Chapter 44

Dustin felt a sudden and inescapable urge to avert his eyes from the old man. Putting the phone back into his pocket he glanced around the room. He could see, in its darkened corners that no one had touched their salads. Full bowls were stacked on dressers, hampers, nightstands and bookcases.

James stood, grabbing him by the shoulder. "I’m really upset with you Dustin." He said as he guided him away from the old man.

"I tried to help." Dustin said.

"You should have said something."

"What?"

"You should have told someone that John was trapped."

"I didn’t know who he was!" Dustin said shrugging the artist off. "Don’t touch me."

James began to whisper. "Are you sleeping with Sylvia?" He asked.

"No!" Dustin blurted. "Jesus!"

"She’s a terrible woman." The artist continued. "She lies all the time. Poor John has been tied in knots all day long because you’ve been answering her phone."

"It was my phone." Dustin spat back. "Mine!"

"We need another sandwich."

"Okay."

"And a saw."

Dustin took a step back in order to put a little space between the two of them. "Are you asking me to get these things?"

James took a step forward. "I don’t want to be rude." He said cocking his head sympathetically. "It’s just that John was a lot calmer when you weren’t here. He’s in shock you know?"

"I was told."

"Also, you ate his sandwich."

Dustin took another step backwards. "Okay."

"Can you do that?"

"Sure." Dustin said, turning to leave the room.

James followed him out, stopping in the hallway to close the door. It was dark. "Look, I don’t really know you Dustin." The artist said. "You seem like a really nice guy and you’ve been a great neighbor to Alexis and me today but I don’t know anything about you. We’ve lived in the same building for three years now and it took an earthquake to rattle you out of your cage and get you to speak with us."

"I like being alone." Dustin said flatly.

"Or maybe you’re hiding something."

Dustin flashed him a threatening smile. "Grow up." He muttered.

"The thing is that you’ve stolen a car, gotten into a fight and now I find out that my friend has been trying to call his wife all day long but you’ve been answering her phone."

Dustin pulled the device from his pocket. "It was my phone James." He said keying in the call log and holding it up. "You see these unknown numbers? They’re from your friend."

James glanced at the lit screen and shook his head. "I don’t understand why you didn’t try to help him."

"I did." Dustin said. "Maybe you should be more concerned about why he never tried to call you. You’re his Bible study buddy and his religious nut artist friend and stand-in for Jesus Christ. Why didn’t he look to you for salvation? Why was it me?"

"Because you’re sleeping with his wife." The artist answered. He sounded as if he were a pulp-fiction detective who’d just found the final piece of a puzzle that would solve a very sinister crime.

She was right." Dustin said. "You’re all a bunch of judgmental loons."

James looked at him in confusion.

Dustin sighed. "Use your head." He said, growing more and more frustrated. "I’ve been with you and your wife for half the day. Did you see me with his wife?"

"No." James admitted. "But I never saw you talk to John either."

"That’s because he called me when you weren’t around."

"Exactly!" James said pointing at him. "He called when you were with Sylvia."

"She’s old enough to be my mother."

"Yes, but you told John that you found her attractive."

Dustin nodded. "She looks fine for her age." He replied. "This is stupid. I’m not sleeping with her. I’ve either been with you guys all day long or at the funeral home. Ask Mrs. Kennedy. She’ll tell you."

"She doesn’t like you." James shot back. "She says that you remind her of her father."

"When did she say that?"

"While you were unconscious in the back of the truck." James allowed. "She says that you have the air of some existential crisis surrounding you all the time. Is it true that you left your entire family because they were too difficult?"

"No." Dustin growled, furrowing his brow. "She doesn’t understand. It was more complicated than that."

"But you did leave them."

"I don’t speak to them." Dustin admitted.

"What about your wife?" James asked. "She told us that you had a wife and a kid."

"I don’t have a wife." Dustin said, clenching and unclenching his fist. "She left me and took the kid."

"That’s horrible." The artist said with genuine concern. "Why?"

"I don’t know why." Dustin spat. "I think that she started to get me confused with my parents. They hated her."

"Why?"

"She had a personality." Dustin said somewhat sadly. "Sometimes it was difficult, sometimes it was fun, sometimes it was sentimental. They considered that to be troublesome."

"But why did she get you confused with them."

Dustin shook his head. "I’m not entirely sure that I even exist."

James took a step back. "What?" He asked.

"Oh, I know that I’m here." Dustin answered falling back to lean against the wall. "I go around doing things but I’m not sure that anything that I do matters."

"That does sound like an existential crisis."

"I don’t know why but I feel completely invisible." Dustin said, using his hands as if he were trying to physically manipulate the words. "The thing is that I don’t get to have any of the benefits that would seem to be entitled to someone who was invisible. I don’t get to drift from place to place being a cunning observer. People still see me. They know that I’m there and they always blame me for things or need me to do something for them. I still haven’t figured out how to just disappear without any trace and leave everything that I don’t like behind. I’m still trying to work that part of it out."

"But why did your wife think that you were your parents?"

"I’m not sure." Dustin sighed. "When I was married and when I was a father I always felt like I was trespassing in everyone’s life. I didn’t feel like I belonged at the house. I kept trying to erase myself from existence so I wouldn’t be in their way. I wanted them to have better."

"I don’t understand." James said.

"I’m invisible." Dustin reminded him. "I’m the hand that hangs the towel and puts the soap and moisturizer next to the sink. I shovel dirt onto people’s relatives after they’ve left the funeral. I shouldn’t be seen. I’m the hand that brings peace to your life when you aren’t looking. Why shouldn’t my wife have assigned my parents domineering personalities to me. I don’t exist."

James stared at him blankly. "You should probably go get that sandwich." He said after a while.

The End

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