The Absent Friend

Addison Zeller

Or another thing he liked to imagine was the date of his death. “E. died on ________, ____,” the documentarian in his head would say, “at the age of sixty-five.” Sixty-five: he’d hoped for better, but to be the subject of a documentary he must have done something worth remembering. He had his public fantasy and his private fantasy, which he shared with a few of us, or maybe just me. In the public fantasy, which he shared with anybody, he was a good writer, a cult writer, but not a bestseller, which was ideal, he said, more prestige in the end, or at least mystique, and mystique was what he wanted. It drove his private fantasy, after all, which was to disappear. To be swallowed up in the world, or time, if there’s any difference: that's what he wanted. To dissolve into clues and theories. There’s something like bird footprints, something hieroglyphic about the details of a vanished or murdered person (he preferred to disappear, but could accept murder), the way their whole lives suddenly collapse into their mood, their clothing, when last seen. Or it’s like the Mona Lisa, he said. A beautiful eerie face floating in the atmosphere, like a cloud of humidity, smiling, conscious of her mystery. He envied that awareness, that perpetual hovering to the side of life, flat as a picture, the pictures in documentaries. The disappeared people in those pictures always seem to know what's happened to them. But he didn’t want to imagine his own disappearance. That ruined the game. He didn’t want mysteries to be solvable, or tricks to be explained. His own stories feel inconclusive, more like hints than stories: details to set the scene for events that come after the end. Rumors of a real story we can’t reach. Treasure maps without coordinates. So-and-so is here, in this particular spot, which is described minutely, filled with objects possessing nervous charisma, as though lying in wait, stifling jitters before they have to step out and perform. The characters themselves, lightly sketched, appear to sleepwalk toward an unspecified calamity; their stories terminate as they collect themselves to depart for unfamiliar terrain, as if their entire significance had only ever been their potential to vanish at some point slightly beyond the event horizon of the final sentence. He published little, nobody read him, and his collection is short, barely a hundred pages, with contents so similar I can’t keep them distinct, they flow like shadows into other shadows.

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Addison Zeller's fiction appears in 3:AM, Cincinnati Review, Pithead Chapel, trampset, minor literature[s], Ligeia, hex, ergot., and elsewhere. He lives in Wooster, Ohio, and edits fiction for The Dodge.