especially those familiar with the darker side of my more recent past, seemed to agree with the rationale behind that judgment.

“They say a lot of things.”

“Then what am I to believe?” she asked.

“Believe what you want.”

“What did it feel like, killing someone? A stranger, wasn’t it?”

“Where are you from?”

Her eyes were cold as the frost gathering under my ass, making me numb in the last remaining place I could feel.

Maybe soon go numb inside as well?

Something worth looking forward to.

Just a matter of time and little of that remained.

Time once came to me naturally and in great, undeserved abundance. And, like you, I didn’t value it for the temporal prize it was, and took advantage of it, squandered, abused, and disregarded it, and was ungrateful.

“Does where I’m from matter?” she asked.

“You need to move on, maybe over there,” I said pointing to the end of the dirt road that curved away and disappeared into the Forest of Perfect Emptiness.

I didn’t need her as a reminder that I would shortly disappear, vanish like a magician’s assistant.

Always wondered where the pretty women with wonderful thighs clad in tight, black fishnet stockings went when the magician dropped the magic curtain. The crowds ooohed and aaahed, speculating about where they went as much as I speculated where I’d come from and why I was permitted to stay as long as I had.
Defying time, reason, and justice defined me from the beginning, whenever that was.

Not possessing a moral compass doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not aware of its absence, only that you have so little awareness that it exists at all.

Molly knew, or at least I sensed she knew too much about me already. That’s probably why she was here, and why I needed her to leave.

There was danger in her bones, and if she stayed any longer they might explode and annihilate us both. Molly was the harbinger I had come to expect, though at first, I wasn’t certain of what reality.

“You’re not concerned that I might explode and our remains will be washed away with the morning dew?” she asked, absently.

“Then what?”

“Then you would have remained untouched, unscathed, and incomplete from your beginning to your end.”

“You can gift me an end?”

“That sounds more like a question than a request.”

The truth of it all is that mine is a peculiar, often unrecognizable, breed of unpleasantness.

After a while, people can feel it, and their unease grows until they turn away, afraid that they will be taken or, if they remain in my presence, consumed by inference and simply cease to exist.

“Molly,” I moaned softly, “such an old-fashioned name.”

“It is,” she said and got up, brushing off the detritus of the weeks we were together from her skirt, a yellow, pinkish fabrication right out of a century-old mail-order catalog. “I can’t help you.”

“You haven’t tried hard enough,” I shot back, as though I was about to be abandoned.

“If you believe that, then you haven’t been paying attention.”

“I have. I’m certain of it,” I insisted, but she was already moving away, the forest at her back.

Why would she lie to me, try to make me believe she came to me from out of nowhere to save me as though salvation for the lost was a servant she could summon at will?

Maybe her time would be better spent searching for the magician’s assistant? The pretty, innocent brunette in biting fishnet stockings. And if she did, knowing Molly as I do, I doubt she would share how I might find the princess, the soul behind the magician’s magic.

“Did I ever tell you why I like fishnet stockings? No? Maybe we should save the truth of my truth for another day since the last nerve in my ass has finally succumbed.”

Darkness oozed out from the entrance of the Forest of Perfect Emptiness, rose, and circled, hovering tentatively at first, then with focused righteousness descended upon me as if the life force of my very existence was no longer enough to animate me.

“I may have met Molly a long time ago,” I said, hoping the echo of my sincere confession would prolong me. “It was a carnival that came to town regular for two weeks at the end of each summer.”

Standing, uneasily now, my legs grow cold, consuming me with a steady purpose.

I once read that everybody knows when it’s time.

“You don’t have to say anything or do anything, or even wait until the end, when I am drawn down the dirt road that curves into the forest. It’s been comforting to have your companionship at the end, whoever you are and wherever you’re from, and whatever is your purpose.”

I’m no longer afraid, though I am not sure if that’s foolish or brave, or where one starts and the other ends.

But I am grateful for your companionship, as I was for Molly’s, who I already miss, and am quietly joyful, at this late date, for being able to summon even that fragment of emotion.

And, yes, for those of you who are curious sentimentalists, I did kill someone, though that wasn’t the worst of it.

***

Arthur Davis is a management consultant who has been quoted in The New York Times and in Crain’s New York Business, taught at The New School and interviewed on New York TV News Channel 1. Over a hundred tales of original fiction have been published. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, received the 2018 Write Well Award for excellence in short fiction and, twice nominated, received Honorable Mention in The Best American Mystery Stories 2017.

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