Black sludge seeps from the walls; drops from the ceiling and splashes against my face. I do not even close my eyes, though some drips in. My skin, from neck to calf, sticks to the mattress underneath. It’s impossible to tell where the bed ends and I begin. I cannot remember when it was any different. I cannot remember before the black. The sludge, now pooled so high it covers the radiator, hisses and groans below me, and bubbles float to its surface and pop. It begins to spill onto the mattress. It feels like nothing. It smells like nothing. But soon I will drown. Good. I’ve chosen this. Even if I could pull my flesh from the bedding, I wouldn’t. I choose to stay. And I choos—


I am a liar. I am sitting here, in my actual room, lying. Writing nonsense about black slime to distract me from what is. And what is, is that I am sitting here, alone, tapping on a keyboard. Tapping out a fiction. A fake. A forgery of my experience. I am too scared to write the truth, so I hide it under layers of deniability. Invented characters. Surreal events. It’s fucking disgraceful. Here’s the reality: I’m drowning in student loans, lonely, sexually starved, physically pained, and depressed. Because of the pain—early-onset diabetic neuropathy—I often cannot leave my bed. Because I cannot leave my bed, I am lonely, sexually and otherwise. And while I lie immobile, isolated and unloved, the student loans continue to pile up, the interest accumulating quicker than I can pay it. And so I’m depressed. That’s the truth. I am fucking depressed. And I—


Again, I’ve lied. The two paragraphs above were not written in my room but in a bustling cafe. A bustling cafe with glass walls on every side and sunshine spilling in. And I am still there now, writing this. I do not have student loans. I am not in pain. I am not depressed. A moment ago, an older guy asked, “You still using the outlet?” and gestured to my phone charger with no phone on the end. I replied, “Nope. It’s all yours, my friend,” and he plugged in. Then I smiled and retreated back into my Google Doc; back into my layers of masks and manufactured realities. This paragraph is one of them. I mean, what I said is true—I’m at a cafe and all that—but everything I’ve written thus far has been to create an impression on you. Even this very sentence. This piece, up until this point, has been intended to make you think of me in a certain way. To make you think “well, isn’t that clever! Isn’t he a clever man!” And those last bits, yes, the few sentences just prior to this, were written to try to give you the impression I’m self-aware, that I’m oh so conscious of myself. And that sentence was to try to portray I’m self-aware of my want to be perceived as self-aware, in other words, very self-aware. But it’s not just to you I present these contrived personas. Think of the poor old man and his simple request to charge his phone. “Nope. It’s all yours, my friend,” I said. “Nope. It’s all yours, my friend.” Would I have said this to an actual friend—someone who’d already experienced another version of me, another set of artificial attributes, another forgery? Of course not. I said what I said the way I said it because I wanted the man to think of me as the nice, friendly guy at the cafe. The nice, friendly guy, tapping on his laptop, drinking a black coffee at the cafe. It’s forgeries all the way down. So I’ll continue to write my imagined characters, impossible happenings, tales of fiction. Because I’m a liar. Nothing I do is really real but the unconsciousness of sleep.


And I’m not at a fucking cafe.