Ennis is an old man. After he wakes up, which takes some time in and of itself, and after he's had a piss and eaten a slice of bread with liver paté on the kitchen counter, he sits on the couch, watching the news, watching the news for fear of not watching the news for fear of the silence that could ooze into the space around him were the news to suddenly end, quickly and without warning, like life itself.
The news, on high volume, drones. And Ennis is an intelligent man. He understands more so the implications of his involuntary obsessions rather than their nature, and finds solace in them nevertheless. His wife of forty-two years passed away thirteen years ago, but this is no longer an issue. It was, but is no longer. Ennis, seventy-eight then, felt for the first time in however many years the pulse of want take form inside his testicles. Blue balls at seventy-eight while his wife laid waxy in the satin-lined coffin, and after the eulogies, Ennis faked an impending vomit and took off to the mall where he purchased a new Samsung Galaxy S7 and a high-speed blender.
On the news: stills of a teenage farm boy lying face-down on a hospital bed, a pitchfork sewn across his buttocks, just missing it. And here we are, the team and I, standing outside of Ennis' strange little red-roofed one-story with our cameras and our notebooks, spying. His television is big enough for us to make out the imagery; the volume loud enough for us to hear around the block. Perhaps we are terrible people, doing something like this. I don't mean to be brash. Perhaps I should speak for myself. And yet, even still, I would say the same: what a terrible person I am.
When I arrived here, seventeen days ago, my first thought was that I had to figure out what it meant to be alive. After a few days, this particular goal was thwarted by a related one: to demonstrate a dramatic interweaving of lives, maybe four or five—lives—and then somehow turn all of that interwovenness into some grand conclusion or, like, teach a lesson with it, or eye-open somebody somewhere.
"And why," Bernie starts, "do you say that you're a terrible person?"
For a moment Felix relaxes in the chair—a burgundy armchair slightly stained along the right arm. He crosses his legs and then uncrosses them. He does not know how to answer, his nervousness palpable, visceral, filling the room. Bernie rephrases the question:
"You mentioned that you don't think you're a good person. What makes you think this?"
I want to refocus our attention on Ennis. I really felt like I'd been onto something with him. But I always think that I'm onto something, and I go with it, end up becoming distracted by something somehow, and before I know it the something that I had been onto dissolves or fades into nothingness or sometimes completely obliterates itself with such force that even if I try to remember what it had been, I can't. It's impossible. Like reaching into the Atlantic and expecting to pull out a kernel of corn. It's like I'm building fences around my own ideas. That is how it starts. With the ideas, the introspections, all of them existing on some sort of plane that is at once intriguing and unreachable.
But like I said, I want to stick to Ennis. He's where the real truth lies. Nothing self-referential about him. It's refreshing, but at the same time, it's sad, it's like he never takes a moment to recognize himself and goes on living within a framework that exists only in the objects around him, like the TV, like his breakfast—because he eats the same thing every day—because these are the physical reminders he takes as proof that he exists. Beyond that, there's nothing.
I met him on my second day here. He was in the grocery store, a tiny little thing that sells only bread and varying quantities of chicken. He asked me how I was liking it here, and I told him so far so good, asked his name. Ennis, he said proudly. He was old, I remember thinking, white stubble poking out of the clay-like skin of his cheeks. He was holding a loaf of bread, the kind that's bagged in a porous plastic so as to let the heat escape after baking. I could see that the bag had a yellow circular sticker on it showing that it was being sold at a discounted price. Ennis extended a hand, "Welcome," and though I shook it, the cold meatiness of it, I could not stop looking at the loaf of bread that he was holding with his other. Zeroing in, I noticed a small tuft of greenish fur alighted on its seeded crust.
And I thought: Really? Moldy bread? I had—improperly—assumed the sterility and unbridled cleanliness of these parts of the world; you look at a faraway point on a map surrounded by water and you think that it's got to be clean there, so far out that the winds of pollution dissipate long before they reach the shores. I tore my gaze away from the loaf of bread, returned to Ennis whose mouth was moving. All I could hear was the music coming from the portable radio which sat on the cashier's small counter, antennae and all. I initially thought that the song playing might have been one from my childhood, but then a rough-voiced woman started crooning in the lingo of land. Ennis was speaking to me but I could not hear him. And it's not as though he was speaking inaudibly—his volume level was fine—so I cannot understand why I left the grocery store without the slightest clue as to what he had said.
"Does this happen to you often?" Bernie asked, migrating his silver-capped pen from his left hand to his right with a deft twirl of his fingers.
"Yes," I said, and Bernie sighed. He was not supposed to sigh. Subtle cues like these tend to prompt feelings of helplessness: you are so far from being able to be helped, is more so what they say. I shifted in the chair, brushing the edge of the paper bag which held the cake with my leg.
"What do you have over there?" I leaned down and picked it up, flattening my hands beneath the cake's cardboard base.
"It's a cake."
"Is it your birthday? I don't remember your files saying that it was in Sept—"
"It's for a friend."
Had I been prepared to gift Bernie the detectable? Are we ever prepared for anything?
Bernie smiled and said that we didn't need to talk about it if I didn't want.
Ennis wanted to be profiled, I continued. In his old age, his greatest desire was twofold: to die, and to document its process. The problem was, he explained, was that he was healthier than he'd ever been in his life. No ailments. None. He'd even tried giving himself cancer once after his wife had passed away by sitting in front of a microwave in three-hour blocks. He'd made a little nook out of it—a chair and table and television set. But nothing. I suspected that he had gotten the idea from a South Park episode, but Ennis denied this accusation and claimed that such "creative disgraces" were beyond his scope of understanding.
In a way, my arrival came at the perfect time. You can maybe say that about all things really. But after that day at the grocery store, Ennis invited me over for dinner. I was hesitant at first, but rationalized my decision to go with the realization that I had nowhere else to be. I showed up with a bowl of pasta (rotini) that I'd cooked with tomato sauce from a jar and a few onions thrown in to give off the impression that I'd made the dish from scratch. Ennis had prepared horse meat marinated in lemon.