The scalp is smooth. It's nice. Clean.

In the green bathroom he runs his fingers across it one more time, slowly, feeling where the hair used to be. He looks at himself in the mirror and smiles with the left half of his mouth - the left side of his face still has wavy black hair on top of it. He looks like a demented Elvis. He loves it.

He picks up the scissors again and trims with crisp efficiency, opens the faucet again, systematically, with two neat turns, splashes the hair down the drain, dips the razor through the water - a single blade, not a safety razor; he found it in the back of the cabinet - and shaves once more until the left is just like the right. He laughs on the inside but every muscle in his face stays relaxed.

Rinse. Dry.

He becomes aware of the khakis. The blue-red shirt logo is half visible beneath crumpled folds below, but the khakis are still on his legs. He unbuttons the button and pulls down the zipper and steps out of them and pulls down the boxers and steps again, and the clothing is a Wicked Witch Has Melted pile on the tiles and he is buoyed up like he just dropped ballast.

He pulls the socks off with opposite toes and two sharp kicks, watching the little balls go flying into the corner, than shoves the pile after them soccerplayer sidefooted, keeping eyes on his reflection. Behind him, in the bedroom, he can see blackness across the powder-white desk.

It's the shirt. Next to it are the briefs and cargo pants, folded in squares. He turns and walks to them, takes the briefs and slips them on, unfolds the pants, pulls them up. The shirt hugs his thin waist and thin shoulders. He feels like a shadow.

Work boots go on his unsocked feet. He tugs the laces twice then ties them and stands. The spray paint fits neatly in the cargo pants pocket.

He takes the light switch between two fingers, wishing for a chain to pull.

Click.

Through the doorway, into the hall, over toward the stairs. He's never practiced it in the dark, but now it seems second nature; he feels as though this is one of many nighttime excursions - not a event, not a rarity, just a walk, just tonight's walk among walks. The carpet pads his footsteps.

He does not feel sheltered by the blackness. Rather, he identifies with it. These objects, these paintings and curtains and art deco wallpapered protrusions that he knows are there, they are wrong, they are out of place, as he passes they remind him of what it is like to see when what he feels and what he wants is blindness, smoothness, purity.

Midway down, a step creaks and he pauses. Freezes, really, but he makes it feel like a pause. There is no movement from the master bedroom, no indication of parental wakefulness. He stands, a foot aloft, for four minutes, ears straining, then finishes the descent.

Here there is cement beneath the carpeting, not wood, and he increases his pace, past the den, past the dining table, past the opening to the kitchen and the menorah cabinet (it contains coffee and cutlery and photograph albums as well, but tonight he thinks of it as the menorah cabinet). He arrives at the burglar alarm and disengages it, then stands at the front door and turns the lock slowly, softly, until it stops, and readjusts his stance.

The knob is on the left. He grasps it in his right hand and twists, braces his left hand on the wall and pulls. The door jumps -

- and then it slides smoothly. He can smell the sweet-leafed night and hear the crickets.

He steps outside and closes it behind him and stands for a moment, eyes full, drinking in the sky - It is moonless, starless, perfect. - then makes a full turn. In front of him he feels for the edges of the doorframe. He takes out the paint and removes the top, lays it neatly on the ground, shakes the can, hands clasped around, trying to muffle the rattle, and begins like a surgeon a foot from the upper left corner.

The hiss is beautiful, the paint smell is beautiful.

A straight diagonal line leads down and right, ending just below the knob. He goes over it a few times, carefully, shaking the can every few minutes; he has no light to see black drips against the door so he tries his best to avoid making them. His strokes are long and smooth; the chhh chhh chhh is soothing.

He starts a second line near the upper right corner, a mirror image, crossing down to the left. Black mist against black shirt against black night against black shirt against black mist; he feels lightheaded.

When the second line is done he starts a third. This one is short, less than half the length of the others; it extends perpendicular from the upper left end of the very first line, of the \ , extends diagonally up and right, ending just below the very middle of the address, and now he knows he is drunk and almost smiles and keeps the lines straight by curving them because the door is curving now, so is the wall.

Another line of the same length, going from the opposite end of the first line and in the opposite direction, down and left, across the pet door; he uses his knees.

Then a third, from the top of the second big line, the top of the / , again perpendicular, down and to the right. It finishes on white shingles - now black shingles in the night and black shingles in the paint. The house is spinning. He feels like he's at the bottom of a well.

The fourth line is like all the others. It starts at the lower left end of the second line, the lower left of the / - it starts him, not the other way around, pulls him from the ground - and then it goes up and left until it comes to the edge of the door and then it stops, and eventually it is thick enough, thick as all others, and therefore the paint ceases to come out of the can, and consequentially his thumb leaves the button.

He tries to sit and falls across the cement, hugging it, waiting for the spinning to stop.

After a minute, or an hour, or year, he is suddenly sneezing black-painted snot. He wipes his nose on his sleeve. He thinks he can stand, and does so. The floor is still a boat's deck, but the waves are smaller.

The door opens as smoothly as it closed and closes as smoothly as it opened. The burglar alarm is coded and rearmed. The floor passes silently, the stairs pass silently. He skips the creaky step.

By the time he reaches his room he is running; he pulls the door and closes it behind him and swipes the light switch in a huge, jerky swipe.

Click.

A flash, and it goes dead.

He kicks off the boots, clutches, tears at the shirt and throws it, rips down the pants, and then he is groping on the bathroom floor for the khakis, for the shirt in the corner in the dark, and they're not there, not there, the corner isn't there, it's just cold spinning tiles and he vomits and stumbles to the bed and shuts away the black outside the covers and curls, feet back, arms around, shuts the black outside the arms, but it isn't outside the arms and he screams. Tries to scream.

Nothing comes out.

In the darkness, he moves his fingers across his head and smiles.


Admittedly, this might be a little unclear. If you have any suggestings on how to make it more apparent what the pattern being painted is, /msg me.

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