OCTOBER 2009

 ABOUT   ARCHIVES   AWARDS   LINKS   SUBMIT   HOME



Comorbidity
By Frank Hinton, Sep 02, 2009

There are five of me living in my house. Frank, 2, is the youngest. He seldom cries, eats very little and when he shits, he shits terrible. Frank, 18, is writing a fantasy novel that is set in a Japan-like world. He thinks he’s going to be the next Tolkien so much that we just call him Frank Tolkien. Frank, 41, lives in the biggest room in the house. He smokes cigarettes all day long and cuts the words out of old Cosmo magazines with hopes of turning them into literature. In the attic there is a ghost. The ghost doesn’t come down much, we have to go up and see him. We feed him candle smoke and he tends not to be too haunting. I don’t know for sure if he is a Frank, but I am pretty confident he is my ghost. I am Frank, 26, and I live in the basement. I’m the only blogger of the Franks.

I wake up around 4:00 a.m. and fill the sink with warm water. I put my face into the water, eyes closed and bob a little bit in the airless sink. I keep my face in as long as I can and then pull it out and take a desperate breath. When that is over, I lather my face with Barbasol and shave with a fresh razor. I am careful not to cut my skin and even more careful to take every bit of hair off of my face.

After I finish shaving I dry my face and then pin my hair back. I pluck a few grays that I find under the light and massage the bags under my eyes with pinkies. There is a wig on my dresser and I tousle it a bit and then place it on my head. Already I look much better. Blonder. I put on eyeliner, shadow, lip gloss and mascara. It’s going to be a lazy day but what the hay. I choose a simple blue dress with a floral pattern on it from my closet and lay it out on my bed. I exchange my boxers for a LuLu Lemon thong and my T-shirt for a sports bra. Most men hate their man boobs, but I love mine. My man boobs suit me just fine.

I slip the dress on and then re-adjust my hair. I spin around for the mirror and smile at myself. I am beautiful, I think.

I go upstairs and make some coffee. Frank, 18, is on this big fair trade coffee kick and insists on us buying it. Frank, 41, has ulcers and fair trade coffee makes him shit and the shitting irritates his ulcers. I have to mix in regular coffee with fair trade to please them both. I seldom drink coffee now, mostly milk.

As the coffee begins to drip I head into the room where Frank, 2, is sleeping. I bend over his crib and wonder why he has to sleep in such a terrible place. Of all the Franks I love him best and wish I could figure out a way to save him from all of our neurosis. I pick Frank, 2, up from his crib and rock him. He smells so sweet and feels so soft in my arms. There is something meditative about cradling the two-year-old version of yourself in your own arms. I close my eyes and slip into a strange place where all of the Franks are one again.

Frank, 2, wakes in my arm and a bead of saliva drips from his mouth down onto to my shoulder. I wipe it up with a nearby cloth and carry him out to the kitchen. I put Frank, 2, into his baby chair and prepare his breakfast—a half diamond slice of jam covered toast, sugar-free apple sauce and a bowl of Cheerios. Frank, 2, just splashes most of his food around before settling on a spoonful of the Cheerios and a corner of his toast. None of the Franks have big appetites.

I let Frank, 2, play in the front room. I lay on the couch and smoke a cigarette and look for stray hairs growing on my legs. I love the way Frank, 2, looks through a cloud of just-blown smoke. I know it’s bad to smoke in front of babies, but I also know I’m going to live to be at least 41. At 26, I can live with 41.

Frank Tolkien is the next to wake up and he comes downstairs nude, as usual. Frank Tolkien is writing about a tribe of warriors that never wear clothes and thus he is experimenting with nudity. I stare at Frank Tolkien’s body as he stomps into the living room and realize that not much changes between us in eight years, save the density of our man-boobs. Frank Tolkien smiles at me and holds his hand out for a cigarette and lighter which I reluctantly give to him.

“How’s the book coming?” I ask.

“Good as ever. I’m thinking about having Ashroth kill Dai Ming with a tanto,” Frank Tolkien says. He lights the cigarette and then examines the lighter.

“What’s a tanto?” I ask, though I know that I already know.

“It’s a samurai knife, a stabbing weapon from the Heian period. The tanto that Ashroth uses is a Kogarasamaru tanto; it’s double edged.”

“Cool,” I say trying to remember why I had been so obsessed with the samurai. “Very cool.”

Every day he tells me about his fantasy book, but I don’t have the courage to tell him that I will give up writing it when I’m 19 because I enter my William S. Burroughs phase. Soon my obsession with tantos switches to an obsession with opium pipes. I always did mean to go back to writing fantasy, but as far as I know, I never do.

Frank Tolkien calls his friend Ron to ask about going into the woods to play stick swords. He goes upstairs to get dressed and leaves me alone and cigaretteless with Frank, 2. I decide to put Frank, 2, in the stroller and take him for a walk but before I leave Frank, 41, comes downstairs and asks to join us. I find this very odd as Frank, 41, seldom leaves the house before noon. Like me, I assume he is out of cigarettes.

We walk lazily through the morning mist. It has rained last night and little nets made by spiders lay on pockets of the neighborhood grass. Lights are on in many of the houses and people are up and doing their thing. We really have nothing to do, at least when we live at our house, so going out in public can feel a little bit shameful. A few people smile at me as we walk by, assuming Frank, 41, is my husband. I smile at them and pray my lip gloss is still shiny. I check every few minutes to see if Frank, 2, is comfortable. He sits quietly looking out at the morning sights. It pains me to watch myself absorbed with innocence.

“Nice dress,” Frank, 41, says to me.

“Thank you,” I say. I don’t like having conversations with Frank, 41, very often. He is too forlorn.

“I bought that dress at Chartman’s department store when I was twenty,” he says.

“I know.”

“It was for my girlfriend, Lili. I never gave it to her,” he says.

I don’t say anything. He knows that I know all of this and he also knows that the memory of Lili is still fresh and bitter in my mind. In the mind of Frank, 41, only the bitterness remains.

“Do you know how fucking pathetic and sad it is to look at you in that dress,” Frank, 41, continues. “I can’t stand the sight of it.”

“It does look nice on me, though,” I say. We both smile a little.

Frank, 41, finds a cigarette butt laying next to a few dead moths on the sidewalk. It is only half smoked and oddly dry enough to light. He picks it up and shoves it between his lips and sets the stick on fire. I pull out one of my own cigarettes and smoke that. For a while we just listen to the sound of our sucking and the grind of the stroller’s wheels as they roll over the pavement.

“It might get better,” Frank, 41, says after a while.

“What?” I ask.

“Life.” His cigarette is gone and he stretches his arms out. He rubs his round belly and does some air-exercises as we walk.

“Does it get better for me?” I ask.

“Ah, yeah. I guess the early thirties are okay. I don’t want to spoil anything for you. I think things go downhill though when your boss finds out you’re a cross-dresser.”

“Yeah.”

We go to the store and buy milk, cigarettes, tofu-dogs and grapes. Frank Tolkien says we don’t eat enough fruit at the house, and he’s right. I put one of the grapes in my mouth and it feels like I haven’t tasted anything natural in years. Frank, 41, does the same and I assume, feels the same. We both stand there in the grape aisle sampling free grapes and closing our eyes in satisfaction as we bite them. I put a small grape into baby Frank’s mouth but he spits it out onto the floor.

After lunch I make more coffee and pour a cup for myself. I have changed into a casual jumpsuit and put my wig aside for the day. I take a candle and matches from a drawer and my steaming coffee and head up to the attic. The attic is always humid and I begin to sweat as I go up. There are old MAD magazines, Maxims and curled photos scattered about the attic floor. I can see a lot of my old memories here—old hockey cards, stuffed animals, a wooden tea set from China and hundreds of piercing doll eyes.

There is a nice amber light shining through the only window in the attic and it brightens up the corner where I have a little table and chair set up for myself. There is a candle holder on the table and yesterday’s candle has melted away. I pick out the remaining wax with my finger and jam the new candle in. I light it and watch as the smoke twists up to the ceiling. Steam still comes from the coffee and I hold the match out in front of me as well so the ghost can eat that smoke too.

He doesn’t come right away so I get up and look around the attic. I like digging around the old junk, though I don’t always like what I find. Today, I find an old magic wand made out of fabric. It looks like a normal wand, but when you pull it, the black fabric transforms into a red scarf. It is a beautiful little toy.

When I get up, the ghost is sitting opposite my chair at the table. I return to my seat and hold the coffee to his face. He looks like me, but his features are almost formless, like a bad cable channel. His face stays fairly still as the candle smoke and coffee steam pour up toward it. The ghost is always very quiet and polite. He smiles at me as the last of the steam hits his face and I take that as my cue to drink the coffee, which is now warm.

We sit quietly for a long time, long after the coffee is gone.

“I don’t know what to do,” I confess to the ghost.

He says nothing.

We sit quietly for another moment and then he points at the candle’s flame.

I look at him and I think the impossible.

“Burn it?”

The ghost nods.

“You know I can’t burn the house down.”

Burn it, the ghost mouths.

Frank Hinton is a writer and teacher living in eastern Canada. She teaches creative writing and journalism and edits the online fiction zine Metazen. She has had stories published in Sein Und Werden, Wanderings, DOGZPLOT and the Xaverian.

Back