Stories for the Stranger

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A Nobel Prize laureate gets in a war of words with a homeless man.

Submitted: January 06, 2013

A A A | A A A

Submitted: January 06, 2013




I've watched videos of women shitting out babies, but only on rewind. It's helped me envision a childhood fantasy of mine. I'd close my eyes and everyone would move backward through their lives, so every desire is undone, every spoiled meat bag on a deathbed has their skin tighten, their nipples rise, their hearts succeed, every bullet loaded under flesh shoots back into guns, every severed arm leaps back into place, every ambitious dictator shrinks into an infant, slides back into the womb, shrinks some more, swims back into the balls, and his parents do the same, along with all life, and all planets fall apart into asteroids, and the asteroids dissolve into dust, and the dust piles up into stars, and the stars dissolve into the same fuckin' dust, and all dust collides as the universe crunches into a period much tinier than the one ending this sentence.

I strolled over grass and crickets at Washington Square Park. All around, city lights glared above trees. Warm wind swallowed my face. I welcomed those distractions.

I had a wife who wanted to shit out a baby, so I figured out a plan. All I needed to do was covertly poison the fertility out of her. No fertile wife, no pointless new life. My plan would begin once the sun came up.

A vagrant ahead of me stared at a chessboard. None of the chess pieces were moved. He was a skinny, young man, about my age, sitting on a bench with his legs crossed. He had uncommonly pale skin for a vagrant, but he wore the common vagrant clothes, a green sweater and faded jeans. Most of his face was draped with shaggy black hair and a shaggy beard. Compared to him, I looked like a perfect Nazi from a propaganda poster. But the vagrant's rags had less wrinkles than my black suit.

This was the same vagrant who had destroyed me in chess several years ago, and probably in the same spot, too. I walked onto a concrete path. I stopped next to the metal bench he sat on.

The vagrant noticed me eying him. He said, “Interested in a game?” The vagrant had a gravelly voice. He must o' been thirsty.

“You've already taken some o' my money.”

“Oh, I remember you.” The vagrant cracked a smile on one side of his mouth. In a lamppost's light, yellow showed between his teeth and gums. “You're the lion that kept charging at me.”

“You talking 'bout how I play chess?” I said.

“Yeah, you never stopped coming until yanked your teeth and out.” The vagrant uncrossed his legs and dropped his feet onto the concrete path.

“What was I supposed to do?” I said. “Give you a break?”

“You could have given yourself a break with some defense.” For a sec, the vagrant pointed at me.

“Eh, fuck yourself.” I turned away and took a couple steps down the path, but then stopped. I turned back to the vagrant. “Okay, well, what do you play like? A human?”

The vagrant slouched on the bench. “I play like a god.”

“So you play perfectly?”

“Gods are not perfect,” the vagrant said as he pointed at me again. “For examples, Zeus kept cheating on his wife, and in the Noah's ark story, god was genocidal.”

“You saying you play chess like a genocidal, adultering, architect employer?

He showed his plaque again and squinted at me. “I'm saying that lions are no more a threat to me than they would be to Zeus.”

I stepped next to the concrete table which held his chessboard. I looked down to him. “Shouldn't you be making it seem like you're an idiot? Why would I wanna gamble against a great player?”

“Because, unless you've softened up,” he said, “I don't think you care about the money. You just want to eat a god's throat.”

I chuckled out air. “If you're that great, why waste your life here? Why aren't you off winning chess tournaments?”

He leaned forward and rested his elbows on a concrete table which held his chess board. “You really wanna hear a sick story?”

“That's my favorite kind,” I said.

“When I was twelve, I was crushing nearly everyone at a tournament. One of my opponents couldn't handle losing, and that opponent found me in a restroom. He kept pounding my buttons so that I'd attack him and get myself disqualified. His plan was successful. I strangled him to death.”

“Seems like you're bullshitting.”

The vagrant looked at me with his head titled to the left. “I don't usually fib about murdering kids.”

“What'd he say to you?”

His head titled even more to the left. “Man, you really want the inside doublescoop.”

I put my hand in my back pocket. “Will you tell me for a quarter?”

He didn't even show a hint of anger. Just a little confusion. “That kid said lots of things, mostly about the fact that my dad was a pedophile.”

I took my hand out of my pocket. “And you don't mind admitting your fucked up past to a stranger?”

“Nope.” He sat up straight. “But admitting it to anyone who's not a stranger-- someone who adores me-- that's disembowelment.”

I sat on his metal bench a couple feet away from him.

He tugged his beard with both hands. “How about yourself? Why are you here?”

“No fuckin' idea why.” I slouched on the bench. “I should be working on something.”

“Like what?”

“Improving farming techniques to end hunger. That kinda shit.”

His eyebrows, which were nearly covered by hair, raised as he said, “That's wonderful.”

“I know.”

“Do you show any promise in that endeavor?” he said.

I spat on the grass. “I've prevented hundreds of millions of fuckin' people from living in chronic hunger.”

He pointed at me and said, “You should win a Nobel Prize for that.”

“I did. I'm the eight-hundred, thirty-first person to receive one. Do you recognize the name Andy Cadell at all?”

“No,” he said, “is that you?”

“Fuckin' obviously.”

“Sorry, Andy, I don't keep up with the world. I'm Conor by the–”

“That's' fine,” I said. “My fame is irrelevant to me, just like my forture.”

He said, "Very adminrable," and pointed at me with both forefingers. "There's so many folks with pointlessly fancy houses and cars. I feel sorry for people who need that to fill their empty lives.”

I slid closer to him on the bench. With our bodies turned to each other, our knees nearly touched.

“Their empty lives?” I said. “Look at your stupid fuckin' life. All you do is hustle people in chess.”

“I also give chess lessons to whoever wants them,” the vagrant said.

“Okay, so if I drove an expensive car, all of a sudden my life would be even emptier than yours?”

He cracked another disgusting smile on one side of his mouth. “I don't know how to measure emptiness.”

“I've significantly helped more people than you've ever fuckin' seen. Compared to me you're a virus. Is murdering someone the only significant thing you've done?”

The vagrant scrunched his lips to hold back a smile, and he said, “No, I've also had a conversation with Andy Cadell.”

I stood up, still facing him. “Go suck your dad's cock. You don't even give a shit that your existence is meaningless.”

“It isn't,” he said. “Meaning forms in many forms.”

“That's just bullshit, and you need it to fill your empty life.”

He ran his fingers through his beard and said, “What do you consider meaningful?”

“Decreasing suffering," I said. "That's the only meaningful thing anyone could do.”

“What about this discussion about meaning? Is this meaningful?”

I said, “Only if it decreases suffering.” I rested one knee on the bench and eyed him. “And there's nothing particularly harmful about driving fancy cars.”

“You're right.”

He had such a tiny ego. I mumbled, "Fuckin' Buddhist.”

“Fuck a nuddist?” he said.

“I admit I got heated just now, but everything I said about you is true. Your life is millions of times less meaningful than mine.”

The vagrant said, “With your definition of meaning, I agree.”

“Doesn't that bother you?”

“Not at all,” he said.

I sat on the bench with my ass on my dress shoes. “Honestly, it doesn't? I mean, I don't want it to bother you, but it seems like it should.”

He lay his stretched out arm on the bench. “Andy, you're not my competition. My competition is whatever I'm capable of. That's paraphrased from Michael Jordan, you know.”

I slid my feet out from under me. “That's a logical position, but you can't align your emotions with logic. You should still feel upset about your disgusting insignificance.”

“I don't at all,” the vagrant said. “That'd be illogical.”

“So you never feel an illogical emotion?”

“Right,” he said.

“You're not a Buddhist. You're a fuckin' cyborg.”

He made a smug smile and shrugged. “I just sustain from negative emotions. They usually make people do illogical things.”

I said, “Sometimes people need negative emotions to do positive shit. What makes you so fuckin' different?”

The vagrant looked down at his white chess pieces. “When I was locked away, one thing kept me going: the knowledge that once they released me, I'd get to torture and kill my dad. One day, I started working in the kitchen with Sidney, a geeky hacker type. This kid was a funny, upbeat guy, even though his cellmate raped him regularly. Sydney said that he's only emotionally invested in whatever's in his control, and that he programmed himself to think that way. Anyway, like buying a lottery ticket, I gave his psychology nonsense a shot. He helped me shackle my dark side, to ignore the violent thoughts and feelings. It took years.” He looked back at me. “Now my dark side has the credibility of a stranger.” His brown eyes locked onto my blue ones.

I looked at my lap and said, “Maybe I'll work on my anger. Would've stopped me from getting all heated a minute ago.”

“Why were you upset?” he said.

“Because of what you said about fancy car drivers. My wife loves muscle cars. Her life isn't empty, though. She just loves how they look, and sound, and feel.”

“There's nothing wrong with enjoying aesthetics.” He slid a little farther from me and leaned on an arm rest. "Although, didn't you say that pleasure was meaningless.”

“You connected the dots. I said that meaning only comes from decreasing suffering.”

“If that's true,” he said, “then shouldn't everyone kill themselves? Dead bodies can't suffer.”

I nodded and said, “That's totally right.”

“So if you had a button that would instantly kill everyone, you'd push it?”

I locked back onto his brown eyes. “Yeah, that'd be the most meaningful thing anyone could do.”

The vagrant sat up off the arm rest. “Hold on.” He tugged on his beard. “Hasn't your work saved lives from starvation?”

“Yeah, millions of lives.”

“Doesn't that go against your philosophy,” he said.

“Fuck no. Most of the people I've helped wouldn't've died. They'd just be hungry, and they'd have their physical and mental development stunted. Besides, when people die, they're loved ones become miserable.”

He leaned a little closer to me. “Is that why you don't kill yourself?”

I leaned even closer to him. “I don't kill myself for my wife, and because I have to feed you fuckin' people. That's why I continue to suffer. That's why I'm stuck on this fuckin' planet! I'm trapped as this conscious mosaic of fuckin' cells, which illogically insists on continuing this meaningless conversation.”

“How long have you felt that way?” he said.

“Since this conversation started.”

“No, no, how long have you felt that way about life?”

“Since I was six,” I said.

“What happened?”

I turned away for a sec to spit on the concrete path. “Nothing happened. I saw a seven-hundred pound fat monster on TV who had something like three people taking care o' him, while he jus' lay there accumulating more fuckin' fat– helping no one. I figured that unless he started to prevent more suffering than he caused, he should roll over onto a grill to feed a small town.”

“Why is it only about decreasing suffering?” the vagrant said. “Can't it be worthwhile to increase pleasure?”

“Our desire for pleasure is un-fuckin'-necessary,” I said. “People are living to satisfy needs that don't have to exist in the first fuckin' place. Being alive only creates pointless problems.”

“For me,” he said, “life is justified by pleasurable things like art, and human connection, and rousing conversation. I think those things are to be celebrated.”

I slammed my fingers into my forehead and said, “That's not to be celebrated.” My hands jerked away from my face. “That's to be mourned because it's moronic! Almost everyone has an illogical assessment of life, and it's because you've all become pleasure junkies and dogma junkies. Pleasure is just a distraction from suffering, and suffering only continues to exist because people keep breeding. That's why breeding is fuckin' retarded, evil shit.”

“But, Andy–” The vagrant adjusted his ass on the bench. “How could breeding– how could it be evil if the vast majority of offspring will be glad they were born?”

“Because pleasure and dogma warps people's fuckin' brains. They're like retarded crackheads! Their assessment o' life is fucked.”

“I don't think we'll change either of our minds on this,” he said.

“Probably, since you're too brainwashed by pleasure. Otherwise, you'd prefer to have never been born.”

He sat with his elbows on his legs. “I do prefer that, since I don't see how I'll make up for the harm I've caused. The world would've been better off without me." He turned to me and pointed for a sec. "But not you, Andy. Shouldn't you be glad that you were born?”

“Sure, it's a good thing the universe shit me out.”

“What does your wife think about all this?” the fuckin' vagrant said.

“She's obsessed with spawning a new suffering vessel.”

He lit up like something grabbed on his cock. “So pleasure brainwashed her too?”

“It's worse than that,” I said. I stood up and leaned on the concrete table. “She got pregnant when she was seventeen. Her shitty, abusive parents forced her to abort it. Now she thinks that if she doesn't have a baby, then her psycho parents win. It makes no fuckin' sense!”

The vagrant said, “Has she accepted that you're not going to have a baby?”

“No, I keep telling her it has to wait– that things are too busy for now. She's getting less patient all the time.”

“What about adoption?”

“I brought that up,” I said. “She's all for adoption, but she still needs to have a fuckin' baby, too.”

“Would you care if she left you?”

That question reminded me that I have a TASER in my jacket. “She left me a few years ago for a month. That's when retarded, nihilistic depression possessed me. Drugs helped, though.” I took a seat right next to him. “The thing is, before I slipped in fuckin' love with her, I didn't need her to be semi-happy. I wish she would've never been so fuckin' kind to me in the first place.”

“Why'd she leave you before?” he said.

“It wasn't a break up. She just had to go to Nigeria for some disease prevention job.”

“If you don't have a baby with her,” he said, “wouldn't she just have one with someone else?”

I reached in my jacket pocket and felt my TASER. “I don't think she'll divorce me, and she'll never have a baby with someone else.”

“Why not?” he said.

I just sat there twirling the TASER in my jacket pocket.

He squinted at me and said, “Andy?”

“You know, I had chronic fatigue syndrome for two years. I couldn't even wipe my fuckin' shit. My wife was my girlfriend at the time. She did everything for me, and this was way before my success, so it really was just for me. Since then, we've been fused. Without her, I would've swallowed a sock to choke myself.”

“What are you gonna do?” said the miserable vagrant.

I turned to him so we were face to face, Nazi blue eye to shit brown eye. “I'm guessing that if I tell her the truth, I'd remind her of her parents. That has to be avoided. Even if I pay a doctor to tell her I'm sterile, she'd buy someone elses jizz.”

“So what's the plan?” he said.

“I'll never have a baby, and I'll never tell her that.”

He pointed at me and said, “You're in zugzwang, Andy.”


“It's when you have to make a move, but every move is terrible– by your logic, anyway.”

“And I can't even give up,” I said.

He leaned closer. His eyes were close enough to see myself in them. “Seems like you have two options: have a baby, or tell your wife why you won't. The question for you is which one would cause more suffering.”

“I'm almost certain it's the fuckin' baby,” I said. “Our one kid could cause another hundred generations to exist.”

“You could teach him to have the same values as you,” the vagrant said.

“Great idea,” I said while patting his shoulder. “I'll have a kid and teach him that having kids is evil. Then his kid could do the same and it'll never end. Fucking smart!”

The vagrant's face was still as blank as ever. “Don't just teach him that,” he said. “Teach him to prevent suffering.”

“Maybe it could have a meaningful life, but I can't turn my kid into a genius, scientist hero like me. Besides, he could be born retarded, or any number of fucked up defects. I have no right to gamble with someone's suffering.”

“Andy, tell that to your wife. She may not agree, but she'll understand.”

My hand squeezed my TASER and I said, “Don't fuckin' pretend that you know her!” I pulled my empty hand out of my pocket.

“I understand you,” he said, “and we just met. I know that your compassion is the only thing keeping you alive. That's beautiful, Andy.”

I said, “How does my beautiful shit matter?”

“It would matter to your wife. You won't have children because you want to protect them. I don't think she'd hate you at all for that?”

“She'd hate me because of my bullshit.” To keep my voice from breaking, I lowered my volume. “For years I've been telling her, 'When the time is right.' I started bullshitting when I had chronic fatigue syndrome. If I had been honest, she would've gone right the fuck out the door.”

“You have to tell her the truth,” he said. “You owe her that.”

“If I told her the truth, she would divorce me. She would have a baby with someone else.”

The miserable fuckin' vagrant said, “I thought you said she would never do that.”

Like I was unbalanced on a high wire, I said, “I'm not in zugz– whatever the fuck!”

“So what's your move-- what's your plan, Andy?”

The night sky now had a hint of blue. All the air in me slowly seeped out. I lay down on the bench. My head hung off the edge. “Why are you still talking to a stranger who belittles and insults you? You think you'll help my wife and me, and that'll make up for the harm you've caused? You must be glad a problem like me came along, or else you'd be stuck with the worst kind of misery: self-hatred. You're the one that needs me.” I lifted my head up just to check if his dark side broke through.

His face was still white and blank behind his shaggy hair. “It's fine,” he said. “You don't have to tell me your plan.”

I sat up and eyed his freckled nose. “Sorry, vagrant, but the sun's gonna creep up soon, so I'm leaving. You failed to justify your life, even by your own standards. Take care.” I stood up and began walking down the path.

So many birds and crickets chirped that I couldn't tell if I heard his footsteps. He said, “You betrayed the woman you love. You've betrayed her every day, only for yourself. The one way to make up for what you've done is to be honest. Be honest and try to convince her not to have kids. That's all you can do.”

Cold sweat covered me, but I was hot from blood boiling my brain. I stopped walking.

The vagrant hustled over in front of me. He stood an arm's length away.

I stepped closer. "Do you know you're being a fuckin' hypocrite?"

"Yes, in a way," he said.

"I'm doing exactly what you do," I said.

"Right, you're ignoring your emotions and following your logic."

"I won't brainwash myself with guilt. Negative emotions make us do retarded shit." I pointed at him and said, "You told me that."

“Then don't be honest out of guilt," he said. "Be honest out of love. You love her too much to continue deceiving her after all she's done for you?”

Premature tears formed on my eyes. I blinked them away. “Fuck you and you guilt-trip tactics. Now– whoever the fuck you are– move out of my way.”

“Fine, but first let me show you one thing.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a notepad. “This belonged to my sister when she was six. She had a lethal disease which caused her skin to blister and get infected.” He flipped through the pages of the notepad and stopped somewhere in the middle. “She loved to draw.” He held the opened notepad close to my eyes. The page it was opened to showed a shitty pencil drawing of a fish leaping out of a pond. “Drawing this was the very last thing she did before her death.”

A tingling sensation spread under my face.

He said, “To my sister's final moments, she was glad that she had been born.” He lowered the notepad to his side. “Your assessment of her life is just as biased as her assessment. There is no objective standard for how good life has to be. We decide for ourselves.”

His words and that drawing somehow made me nauseous. My eyelids lowered and more sweat covered me. People like his half sister were nothing new to me, and neither were his arguments, but his blatantly emotional persuasion was still stomping on my brain.

I nodded just slightly enough for him to notice.

The vagrant nodded back. He stepped aside onto the grass.

I walked down the curvy path like a zombie. His sister's drawing of a fish leaping out of a pond flashed before my eyes. It kept flashing over and over. By the time I got to the gate of the park, the game ended. I couldn't imagine going through with the plan I had for my wife. Instead, while I strolled down a few city blocks, I imagined the rest of my life on fast forward.

I wish it could've gone by that fast.


Instead of letting someone else impregnate my wife, I filled her up. When my son was a grown boy, I finally found the vagrant, Conor, in Washington Square Park again. It was just before dawn again, too. I still looked like a Nazi, only with a beard, and Conor still looked like a vagrant. I talked with him about my wife and son, and I thanked him for convincing me to be honest.

Conor cracked a little smile and said, “I have to be honest, too. That notepad with the drawing was just litter that I found, and I never even had a sister.”

I collapsed onto the grass in moans and laughter.


© Copyright 2020 AdamKadmon. All rights reserved.

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