“The difficulty in dealing with a maze or labyrinth lies not so much in navigating the convolutions to find the exit but in not entering the damn thing in the first place.”
– Vera Nazarian
His father’s apartment had changed very little since Jakob last stormed out, over ten years ago. Luca had splurged and bought one of those pod coffee makers, but little else seemed to have changed. He had the same reclining chair, that he seemingly never sat in, the same horribly green couch and matching coffee table. He had the same old lamps and console television set. If these items were owned by anyone else, it would be considered antique or vintage, but under his father’s ownership it was nothing other than just old.
Jakob walked along the length of the couch, hand extended and gliding along the back, making his way to the rear of the apartment, where the two small bedrooms were located. The last time he was there, he left his father standing in his bedroom door, speechless. Jakob and his father fought frequently, usually over small details and always exacerbated by his own unwillingness to give in to his father’s demands.
The last argument however, started as a disagreement over the necessity to attend college and wound up spinning wildly out of control, until it finally ended up on how Luca had never been there for him as a child; how he learned everything on his own, from how to drive to the birds and the bees.
Honestly, as Jakob remembered more and more of his misguided youth, the more he found it amazing that he wasn’t already dead himself.
He found himself standing in the doorway of his father’s bedroom. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. The same smells hung in the air, that choked him as a child, but now brought back marvelous memories. It was a blending of aromas from his mother and father; the smell of her perfume cut by his father’s cologne, mixed with a hint of mildew and moth balls; the smells of his childhood.
The room looked exactly the same. The same drapes hung over the window. The same cherry dresser set, with various artifacts scattered across its surface. His mother’s mirrored dresser was still the way she left it, untouched by his father, except to dust it once a month, just as she had done. The majority of the room, however, was taken up by the same queen bed, squeezed into a space far too small for it, with what he presumed were the same blankets. Did this man ever buy anything new?
Jakob walked over to his father’s dresser, picked up the bottle of cologne and gave himself a spritz of it on his neck. He again closed his eyes. He could associate every memory of his father, good or bad, with the smell of that cologne.
That day, he remembered his father teaching him how to bait a hook and where to look for largemouth bass when fishing; look for trees that hang over the water or submerged trees and you will almost always find a bass lurking in the depths nearby. He remembered his father teaching him how to build and repair his bicycle; riding city streets nearly always required the knowledge of repairing flat tires, bent rims and loose chains. He remembered his father always building some kind of model car, sometimes taking bits and pieces from multiple cars in order to make something special. Jakob smashed most of those in fits of anger with his father, after his mother died.
He remembered that his dad always wore cowboy boots and large belt buckles despite his not being a cowboy, or even remotely resembling one. That day, he remembered the time a neighbor dog had bitten him in the hand and his father took him to the doctor in his cab. He remembered the smell of the old leather seats and the smell of the air freshener that dangled from the rear view mirror. He remembered looking over at his father, as he drove his cab, avoiding traffic, weaving around the cars and cursing inaudibly, and sometimes throwing a gesture or two as the cars around him honked their defiance and dissatisfaction with him.
He remembered his father telling him that his mother was never coming back. His mother’s sickness was long and desperate. Cancer devoured her slowly and without mercy. Jakob would visit her in that bedroom and curl up beside her. He would read to her from whatever book he was currently engrossed in; and she would listen. He remembered that his father would curl up beside them and he too would listen. He remembered his father’s laughter and his horrible jokes.
That day, he remembered laying in his father’s bed sobbing, after his mother’s funeral, ceaselessly sobbing, with his father next to him, stroking his head and telling him that his mother loved him and that she would miss him even more than he missed her.
His eyes opened with a jolt. Had Luca driven his mother to the other side, just as Jakob had done for his father? Had they discussed the future they never got to have? Did they talk about Jakob? Did she remember them once she got there?
He collapsed onto the bed and once again broke into sobs.
Jakob awoke to the thin sound of wood on wood. He sat up and looked around the room. He hadn’t meant to fall asleep.
Again, the sound of wood on wood emanated from the living rom, followed by a man’s voice.
Jakob’s sleep-fogged head finally associated the sound as a knock on the door, though the voice he did not recognize.
Jakob hurried back to the door and opened it cautiously, peering through the crack. At first, Jakob was not sure who he was looking at. He wasn’t exactly sure what he remembered of Thomas Hexley, but he was fairly certain he wasn’t black. He certainly remembered that he had no remarkable or rememberable features, but Jakob was fairly certain he would have remembered his being black. Being black was in fact his only remarkable feature, if you consider that remarkable at all. His face was otherwise plain but not unattractive.
“Good evening, Mr. Drevers.”
“Mr. Hexley?” Jakob stepped aside and allowed the man to enter.
Mr. Hexley walked through the small living room and sat own at the table that served as the divider between kitchen and living room. He placed the briefcase beside his chair and waited for Jakob to join him.
Jakob walked to the table and dropped into the seat across from the lawyer. They looked at one another for a moment before Thomas Hexley raised an eyebrow. “I assume your father gave you some of the details?”
“Could you have possibly warned me?”
“And you would have believed me, had I told you that you were going to give your dead father a lift back home?” Hexley tilted his head and again raised an eyebrow.
Jakob said nothing in response.
“I find that most times, in my line of work, men must see for themselves.”
“So what happened?” Jakob pressed on despite his growing fear that he passed over some precipice; stepped over some line between reality and some other world, and that there was no going back.
“No one is quite sure of that.” Hexley answered quickly. “You delivered your father to what we call Bedlam.”
“And Bedlam is?”
Hexley thought for just a minute. “Bedlam defies definition. It is the other side, but whether it is Heaven, Hell or Purgatory; no one seems to be certain. Bedlam can found on no map, nestled precariously between nowhere, somewhere and everywhere. It’s that place where things go to when they die. If it’s been lost, it’s there somewhere and if it were broken, chances are that it found itself once again whole in Bedlam.”
“As you should be.” Hexley may have smiled but Jakob wasn’t so sure. At the very least, he showed some teeth; perfectly white teeth. “Bedlam is a place of death and destruction; horror and despair; fairy tales and magic.”
“Is it dangerous?” At this point, Jakob wasn’t even sure if he cared.
“Not so long as you remain in your cab.” Hexley waved it off. “Stay in your cab and nothing there can bother you. But,” he raised a finger and pointed it at Jakob, “Once you place a foot in Bedlam, all bets are off. I will not be able to guarantee your safety.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean exactly that. If anything happens to you in Bedlam, I cannot help you. I have no power in Bedlam. In fact, I’m not sure who does hold the power in Bedlam.” Hexley shrugged his shoulders. “It is assumed that no one is in charge; and if there is, no is talking about it.”
“You’ve got to have some idea.”
“Everyone has ideas,” the elder gentleman agreed, “but as I said, no one is certain.”
“So what’s the point of it?”
“It’s the last test.”
“Yes.” Hexley furrowed his brow and rubbed at it. “it’s the last test for the soul. A labyrinth that souls must follow in order to go on to the next place.”
“No,” Hexley replied, “a maze has multiple paths and is meant to disorient you. A labyrinth has only one path, though it my twist and turn in the appearance of a maze, there is in fact only one path.”
“Then what’s the next place?”
Mr. Hexley frowned at Jakob. “Do I look dead to you?”
“Then how would I know?”
Jakob shrugged. “What is so dangerous about it?”
“The streets are filled with the old and outdated, the useless and lost; and that just describes those who live there. They are the ugly and undesirables; the dead and dying; wretched refuse from your teaming shores. Those without a home or unwilling to go back to the one they did have. Those who are lost, find them themselves unwittingly walking the streets of Bedlam.” Hexley glared at Jakob. “And those are not the kind of people you want to associate with.”
“You’ve been to Bedlam?”
“I reside there.”
Mr. Hexley’s face was without emotion. It was as plain as ever, giving Jakob no hint as to the direction he should go. Thomas Hexley always made Jakob feel a little uncomfortable, like he was talking to someone of power, but that evening he felt as though he was talking to a deity or demigod, a man who was no man.
“How long have you lived there?” Thomas pressed on despite every impulse telling him to stop; pleading with him to stop.
“Which are you?”
Mr. Hexley’s head tilted to the side and he sharpened his gaze on the man across from him. “Which of what?” He asked.
“Stop!” Jakob screamed to himself. “Are you the undesirable, the dead, the dying, the lost or…”
“I am there by choice,” Mr. Hexley interrupted. “Long ago, I lost something and went there to find it.”
That hung in the air for some time.
At least Hexley began as a man, though there was no telling what he had become in order to stay in Bedlam; to come and go as he pleased. “Did you find it?”
“No.” Thomas Hexley stands, briefcase in hand. “But that is a story for another time.” The man attempts to smile an it is almost convincing. “For now, I must be off.” He starts toward the door.
Jakob follows behind. “How do I do this?” He asks. “How do I know when to take a fare to Bedlam?”
Hexley stops and turns around at the door. “That’s easy. If they present you with 2 coins, they are going to Bedlam. The rest seems to work itself out.”
“It just works out?”
“Yes. And I have never tried to understand the way in which it works. Just know that it does.”
Jakob approached the man and extended his hand. “Thank you for your help.”
Mr. Hexley takes his hand and holds it within his own. “I’ll do whatever I can for you, just as I did your father.” With that, Hexley releases his hand, exits through the door and disappears down the darkened hallway.