Russell Helms

A Somewhat
Beautiful Lie

in the womb, he received oxygen and glucose. He floated there, hearing screams, sobbing, the calming voice of a man at his wit’s end. In his brain grew a cloud of darkness, a misunderstanding of the world, a somewhat wicked lie.

At the age of five, he began daycare and promptly came down with the chickenpox even though he’d been vaccinated

At the age of eight, he realized that something was wrong with the world and craved to break his arm. He jumped from a tree, but to no avail.

At the age of nine, he discovered porn magazines and stole them from the corner store. He stashed them in various places, inside a hollow tree, inside an old washing machine at a dump near his house. There was a photo of a woman with a banana split on her crotch that he kept in his little leather wallet.

At the age of ten, he sat in the bathroom, taking apart his dad’s razor. His dad worked at a grocery warehouse shoving pallets around all day. His mom just stayed home and cried. He sat on the toilet seat, wondering how to go about it. His mother knocked on the door and he panicked.

At the age of twelve, he accepted Christ as his personal savior. He’d been having nightmares about the Second Coming, imagined the sky would split open, and that he’d be left behind. Shortly after, he began to have trouble getting out of bed, wishing that the world would just go away.

At the age of thirteen, he started wearing glasses and smoking cigarettes. He would scrounge for empty soda bottles to pay for them. He liked to climb trees and smoke.

At the age of fourteen, he began to steal school supplies from the five and dime. He saved his parents a lot of money that way.

At the age of fifteen, he developed a crush on Ginger Chafin, but she was too perfect, too angelic, and he brooded at night, wracking his brains for a way to just say Hi.

At the age of sixteen, he read every book in the school library that dealt with fish, aquariums, or Jacques Cousteau.

At the age of seventeen, his father took a job in San Diego, moving him across country. The darkness deepened and on a bicycle he made it back halfway through Arizona, winding up flat broke in a town called Dateland. There was a tent there with an Elvis impersonator, and he snuck in to get warm.

At the age of nineteen, he moved back to Jacksonville, Florida, and learned to drive a big-rig. He liked to pick up hitchhikers, especially women.

At the age of twenty, he couldn’t get out of bed. He felt rage and pulled his hair. He stopped showing up for work, stopped paying his bills, stopped washing his sheets, stopped living.

At the age of twenty-one, he was homeless, sleeping inside dumpsters covered with bags of trash to stay warm. His grandfather found him and brought him home to Alabama.

For six months, he slept in the floor even though there was a bed. He mowed their grass, helped with the cooking, and washed their cars. He made them drink water to stay hydrated and realized that they loved him.

At the age of twenty-two, he enrolled at the local community college and discovered short stories and novels. He’d loved to read as a child, but this Faulkner and O’Connor were something new. He felt bad for Tessie in “The Lottery,” but thought that sometimes it was just better to be dead.

At the age of twenty-three, he met a girl at the college who was studying to be a nurse. Delores was skinny with small breasts and a big smile. Her brown curly hair covered her ears. He was in love.

At the age of twenty-four, he married Delores and set about to find a job. The best he could do was a sacker at Food World, but it made him feel a part of things.

At the age of twenty-five, he finally understood that Delores didn’t want to have children and he wondered if there was a reason to stay married. He sank and kept the pillow over his head. She answered the phone when Food World called to say that he’d lost his job.

At the age of thirty, Delores divorced him. He gave her everything, including a pretty nice scuba knife. The divorce only cost $99, and he moved back in with his grandparents. They had liked Delores even though she couldn’t hold a decent conversation.

At the age of thirty-one, after sleeping for four days straight, his grandparents took him to the doctor. The doctor recommended a shrink and the shrink recommended Prozac. The Prozac made him feel warm and fuzzy.

At the age of thirty-five, having finally finished his degree at the community college, he got a job at a hospital as a patient escort. He learned the hospital backwards and forwards, each hallway and elevator a map in his mind.

At the age of thirty-six, he grew tired of the Prozac and wished for adventure. Unmedicated, he bought a plane ticket to Paris in the dead of winter because it was cheaper. With lead in his head, he spent his seven days in Paris lying in bed, cursing himself, wishing for death. He’d planned on visiting the Café Select and beat himself up over it.

At the age of thirty-seven, having ridden high as a kite, maxing out his credit card, and having sex with six different women in eight days, he collapsed. He still had two bottles of Prozac and swallowed them all while his grandparents were at church. Nothing much happened except he could not sit still and his eyes seemed to leap from his head. He was a mess, though, and his grandparents took him back to the shrink. He spent a week in the hospital and was diagnosed as bipolar. He even had his own social worker!

At the age of forty, he decided to take a poetry workshop at the university. He’d enrolled as a non-degree-seeking student. The day of the class he decided to chuck it, wondering why he needed such a thing. His grandparents had been to Florida and came home that morning with a heavy suitcase. When he opened the suitcase, the brightness of a hundred oranges rushed over him, and he decided that poetry was just what he needed after all.

At the age of forty-one, he married the lady who taught the poetry workshop, not telling her of his madness. He was medicated, doing fine, working at an insurance company, and thought that all was a well-oiled roller coaster. So well in fact that he decided to quit his pills. Three months later he dissolved into a puddle of glue.

At the age of forty-two, their daughter was born. They named her Macy Mars in case she wanted to be a rock star. He was back on his pills but soaring too close to the sun. He had sex with the waitress at the Waffle House without a condom and developed a strong liking for bourbon, which seemed to keep him on the ground.

At the age of forty-four, she’d had enough and divorced him. He still liked the way her graying hair swung back and forth. He visited the house every day to see Macy Mars, but felt that he was a failure, a wash-up, and quit his job.

At the age of forty-six, working as a part-time librarian and sharing an apartment with a lazy kid named Muncie, his grandmother had a stroke and died. His grandfather needed help, and so he left Muncie high and dry and moved back in.

At the age of forty-nine, he became restless, his grandfather precious and frail with prostate cancer. He made himself hang on, wanting to shoot to the moon, and then it was over. At the funeral he fell to his knees and cut his head on the casket. He inherited the old rambling house, but it was too big.

At the age of fifty, he looked back on his life and felt like a rotten gourd. He’d gotten a job at a toy store and used his money to buy Macy Mars stuffed animals. He read some Steinbeck and wished that he was George and Lennie at the same time.

At the age of fifty-four, he moved to Daphne, Alabama, lasted one summer, and came back to Jacksonville with genital herpes. The herpes outbreaks worsened his depression, tripled it, and he thought that the end couldn’t come soon enough.

At the age of fifty-five, he met a woman on Craig’s List who was a BBW. That was a new one for him, and she was forty-two and seemed like eighteen. When she got on top of him he couldn’t breathe. Macy Mars was a teenager now and seemed to want to be a young unwed mother. In the afternoons he drove her home from school, listening to her angry-chair music.

At the age of fifty-eight, he was off his meds again and dragging chains. It was like eating cement to clock in every day at the McDonald’s. He developed an obsession with jumping through windows and played scenarios in his head pretty much 24/7. To distract himself he bought foreign-film DVDs: Wong Kar-wai, Truffaut, Fellini, and his favorite, Ingmar Bergman.

At the age of sixty, off his meds for two years straight and paranoid and raging against the government, his ex-wife had him voluntarily committed for two weeks. The doctor took a great interest in him and diagnosed him with schizoaffective disorder. That was the ticket, and he filed for disability. He could live without electricity if he had to.

At the age of sixty-five, Macy Mars went down, down, down, just like her daddy. She’d graduated summa cum laude from Florida State and worked at the Red Cross. He visited her in the hospital, her sunken eyes very familiar. At least she’d been on birth control all these years.

At the age of seventy, something happened inside his head and the doctor thought maybe he’d had a mild stroke. It caused his right leg to draw and tighten so that he walked on the ball of his foot. After that he used a cane and liked to bang it around on walls and such.

At the age of seventy-five, he had visions of death, convinced that he was dying, even on his medications. As he had promised Macy Mars he would do, he flew to Peru, hired a small plane, and parachuted naked into the jungle to die. He landed on an ant hill and the pain was too much to bear. There was a village nearby along the river…

At the age of eighty, still gathering his disability and social security, he’d saved over fifteen thousand dollars. He gave it to Macy Mars, who used it as a down payment on a house in Clearwater. She’d never married, and he suspected she was a lesbian but didn’t care to ask.

At the age of ninety, he notched it down, taking a keen interest in walking as slow as possible with his collection of wooden canes. To try something new, he adopted a cat that would outlive him. Macy Mars came to visit every two weeks with her latest “friend.” He’d long lost contact with his ex-wife and wondered if she was still alive.

At the age of ninety-six, he developed an interest in adventure books, reading about the Esquimaux, wrecked ships, polar disasters, and long overland treks. His glasses had gone bad, and Macy Mars took him to the eye doctor and paid for it. She encouraged him to move to Clearwater and he did. The excitement of dying began to overtake him.

At the age of one hundred, living in a small trailer by himself with the cat, Macy Mars threw him a birthday party with a big chocolate sheet-cake thickly iced. Three people from the trailer park came. He knew it was time to go and as he had rehearsed so many times in his head he held his breath, turning red, then blue. He collapsed, his face planting right into the cake.

In his darkness, he received nothing more. He floated there, hearing screams, sobbing, the calming voice of a woman at her wit’s end. In his brain grew a cloud of light, an understanding of the world, a somewhat beautiful lie.