by Harris Lahti
Malcolm slides over his tattered shopping bag full of porno and says under no circumstances do you give it back. He makes me promise. He seems serious this time, even holds out a quivering pinky around which he wants me to wrap my own. “Matter fact,” he says as we pinky promise, “throw that out as soon as I leave the room.” Then he leaves the room, humming softly to himself, a thousand pounds lighter in his soul.
And as his humming fades to nothing, I consider our promise. I consider keeping up my end and throwing away his tattered shopping bag full of porno. I consider the moaning women and the grunting men and the smut and the shame those DVDs most certainly contain. But even so, I cannot. Despite the women and the men and the smut and the shame, I just cannot throw them away.
I’ve been this way since I can remember.
It started with the garbage in the street. At a young age, I remember the garbage in the street started looking lonely. That I used to see the solitary bottles and cans and the flapping torn newspapers and think how sad they all must be. I remember how, one night, my mother raided my closets and threw out all the lonely garbage I’d collected. And how I cried. I cried quite a lot as a child, I recall. A sensitive soul. I remember holding funerals for worms I found drowned on the sidewalk after a rain and how the tears ran down my face. How I had so much love to give and that it constantly broke my heart. That it was a steady problem until I discovered pets. I remember the relief of getting pets of my own, my cats and dogs and hamsters, and I remember the way in which I loved them. And how, for a while, that that felt good. I remember the ways in which my love multiplied and grew with every day as I cared for those fragile little things. And I remember how I cried for days every time one would die. And how I loved them so much that, after a while, I couldn’t even bring myself to throw their motionless bodies away. I remember having to buy extra freezers to store them as they began to rot. And I remember the high electric bills. And I remember sending my love into them, into the freezers, and knowing that, even though they were dead, this they could feel. That they could feel my love in the afterlife, and I could feel theirs in the real world. So that, when the state took them away, I almost died with grief. When the state took my pets away, alive and dead, I remember how they all hissed and whimpered and growled in protest. How they couldn’t bear to leave. And how when they were finally gone, I was so alone that I thought I might die from the loneliness. How I knew my lonely apartment would never feel the same. And that I had no more reason to live. I remember Googling ways in which to kill myself. And how I was just about ready to end it all, when I miraculously saw the ad in a newspaper draped across the floor at my feet. How highlighted in my long-lost cat’s piddle, the advertisement said this. It said: Help Wanted.
And so, that’s how I ended up here at Lexington home, a mental health aid, with my Malcolms and my King-Kings and my Phils and my Melissas, my new reasons to live—I just have so much love to give. So, you see, it’s not that I don’t want to throw away Malcom’s porno as promised. It’s not that I’d ever dream to watch it. It’s just that I cannot physically throw it out. That, for whatever reason, the thought makes me unbearably sad, to send these DVDs away to idle, unused and without a purpose in these cold, dark times.
So, when, a few days later, Malcolm comes asking me about his porno, well, I have to lie. I have to lie and say that, yes, I threw the porno away. I have to say: “They’re not coming back,” as if this were really true.
But I’ve always been a bad liar, and at first, he doesn’t seem to believe me. In fact, Malcolm seems downright mad. Carrying on for some time, he tells me that I didn’t have the right. That I should’ve known that he’d change his mind like before, like every other time. He needs his porno, he tells me. He loves it. It’s all he has in this world.
And I know I could’ve easily reach there into my bag and returned it. I could’ve easily handed it over right then and there. But right then, in that moment, it wasn’t clear he deserves it. It is a matter of appreciation, I think. It is a matter of love.
I think, I would’ve never let something I love out of my sight, no matter how ragged or gross. But I suppose some people just have more to give.
It’s more of a solution than a problem.
Harris Lahti is an MFA candidate at Sarah Lawrence College, and an associate editor at Juked. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming for Post Road, New York Tyrant, Potomac Review, Fanzine, Midwestern Gothic, and elsewhere.