In the town on the south side of the mountain, a man awoke next to a beautiful woman and, for the life of him, couldn’t figure out why. He was quite sure that at some earlier time in his life he had loved her and pursued her and she had come to love him but for what reasons he did not know. He was a simple man and occasionally in the midst of a conversation with several others he would say a good thing and there’d be a small chuckle, but that wasn’t a reason to love anyone. He had no real talents to speak of; he was functional at everything in such a way that he was neither labeled good nor bad at anything. Yet here he was, lying next to a very beautiful woman and vaguely aware that a whole beautiful family lay in different beds stationed throughout a big, beautiful house he did not deserve. He got up and went to the bathroom.

Surely all of these things taken together made for a satisfactory life by every worldly measure. And yet, the darkness remained, like the dust brushed under the bed, out of sight but accumulating.

The man sat on the toilet. He knew he could always find peace here, engaged in what he deemed to be the third most satisfying activity permissible to man. The darkness had set in earlier than usual. He needed to calm himself. There were worries, there were always worries, but a rational mind could displace them with comforts. There were plenty of comforts as well. A very beautiful wife, for one. Three strapping young men, two well-mannered young ladies. A rewarding salary. A big, lovable dog. Maybe some goldfish if they had survived the night. And — best of all — happiness. Surely all of these things taken together made for a satisfactory life by every worldly measure. And yet, the darkness remained, like the dust brushed under the bed, out of sight but accumulating.

He could never put his finger on what the feeling actually was. Perhaps it was the realization that each human emotion is impermanent. Or the absence of God. Or that big secret that everyone wonders about but never speaks of, that lingering fear — or hope — that amidst all these people and plants and planets you’re all alone in the end, with nothing old and eternal to guide you, nothing to punish you if you fall, or love you if you triumph.

Whatever it was, the darkness had begun at some point in his adolescence. It would be sudden and intense and then would leave as soon as it would come. He would be standing on a street corner, waiting for the right moment to cross, and he would feel the urge to throw himself into traffic. On tours to tall buildings and old castles with his classes over the years, the thought of throwing himself over the edge would overtake him, and his hands would tremble and his feet would become cement, his body’s defiance to the possibility of its termination. And in classrooms when the teachers turned their backs to write on the board and everyone was supposed to be quiet, he would be so compelled to jump from his chair and spout obscenities that he would have to bite his lip; on several occasions he drew blood.

After years of this struggle, the man imploded. In a lecture hall in college, while four hundred studious souls were desperately scribbling away their midterm essays, he was watching the second hand of the clock. Sweat swept down his brow, blood poured from his lower lip, and he was grinding the tip of his No. 2 pencil into his palm. His neighbors had stopped writing and were staring at him with a strange fascination, as if asking themselves, would he do it? And then his eyes glazed over, and all the people and world around him no longer felt real, but viewed through a lens caked in Vaseline. He stood up, unclenched his jaw, and shouted the first word that came to mind, “Deviance!” He continued shouting it, “Deviance! Deviance!” and then with a new passion for the word and an inhuman power of breath, “DEVIANCE! DEVIANCE!” When he had finished, he regained consciousness and felt four hundred and one pairs of unfriendly eyes drowning him with their stares. He ran from the room crying. But that night he slept better than he had ever had.

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