An Audience of None

I met Hank in Spain and soon realized that the best way to understand him would be to never try. He let on very little as to the reasons behind anything he did. He didn’t like to talk about himself, or about other people. Some days he would look at the ground and talk of how beautiful dirt is, and others he’d look up at the sky on a sunny day and say “This world is shit”. He had so many convictions that they simply cancelled one another out. There was no way to tell when he might suddenly decide the world is a miserable place, sit down somewhere, and quietly die.

One day he decided he was going to do an open-mic reading of a story at a Spanish Salsa Bar. He didn’t seem to care whether or not anyone understood it. I had been to open mics before and I found them to be revolting, tiresome, circle-jerks. I told him so and he said.

“Okay.”

The night arrived and I had gotten drunk and decided to go anyways. The place was packed when I arrived and Hank was up second to last. There was a Spanish man who stepped up before him, put on a red bubble nose, and yelled in Spanish while the crowd laughed and cheered. Then, it was time for Hank. I was wine-blind by that point but, I focused all my attention on the stage while the crowd swam around my periphery.

When he stepped up he looked sweaty– not nervous, sweaty. He wasn’t wearing his hat and was balding slightly. He was pale white, wearing his violently blue Short-Sleeve-Hawaiian-shirt buttoned up to his nipples, and khaki-shorts with black converse sneakers. He breathed heavily and began reading.

“We loved each other, as one bulimic cannibal might love another. She had a smile that, in the wrong hands, could slaughter the damn universe. We did things you only do when you’re in love. Read each other villanelles and danced in dark streets to no music. We salted each other with a cacophony of poetic lines. I fell heavy on her chest and whispered her the world. Crap like that. And, when the music stopped, we tore holes in each other with everything but bullets. One day, in the middle of the afternoon, she grabbed me. We fell into bed and after a minute she turned to me and said “What’s wrong Love?”. I looked down and she had it in her hand, limp. And then she smiled.”

Hank took a breath, glistening with sweat and looked out into the crowd of Spaniards. They all looked back in a confused silence. Hank continued.

“The next day when we woke she stood over me holding a banana. “Eat this” she told me. “Why?” I asked. She held out her phone. On it was a picture of a banana. Beneath it read “A Hard Man Needs a Healthy heart.” And then she smiled.”

Hank paused. Someone sneezed in the corner, a young woman ordered something in Spanish to a politely mousy waiter.

“So I grabbed her. I pulled her into bed. And, like a paraplegic preparing for a walk, I kissed her neck, her collar bone, her chest. She pushed me off, reached down and began to laugh. I grew angry and grabbed her around the throat. I squeezed with all my love and I cried. She whispered up at me “You have a weak heart.” And then she smiled.”

It took a whole minute of silence before anyone realized it had ended. Hank had done nothing but read and sweat. There would have been no different outcome if he’d simply stood in a field and read to a blade of grass. He hadn’t moved his arms, paused for effect, or even raised his voice. He had simply read and he was simply done. So, he wiped away the sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his outrageous shirt, bowed, and stepped off the stage.

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