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Excerpt: "The shop owner was not moving, he was just standing there, holding his head between his frail hands. Blood was dripping from his forehead. It splattered on the floor and made Rorschach tests for tiny, vile critters."

Exit

People who are habituated to the dark become afraid of the exit light. Huddling in a corner can seem like freedom when you are scared. The first time you reached the light was in a room full of strangers with masks and shiny, sharp instruments with the smell of fresh blood and placenta lurking around like the scent of a killer. A part of you and your mother had to die in order to unlock that fleshy door. The womb is a capsule that came from outer space, to inner space, to outer space. First impressions last; I suppose.
Man is a strange thing, a beast and something more, continuously balancing on a wire stretched between predatory urges and a penchant for slipping into victim-hood when hope fades like a water stain in the sun just before the rain. Fragile, yet hardy, clever and often foolish. A survivor. A creator of its own destruction. Fused in an eternal moment where the Sun declares its useless love for a moon it can never hope to embrace in order to forget about the darkness at its ever revolving back.

He’s been running for a while now. Panting and sweating. Scared. A few hours ago he was just a normal man, whatever that might be. Since then he has become a murderer and a fugitive. It happened in one long instant. He didn’t think. He just acted on a wild urge. It overcame him like a demon in a horror movie and took the lasts remnants of his innocence away for ever.
John was only twenty-seven, and aging at double speed with every hard earned breath and with each passing second. The leaves of trees at the end of uncaring branches lashed at his face. He was running up the mountain. He was reaching for the one place he knew he would feel safe. There was a flat rock under a tree which overlooked the valley. Under the rock was a treasure. A thing he buried some time after he met her. Part of it had both of their names on it. It was his place of solitude and meditation.

He has known the agony of jealousy before, but earlier today it overcame him with such menace and force that it made him physically ill. It was as bitter as the grit from a sulfur mine.
God, she was such a beautiful creature. The first time he laid eyes on her his heart leapt like an acrobat that touched an open wire. Thick, dark hair flowed down her elegant neck. She looked like a prancing horse in an open field. (He loved horses). When she came to him the first time he couldn’t speak:
“How much is the bracelet?”
He just stared at her with a blank face, feeling like an absolute fool. Disgusted at his own lack of words. She turned to his colleague with a soft smile that broke his heart and repeated the question. From that moment on he was hooked.

“John, dear Johnnie; you owe me money. I can’t let it go man. I’m in a bad situation myself. Not getting any jobs. Everybody’s a fucking photographer these days, you know? Can you make a plan my friend? Please. I’ve got a kid.”
John’s heart sank. He was hoping that this wouldn’t happen so soon. He borrowed the money six months ago as start-up capital for a business idea that turned to be a romantic and foolish notion. The bottom fell out, and since then he has been grasping at straws blowing in a disgusted wind, like it emanated from the bowels of a farting dinosaur who devoured a bean field.
“Yes I know, I’m sorry. I’m trying. I’ll have to get a job first. Give me a few days. Let me get back to you.”
He did not relish the thought of getting a shitty job to pay off a debt. He was well educated with a good track record, but as things went there were no jobs for his kind at present. His generation were deemed to be the scapegoats who had to pay for the sins of their fathers. Besides that, he couldn’t disappoint Simon. He was a friend of many years. A real nice guy to boot. One of those rare, stable creatures that had the presence of a captain on an unsinkable ship. Sometimes he envied the man’s disposition, possessing a somewhat flighty and emotional nature himself. He felt too much, way too much; and it was more often than not a terrible burden he couldn’t shake loose.

It took many hours of walking and pleading before he finally landed the job at the store. At least it was an interesting store, it sold all kinds of eclectic goods the owner hunted down at garage sales and auctions. It was also situated in one of his favourite towns. Kalk Bay was one of his regular haunts since he was a child.
One dreary day he was standing under the arches, watching the dark, moody sky, sipping on a beer protruding from a brown paper bag while contemplating the bleakness of his future, when he saw her for the second time. She came walking up the beach dressed in white. The fabric of her clothes rippled lightly in the breeze. The contrast between her dark skin and hair and the white of her dress was spellbinding. He chucked back the last of the beer and steadied himself. Then he plucked up all of his courage and walked over to her.
She was deep in thought about her abortion. She could not guess how much it would affect her. It felt like something irreplaceable was torn from her soul. She felt empty, dark and heavy. She did not notice him walking up to her. The first notice she took of another presence was when he spoke. His voice was lazy and soft, and it comforted her instantaneously. She wanted to grab onto it like it was a buoy between swells in deep, cold water.
“Hi, I met you in the shop the other day, well kind of. Do you remember?” He was nervous and he hoped it didn’t show. He was wondering why he still got nervous in the presence of beautiful women, and if he would ever outgrow it.
She beamed a smile back. (She hid her tragedy well). The amazing energy and openness behind it both alarmed and comforted him. She was stunning.
“Yes, of course. You were the silent one.” She gave a demure chuckle, like a naughty child on the verge of discovering her sexuality.
He felt a strong emotion. It was unexpected and mysterious. He could not understand it. He was in its grip, like a floundering animal.
They got to know each other better over fish and chips and cheap white wine.
“I’m an actress. Well, I try to be, but it’s not easy. It’s hard to get work. I went for a casting yesterday. It went well. I’m hoping. Fuck, I need it.” She clenched her fists, re-opened them and grabbed the thin stem of the wineglass. She downed her drink and he ordered her another one. He felt a ripple of empathy pass through his conscious.
“Yes I know. It sucks to be poor. At least we can still eat and drink wine.”
Her demeanour suddenly changed as she exchanged masks. “Yes, absolutely. Let’s drink to that.” She lifted her glass like it was a trophy for losers.
“Cheers.”
“Cheers.”
Afterwards they went for a walk on the pier and discovered that they had much in common. They listened to the same music and read the same books. Both dreamed of traveling to India and Spain and living the life of carefree bohemians.
“Do you think it’s possible to live like that?” She was feeling much better all of a sudden. The moment they were cohabiting seemed clear and light. “How would we survive? The world runs on money. It’s a beautiful fantasy though.”
The fact that she said ‘we’ excited him. His young mind jumped to wild conclusions. Already he pictured them roaming the world on a whirlwind adventure. Already he was scheming on how to make it happen.
“Surely there must be a way.”
She laughed. She was amused by his naivety, but at the same time she felt a strong pull towards him. His spontaneity and exuberance was enticing. It was the tonic she needed to take her away from her pain. She also knew that it was a selfish thing. He was the medicine she needed now and no more, but he was there and things were evolving in the moment. Besides, he seemed to like her company very much. Nobody was forcing him. For the first time after her previous failed relationship and its brutal ending she felt good about herself. She was a queen again. His company was like a drug. They agreed to meet the following evening at a bar not far away. When she suddenly made excuses to leave he felt dejected, but he didn’t show it. He greeted her with a happy demeanour and walked in the other direction as proudly as he could. The stage was set.

He didn’t sleep well that evening. Partly because of the excitement of a novel romantic prospect, and partly because of the anxiety he felt for not having any decent money. How long will a girl like her be interested in a man like him? What has he got going for him except childlike dreams and fantasies? How could he change this?
On the following night het got to the bar early and went to sit in the darkest corner he could find. He waited and watched. His heart leapt each time footsteps in the passage announced the arrival of a new patron. He was anxious. After an hour she still did not make her appearance and he grew despondent. “It’s too good to be true. She’s not coming. Let it go.”
He bought himself a bottle of house-wine. He decided to become as drunk as possible before going home. He gulped down the wine, smoked and thought too much. The alcohol numbed him to a degree, but it could not kill his emotions completely. He kept clinging onto a picture of two young people in love travelling through Spain in a carefree state of passion and freedom. It hurt him like a motherfucker, but he clung to the image with a grim sense of attachment that wouldn’t fade.
Suddenly she appeared like a ghost from a fog. Beaming a smile. He melted on the spot. He became vulnerable and weak. He’s misery seemed to disappear like it never existed and his heart was filled with wild joy.
“I’m so sorry I’m late. I’m surprised you waited this long at all? I couldn’t get away from a conversation with a friend that’s having a crisis. I’m sorry.”
She was lying, of course. She completely forgot about their appointment. She was too busy drowning in her own depression, sitting at home in front of the TV, following the story-line of her favourite soapy in a daze of raw detachment as a result of a combination of wine and tranquilizers. At one stage a handsome man kissed a woman and she suddenly remembered of her appointment. She deliberated about going. She wasn’t sure it was worth the effort. She was not sure she had the energy to deal with a man and the things they expect from a woman. Then again, it was better than drowning slowly in a puddle of misery. She remembered his soft, comforting voice and decided to go.
He ordered her a drink and they started talking about whatever came to mind. He was already slightly sloshed and he sometimes fumbled for words. She noticed that and enjoyed his sloppy attempts to impress her. She was very much aware of her power over him, and it made her feel more secure. She knew she could direct the show from there on.
“So what is your ideal occupation? I can see you somewhere completely different than where you are now. You don’t look like the cashier type to me.”
He was hoping for this question. He wanted her to understand that he had ambition. “Oh no, that’s just temporary. I’ve got a bag full of plans. I probably have too many. I’m getting out of there as soon as I paid off some debt to a friend. I’ve got plans, big plans.”
His voice was a nice escape. She didn’t feel like talking about her own misery, so she goaded him on. “Tel me more. I’m interested.”
“Well I’m business minded. I have a few ideas. I just need to pay off my debt and build up capital. I’ve learned from my previous failures. I won’t make the same mistakes. Up till now it was school fees. The only way to learn is to fail, or so they say. Let me not bore you with the details. Let’s talk about the future and travel.”

They stumbled into her place late that night. They were silly with drunkenness. The TV was still on and the ghostly voices of bad actors played with schizophrenic shadows on the wall. They undressed each other. She asked him to tie her up. She was brave with intoxication. He was hesitant. It was not the type of request he expected from a girl like her, but then again he knew enough to know that one never really knew another person and that we all project the images we expected, wanted and needed on the people around us. And of course people start acting in accordance with this projection, and so the dance continues.
She opened a drawer full of silk scarves. Some were red and some were black. She went and sat on the bed and waited. The situation made him insecure, but he acted out his part as best as he could. When she was finally tied up he did not feel any sort of arousal at all. She tried to goad him, but it only made things worse. It was an uncomfortable situation. He apologized profusely but she consoled him and told him not to worry about it: “It’s a bit strange, I know. It’s your first time at trying something like this, it’s no big deal. You have to understand it first, maybe. Give it time.”
He untied her and they went to sleep. In the early morning after the effects of the alcohol wore off he regained his composure. He turned her onto her back and opened her legs. She seemed to have been waiting for this, and welcomed the act. The sex was rough and intense. She demanded it from him: “Harder!”
Afterwards he went to lie with his head on her belly. She played with his hair while she smoked a cigarette. He felt much better after that.

They fell into their strange relationship without much effort. She enjoyed the comfort and the sex. She also enjoyed being punished, even though he didn’t relish performing the twisted acts she demanded of him. She needed to suffer. She ate the pain like bread baked on a funeral pyre. She deserved it. She was paying off her debt.
He was in love. He made her forget about herself. He was a great escape. She was a queen to him, and her emotional distance made him want her more. He was slowly becoming obsessed with her and the idea he had of them as a couple. He wanted things to move faster. He needed to pay of his debt. He needed to provide her with entertainment and excitement.
Her jobs never came off. She got behind with her rent. She asked him to move in. He did, although he could not really afford to move out of the little room he rented. After a while, the financial stress threatened to break them apart.
“I’m not sure this is working any longer. In fact this is turning into a disaster. We are two months behind with the rent. What are we going to do?”
Her confession tortured him.
“We will make a plan.”
She gave a cynical chuckle: “You always say that. When are you going to get a real job? When will you own yourself and become a man?”
Invariably her attempts to make him feel small worked like a dark charm. He’s ego would rise to the occasion and he would become defensive and sometimes the hurt would make him lash out at her.
“And you? What about you? I don’t see you doing much.”
An argument would ensue. He would always feel like shit a few hours later and he would crawl back to her and apologize like a wounded animal seeking healing and forgiveness. He was in her power. She tolerated his pathetic displays. She had to. She had plans for him.

The tension became unbearable.
One day he was drinking on his own in the flat. She left him behind like she sometimes does, disappearing on one of her mysterious adventures. She demanded the freedom. He gave it to her. What other choice did he have? He was completely in her power.
Sometimes he imagined the things that she might be doing and it would drive him into despair, but she always consoled him when she got back. He trusted her. He had to.
After a half a bottle of whisky was finished he stood up and rummaged through her cupboards until he found an old stocking. He pulled it over his head and laughed at himself in the mirror:
“No way brother, this won’t work. It’s a mad idea. It’s not worth it.”
He drank some more. A bit later he got up and took a taxi to a mall. In the toy store he bought a fake gun and a Winnie the Pooh mask. He walked straight from there to a corner cafe he saw on his way over. It was only a few blocks down. He stuck the gun in the proprietors face, demanding that he empty the cash register. The frightened man handed over the money like he was giving away candy on Halloween. He took it and walked away. By the time the adrenaline kicked in hard, he was long gone. He bought another bottle, went back to the flat and continued to get drunker.

She needed more than he could give her, and she was on the prowl. She met up with some friends earlier, but she left them behind in search of her quarry. She felt dangerous and she needed danger. She recognized him immediately where he was playing pool in the corner of a popular club. He was confident and manly. He was also one of John’s older friends. She went and stood a short distance away and waited for him to recognize her. It did not take long.
“Hi, aren’t you John’s girlfriend? He speaks about you often. He’s crazy about you, you know?”
She has gotten used to the fact that she received much attention in public places. She liked it. It turned her on.
“Girlfriend of sorts I suppose. Yes, he should be, I’m fucking worth it. I’m a lousy cook though, but I clean up pretty well.”
She gave him an intimate gaze as she spoke and she made sure he held it. He felt uncomfortable and averted his gaze somewhere else after a few moments. She was beautiful, no doubt; but he had enough experience in these things to know that she was the dangerous type. In all probability highly unstable and manipulative behind her cool façade. He’s been around that block too many times before.
It was harder to seduce him than she thought it would be. He was obviously not the fickle type. He had principles, but he was no match for her. In the end he was still a man, and she was still a beautiful woman. He gave in reluctantly, rationalizing that he deserved it after a long spell of going solo. The drinks helped with this. He resolved to stay emotionally detached from her. She was a witch, and a clever one at that.
They went to his place. The sex was not spectacular to her mind. He was way too caring. She did not want to be cared for. She got enough of that from John. She just needed to be fucked.
Unlike him, she felt no remorse after the act. She liked having sex and she like playing the game. To her mind there was nothing to be ashamed of.
When she got back to her flat she found John passed out on the couch. An empty bottle of whisky lay on the floor next to a Winnie the Pooh mask.
“Odd” she thought.
She slipped past him, took a shower and went to bed. She had no dreams that night.

He was surprised how easy it was. He robbed places all over the Western Cape at random to ensure they couldn’t be connected. Sometimes he came away with more than he expected or hoped for. At other times he got almost nothing. It didn’t matter to him though. It has long since stopped being about the money. By now he’s debt was paid off and they were renting a fair sized cottage in Kalk Bay.
He’s main motivation now was the rush. The adrenaline. The danger, and the knowing that he was clever enough to get away with it. (Or maybe they were simply stupid?) Einstein’s theory of relative stupidity.
He told her that he got a decent job in the city managing a club and that he made good money. She didn’t bother to question him. She didn’t really care. All that mattered was that her life had some sort of stability. Sure they fought from time to time, but she was always in control so she could handle that. She knew exactly what to say in the right moment to make him fall down and whimper like a dog. She could be very cruel when she needed to be, but she also knew how to console him with her attention and her sex. He was like putty in her hands.
She continued to meet with Simon from time to time. Like John, he also succumbed to her spell. She had two lovers now, and she was considering getting a third. Her appetite was insatiable. Her pain drove her on.

The day came when he became too reckless and arrogant, and he almost got caught. More often than not he was semi-drunk when he pulled a job. It helped to calm him down. The last few weeks he was also in a fragile state of mind. He started to notice things about Carmen that made him suspicious. He suspected that she was hiding something from him. In the beginning he rationalized it as normal paranoia, partly stemming from the cocaine habit they have developed over the months, but as time progressed he started noticing things that nagged at him. The way she walked out of the room to have private phone conversations. The way she dressed and made herself up before going on her little adventures. The way she acted on her return. “Why did she always have to take a shower just then?”
Questions like these started plaguing him day and night. He decided to start following her. He had to know.

It seemed to be a fairly simple job. It was a pawn shop in Kuilsriver that specialized in trading second hand jewellery. He has been casing it for weeks and he also made a contact on the inside. She was a young and slightly bulky lady that worked the till and he found it easy to seduce her. He knew that they had a significant amount of cash on the premises after cash up on Saturdays. There would also be jewellery. It would be his largest and most daring job to date, but it was time to step things up. He’s confidence as a thief as well as a man has blossomed after his successes and he was getting good at this game.
He has also decided to upgrade to a real gun. He needed to know that he would be more secure in case things did go awry one day. Besides, he’s growing ego demanded to be taken more seriously.
It was surprisingly easy to get. All it took was a few enquiries at a dive bar in Salt River and some cash. The first time he held the pistol in his hand it scared him, but he soon got used to it. After a while he relished the feeling of power and control it gave him. It was a huge confidence booster.
He went to practice shooting in an empty field out of town and he found that the activity exhilarated him. Soon it was his favourite Sunday afternoon pastime. He would take some cocaine, a few beers and a joint and have a ball while imagining himself to be a soldier in combat, doing drills he googled on the internet and shooting up some props he managed to string together. It was also a great stress relief.

Their latest thrill was having sex in public. It was her idea. They would drive to the parking lot of a large shopping complex, go park in a far corner and get it on. The nervous tension with the added feeling of exhibitionism heightened their ecstasy. Combined with cocaine and a bottle of tequila it made them fly high, it almost felt like love; but it wasn’t. Not to her mind anyway. It was pure lust and adrenaline.
Once they got caught by an old man in a wheelchair where he sat silently observing, enjoying the show. They only noticed him after the act. She just laughed, but he got angry. This surprised her. She never knew him to be an aggressive type. He got out of the car and swore at the man while recklessly pushing him away.
“You sick old fuck!”
The wheelchair came close to falling over. From then on she noticed how his level of aggression rose from week to week to a point where she became very concerned about he’s mental state.

Finally the day game. He was confident that he planned everything as well as possible. He was wearing a different mask now, the Frankenstein persona suited his more aggressive style and it had a more intimidating effect. It was a perfect Saturday. Full sun and hardly a breeze. He smoked some cheese as he drove to Kuils River. It calmed him down and cleared his mind. He also sipped on a half jack. Just before he put on his mask in the parking lot he sniffed two fat lines. He waited for a few minutes until the full effect kicked in, all the while talking to himself in the rear-view mirror: “Don’t’ think, just do. Don’t think, just do.”
When he finally left the car in a jumbled state he dropped the gun on the tar. A young boy who walked buy stopped and gaped with an open mouth before running off.
“Fuck off you little shit!”
The words escaped like the first fiery balls of a volcano about to explode. He had an oppressing anger pent up inside him, and he was not sure exactly what the root was; but it’s been there for a while, building up slowly and menacingly. For a moment he considered not doing the job. Something was off. He could feel it in his gut.
“You’re just paranoid. It’s the coke. Pull yourself together man!” he chastised himself. He picked up the gun, put on the mask and headed for the security door. When he got there he banged on the steel frame and shouted her name out loud: “Sarah! Sarah!”
She was supposed to have it unlocked. A few moments later it opened with a click. Inside she was standing behind the counter, looking as afraid as a rabbit with a smoking bullet hole in one floppy ear. “Why did you call my name? You idiot!” she hissed like a snake on a hot stove. She jerked a thumb pointing to the back. “He’s there.” She semi-whispered it like she was uttering a profanity in an empty church.
He ran to the back. A middle aged Indian man was there standing with a mug and a smouldering cigarette in his hand. He looked up and his face went slack and ashen. John was pointing the gun at him and combined with his frantic demeanour and Frankenstein mask, it made for a terrifying spectacle.
“Okay motherfucker, as you might have guessed by now, this is not a visit from a priest. Show me the bling motherfucker!”

“Bling…?”
The man was dazed by shock and slow to react. He tried to say more, but he’s mouth was suddenly dry and stiff. He dreaded this day. He knew it was just a question of time, and now; here it was, like a feared curse that finally came to fruition. He’s mind was racing at the speed of the ever expanding universe. When he finally gathered enough of his sense to utter something it was too late…
John ran forward while taking the pistol by the front end. When he butted the confused man the gun went off and he could feel a searing hot pain emanating like a cosmic flash through the right hand side of his upper body.
“FUUUUCK! Fuck-fuck-fuck!”
The shop owner was not moving, he was just standing there holding his head between his frail hands. Blood was dripping from his forehead. It splattered on the floor and made Rorschach tests for tiny, vile critters.
John forced himself to regain his composure. He willed away the pain and worked himself up into a state of frantic resilience. Blood was pouring from his side and he was starting to sweat heavily. This made for a much more horrendous spectacle which shook the shop owner into some form of clarity. “Let me help you.” he uttered with a feeble voice.
“FUCK YOU MAN! I don’t want your help, I want your MONEY! Your jewellery.”
John branded the pistol in an unruly fashion. The fragile Indian realized things were getting dangerously out of hand and decided to comply as meekly and quickly as he possibly could manage under the circumstance. The sooner he could get this wild madman out of here, the better. He had a feeling he would survive the ordeal. The man did not seem to have the composure of a killer. He also knew that he was well insured. It was only money and jewellery after all. He scurried over to the till with John following him while breathing heavily. John took a white linen bag from his back pocket which gradually filed up with cash and jewellery. By the time he was ready to make his escape a few minutes later he was already starting to feel slightly weak. He knew he needed some sort of medical attention urgently. As he drove of he could hear the police sirens blaring in the distance. A few minutes later, as two police vehicles sped past him; he somehow managed to stay sane enough in order not to raise any suspicion. On his frantic flight he passed a veterinary clinic. He screeched to a halt and reversed into its parking lot. There was a mother and child with a poodle in hand who both stared in shock at the bloody man with the gun who ran past them into the building. Inside there were a few customers and a receptionist who looked at him in disbelief. A tiny yelp escaped form the girl at the counter.
“Where’s the doctor?”
She stared at him with a perplexed expression.
“The fucking vet, man!”
Moments later an elderly man dressed in white entered the scenario. He heard the commotion from the adjacent room and came to investigate. He assessed the situation in seconds and put his hands in the air while speaking with a soothing and calm voice, (being quite old he has long since made his peace and the fear of death did not have much on him): “Calm down, no need to panic. You can have the money. Take everything you need, but please don’t hurt anyone.”
“I don’t want your money old man. Look at me”, he pointed to his upper body, “I’m fuct man! I need help.”
The old man replied with the same steady voice: “Yes, I will do what I can, but you will have to come into the surgery.”
John thought about this suggestion for a few moments. He felt vulnerable and scared, but he couldn’t show it. He’s instincts told him that it was of vital importance that he stayed in control.
“What’s behind that door?” John pointed wildly with the pistol to another door across the room.
“Storeroom”, the old man replied.
“Everybody get in there, everybody except doc over here!”!” He motioned with the gun and his shocked audience complied without much hesitation.
Afterwards he got his wound disinfected and stitched up, holding the vet at gunpoint; while all manner of animals in holding cages loudly proclaimed their dismay of the situation.
Minutes later he was in the driver’s seat again. He took a few of the tranquilizers the vet gave him, chasing it with a few large swigs from the half jack. For good measure he had another two fat lines of coke.
He peered into the bag on the back seat. It was a good haul. Possibly his best yet. He felt slightly better.
When the combination of drugs and booze kicked in he managed to drive all the way back to Kalk Bay with relative ease. He knew he couldn’t go home like this. He needed time to think. He decided to take Boyes drive where he stopped at a lookout point. There was another car with a couple in it. The women was on top of the man in the driver’s seat and the car was rocking gently. He could see her naked bouncing breasts, but her dark her blocked her face. He stared at them as if transfixed in a trance. Then he recognised the man and his hart sank. He jumped out of the car and walked over. He peered in and at that moment she turned her head. Their eyes met and a wild anger burnt the expression of her sexual ecstacy deep into his face. The volcano erupted with tremendous force. He went blank after that.

He opened up the cavity under the rock where he stashed the ukulele and took it out. It was wrapped in a bright red cloth with intricate patterns on he bought at a shop owned by an ancient women who claimed she got her exotic wares from places like Tibet, Bhutan and India. She said that this particular garment came all the way from Kashmir and that it was pure hand-woven silk. It depicted a man and a woman in front of an ornate gate with a pyramid like structure in the background. The shop owner said it was symbolic of a man and a woman entering into a union that will make them enter the temple of eternal love.
In that moment it caused him immense pain, and he frantically tore it to pieces. He felt more calm after that and he thought about how close he came to dying a few hours ago. He put his hand on the side of his body and felt the tender wound where the bullet passed through him. He was thinking that it would have been better if the bullet entered his skull and killed him. He imagined himself to be dead in a parallel universe. He picked up the ukulele and plucked at the strings. He looked at their names carved on the bottom and laughed. He continued to play and the sounds it made seemed distant and unreal. He stuck his hand inside the body of the ukulele where he stashed the ring and the tickets. It was supposed to be the ultimate, romantic surprise. He has planned the whole thing over and over in his head for weeks. The two of them going on an adventure of a lifetime with a bag of cash. He smashed the ukulele against the rock and put the diamond ring on his pinkie. (He thought about throwing it into the bushes, but sanity prevailed). He read her name out loud on the one ticket after which he burned it. He drank some more and took enough pills to make him pass out. He only woke up when the frosty breeze that blew from the ocean made his teeth chatter. He knew he couldn’t go home now, but he had cash and a plane ticket.

He knew he was supposed to love Argentina. It was sunny, there was good meat, beautiful women and enough cheap wine; but the thing he carried within was too heavy and too dark for him to find pleasure in any of this. He walked the streets like a hollow man, stepping from one little bar to the next, staying drunk and hardly eating or sleeping. He was wasting away in body, mind and spirit. One late evening he collapsed in a dark door frame that overlooked a plaza where young couples groped at each other under dim street lights. He came to a great realization then:
There comes a time when a person’s feels like a ghost, something that should have been dead and gone. This can happen at any age, it all depends on the life that was lived, the choices that were made and how the dice rolled when it got set free to dance with gravity. This is how he felt now. As if he had no more right to be. As if he missed his window to escape the struggle because of some cosmic glitch that allowed him to slip into the impossibly narrow space between life and death. Like a breathless breath. Like the flattest end of a needles point.  He felt as if he has missed his exit.