My Name is Despair
Words: 1,100; Read time: 5-7 min.
If there were any words which could supply the answer as to why, they never came. The only thing that came, and seldom at that, was the man on the opposite side of the door. But never did he divulge an answer as to why. Only ramblings and nonsenses. The most comprehensive answer he’d earned had been heard at the uttering of a single word—and the word that came both frightened and inspired that which it defined: despair.
His keeper possessed a certain affinity for it, his lone mission to distinguish it from other forms of pain and anguish.
On and on he’d went from beyond the door. “Do you know what despair is, Mr. Jones?” And when Mr. Jones failed to answer, the voice would become more agitated, more demanding. “Well do you?” he’d shout.
And still would Mr. Jones remain silent.
He had not been placed in this filthy hole of a room by choice. The room seemed an exercise in sanity in and of itself–a depressing and small space which somehow seemed as vast as an unending wasteland. If nothing were a place. The ceiling slanted at such a pitch that he could not stand upright. A single wedge of light crept through some unseen window and shone so small that he only longed for more. And what is tragedy if not longing.
The place he now resided in had become nothing more than darkness, its undefinable shapes taking shapes of their own in his mind. This was home. And despite being locked up for a week in the hole, Mr. Jones still knew nothing of despair.
“Mr. Jones, do you despair yet?” the voice from beyond would ask. It seemed more and more that the voice came from some place distant, its words and tone vague, nearly indiscernible. But he knew better. Knew the distance between mouth and word and ear were no different. The only thing further away was his mind, and further away than that, his soul. Much like the place he now called home, he was fading into a place of black, with nothing at its end.
“Yes!” he’d yell, with all the passion his deflating lungs could summon. “I do…I do.”
“Tell me of it then, will you?” Perhaps the most troubling part for Mr. Jones was that voice. Never mind the cramped room and the light he’d long ago forsaken. It was the voice, the measured and precise rhythm it offered words and questions in; the confidence it carried, as though this little experiment inspired not the least bit of fear in the experimenter. Worse, that perhaps it was in search of a particular answer which he would have to arrive upon if there was hope for something after all this.
“Despair…it’s…it’s fearing for your body more than your soul,” he said. The answer was one he’d been nurturing for quite a while, one he thought may capture the metaphysics of it all.
“Yes…yes. Go on. Tell me more.”
“More?” He paused and thought.
“Tell me more.”
“Okay. It’s…it’s knowledge of the fact that no matter what, you will die. There is no escaping it. Death is the only answer.”
“No, Mr. Jones. I’m afraid that is incorrect. Have you not learned a single thing?”
“No, I have. I have, I swear.”
“Then how do you not have the answer?”
“How is my answer wrong? That’s what despair is! Fear of mortality.”
“It’s a good answer, no doubt, but it is not the right one. Tomorrow, tomorrow you will know what despair is. I’m sure of it.”
“No. Please, no. I don’t want to know anymore. I was right. I was right.”
“Oh, you really think so? Tomorrow we will see how right you were. And before the end of it all, I’ll make sure to ask you again what despair is. I have a feeling you’ll know it well.”
“No! Please, no. Don’t do this.” He collapsed to the floor and panted and though he wanted to plead for his life some more he could not summon the strength to even fight.
With the almost certain knowledge that he was living his last hours on this mortal plane, Mr. Jones thought back on his old life. The house he’d grown up in as a boy. His brother and mother and father. The women he’d loved. He thought of the life that the tomorrow of some different time, some different path may have offered. A path in which he wasn’t slave to a room that would be the last he’d ever see. In that imagined future he had a family and a wife which he loved. A future worth living for.
Despite knowledge of the end, he found sleep in the last hours of his life. Perhaps knowing when death would arrive offered some form of peace.
Upon waking he found the door which had shackled him from the outside world to now be agape. He surveyed the room and rubbed at his eyes and blinked and blinked but this was no dream world. Even if it was, he could think of no reason not to indulge in the fantasy. He began crawling toward the door, his body gaining strength at what opportunities may come.
Soon he was on hands and knees, his pace quickening. And then he was through the door, ready to clamber to his feet. Before him there awaited another open door. The sound of commotion in the distance. The sound of the world outside. Every future he’d dreamt of now there for him to seize. The houses and the sunshine and all other possibility each breath may bring.
“Now do you know what despair is?”
Mr. Jones sagged his head. “Yes,” he said, “I do.”
“And what is it?”
He sighed. “It is wanting something…longing for something, and knowing that you’ll never have it. That is what despair is.”
“Why yes. You seem to have found the answer. I knew you would.”
With what strength he had remaining, Mr. Jones rolled to his back and set his gaze upon his tormentor. The man stood in the threshold like some wraith, somewhere in the shadow between the imagined future Mr. Jones longed for and the room which had brought him such knowledge. And that shadow was death.
“Who are you?” he asked. He knew these would be his last words.
“My name is Despair.”
And following the declaration he closed his eyes and dreamt of some place beyond the doors and waited for whatever end may come.