|David Benjamin lay in the grass, a few yards from the bustling interstate off Loop 360. Benny let the twinkling diamonds on the black, velvet sky engulf his thoughts.
A coke can flew out the window and nearly hit his head, but that was no tragedy. Instead he instantly pinched it from the ground and hobbled back to his cave, two hundred yards. Even from a distance, anyone glancing towards the cave would see the glitter of aluminum on the walls. He placed the can on the inner edge of his collection, using a rusty nail. He had come across three bags of nails one day and decided to put them to good use.
Of course, he was only strong enough to wedge the nail about half an inch deep through the can and into wall. He smiled at the magnificent arrangement. "Well", he spoke, thinking aloud, "if no one else wants it, I might as well keep the roads clean and myself occupied."
Benny limped to the creek. Some said that factory sewage leaked into the Barton, but that did not stop the old man from drinking and bathing occasionally in its water. He looked into the liquid mirror and sighed.
He was the epitome of the human prune. Rarely staring at his reflection, he noticed how thin and wrinkly he had grown since his last true look at his reflection. The moonlight only enhanced the pale skin, mottled with cobalt and crimson lines crawling everywhere. What was left of his hair was a greasy gray with silvery highlights. His eyes seemed to be the only thing left of his past...of his remembering...
Of his twin brother who had the same deep hazelnut eyes. But he was gone and so was Benny. Even if they were both alive, they were both dead. Nothing could survive the lives they had lived.
"Why are we here? Who will love me when I die? I and he are the forsaken."
Benny took a drink and forgot about his thoughts, his life, his failure.
Food was the issue now. He scanned the grass with his hand. Today, no one had thrown out a half-finished burger or lost a bag of groceries. He was going to survive on Mother Nature.
Then he found it.
He took the grasshopper and stuffed it in his mouth gluttonously. He crunched on its hard shell and swallowed it quickly. "Protein," he reminded himself, "protein."
Sometimes a sickening feeling would take over and he would imagine the cars flying off the road and into his home. Into him.
Sometimes he would remember the old rumors about the creek, or he wondered if the grasshopper or the discarded food was poisoned or diseased.
Then he would pace back and forth saying, "I don't wanna go…Not to Hell, not to Hell…please don't."
He thought of it as a prayer for every suspicion of death that ever occurred to him.
Benny hid in the cave and watched the sky from afar. The moon was a giant pearl among diamonds. "I used to think you were a giant star, but now I know you're just a stupid rock. And I used to think the grass was just carpet, but it actually lives. Every time I step on it, it hurts…sometimes it dies…does anyone pray for the grass…if God remembers the grass, will he remember…" he stopped and let his hands weave through his hair.
He realized that his only motive was to live. To avoid the dark place. Sometimes people came by to help, but he refused them. He did not want to be betrayed again. He lay on the floor and huddled into the ground and cried from exhaustion, something he had not had the strength to do in many years.
The recently nailed can on the wall fell and clattered against the stone floor. Benny stared at the piece of paper jutting from the shiny can rim. He took it and unraveled it.
A message was scribbled hastily into the tattered parchment. You only need to ask for forgiveness and God will welcome you into his arms.
Benny held it in his hands for at least twenty minutes. Then he dropped the paper, and hunched over his knees. "Forgive me, forgive me…" he repeated over and over. His eyes watered and his body shook with the effort of the new prayer.
David Benjamin ran into the Mopac Expressway shouting, "I am saved! I am saved!"
The last thing he heard was a screech and a thud.