“The Hazing” | Fiction by Francis Levy

   I was congratulating myself on a deep, dreamless sleep that had only been interrupted by my need to urinate. I fully expected to fall back into it effortlessly. I looked out of the lace curtains that framed our bedroom window. The cotton was thinning, but still the fabric would outlive us. Jane frequently barked about how we never did everything and how the house was falling apart, the stuffing coming out of the beloved maroon leather hassock I’d grown up with in my parents’ Manhattan apartment. But still the vegetation of our backyard, as unruly as it seemed, was lush. I was thinking it was like the hair of the young woman cavorting in the waves that morning — as a brick crashed through the window.
      The brick had obviously been dug up from the ground since along with the shattered glass, which was everywhere, our lovely stained wood floors with their wide mahogany boards were now covered with dirt, sand, and even a few rusty nails. I could hear the sounds of loud music playing. I recognized the song: Huey Lewis’s “The Power of Love,” one that always made me bob my head, but I couldn’t tell if the voices were just the background from a live track or whether there were a whole bunch of people in my driveway.
      I didn’t see any truck parked outside and there wasn’t a car full of the kind of troublemakers we’d encountered many years before. They’d shown up in the middle of the night and then hightailed it out, their tires spinning in the gravel, after they’d dumped a garbage bag filled with dead animal carcasses and human waste on the lawn.
      We’ve never really known anybody in the Hamptons and I’ve always felt a mixture of contempt for all the shallow socializing and at the same time dejection about being so anonymous in a place, famed for celebrity, in which achievement is publicly awarded. Plainly I never made the grade on the local social register. But I had no idea that anyone could have been reading my mind when I was thinking my envious and hostile thoughts. I’d assumed all these years that nobody knew who we were and that no one had known we’d had a dog who died and who was buried under a tree in our backyard or that my wife and I fought, particularly when we felt slighted by some parent from our children’s school who barely said hello to us at the Sag Harbor Cinema and who plainly didn’t want to risk being seen in public with a couple who existed in social purgatory.
  We had our fights and then suppressed the painful knowledge, which might have explained our condition like cancer sufferers who do everything to deny the reality of a quickly metastasizing condition. Now we were not simply being ignored. The thing that made us undesirable to the arbiters of beauty and talent now made us targets for attack. Perhaps we would be run out of town or even exiled to a labor camp, like the intellectuals in China during the Cultural Revolution.
       I was going to call the police, but it occurred to me that it was a little like complaining to the teacher back in elementary school. If a bully was involved he was likely to sweet talk himself out of any problems and hit you twice as hard in the stomach when no one was looking. Maybe we were going through a rite of passage. Maybe it was like a fraternity hazing. Maybe this was how you got invited to become part of the social life of the Hamptons.
    I started to wish that another brick would sail through one of the other windows in the bedroom. Perhaps this was how invitations to parties came. I actually got down on the floor to see if there was some sort of an engraved invite — the kind of thing that used to be sent out for weddings and bar mitzvahs — attached to the brick. Meanwhile the clamor outside my window seemed to be increasing. If there was a real crowd outside, it had begun to swell. I had fantasies of a lynch mob of social arbiters dressed up in Ku Klux Klan hoods. I was afraid but I ventured downstairs, thinking it might also be a surprise party for us new recruits to the social scene.
      It was like jumping in a cold pool. I decided to bite the bullet. I swung open the front door, expecting to be met by a hail of strange faces crying out “Surprise!” I guess I expected a group of genial looking well-wishers who’d known of my existence all these years. It would all be a learning experience in which I’d discover that I’d simply been suffering from a case of chronic social anxiety. My mental state had prevented my taking in the reality of the situation.
      I had a house. There was nothing wrong with me. There never had been. I belonged. The only question was, did I want to belong?
      However, when I opened the door, I wasn’t reassured. Instead, I was met with the blackness of a moonless night. I thought for a minute I might be teased and steeled myself for the blinding headlights and music that would shatter the silence. But nothing happened. I was afraid that if I wandered out into the darkness somehow I would be swallowed up by an unnamed dark force, a kind of earthbound black hole, a form of quicksand that existed in the air, or perhaps even one of those wormholes that you read about in science fiction and that, in this case, would be an unwanted shortcut transporting me eons away from my familiar life. I was also afraid that I might simply be locked out of the safety of my own house by a force from within.
      During storms the doors banged shut. It was at this point that I jumped. Where was Jane? It was as if I had forgotten she existed. She’d slept through everything. I ran upstairs, calling her name loudly and expecting her to jump up angrily, complaining that her heart was pounding as she did when she was awakened abruptly. But I was aghast to find that her side of the bed was still made up and her lamp light off.
    I had awakened to the sound without even looking. Now I had to fill in the empty spaces. I scoured my mind to remember some forgotten bit of information that would have been readily apparent to me before I’d gone off to sleep. I was sure it would come to me. With all the excitement I was just having a memory lapse of some sort.
      Against my own common sense I wandered out onto the property. It’s a modest piece of land, with an outsized weeping willow, on Sagg Main. Our neighborhood is unusually quiet for the Hamptons. There’s only the post office, a general store, and a vegetable stand from which we buy tomatoes and corn during the summer months.
  I’m not one of those people who believes in parapsychology. When a spoon bends, there’s usually an explanation like the fact that someone has held it over a hot flame. I also don’t believe in spirits or channeling. I don’t believe there are mediums who can help you to speak to the dead. I’m a materialist. Once you’re dead you’re dead. In fact my views have, in more than one case, resulted in my not talking with the living, who have gotten annoyed with my insistence that there is no meaning in the universe and that we are no different than the average fly that merely vanishes into oblivion when it’s swatted.
       “Once I’m dead I’m going to be as dead as a doornail.” I said it aloud, secretly hoping that I would be challenged and that a white light would hit me the way it did Paul on the road to Damascus. At that very moment, the partial amnesia about Jane’s whereabouts was lifted. Her mother had a transient ischemic attack and Jane had gone with her to the see the doctor and had stayed over for the night.
      I walked out of the driveway and saw the cause of the trouble. It was another bunch of teenaged revelers who were already making trouble several houses down, right in front of the old cemetery. I only hoped that the pranks, which surely involved drinking, didn’t end up in something even worse. Only the week before, there’d been a terrible head-on collision in which a young man, the scion of a socially prominent family, who had been drinking heavily, went through the windshield of his Kia.
      I called 911, cleaned up the mess on my floor, pulling down one of the storm windows to cover over the broken glass and, despite all the excitement, fell right back into a sound sleep.

   Francis Levy is a Wainscott resident and the author of the novels “Erotomania: A Romance,” and “Seven Days in Rio.” He blogs at TheScreamingPope.com and on The Huffington Post. His reviews, “Guestwords,” and stories have previously appeared in The Star.