The Bugbear is a short story I wrote in 2019. It’s a group of adults playing D&D. But it’s also about seeing things — and people — in a different light.
THE GREAT RISE is a short story I wrote for the Owl Canyon Press Winter 2018 Hackathon Contest. My story placed in the 24 Finalists, and was published in an Owl Canyon anthology collection. You can purchase your own copy HERE!
It’s a quirky, fantasy world tale about life, death, hope, and the lack thereof, inspired predominantly by Neil Gaiman’s Stardust.
The Great Rise
by R.Tim Morris
Beyond the cracked sidewalk, and the telephone pole with layers of flyers in a rainbow of colors, and the patch of dry brown grass there stood a ten-foot high concrete block wall, caked with dozens of coats of paint. There was a small shrine at the foot of it, with burnt out candles and dead flowers and a few soggy teddy bears. One word of graffiti filled the wall, red letters on a gold background: Rejoice!
The letters — as crimson as fresh blood from one angle, copper-brown like dried blood from another — had always been there in one hue or another. The enormity of the single word was near-overwhelming, looming over the surrounding scraps and vestiges of heavy hearted human regard. The town of Buffleton was filled with them. Photos of lost loved ones. Crumpled notes of melancholic thoughts, stuffed into coffee cans meant for donations. And yet, if one looked closer, one would see that the tiny, complex details within the surface of the wall — written in red and scribbled in gold — belied the word’s monolithic presence. Rejoice! The intricate details ranged from fine brush work to thick stabs of muted color. All of it added irony to the larger message: these were names of each and every citizen of Buffleton who had died. And how each one of them met their end.
From Alwyn EmberStone (natural causes) to Remi FrostBorne (lost at sea). From Tobias Brownbranch (eaten by goblins) to Her Highness Jaelynn Dew Rider (medical complications related to goblin bite). From the clumsy Bumper Marshburn (electrocution) to the brave Owl-Phoenix PhoenixBone (bee sting) to even the unfortunate Sir Ludwig FireScribe (bicycle accident).
On and on it went. Every moment that ended in tragedy was plastered to the surface of the wall; on what was known as The Great Rise. On and on. Were these meant as warning signs for the poor people of Buffleton? Lessons in the dangers that might present themselves to anyone at any time? A statement on the fragility of living? The trouble with goblins? Well, it was all of that. And none of that. On and on and on.
In all the annals of history, folklore, and wisdom, the word “hero” is not a word to be tossed about lightly. But for the sake of this tale of The Great Rise, young Jonathon Morningmist, by default, might be considered as such. To Jonathon, the wall was an enemy. It was a thief, having stolen his father from him years before. As his father would explain it — and just as all of Buffleton would carefully explain to every curious child — on the other side of that painted concrete wall was a whole other land. To even the most hopeful, it seemed virtually unattainable, like another universe entirely. The official belief, as Jonathon’s father first illustrated with his son on his knee, was that upon the grass on the other side there were no shrines. No candles or wilted flowers or stuffed bears. No names scribbled onto the surface of The Great Rise. Because there was one more thing that did not exist on the other side: death. There was no death by natural causes over there. No accidents. No goblins. There was only the possibility of ever more life and happiness. Ever more wonder and journeys of discovery. And always more love. A bottomless well overflowing with love. Jonathon Morningmist was both in awe of and afraid of this possibility.
But no one knew for certain what was over there. Over time, there had been a few who hopped the wall. Against town orders, they chose to leave everything in Buffleton behind in favor of the Forever-Life. They just wanted to know. They were so curious that they were willing to forget lovers, friends, and neighbors. Leaving vacant their blacksmith shops, janitorial supply stores, sushi bars, and generations old, family-run plumbing and heating businesses. Even young sons who once sat upon knees listening to fairy tales and legends of caution were abandoned with little more regard than day-old goldfish. All of the makings of these admittedly moderate lives were coldly, categorically dismissed in favor of what might be discovered beyond The Great Rise. For these were only ever temporary desires anyway, weren’t they? The hope for something more, shrouded by the unknown — that was the more powerful siren call, wasn’t it?
And yet, as the story goes, any and all who ever crossed over were never to be seen again. For whatever reason — whether it was the verisimilitude of the Forever-Life, or maybe something better, perhaps something worse — they never returned to the more hopeless and the less brave who continued to wait, and who continued to write ever more names on the wall.
Young Jonathon Morningmist did not know what to believe, only that his father chose hopping The Great Rise over the life he had in Buffleton. So Jonathon did not know much about heroes. He was just a kid — exactly as his father always called him: “a kid” — who wished for a day when the flames of hope might flicker. And one day they did, when a particularly curious wanderer found his way back to Buffleton again.
Jonathon had just finished his shift at Ye Olde Espresso, his aunt’s coffee shop, where he’d spent the majority of his day serving mintberry tea and cleaning the washrooms. Jonathon was not a terribly happy kid; he hadn’t felt much happiness since his father decided to make a spectacle of himself, catapulting over The Great Rise and disappearing forever. Unhappiness was not so uncommon a feeling around these parts, even for the majority of kids who hadn’t watched their fathers launch themselves into the unknown via a creaky contraption they’d cobbled together in their sheds the night before.
Truthfully, most kids were like Jonathon Morningmist. For one, they disliked school, because there was nothing worth learning at school that could possibly ever get them out of, and as far away as possible from Buffleton. To add further layers to their melancholy, there were a few more factors at play: boys were in love with girls and girls were in love with boys and all sorts of children were in love with all sorts of other children, but every last one of them was unable to show it. Also, the weather was always terrible in Buffleton, and no one is happy in terrible weather. Not to mention: there really wasn’t much in the way of hope for the children, since the grown-ups only ever seemed to care about what was or wasn’t on the other side of The Great Rise. Grown-ups, it seemed, were weak and afraid of everything. All of them. And all kids would become them eventually. And what is there about being weak and afraid that might ever be appealing enough to make a kid wish to become one of them? Better to simply make coffee but pour tea and be lonely until your aunt’s cafe is your cafe and you’re left with nothing but fleeting ruminations regarding what could have been had you not been so weak and afraid to be something better. And on and on it went.
On his way home, Jonathon Morningmist walked upon the crumbling sidewalk which ran alongside The Great Rise. Jonathon brushed his smooth, youthful hand along the rough bumps of the wall’s weathered concrete surface; generations of paint slapped on, layer after layer after layer. On and on and on.
Jonathon had just reached an aged, crooked telephone pole when he stopped. There was a new shrine that wasn’t there that morning, painted rocks were still drying. It appeared as though Finnigan Hambone met his demise sometime that afternoon (cause of death still unreported). Jonathon had heard distant sirens earlier and wondered who they might have been for.
It was then, as Jonathon contemplated the details of what might have taken Finnigan Hambone away, that Jonathon looked up. And it was as he looked up, that he spotted a pair of hands at the top of the wall; fingers from the other side, clutching the rim of The Great Rise. Jonathon gave his head a good hard shake, for no one had ever seen hands on the wall before. Never. It shouldn’t have been possible.
But those hands were definitely there. “Hello up there!” Jonathon called. The fingers were more gray than his own, but they were definitely human so the fear of another goblin attack was probably out of the question. For now, at least. “Hello?” he called again, perhaps with more emphasis on self-concern this time. After all, one never could know when one could definitively rule out another goblin attack. The fingers quivered a little; enough to make Jonathon quiver himself, and he stepped backward onto the road without even noticing. Then the fingers disappeared, sliding slowly from sight like slugs and snails might travel over a hilltop. And with that Jonathon shrugged to himself, believing the vision had to have been brought on by still-lingering death fumes in the air, and he stepped back up onto the sidewalk, and continued on his way.
To say something about his sheer indifference, Jonathon Morningmist had merely made it to the next twisted telephone pole by the time the whole occurrence was out of his mind; those gray fingers had slipped from his memory far swifter than they had from the wall. But Jonathon stopped immediately upon hearing a voice calling from behind him. He shook his head again, this time trying to recall what he’d seen mere moments before. “You, down there!” the voice called to the kid. It was a man’s voice. “Might you give me a hand?”
Jonathon turned. “Me?” he asked, and pointed limply at his heart. As though there had been any creatures around besides himself, a few scuttling sluice-newts, and piles of crusty, mud-soaked stuffed bears. Then he saw the fingers again, up on the cusp of the wall. The best he could do was continue to stare blankly, and while he was already at his most incompetent, Jonathon went ahead and gave his slipping pants a bit of a tug.
“Nevermind,” the man said, struggling to keep himself aloft. “I — I’ve got this.” Then, with every bit of strength he could muster, the man heaved himself up and onto the top of the wall. He sat down and wiped his brow with a cloth he’d plucked magically from his pants pocket. “Boy, you really aren’t very good help, are you? I’m not the man I used to be, but looks like I still got it. Don’t I? Not that you would know what it was I had before what it is I’ve got now.” This man, even from Jonathon Morningmist’s point of view ten feet below, was slight. His bare arms were taut and sinewy, but overall he was certainly small, like a branch that had fallen months ago and begun withering. He wore a vest, torn pants, a belt with many pockets, and no shoes. Jonathon found it difficult to not stare at the man’s gray feet and blackened toenails.
“Who are you?” the kid asked the man on The Great Rise. “And what brings you to Buffleton?” A good question, since not only has there never been a single soul who had ever crossed The Great Rise from the other side, but no soul had ever willingly come to Buffleton before now.
The stranger laughed an impish laugh. The kind of cackle that clattered unsatisfyingly off of everywhere and nowhere at once. “What you mean to ask is: What brings me back to Buffleton?” Jonathon wasn’t sure if that was what he’d intended to ask, so he chose to say nothing more instead. The man stood back up and stretched his wiry arms out wide. “I am Doyle Finncaster! Rejoice! I’m back!” Jonathon could not even be bothered to shake his head in transience. “You don’t know the name Doyle Finncaster? I owned the auto shop on Blocker Street!”
The auto shop on Blocker Street had been vacant for years, before finally being razed and replaced by yet another paint store. But Jonathon didn’t mention any of that. He asked, “So what brings you back to Buffleton? And is anyone else coming back with you? And also, why are you so gray?”
“Well, you see. As it turns out, I forgot my wrench. Did you know there’s no such thing as wrenches over there?” With a traveler’s thumb, Doyle Finncaster pointed behind him, back over to the other side of The Great Rise. “I don’t know how I’ve gone so long without a wrench.” The man scratched at his scalp for a few long seconds, then inspected his hands, first the fronts, then the backs, and then the fronts again. “And what do you mean I’m gray?”
“Your skin—” The grayness reminded Jonathon of the eldest mountain range or the freshest of ash. The shadow of a dark rain cloud or the brackish marshes in Buffleton Valley. “You appear to be…well. You look like an old tea bag. Are you certain no one else is coming back with you?”
Doyle just shrugged. He observed the ground below him, scanning the heaps of mementos and shrines. It was not long before his eyebrows jumped. “Well, what do you know. Boy, do you see that shiny object over there?” At the foot of the telephone pole and partially hidden beneath a cardboard poster with the picture of a woman who had recently been eaten by goblins, someone had left behind an open toolbox. Jonathon crouched to look, though he could not identify any of the tools within. “The contraption that looks like the anticipative claw of a hungry crab-bear. That’s a wrench! Toss it up here, would you?” With an unsure arm, Jonathon miraculously launched the tool upwards and into the slight gray hands of Doyle Finncaster. “You may seem a bit angsty and angry, but you’re not so unhelpful after all. Enjoy the rest of your walk, kid.” And with that, Doyle Finncaster leapt off the wall, disappearing back into the waiting, curious land of the Forever-Life.
Angry? Jonathon Morningmist did not know he was angry, just as Doyle Finncaster did not seem to realize he was gray. Sure, he was unhappy that his father left him. And he was unhappy that he couldn’t seem to admit his feelings toward Gisele Cloudskimmer, the toothiest girl in his class. And he was unhappy about the angle of the sun on most days. But angry? The kid thought about the whole peculiar exchange that had just transpired. He thought about it a bit harder than he usually thought about anything, for he knew the chances of its details fading from his mind were very good, and he did not wish to forget them. So he continued to think all night, and all the way into the next morning when he suddenly — and most surprisingly — had a plan: that he would be the next resident of Buffleton to cross over The Great Rise. If Jonathon’s feelings were becoming muddled, then maybe there would be answers on the other side. And like his father did before him, he sounded the town gong in the middle of the Square the next morning, and made certain a crowd would be there to witness his bravery. And there was a crowd indeed.
The kid got up onto a milk crate and raised his hand. A murmur went through the crowd and then it fell silent, except for a few people shouting words of encouragement at him. The kid acknowledged them with a nod and a shy smile. In the full light of day, he looked less angry and more beautiful. He waited until people stopped shouting. A siren could be heard, maybe five or ten blocks away. The kid raised the bullhorn, pressed the button, and began to speak.
He started, “Yesterday—”, and then realized the junky bullhorn he’d scavenged from the garage wasn’t working. But he continued to speak into it nevertheless. “Yesterday, a gray man named Doyle Finncaster appeared over The Great Rise, like a neighbor might stick his head over the fence, and he asked me for a wrench.” Some of the oldest amongst the crowd muttered and whispered, recalling the name immediately, for Finncaster’s auto shop was not only reputable for great service, but also offered a complimentary mug of mintberry tea with every visit. “So I tossed him a wrench and then he simply disappeared again. Just like my father disappeared many years ago. And like people you’ve all loved have disappeared from your own lives. Even though the wall tells us to celebrate. Rejoice!”
“Rejoice!” the people repeated, as was Buffleton custom. Even Gisele Cloudskimmer, the object of Jonathon’s affections, was calling out amidst the crowd. And maybe it was just Jonathon’s imagination, but Gisele appeared incredibly invested in what he had to say.
Jonathon bumbled a little, but he would not be deterred from delivering his somewhat awkward and poorly-planned speech. “Rejoice? Why are we meant to take delight in their leaving? Living forever sounds like a terrible bit of burden, don’t you think? What do you imagine they find when they get there? Do they ever get where they think they’re going? Do they ever find what it was they hoped to find?” He thought about the possibilities of what he could say next and how he might say it. What words would hit Gisele Cloudskimmer just right, so he might catch that wonderful, toothy smile of hers? “Do they ever think of the people of Buffleton? Do they miss us? Doyle Finncaster missed his wrench — enough to come back for it — and yet no one has ever come back for us. No one has ever really been a hero.”
Jonathon paused; a hope in the front of his mind that someone in the crowd would ask if he might be that hero. If he would cross over the wall for the good folks of Buffleton, rather than escaping in the middle of the night like so many cowards, launching themselves from crudely constructed catapults. Aside from fear, what was stopping him from treading into the Forever-Life? But no one asked these questions. They were too afraid to ask. Maybe it wasn’t heroism, but Gisele Cloudskimmer seemed impressed nevertheless. And to prove it, there was that smile of hers.
Then, someone did call out from the tense crowd. He said, “So what are you going to do, Ditch-Nut?” Hmph. I am going to cross The Great Rise, Jonathon thought to himself in his most bravest of inside voices. I will be the hero you all need. Another asked, “Will you bring them more wrenches?” Jonathon shook his head. Still another worried, “If you’re not here, then there’s one less person for the goblins to eat before they eat me. I don’t like those odds!” Jonathon shrugged his shoulders.
The interim Mayor of Buffleton — who was only in power until next Tuesday, when the body of the late Queen Dew Rider would be ceremoniously sent down the slough into the waiting maw of ocean-wolves and her successor would then be plucked from a lottery system held at the bingo hall (the caste system in Buffleton was nightmarishly complicated) — was there with his royal entourage. He had a working bullhorn, and he himself asked, “Son of Morningmist, are you saying you spoke with Doyle Finncaster?” Jonathon nodded. “He just popped up over The Great Rise and asked for a wrench?” Jonathon nodded at this, too. “He didn’t say anything about my car, did he? It’s long due for a fuel injection cleaning, and once you find a mechanic you trust, it’s terribly hard to change!” It seemed Jonathon was all out of nods. The town didn’t care, or they were too scared to endorse or reinforce his decision. Even his aunt — who was initially at the forefront of the crowd — was silent at the very back. Did anyone in Buffleton have any encouragement at all for him? Did—
“When do you leave, Jonathon Morningmist?” It was Gisele. “When does your hero’s journey commence?” More sirens clamoured off in the distance; nearly everyone scattered so they could do a head count in order to find who was missing this time. Jonathon and Gisele remained amid the chaos. The two of them locked eyes, as if each was just now noticing that the other had noticed all along.
Jonathon motioned behind him. “Just as soon as I cross this wall,” he said. The Great Rise had felt so imposing before, now it seemed as though he could simply hop over it. Alas, even on the single milk crate, he still couldn’t reach the top. “Looks like I may need a boost, however.” Jonathon held out a hand for Gisele to take and she ambled closer. “I do have but one request of you, after I cross over.” Gisele cocked her head a little in anticipation of his inquiry. Jonathon patted the wall and said, “When I’m gone, please do not add my name to The Great Rise. Because I plan on coming back.”
From the milk crate to Gisele’s surprisingly sturdy shoulders, the kid lifted himself to the top of the wall. He had some difficulty balancing, but managed to stand on his two awkward feet. Bisecting the two lands, Jonathon could see the town of Buffleton behind him — Gisele Cloudskimmer below him — but he could not see anything before him but thick vegetation on the other side. With a deep gulp and a big breath, Jonathon Morningmist leapt off, eventually landing into the plushy palm of some still-dewey, exotic shrub.
Planting his feet in the unknown dirt, Jonathon immediately saw the other side of wall, covered in thick fingers of ivy and other similar vines; some blooming flowers of fuschia, cerulean, and ivory; others full of prickly though harmless-looking spines. Every spine and thorn on every plant in Buffleton looked like it would kill someone instantly. And though everything on the other side was as green as the greenest of poster paints made from the freshest of harvested mountainside joonee fruits, Jonathon did stop for a moment and wondered if there might be any beaches over here. He’d always wanted to see a beach, feel the ocean breeze, and smell the surf. He may have even had dreams of taking Gisele Cloudskimmer there one day.
When considering if she might enjoy that dream too, he turned back to the wall and called out for her. “Gisele!” he called, but was answered by silence. “Gisele Cloudskimmer!” he yelled louder. But there was no answer. Already he was having misgivings about crossing over. Should he turn back now? He asked himself aloud: “Did I just make a grave mistake?”
This time he expected silence as an answer. But then, a woman’s words startled him: “Of course ye made a mistake, ye bloated fool!” The words were spit from some knee-high bush. Its leaves rattled harshly, though none came dislodged. But Jonathon did not even step back. He actually leaned in and dipped his face of burgeoning courage even closer to the foliage.
The leaves parted in a kind of indescribable exoticism, like a magician might reveal some sleight of hand, uncovering what Jonathon could only describe as: “A goblin!?” Indeed, this scraggly woman was merely knee-high; her skin a green-gray sort of worn leather; her mouth a toothless cavern of echoing, virulent hisses.
“Nay!” she yelped. “I’d have eaten ye whole t’were I a goblin!” Jonathon wasn’t sure how that would have worked exactly — the eating-him-whole bit — considering how much bigger than her the kid was. “I crossed that wall, just like ye! Buffleton gave me the ol’ scaly hoof too, be knowin’ it.” She scuttled closer, seemingly unafraid of this new traveler in her midst. Jonathon steeled himself, determined to remain fearless. One of her eyes twitched so fervently it almost appeared shut. “Name’s Barbara. Barbo, I calls meself here. Use’ta teach kids like ye — smaller kids, mind ye — over in Buffleton.” Barbo spit into the dirt so hard some grubs wriggled loose from the earth. “Teacher?! Shoulda owned the paint supply store on account fer all the coats there’ve been put on that blasted wall. Wouldst have made a killin’. And then…well, then I go and find meself here.” She seemed to transform from indignant to dispirited faster than Jonathon could process. “Well?”
“Well, indeed.” Jonathon confirmed, though he was not certain what it was she was welling about. With hands in his pockets, the kid caught sight of a glint of something within a patch of long grass. It was a wrench. But this wasn’t the same wrench that Doyle Finncaster had brought back over the wall with him the day before. No, his wrench was an adjustable wrench and this was most definitely of the socket variety. Jonathon wondered if this was the woman’s home, here in the overgrown but wonderfully alive vegetation. He wondered if she realized that he was not a bloated giant, but she was likely just a shrunken, grayed version of her old self. He wondered many things. But instead, he asked Barbo: “You have wrenches here?”
Barbo tried to spot where the kid was eyeing, but she could not see anything of the sort. “Wrenches? Everyone perceives this cursed land differently. Be it the size of interlopers or the stink of a gringemeat sandwich. Some folks think they’ve come here to live, whilst others only remain for the hope of death. Some fools see wrenches, some don’t. But surely ye have better questions than this?”
Jonathon Morningmist thought about the perceptions of others. And a little bit about his own. He did not know if the wrench even mattered or why Doyle Finncaster must have stuck his head over The Great Rise in the first place. He did not care to wonder why the denizens of this side of the wall were apparently shrinking, nor did he have a clue what gringemeat was. In fact, for the moment, he was not even concerned about Gisele Cloudskimmer. Instead he asked: “Have you seen my father?” And he took a moment to try to recall the man from memory. “He had one eye of green and another of a color I could never place. He had arms like the mountains in fables. He had a beard so virile and thick it took it him four days to shave and one day for it to grow back. He was a wonderful man but a terrible dad, and he hastily shot himself over The Great Rise from a catapult without even a word. His name was Morningmist.”
“Doesn’t sound familiar. But everyone perceives this cursed land differently,” Barbo repeated. She plucked two grubs from the dirt and swallowed one whole, offering the other to the kid. “Would ye care? Methinks they taste like the pit of arm, but ye might find they taste like fancies.”
Jonathon declined the grub, and Barbo gulped it down. Thoughts of what might be found on the other side kept firing through his mind; crissing and crossing like dozens of zapper bugs in a jar under the moon. How far could his father have gotten on his journey? Perhaps it’s true: that those on this side don’t know death. But are they shrinking and shriveling into crazed goblin-folk and discolored wrench-hunters instead? Do they regret their choices in coming here? Do they ever miss the good people of Buffleton? “I have one question for you, Barbo. Do people here live forever?”
“Tis true we know not of death. But that don’t mean we don’t ever hope to meet her.” Barbo looked skyward; through the overlapping leaves and fronds and stalks and folioles, there remained a pinhole of sky above. She took it in, as though it were sustenance far, far more nourishing than a handful of grubs or gringemeat sandwiches. “Still, ye decided to come here too. But ye have yet to decide if ye be staying.”
It was then that Jonathon Morningmist first concerned himself with what must be the truth. “Once I’ve decided to stay there is no return, is there? This is why no one has ever crossed The Great Rise and come back to Buffleton?”
“Some decisions are our own. Some are not. But rejoice in the decision ye shall make, son of Morningmist. And I will rejoice for ye. But make it soon.” Barbo shuffled back into the vegetation, soon fully faded from both sight and memory. Perceptions of what is, what was, and what might have been, were indeed very much skewed in the land of the Forever-Life.
Jonathon stepped further into the foliage, though he stopped himself before he felt it was too far, or far too late to turn back. Somehow he knew he would know when. There was a luring call from the vegetation; what it was saying, Jonathon could not tell.
Turning back to The Great Rise, he now realized the ivy for what it was. The distance from it proved to be important, for he could not have read the message from any closer: the ivy and vines grew together, forming the words “Never Is Forever.” On and on and on.
Taking hold of the sturdy branch of a mossy and scaly-barked tree, the kid heaved himself upwards. He held tight; the branch seemed to pulse in his grip, like it had a heart of its own. Perhaps regrets of its own as well, if that was even a possibility. Likely it was. He carefully maneuvered along the trusty tree arm, before finally stepping off and returning to the top of The Great Rise. He could still see Buffleton there, but Gisele’s whereabouts were cloudy. He sensed the worry and fear within the town, but also, he could simultaneously sense the misgivings and wantings within the green land of the Forever-Life. And just as a hero would do, Jonathon Morningmist made his decision.
There She Was is a short story I wrote in 2018, between novel projects. It’s a little dark, a little sad, a little funny, and a little hopeful. Like all my favourite stories tend to be.
I was given the following short story prompt: “Write a scene that incorporates the following three things: espionage, a bagpipe player, and bacon.” (1000 words or less)
It’s a little unorthodox, and fairly preposterous, but here it is.
THE FIRST DEGREE
“You’re crazy, you know that?”
“I know that. You’ve been telling me for years now. But shut up, okay? The scene’s about to start.”
“Fine. I’ll whisper. How about that?”
“Better. I’d still prefer if you just shut up though.”
“You know, I told myself the last time I helped you that it was going to be for the last time. And now? I’ve snuck onto a movie set with you, and we’re wearing kilts and carrying bagpipes.”
“Honestly? If you truly want to never help me again, you’ve got to start making some better excuses.”
“Come on. You were clearly giving me the first — and worst — excuse that popped into that tiny head of yours.”
“I was not!”
“You told me you were bedazzling your grandma’s purse today. Now, granted, that’s maybe not the worst excuse you could have come up with, but it’s got to be pretty close.”
“No, you shut up. And you’re holding that bagpipe the wrong way again. Don’t you remember anything I told you?”
“What makes you the bagpipe authority anyway?”
“My cousin played the bagpipes. He was in a marching band and everything.”
“So he knows how to play the bagpipe song?”
“Every song on the bagpipe sounds exactly the same. I thought there was only one song. Isn’t it just called ‘The Bagpipe Song’?”
“How do you know?”
“Because that would be a stupid name.”
“My feet hurt. How long do we have to stand here for anyway?”
“Didn’t you log the plan away the last two times I told you?”
“I just like the reminders. And really, I still have no idea why you need to do this so badly. What’s with you and Kevin Bacon anyway?”
“Listen to me. Kevin Bacon is the center of the Hollywood universe! And the ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ defines how close you are to the center of that universe. If you’re a First Degree, it means you’ve made it.”
“Wouldn’t a Zero Degree be even closer though?”
“Well, yeah. I guess technically Zero would be closer than One. But that would mean I’d have to basically become Kevin Bacon.”
“Like John Travolta did in ‘Face Off’?”
“Kevin Bacon wasn’t in Face Off. That was Nicholas Cage.”
“What’s his Bacon Number?”
“Two. Same as Travolta, actually.”
“So you’re better than the both of them?”
“Not yet, I’m not. But once you start shutting up, I’ll be one step closer.”
“Can we go over the plan again?”
“It’s simple, really. We already paid off the guys whose parts we’re taking, and we paid them more than they were getting for this gig in the first place. So everyone wins, right?”
“I don’t see how I win in this scenario. That was my money.”
“You know I’m good for it.”
“Of course you do. But can we please just focus here?”
“What’s this scene we’re in, anyway?”
“Kevin Bacon is the President of the United States, right?”
“No he isn’t.”
“In the film, dummy. Are you telling me you didn’t even read the synopsis?”
“I’d say that’s rather obvious at this point.”
“Okay, so he’s the President, and he’s tasked with stopping a nuclear war before it happens.”
“What year is this? That sounds like every action movie from the 80s. And we’re wearing kilts, because?”
“Because he’s on a Hail Mary mission to Scotland and needs to diffuse a bomb in the middle of the Highland games.”
“The President diffuses bombs now?”
“The details of the thing don’t matter. The fact is that I’m playing an undercover Scottish intelligence officer who happens to be a bomb expert and I help the Leader of the Free World decide which wire to cut.”
“I thought you only had one line?”
“It is only one line. I say, ‘Snip the blue one, me laddie.”
“I don’t know the first thing about writing, but that is terrible writing.”
“I’m not going for an IMDB screenwriter credit here! It’s a minor character role with only the one line. And I’ll get my name in the credits and a First Degree Bacon Number.”
“I don’t think you can stop a nuclear bomb simply by snipping a wire.”
“I didn’t know you were the expert on the subject. Now shut up, we’re almost on.”
(Director) “PLACES EVERYONE! AND…ACTION!!”
“Oh my god. Here he comes!”
PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.A.
“You fellers play some mighty fine pipes there.
Now what can you tell me about this bomb?
And hurry now, we don’t have much time!”
BAGPIPE PLAYER #1
“Snip the blue one, me laddie.”
(Director) “AND….CUT! THAT’S SCENE EVERYONE!”
“Is that it?”
“That’s it. Mission accomplished.”
“Hey, I think Kevin Bacon’s waving you over. I think he wants to talk to you.”
“Probably congratulating me for making it to the center of the universe.”
“Hi, Mr. Bacon. It was an honor to play that scene with you.”
“Listen to me carefully, kid. I’m going to personally make sure this scene hits the cutting room floor. Nobody gets within one degree of me without my authorization. You hear me?”
“Yes, Mr. Bacon.”
“So what did he say to you?”
“He told me I look good in a kilt.”
“Really? What about me?”
“Sorry. He didn’t mention you.”
“Say, why are those security guards charging towards us?”
“I think it’s best if we got the hell out of here. And fast. Run!”
I was given the following story prompt “write about blue without using the word COLOR”.
Here’s my attempt. Enjoy!
Sometimes Blue wishes he could jump. He figures when the time comes, it will be when he’s not considering jumping at all. When he’s not thinking about it. Will he take a deep breath and see how long he might last? See how deep he might go before blacking out? Or will he let the water fill him immediately, like a pasta strainer submerged in the kitchen sink?
The fog has moved in quickly, as it often does on nights like this. The old, wooden footbridge over the creek is his favorite spot to sit when he doesn’t wish to be anywhere else. To his left is everything that pisses him off. But to his right lies the unknown. Surely there must be something in the unknown, or there wouldn’t be a bridge in the first place, would there?
But nothing is ever really for sure in Blue’s world. When something feels obvious to him, he couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s fine though, all things considered; terrible instincts have probably killed billions of men throughout history.
Of course, Blue may as well be dead. He has no car, no real friends, and no relationship to speak of outside of those he has with video games and his fantasy baseball league.
Blue muses over the sound his body might make upon contact with the water. He’s never learned to swim, and has never so much as jumped into the town’s wading pool. In the game Big Stolen Vehicle (Number Five),of the countless times he’s driven the misappropriated sedan off the pier, the sound effect is always strangely similar to breaking glass. It’s the same melody when he drives the delivery van off the pier too. How accurate are these things, really?
There’s an empty beer bottle just out of reach, and Blue stretches for it. The bottle is dry but sticky in his palm. He takes a curious whiff before putting it to his mouth in the hope that there might still be something salvageable at the bottom.
Blue tosses the bottle out towards the murky water, but a tugboat’s fog horn interrupts the splash. What a waste.
His mom and dad were both home tonight, unusual in the way that two leaders of warring nations might spend a cordial evening together. Their arguing had driven Blue out of the house, and where else would he think to go but here? To the wooden bridge.
Blue hears a shuffling off to his right. Not as far away as the unknown; no more than ten yards away. The fog tries its best to obscure the figure, though Blue can make out someone standing atop the guard rail. Blue doesn’t react at all as this unknown person jumps, but listens closely for the sound the body makes as it hits the water.
It’s a lovely crash; a beautiful splash. It’s perfect.
And then, without thinking, Blue jumps; plummeting into the fog himself. Maybe someone can still be saved tonight?
In Lacuna Misplaced, I wanted to explore the ends of relationships, and whether there’s the possibility of a supernatural force that predetermines whether a relationship will end amicably or not.
But there’s plenty more to dissect within the story, and it’s only ~2300 words, so I’ve tried to leave enough outside the story to dwell upon after a reading.
Lacuna Misplaced was published in 2017 by a now-defunct indie publisher, and in 2020 it was included in an indie author anthology of short stores; a collection compiled and edited by yours truly.
R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 6/10
Of the twelve short stories contained within these pages, I can say that I really only enjoyed five of them. And the five favorites fell within the first six stories, so as you can imagine it was a pretty slow go through the last half of the book. If I was only rating the first half, I’d be hard-pressed not to give What’s Important Is Feeling an 8/10. Things I Had and We Close Our Eyes were probably my two favorites.
The stories that I did enjoy contained so much raw heartbreak, angst and coming-of-age. I would not hesitate to read a full-length novel by Adam Wilson as his voice is unique in both its humor and tragedy.
This following is a novella I wrote in 2002 for the Anvil Press 3-Day Novel Writing Contest. At the time I was working in the animation industry and the only writing I’d ever done was screenplays and self-published mini comic books. I was in a bit of a writing funk and needed some sort of jumpstart. Upon seeing the ad for the 3-Day Novel Writing Contest I thought this might just be the opportunity to try something different and get my creative juices flowing again. I was also single, and the idea of holing myself away for a long weekend with no sleep and only my computer was strangely appealing. So I did some outlining (no actual story was allowed to be written outside of the three-day period, but some planning was certainly expected), stocked up on coffee and Twinkies and got down to business.
I think I slept for roughly three hours that weekend, and it actually felt great. I was in the best mindset I’ve ever been and I just wrote, wrote, wrote. The following is the end result, and I’m still pretty proud of it.
I didn’t place in the contest at all, but the best part of the whole experience was that I loved it, and it propelled me to wanting to write something more substantial, which eventually turned into my first novel, Molt.
Hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading!
Barber Chair Prophets
abandon…v. 1 leave permanently. 2 give up (an action or practice) completely. 3 (abandon oneself to) give in to (a desire) completely. n. complete lack of self-consciousness or self-control.
– ORIGIN Old French abandoner.
It takes a special sense of self-control to pluck a nose hair from a dead man with a pair of tweezers. You feel like warning him to stay motionless. Just hold still, this won’t hurt a bit. Even as you squeeze the hair between the ends of the instrument, you might still half-expect the slightest cringe. The nerves beneath the eyebrows might become skittish. But he’d have just about as much of a reaction if you tried to pluck a pubic hair from his left nut with a chainsaw on a moving train during the Big One.
Not everyone here takes the time to get to those nose follicles of all our clients, but I consider myself something of a perfectionist. Maybe the long Saturday night hours at the city morgue are getting to me, or perhaps I’ve always had this kind of compassion for the recently deceased. I’m not too worried either way. The truth is, I’d much rather associate with the folks in this room than with the ones outside of it.
In fact, hold on a second…there, got it. Boy, that’s a wiry little one, isn’t it? I gently lay the last hair in the tiny tray with the others.
Take this guy, for example. I don’t know his first name. The only information I use to keep track of each body is: last name, first initial, cause of death. His first name is M. Let’s assume it stands for Merle. He doesn’t really look like a Merle, but I think the world could use a few more Merles, don’t you agree? Of course, Merle’s dead now, so the world still may need a couple more…
I imagine Merle was originally from Nebraska. The Cornhusker State. He’s got that kind of nose. And his fingers are long and slender, as if he played an instrument of some sort. Perhaps he was a snake charmer. Yes. Merle the snake charmer from Nebraska. That sounds about right. It’s plausible. Johnny Carson was from Nebraska.
I take Merle’s hair into my rubber-gloved hands, and I run my fingers through it, much like his mother had probably done years ago. Hair continues to grow for some time after the body dies, so I give him a little trim. The scissors are barbers’ scissors, and I simply pretend that Merle is another satisfied paying customer. A few snips here and there, and he’s looking good. For a dead man, that is. I run a brush through his dead hair to get out any loose strands. These hairs are carefully collected and placed into the tray with the others.
While most people are out on Saturday nights pretending to themselves that they’re having a good time, Merle’s in the morgue tonight with the other folks who used to have good times too. I bet Merle had a real good time. At least up until he had that allergic reaction to the fellow’s urine he drank. Who could’ve known? I’m sure those fraternity pranksters had no idea this would’ve happened. I’m sure Merle had no idea this would’ve happened. And I’m positive that none of them were thinking of me while Merle was choking to death on that bar stool. But here I am. What strange paths our lives take as they get ever closer to the end. What odd people we encounter along the way. Could Merle count me as someone he’d known in his life? Probably not. And yet, I can consider Merle as someone I’ve known. And I’d hazard a guess that I know him a lot better than half the people that are going to his funeral next week. But I guess that’s the perspective one has when he’s plucked another man’s nose hair.
I debate whether I should give the rest of his body hair a trim or even a shave, but I come to the conclusion that I never knew Merle that well.
I give Merle a pat on the stomach before sliding him back into the wall. The next time I come here, Merle will be gone. His funeral is on Thursday. And I’m one of the few people who will see him ever again, for the rest of eternity. That’s a long time to go without any companionship. And I feel like I’m already halfway there.
I check the clock. It’s four in the morning. Time to get out of here. I head to the tiny sink across the room, slipping my white lab coat off along the way and tossing it onto the table. I throw the gloves into the garbage. The mirror waits for me, as does my reflection. They wait like the schoolyard bully who knows he’s going to get you after class. The bell rings, and there he is. Pow! Right in the kisser.
I see him. He’s a man in his early forties. His poorly manicured beard seems to turn from brown to gray right before my eyes. It hangs off his face much like a flag hangs from the pole, eagerly awaiting the wind to bring it back to life. Blue suspenders keep his slacks from falling any lower than they already have. His stomach tries it’s best to burst through the bottom button of his red and white striped cotton shirt. Horizontal stripes are not flattering. The sides of his belly are itching to get away from that leather belt. The kids call them ‘love handles’. But if love truly is hanging on, it’s doing a hell of a good job to stay unnoticed by this man. I can feel his eyes looking at mine, but I avoid contact. Who knows what trouble just a glance may cause.
My name is Jerome. My life isn’t quite as interesting as Merle’s must’ve been. And I’m okay with that.
My full name is Jerome Feckler Krakow. I don’t particularly like the way my name sounds. Most people’s names roll off the tongue, and sound good together. My name seems like the train wreck of all names. Like they were supposed to get somewhere else, but ended up colliding head on into one big mess of letters.
I’ve got a Jewish name, but as far as I or anyone else in my family knew, we never had any Jewish relatives. I don’t know where the hell my parents came up with the name Feckler, but I detest it. I don’t speak with them anymore; my father’s dead and I have no idea where my mother ended up.
I have the distinction of being the first known man from Michigan to be conceived and born on an airplane. I say I was born in Michigan, but I’ve never actually stepped foot in the state. It’s true though; I was just born in Michigan’s airspace, somewhere over Muskegon. Iggy Pop was from Michigan. The Wolverine State. My dad was a pilot. That’s where he met my mom. “The Mile-High Club”, I think they call it. My parents thought it was so romantic to conceive a child 30,000 feet in the air, and that it would be even more romantic to give birth up there too. Mom got a job as a stewardess when she was already four months pregnant, and their scheme worked out just the way they planned. February 29th 1964, flight 304, Seattle to New York, 4:52 PM. An emergency landing was out of the question by the time anyone else figured out what was happening. We all landed at Idlewild Airport in New York. My parents always told me that the airport was renamed a little while after that to JFK all because of me. I haven’t been to an airport since then.
I flick the laboratory lights off, and lock the door behind me as I exit. I flash my security tag to the guard at the front door. His name’s Joe. He’s been married for four years, and he’s been cheating on his wife for three and a half. He tells me it’s okay, because he caught her cheating first. My question to him was, “is it still considered cheating if you’re both taking part?” I don’t even remember what his answer to that was. He says goodnight. I wave good riddance.
The city is dark tonight. It feels like every streetlight has taken the night off. The crisp October breeze catches my warm gasps of air, and carries them up into the sky. I’ll never breathe that air again. Another part of me is gone forever. I used to be able to easily dismiss ideas like that, like everyone else does. But I can’t anymore. In order to get anywhere in this dead-end existence, you have to acknowledge your past. That’s the key to succeeding at death: acknowledge what’s already been. What had come, only to go again. A trip to the city morgue should be like seeing your favorite team winning the championship. They’re all there, all of your heroes. I don’t know why there aren’t more elementary school field trips to the morgue. It’s unquestionably more inspiring and educationally stimulating than a trip to the local pulp mill.
Master the ability to acknowledge what has been, and trust me, you’ll be eager to see your life end.
adapt…v. 1 make suitable for a new use or purpose. 2 become adjusted to new conditions.
– ORIGIN Latin adaptare.
I adjust the leather seat to conform to my own personal contour. I turn the mirrors just enough so that I’m aware of everything around me. No one is going to creep up behind me and stab me in the neck. The seat belt secures me in place, but not too tightly. I feel safe without even knowing it’s there. I swear that the best seats in the world must be the ones that are installed in buses.
Not the seats for the public of course. Those cold hard plastic blue and orange seats shouldn’t be set aside for even the most malevolent of humanity. I’m talking about the bus driver. This guy is generally regarded as being about three rungs up from the bottom of the evolutionary ladder, yet the world deems him worthy to require the seat of a god. I assume the only reason there isn’t a third-world slave standing beside him with a large feather fan, and another down on his knees spit-shining the driver’s shoes is because that wouldn’t leave any room for the passengers to get on and off the bus.
I already took the liberty of changing the signs on the front and side of the bus to read “330 Ferguson.” I’ve been driving the same route for eight months now, and if management has any inclination to change it, I’ll be looking for a new job next week. 330 Ferguson is the only one I’ll drive. And they know it. Besides, nobody else really wants to do the five-in-the-morning Sunday shift anyway. They don’t want to miss out on their precious kids’ hockey practice. Or their valued church services. Or their shitty hangovers. Me? I don’t have kids. My six-to-four Saturday night shift at the morgue doesn’t really accommodate any weekend drinking. And God and I aren’t really on speaking terms right now, so Sunday mornings don’t bother me.
Another upside to the early Sunday shift is the complete lack of people I have to deal with. Sure there’s the odd senile widow who’s forgotten to set her clock for the last eight years and thinks it’s time to go to the drug store to pick up her colostomy bags and a birthday card just big enough to slip in a five dollar cheque for her twenty-six year old grandson. And of course there’s the Goth kids that are just coming home from some underground rave the night before, and are too whacked out on alcohol, crack, and laundry detergent to be able to form a coherent sentence. As long as they can still put the coins in the slot like any mentally capable four year old should be able to do, they can sit anywhere they want on my bus. I think being a bus driver is much like working for the government: it’s not my job to like these people; I just have to take their money. And make sure the folks in wheelchairs aren’t about to go anywhere.
And those kids that want to throw up or defecate in the back of the bus? They can go right ahead. It isn’t in my job description to clean up the mess at the end of the day. It used to be, but it’s not anymore.
I turn the key in the ignition, and start her up. The engine roars like some dying jungle cat in the zoo. It knows this is the best it’ll ever have it, but it simply can’t wait to just get it over with.
And so it goes. I pull out of the bus terminal, and start my repetitious journey towards disillusionment. 330 Ferguson takes me through the inner city to the outer reaches of its’ ever-growing heart of darkness. Suburbia. I hate this place. I can tolerate the city, but this is too much.
I think back to one morning two months ago, when my bus hit a dog in Suburbia. I saw it dart across the road at the last second. The thing must’ve had a death wish or something. Too bad it was a dog and not some local resident. I pulled the bus over to take a look.
Just stepping outside of my protective metal shell made me feel vulnerable. I don’t know if it was a feeling in the air, or if it was the air itself, but I knew I didn’t like it. I was too close to where I’d been trying to avoid my entire adult life. I probably wouldn’t have even stopped the bus if it were a person I had hit. I walked towards the curled up ball of hair and steaming blood. Sure enough, the dog was dead. I quickly got back inside and instinctively sealed the door behind me. I radioed back to the station with the coordinates and requested an ambulance, or whatever it is they use to take a dead dog off the street. If it was a man, I’m sure they’d send an ambulance. What’s the difference really?
And that was the last time I breathed the air of Suburbia. The last time my skin was exposed to their world. I think of that morning every time I go through here.
Driving a bus is not a passion of mine. I don’t particularly like it that much at all. Some days, I want to just drive it off my regular route, and head for some place I’ve never been. But there aren’t too many other jobs available at this time on a Sunday morning. Buses generally run all the time, even on holidays. And Sunday mornings was an empty slot I had to fill.
The sun won’t start to rise for another two and a half hours, so that gives me plenty of time to take a peak into their despondent lives. With the sun down, it’s much easier to see it all. Just look for a light in a window, and you’re the prime witness to their dreary adventures. I can see them now. A fat man looks in the fridge for another unnecessary snack. I spot another man; this one is in front of the TV, mesmerized by the lone evangelist attempting to convert millions of viewers. A woman sits outside under the porch light with a lit cigarette, probably wondering if she should just toss the smoke through the window behind her and watch it all go up in flames. Like a great sacrificial pyre. This is the sad story of their lives. And I watch it religiously every Sunday.
The buzzer dings. I look back in surprise, and see one of those Goth punks half conscious at the back of the bus. I don’t even remember picking one up yet this morning. I pull the bus over to the side of the road, and wait for the kid to step down. He’s just standing there. Well, teetering a little, but basically standing. I wait.
“Step down.” I say, gazing at him from the mirror.
No reaction. What is this kid on? Probably one of those gas-guzzlers. I’ve heard about them. They remove the car’s gas cap, stick a long rubber tube down into the gas tank, and proceed to suck away. Gulp, gulp, gulp. I swear I’ve read about it somewhere.
“Step down.” I repeat, a little louder.
The kid looks up to me and gives me the finger. “Fuck you!” is his only reply as he steps down and out of the bus. I really don’t know when the middle finger became so offensive. Is this supposed to intimidate me? I have one too.
I start to drive off, and the kid kicks the side of the bus in rage. Kick it all you want you little twerp; it’s not my bus.
I guess you could say I don’t like people very much. But it’s not my fault; I didn’t raise them. I simply wonder when society became so extraordinarily socially retarded. But maybe it was always this way.
My problem is the childish lack of disrespect. Is it possible to become so infuriated with something one moment, that you don’t even give a damn the next?
This is why I work seven days a week at seven different jobs. I may be intolerant of the general populace, but I’ve still got to work. I just choose not to associate with anybody for any longer than I have to. Once a week on a very inconsequential basis is adequate. It’s a good system, and it hasn’t failed me yet.
I reach the bus terminal in the heart of Suburbia, where I have to park for ten minutes. I shut the engine off. Drivers meander around outside their buses, smoking and talking shit to one another. Some attempt to acknowledge my arrival, but I’m smart enough to avoid direct eye contact. There are vagrants digging through garbage cans and sleeping on the benches. There’s no way I’m leaving this bus. If the need should arise where I have to use the facilities, I hold it in. It’s just another hour and a half back to the city. There’s no way I’m going to step foot out there. A man could be murdered right before my eyes, and I wouldn’t go out there. A terrorist could pop up from the seats behind me with explosives covering him from head to toe, and there’s no way I’d even consider leaving this bus. Better to die in some place you can barely even tolerate than somewhere else surrounded by the scabs of humanity. And I’m not just talking about the bus drivers.
My ten minutes are up. I turn the engine back on, and pull out of there as fast as you can pull a bus out of anywhere. I’m heading back to the city. I do this route twice on Sunday mornings. There and back and there and back.
It’s not long before I pick up one of those ladies I’d talked about earlier. She sits at the front of the bus in the “handicapped and elderly” section. I don’t say good morning. She attempts to talk to me about the weather and her twenty-six year old grandson, but I don’t give a response of any sort. She must think I’m acknowledging her somehow, because she keeps on going. Like that brainless pink bunny.
I keep telling myself that I’ll be home soon. But it’s never soon enough.
apostasy /uh-poss-tuh-si/…n. 1 abandonment of a belief or principle.
– ORIGIN Greek apostasies ‘desertion’.
I unlock the door and enter my apartment. Marlon greets me with his usual clawing of the legs. Kicking him off doesn’t work anymore, so I just scratch his hairless head as sincerely as I can, and make my way inside. The answering machine blinks, telling me I have two new messages. Messages used to annoy the hell out of me. But not now, since I’m sure it’s nobody I know that’s calling.
I hit the play button and listen as I hang up my jacket and remove my shoes. The first message is about the job at the photo lab I applied for. They’ve found somebody else. I slide my suspenders under my arms, and let them fall to my hips. The second message is for the parking lot attendant position. They don’t have an opening on Tuesday nights anymore. Marlon seems to be more concerned about this than I am.
I delete the messages, and head to the bathroom for a shower.
As I dry my hair, Marlon jumps up onto the bathroom counter and gives me that look. His eyes hide under a furrowed brow, and one ear turns down as the opposite side of his mouth turns up.
“Don’t give me that look buddy.” I say sternly. He’s been giving me the look since the day I got him. I’m not even sure what it means, but I know I wouldn’t like it if I found out.
Animals are a lot like people: you can’t win with them. Cats have attitude and dogs are stupid. If I had to choose, I’d take the attitude, but I didn’t have a choice with Marlon.
I used to work Fridays at the animal shelter. All I really had to do was just make sure the animals were well fed and happy. From the parakeets to the marmots. I think I was fired because I don’t really know the first thing about how to make something happy.
A woman called one day claiming she found an injured dog and that she would bring it by the shelter. Turns out it wasn’t a dog at all, but a hairless cat. But it’s so ugly she couldn’t tell. Even one of the veterinarians swore it was a dog. Apparently, the cat slinked into the woman’s back yard where her kids were playing. But anyone who considers running around the yard with steak knives and a box of old records “playing,” probably needs to work on their parental supervision skills a bit more. I’m sure she explained to her husband later just why exactly the kids were throwing his vintage records around like Frisbees and smashing them into the tree stumps. And I really hope she explained to him why his best friend was over that afternoon, and why it was that she couldn’t hear the kids outside until the cat screamed from having his tail cut off. But I’m sure that’s none of my business…
Anyway, the cat just latched on to me, and I had no choice but to take him home. He wouldn’t let go until we entered my apartment. And he hasn’t left since. Cats have the amazing ability to remember where they came from and where they’ve been, but Marlon doesn’t seem to care about any place but his current one. I’ve even tried tossing him out my window a couple of times, the third floor window, but he always manages to somehow show up at my door again. Now I just leave the windows wide open and cross my fingers, hoping he’ll take the hint.
I open the door to my office. This is where I spend my time when I’m not working. The walls are all painted a dark red. I found the color helped me immensely while I was updating resumes or painting. But I can’t see the red anymore except for the bottom corner of one wall. Calendar pages have completely covered the rest of the wall space. There must be twenty-five years up there, all in chronological order. From the top of the wall to the right, and down to the floor. All around the room. Month after month, I tear off the calendar page, and stick it up there with the others. My entire adult life is on these walls. Every holiday. Every doctor’s appointment. Every interview for every job I’ve ever had, and every one I didn’t get. I think I started this to try and keep track of my life, with the thought that it may serve some kind of purpose and in turn, give me a purpose of my own. But now I don’t even remember, I just continue out of habit.
Two paintings sit on an easel in front of me. On the left is a painting I did when I was sixteen years old. It’s a portrait of a friend I had. His name was Arthur Vaughan Biesen.
Arthur was my best friend, but that was many years ago. His face was long and slender; his hair was long and greasy. Arthur had some kind of problem with his digestive system, causing him to have to use the shitter what seemed like every hour and a half. He’d say things like “I gotta go drop the kiddies off at the pool,” and then disappear for twenty minutes.
We were in a band together. I played the drums, and he sang and played guitar. There was another guy too, but I can’t recall his name or face. We were all punks, and I was happy when it was all over between us. Arthur thought life was meant to go one way, but I knew otherwise. I told him he’d never be able to perform at a two-hour concert with his digestive condition. Arthur couldn’t accept that. My nose is still noticeably crooked to this day.
I painted a lot in high school, and my plan was to paint our portraits for our first rock album. But our aspirations were far greater than our talent. We only had two songs, which were both Aerosmith rip-offs, and we didn’t even play those that well. When we couldn’t decide on what our third song would be, we went our separate ways. But I kept his portrait.
Next to it on the same easel, sits a replica of the same painting. I’ve been trying for years to reproduce the exact same picture, although I can’t recall my reasons why anymore. I want to get the same colors, the same brushstrokes, and the same goofy smile on this kid’s face. But so far I’ve failed. How hard can it be to do something you’ve already done? In the closet sits one hundred and twenty-three answers to that question. Some are half-finished. Some are near completion. But all of them are imperfect. This one isn’t turning out so good either, now that I look at it.
Past the easel sits a television from the late seventies. I don’t use it anymore for two reasons. One: I would rather strangle the life out of my own weary body than watch another second of TV, and two: the screen is smashed to pieces. Reason number two probably has a stronger case. Now, I hate TV for all of the same reasons as everyone else who says they hate it:
For the incessant commercials that spew poppycock messages of the necessity for self-worth and popularity.
For the late night boob-fest of phone sex advertisements that are free for women and $4.95 a minute for men.
And for Martha Stewart.
But I also despise television for the little things that most of the simple-minded masses can’t comprehend:
For the fact that there’s actually a demand for a TV show that teaches us how to analyze and scrutinize the dating patterns of single twenty-somethings.
For the flag people in car races. Are they really necessary anymore? I’m sure some form of radio contact in the drivers’ helmets is adequate enough to tell them whether or not they’re on the last lap. How much money are these guys getting paid to wave a checkered flag anyway?
And for Bob Saget.
But the day that I kicked my TV screen in so hard that I heard a car alarm go off outside, was the day I discovered the little animated storm cloud on the nightly news weather forecast. What was wrong with a simple picture of a fluffy cloud with some rain drops and a cute yellow lightning bolt? Some smart-ass executive with dollar-sign eyes who doesn’t know the first thing about tying his own shoes, much less the weather, thought it was necessary to make that cloud hover around the screen like a UFO. To have torrential rains shoot out like a possessed fire hose, and great bolts of lightning firing through the sky as if Zeus himself was responsible. It makes me sick.
Against the far wall of my office is a small desk. I’m in the process of writing a book right now, but not in the manner one might expect. I’m writing my own dictionary. How did this begin? While polishing up a resume a few years ago, I realized I didn’t know how to spell the word “application.” For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out if it had one “P” or two. I think it was a momentary memory lapse or something, because I’m sure I’d spelled it before. So I came to the conclusion that I needed my own dictionary. But the only place I could find one was at Paragraphs, the big corporate bookstore. Now I’m a firm believer in not supporting the big businesses, so I decided to simply write my own personal edition. Borrowing a dictionary from the city library I worked at on Wednesdays, I began to copy it out onto paper. There’s going to be one hell of a late charge on it when I’m finished, especially considering it’s a “For Reference Only” book and I’m only up to the “F’s.”
Now, with the freedom to write your own dictionary, things are bound to get out of hand. It’s only natural. I never saw the reason for words like chivvy, leveret, and legerdemain, so I’m taking them out. I also feel the necessity for certain words that didn’t make it the first time around. Words like ashauer, hjoil, subjagular, and tud are all going to be in my edition. “Feckler”, of course, is never going to make it anywhere.
I’m on the word “Fabricate” right now:
fabricate…v. 1 invent (false information). 2 construct or manufacture (an industrial product)
– ORIGIN Latin fabricare.
I don’t know why I stopped at that word yesterday. Maybe there’s no real reason at all. Or maybe it means everything. But I think this about every word I temporarily stop at.
Marlon comes sauntering in and jumps up onto the desk. He sits up before me and gives me that look once more.
“You know I don’t like that look Marlon.” I say to him as I sit down at my desk.
One day I’ll get a reaction from him, but it’s not going to be today. I pick up my 2B pencil, and get back to work.
ashauer…n. 1 a person that must fabricate lies to feel worthwhile in society.
adj. 1 composed of half-truths. 2 full of shit.
– ORIGIN unknown.
The sign outside the fruit market reads “Open at 8:30”. I wonder why this is? Because they actually open every morning at 8:35. How can a simple fruit stand contribute so much to the general laziness of this society?
“I’m not lazy, I’m disciplined,” is what I heard someone say on the bus one morning. This coming directly after the very same passenger had explained how he missed the bus the day before.
From my third-floor vantage point across Alexander Street, I watch the fruit market every morning. Every morning except Sundays that is. But they’re not open Sundays anyhow. It’s the same procedure each morning:
- Open at 8:35 AM.
- Roll out the two large fruit stands from inside the store to the sidewalk.
- Water down the fruits with a little orange spray gun connected to an over-sized green hose.
- Bring nutrition and happiness to the general public.
I’m not sure if step number three is always completely necessary, but the little Chinese woman does it religiously every morning.
Next to the fruit market is a store named “JRM Brothers”. I’m not sure what that stands for, but the little paper sign written in red marker taped to the front door reads “Mattresses and Bingo Dabbers”. I’ve never seen anyone actually buying a mattress there, just the bingo dabbers. In fact, this store hardly ever seems to be open. How large is the Bingo Dabber Community that this store can stay operational from dabber sales alone? I imagine that there is something suspicious going on in the back room, but I’m hesitant to report them to the proper authorities since the authorities themselves are most likely conducting illegal activities in their own back rooms. Does that seem fair?
From this very same window one morning, I once saw a man gunned down outside the mysterious JRM Brothers. I could only speculate that he had found out just what it was that was going on behind those opaque windows. But I don’t know this for sure.
Why do I sit at my window and watch events of no relevance to myself every morning? Is it because I yearn for the indulgence of witnessing another cold-blooded shooting? Can I be that compassionless? I’m aware that even I am capable of surprising myself.
Walking up the sidewalk in front of these stores is a man I’ve affectionately referred to as “Creepy Pete.” I’ve grown to be unaffected emotionally by the general public, especially by those in my own neighborhood, but this fellow creeps me out. Every morning he walks up the sidewalk to the corner, turns around, and proceeds to walk back to the other corner. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. He appears from one corner at 8:21, follows his ping-pong pattern for twenty minutes, and then exits around the other corner at 8:42.
It’s 8:41 now. He’s almost done.
He wears the same bright blue trench coat, and grins the same creepy unexpressive smirk each morning. I may be the one who’s writing his own dictionary, but I’m talking about major psychological problems from this guy. Even Marlon won’t watch at this time of the day.
8:42. And there he goes. See you tomorrow Pete.
I see a woman at the fruit stand I’ve never seen before. Probably around thirty years old, and wearing far too less for this October morning. You know the type: Black pants that seem to be painted on, and a white, almost see-through top that leaves little to the imagination in this temperature. Even from up here.
She takes a kiwi into her hand, and rolls it between her long fingers for just a brief moment before accidentally dropping it on the ground. I see it roll off the sidewalk and land on the curb, stopping at a sewage drain. She thinks it rolled under the fruit stand, and gets on her knees to look for it. I can see the tag of her underwear sticking out from the top of her pants. I wonder why she never cut that tag off. I’m positive no one else cares what the washing instructions on her thong are.
She quickly gives up on looking for the kiwi, since the five-second rule has passed anyway. As she stands back up, she looks around guardedly to see if anybody witnessed this. No one but me. She chooses the rest of her fruit more carefully, and doesn’t drop a single one.
I see that my Monday morning taxi has pulled up out front of my building, so I put some sliced nectarine in Marlon’s dish, grab my dictionary and some resumes, and head out the door.
benevolent /bi-nev-uh-luhnt/…adj. 1 well meaning and kindly. 2 (of an organization) charitable rather than profit-making.
– ORIGIN Old French benevolent.
I unlock the front gate, and slide it open into the wall storage unit. I walk across the darkened floor to the back of the room, and flick the switch. The florescent lights begin to glow one by one beneath their dirty plastic covers, until all of the carpets are lit up majestically. Some carpets are rolled and standing upright along the walls. Some are slung over racks. There are five or six carpets spread completely over the floor, and there’s even two more hanging from the ceiling by fishing line in a dramatic display. All of them are gaudy patterns in Indian-style designs and color.
I welcome myself to another exciting and challenging day at the mall. Or more precisely, what’s known as the Carpet Tunnel.
I’ve worked hard to gain my position as Assistant Manager at the Carpet Tunnel, second only to Mr. Harding. Of course, there’s only the two of us that work here. This guy is twenty-five years old, and insists on me calling him “Mr. Harding”. Whatever.
“What do you know about carpets?” is what Mr. Harding asked me at my job interview last June.
“I know enough to sell a carpet or two.” I answered pompously.
He looked at me with a smirk. “That’s good enough for me Jerome.”
I wanted to say, “Please, call me Mr. Krakow.” But my inner voice informed me that this would probably be the best situation for my Mondays right now, so I’d better not blow it.
In the five months that I’ve been here, I think I’ve sold three carpets. But who’s counting? All I know is that if Mr. Harding thinks he can hire some high school twerp that will do better than that, he can go right ahead. Selling three of these horrific carpets is pretty damn good by my standards.
Aside from the glamour of selling over-priced imported rugs, working at the mall on a Monday is not so bad. And aside from the other people that work at the mall, there isn’t usually too much traffic. Unless it’s “Sale Season”. But Hard-Assed Harding’s prices aren’t going to drop for any sale, so that just keeps the bargain shoppers even farther away from us, and much, much closer to The Gap.
This gives me plenty of time to work on my dictionary, which is what I’m doing right now. Sitting on probably the cheapest stool known to man, and leaning over the two-foot long sales counter, I have just enough time to jot down the word “fate” before an actual customer enters Carpet Tunnel.
The fluorescent lights flicker a little as she walks into the store. I’m hesitant to assist her, yet I find it difficult to continue writing while she’s here. She takes a look for a minute or so before noticing me, and coming to the back of the store.
“How you doing?” She asks openly.
I can hardly move, as if simply focusing on this girl is taking all my energy.
She beats me to the response, “What’s the matter, Carpet Tunnel Syndrome?”
I thought of that joke already. It’s nothing new. I manage to mutter a reply.
“I thought so. You going to sell me a carpet, or are you just going to sit there and write that book all day?” She glances down at the counter. “What’s that, a dictionary?”
She stops and stares at me, searching my face up and down. I don’t know why, but I don’t even try to avoid eye contact. Her eyes are a faded blue, which I believe is the same color as mine. It’s been a while since I’ve seen my own eyes. She must be around thirty, thirty-one. She’s had that peculiar smile on her face the whole time she’s been in here. Her dark hair is pulled back into a bun. She’s wearing one of those pant suits that are popular with the businesswomen. I’ve seen them before from my apartment window. And she has a nametag with her picture on it pinned to her breast, and I can see the name “Julie.” I can’t make out what the nametag is for.
She looks at me sideways now. I feel like she’s trying to get inside my head. Or maybe out of it. She holds out a firm hand. “My name’s Julie.”
“I see your nametag.” is the best I can do for her. I keep my hands on the counter.
Another piercing glare, and she manages to get it out of me, “Jerome. My friends call me Jerry.” I think about what I just said. “…I prefer Jerome.”
“So Jerome, what can you do for me?”
“I’m sorry. But it’s not in my job description to do anything for you.”
“That’s too bad. But who’s talking about your job?” Still with that smile. How can any reasonable human keep a smile up for so long?
“Your job is to sell carpets, right?”
“I’ve only sold three.”
“All day?” she asks inquisitively.
She points to one of the hanging carpets above her without even looking up.
“I’ll take that one,” she says. “So that’ll make four.”
I look up. That is one ugly carpet. She’s got no taste at all.
“You’re one hell of a salesman Jerome. I find it hard to say ‘no’ around you. It’s like you know exactly what I want.”
I turn back to her, and ask in puzzlement, “Do you really want that carpet?”
She’s right on cue, “Do you really have to ask me?”
I can’t think of the words I need to say here. Julie leans over my counter, getting a little too close for my liking. I can see right down her blouse.
“You know Jerome, I could really use someone with your flare for selling carpets.” She’s wearing a black bra.
“You need a carpet salesman?” I ask without really thinking.
“No. I need a janitor.”
She turns her body away, but her head is still directed at me. “I’ll be back in five minutes Jerome. And I want to see either a carpet or a resume in your hands.” Julie walks right back out of the store. I can hear her heels clacking as she walks through the mall. I wonder whether she’s actually going to come back, or if she’s just high on something. I still hear the heels. Clack, clack, clack, clack.
I put my 2B pencil back to the page and continue:
fate…n. 1 the development of events outside a person’s control, regarded as decided in advance by a supernatural power. 2 the course or unavoidable outcome of a person’s life.
– ORIGIN Latin fatum ‘that which has been spoken’.
Clack, clack, Julie’s back. I fumble under the counter, and pull out a resume. She sees me as I hold it up.
“That carpet was pretty ugly, wasn’t it?” She takes the paper from my hand, and reads it over quickly, speed-reader style.
She looks up, “A different job for every day of the week Jerome?”
“Yes.” Is all I can muster, like a guilty child cornered by his parents.
“It says here you can only work Tuesdays, but not before 1:00 PM?”
“That’s lucky for you, because that’s when you’ll be working.”
“Can I start tomorrow?”
She laughs a little laugh, “Don’t be silly Jerome! There’s paper work to do and I’ll need to discuss this with my superiors. Can I call you tomorrow then?”
I jump the gun, “What is this job exactly?”
“The Museum of Applied Arts and Technology. Janitorial duties. Five o’clock to one AM. And all the solitude you need.”
All the solitude I need? That’s perfect.
“I’ll get back to you Jerome.” Julie turns to leave once more. She stops and glares at one of the carpets hanging on the front rack. “I’m surprised you even sold three of these eyesores.” Julie exits Carpet Tunnel, and the clacking of her heels quickly disappears around the corner.
I pick up my 2B pencil and continue where I left off…
bitumen /bit-yuu-muhn/…n. a black sticky substance obtained naturally or from petroleum, used for road surfacing.
– ORIGIN Latin.
The taxi takes me directly from the mall to Alexander Street, and I get out on the south side, opposite my apartment. I can see Marlon at the open window, and I pray for him to jump. I wait for a moment, staring up at him, as he stares down at me and seems to shake his head “no.” I guess not today.
To my right is JRM Brothers. They don’t appear to be open, but I stick my ear up to the door anyway. I try to sense the evil that is no doubt inside. I try to smell the freshly torn limbs, the ruthless mutilations. I wait to hear the blood-curdling screams.
I motion to cross the street, but I stop as I notice the kiwi that was dropped this morning, still sitting on the sewage drain. It’s now blackened with the dirt of today’s traffic. I bend down and pick it up. I peel the fuzzy skin, making a mess of my fingers. Beneath the skin, the fruit is still fresh.
I decide to take it up for Marlon. He loves fruit. Maybe then he’ll jump for me…
bogy…n. 1 an evil or mischievous spirit. 2 a cause of fear or alarm. 3 informal a piece of mucus in the nose.
– ORIGIN formerly a name for the Devil.
Most people look forward to their days off. They look forward to the breaks from the impossible levels of “stress” and “trauma” in their daily lives. This, of course, is a wasted effort. Since the majority of reported cases of stress are ultimately nothing more than imagined and somewhat twisted desires to obtain pity. But pity cannot be tossed around like old baseballs of sorrow waiting to be caught in the weathered mitts of compassion. If you want real pity, you’ve got to really work for it. And I’ll tell you now; you’re never going to find it from me.
I set up my camera on this Tuesday morning at the same time and in the same spot as every other Tuesday morning. I focus the lens for a clear shot of the fruit stands. I set the aperture to reduce the morning light shining in through the cracks of the city. I check the clock that sits on the corner of 46th and Alexander. 8:32 AM. One more minute, and I can start my day. Every Tuesday at 8:33 AM for eleven years I’ve taken a picture of this same spot of real estate. The fruit market used to open at 8:00. It’s been there the longest, but everything else has changed over the years. Yet it’s never really changed at all. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Isn’t that what the kids say?
Here comes Creepy Pete. Watch the clock now…8:33. Click.
In a pile of albums, I have roughly six hundred Tuesday morning pictures. All with the same camera. In about twelve of those pictures, I’ve had a semi trailer drive by just as I snapped the photo, blocking pretty much everything. All I get is the meats and dairy product logos on the side of the trailers. But all the rest of my shots show a clear and vivid progression of the environment around me. The environment is progressive, not the society.
Yet today, for the first time, I feel something from somewhere deep inside me that tells me of a change in society. Not a physical change, but a mental one. From my point of view. My mind doesn’t even acknowledge this thought until about an hour later, but it was there. And I’m not sure what I should make of it.
I leave some fresh papaya in a dish for Marlon, and head outside with my camera. On Tuesdays I reluctantly hike around the city, taking pictures of anything that catches my eye. I don’t consider myself an artist, more of a journalist. I catalogue humanity, and usually find it lacking in most areas. Social behavior. Compassion. And general intelligence is what I look for. Much too often I’m disappointed by what I find, so I just snap a picture of an old building or something. But I feel strangely compelled to watch the society I abhor.
Today I find myself on the steps of the Museum of Applied Arts and Technology. I don’t even realize where I am in relation to the events that transpired yesterday. At least, not yet.
The fountain at the bottom of the steps is massive. And there are more than enough obnoxious tourists and local inhabitants to accommodate its’ size. I hate being around this amount of people, but I tell myself it’s for research purposes. And I think my mind believes me. I force my way through the screaming infants, the skateboarding punks that should no doubt be in school, and the foreigners I can’t even understand, but somehow their conversations annoy me just the same. I try to ignore the guy with the spiked hair and camouflage pants doing pushups on the steps to my left. He has a goatee so big that it couldn’t possibly have been trimmed for a year.
I try to find something worth taking a picture of. I spot a family at the bottom of the steps below me. The daughter, probably around five years old, is knee-deep in the fountain. She is wearing a little pink dress. She playfully gathers some water from the fountain and cups her hands together. She then runs back to her parents, careful not to spill any of the precious liquid she’s collected. But a careful five-year-old is still like a bull in a china shop. Her childish lack of coordination inevitably spills most of the water. She runs up to her father and flings her hands open in surprise, hoping to soak him. But by this point, there is only a few drops that splash onto his face. This is when I take the picture. Click.
The man with the spiked hair to my left walks closer to me. From the inside pocket of his coat, he pulls out a little orange bottle. He holds it before me as he speaks.
“Dude, can you watch my hot sauce for me?”
He places the bottle on the step beside me. Sure enough, it’s a bottle of “Colon Smasher Hot Sauce”. I awkwardly say “sure,” and all of a sudden, the guy just takes off like a mongoose. He runs down the steps, jumping clear over the last five or six. He hits the ground running, splashing through the fountain, and right out of sight. He doesn’t seem to be coming back. What the hell was that all about? This is why I don’t like coming out on my days off. Everybody’s fucked up. Plain and simple.
I glance at the bottle, and I can see that it’s empty. I hold my camera up, and take a picture of the orange-stained bottle of Colon Smasher hot sauce in my hand. Click.
I bring my camera back down, and I notice Julie is now standing directly in front of me. She’s wearing a skirt today. It’s short enough to see most of her legs.
“You know this bottle Jerome?” she asks smiling.
“I’m just watching it for somebody.”
“Uh huh. I can leave you two alone if you need some quiet time.” She giggles more to herself than towards me.
I don’t have time for leisurely conversation. I come right out with it, “So how about that job? Do I start next week?”
“Nothing yet, you Go-Getter.” She gives me a punch in the arm. I don’t like punches in the arm. She sits down on the step beside me as she speaks. “Mind if I have a seat?”
“And if I did?”
“Too bad Jerry.”
Julie jumps up onto her feet, and does her best impression of a ballerina on the steps in front of me. She gestures to the camera in my hands, “So what’s the deal Jerome? You going to take a picture of me now?”
“I wasn’t planning on it.”
“That’s why you brought the camera, isn’t it?” She pouts her lips as she speaks, in an effort to imitate a supermodel. I’m not impressed by her pretentiousness. She leans in close to me, and gives my camera a sultry kiss on the lens.
I speak up now, a little more assertively, “I need to know about that job Julie.”
“You will know about it. Just not right now.” She runs childishly up the steps behind me. I don’t even turn my head to follow her.
It’s apparent to me that my temperature is rising, “When will that be then? I don’t have time for this.”
I’m taken by surprise as Julie pops over me from behind. Her face is upside down to mine. She’s a little too close for my liking.
“Are you married Jerome?” And a little too upfront.
“So what are you doing tonight?”
I stand up now. “Listen Julie. I am NOT married. And I do NOT want to see you tonight. But I AM free on Tuesday to start that job you offered me. That’s all I need from you. That’s it.”
“No it’s not. You need a picture of me too.” She jumps in front of me again, and playfully puts a finger to her lips, smiling more than ever before. She’s like a child that just won’t stop. And I don’t know what to do about her. There’s nothing I can do to make her go away. I can’t snap my fingers or click my heels together. I can’t simply wish for her to disappear. I only have one option.
“You want a picture?” I hold up the camera, “Fine.”
“All right then!” Julie prepares herself faster than I thought she could. I see her through the lipstick on the camera lens. If a smile can be both childish and seductive at the same time, that’s what she gives me now. Click.
“There you go. Now please leave me be until you know about the job. I need this Julie. I need Tuesdays.”
“You need a day off sweetie.”
“What did you – – That’s completely out of line! How can you say that?”
“I say what I know. And I know I’ll get back to you.” She turns back up the steps of the museum. Again, I don’t turn around to follow her. Clack, clack. I can still hear her breathing behind me.
And then suddenly, nothing.
I turn. And she’s gone. She’s gone back into the museum.
I wipe the lipstick from the lens and put my camera into its’ case. I leave the museum, the hot sauce, the fountain, and all of these sorry people behind me.
Then I turn for one more look at the family I saw earlier. The girl is curled up in her father’s arms as they pick up their belongings to leave.
careen /kuh-reen/…v. 1 (with reference to a ship) tilt to one side. 2 move in an uncontrolled way; career.
– ORIGIN Latin carina ‘a keel’.
I tear off the October page of my calendar. It’s about time too. I’ve got the great States of America calendar this year, and I was really getting sick of looking at this month’s selection. Wisconsin, the Badger State. With a great big picture of a dairy farm. To tell you the truth, Wisconsin makes me sick. Orson Welles was from Wisconsin. So was Harry Houdini. And where are they now? Both just seemed to disappear.
I take October into my office, and pin it right next to September. I open the closet and take out my saxophone case. I don’t play it as much as I’d like anymore, usually just on Wednesday nights now. I used to play it here, but my neighbor upstairs finally convinced me that it was in my best interests not to do so anymore. She calls the cops crying murder, and they smash my front door to pieces because I couldn’t hear them knocking. And I was the one that had to pay for the new door and deadbolt lock.
I’m gonna call the cops myself one of these days if she keeps me up late anymore. That’ll show the Bed-Thumper.
Apartment life has always been a problem for me. The guy who lived upstairs before Bed-Thumper was one of those loud bathroom guys. I could hear him taking a leak from anywhere in my apartment. Even with the window open and daytime traffic outside. You can imagine what it was like in the dead of the night. That’s when I took up the saxophone.
When I was younger I had a roommate that killed himself. I got over it pretty easily, but the biggest problem I had was that he left the sink full of dirty dishes before he slit his throat in the bathtub. This guy was struggling to die for about an hour after he did it. He was too weak to cut anything else, and just ended up losing consciousness for a while before he actually died. Everyone knows that the best part of your body to slice up for a suicide attempt is the wrists. And cutting two wrists cuts the struggling time in half. My roommate didn’t even leave a suicide note or anything behind. He just went ahead and did it. For the record, I would recommend a note. Or at least some bloody scribbles on the wall. Just some kind of written message to leave behind is greatly appreciated.
As I slip my dirtiest overalls over top of my existing clothing, I take another look outside my window. JRM Brothers is still closed. You’d swear they were out of business and abandoned if it wasn’t for the nagging feeling of despair behind those windows. It’s 8:21 AM, and Creepy Pete is right on schedule. The fruit market still reads “Open at 8:30”, but I don’t have the time today to see what transpires in the hectic world of fruit. I’ve got to get to work. After I double check that the window is all the way open, I leave a dish of sliced mango for Marlon, and I make just enough time for a quick pep talk for the hairless little guy.
“Jump Marlon. Jump.”
He doesn’t even pay attention to what I’m saying, and simply sinks his claws into the fruit.
So with my paint-covered overalls on, and saxophone case in hand, I head out Wednesday morning for work.
The subways are fairly empty today. I don’t know if it’s a holiday or if there’s some other reason. Usually I’m pretty much on top of things like that. The first of November isn’t a holiday, is it? I don’t think so. Unless it’s something new of course. With every new calendar I get, I can barely seem to count all of the new holidays I find on one hand.
I don’t recall January second’s “Day After New Year’s Day” holiday. That’s in New Zealand. Or March eighth’s “International Women’s Day” holiday. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do on that day. Show respect and adoration for women? As far as I knew, society was supposed to do that every day of the year. It’s called equal rights. August fifth is Australia’s Northern Territory “Picnic Day.” Picnic Day? How about August twenty-sixth? That’s the UK’s “Bank Holiday,” which takes place everywhere in the UK except Scotland. What’s wrong with the Scottish?
And then there are the Japanese holidays; Coming of Age Day. National Foundation Day. Greenery Day. Constitution Memorial Day. Children’s Day. Marine Day. Culture Day. Labor Thanksgiving Day. And the Emperor’s Birthday. I thought these guys were the hardest-working country in the world?
I’m relatively sure I’m not in Japan, so I really have no explanation as to why there’s actually legroom on the subway today. Mark it down as just good timing I guess.
There may be a peculiar shortage of passengers this morning, but the crazy-to-normal ratio is still about the same. For every one sane rider, there’s about three of the scrambled egg variety. I’m talking about the short bus, extra-long-sleeved jackets, smashing their heads into the concrete floor types. The real fucked up. I don’t think these folks are even at all capable of surviving up on the surface world. That’s why there’s so many of them down here. Sunlight turns them into spiders or something.
Just take a look in front of me right now, and you’ll see the guy with one hand under his ass, and the other shoved almost entirely in his mouth. He tries to say something, probably quoting something along the lines of the hottest stock market trends, but all that comes out is mumbling accompanied by drool and mucus.
Or how about the man with the traveling puppet show? Of course, he’s the only one that actually sees these puppets, but we all hear them. It’s amazing how he can remember all of the different ranges of roles and voices for the epic musical tale he performs. Oh that’s right, he can’t remember.
There’s the woman who looks remarkably like a sturgeon. She’s not actually doing anything that one might deem “crazy”; she’s sitting quietly by herself, hands folded neatly in her lap. But she looks like a fucking fish. No lie.
And of course, there’s “The End of the World is Nigh Guy.” We’re all trying to just ignore him and wave him through to the next car, but sitting where I am right now, seeing everything that I’m seeing, I start to think this is the one guy who’s got it all together. I’d shake his hand if I weren’t terrified of coming within five feet of the guy. No, he’s not glowing with the light of God. That’s just toxic waste.
The train comes to my stop. I take out some change from my wallet, and toss it into the “puppeteer’s” hat on my way out. You know, I didn’t even realize I did that until the subway takes off again. I wonder what came over me?
I head up the urine-stained staircase to the smoggy surface world. And there’s some secret switch inside my head that is flicked, making me think today will be all right. And it scares me just a little…
casuistry /kazh-oo-iss-tri/…n. the use of clever but false reasoning.
– ORIGIN Latin casus ‘fall, chance’.
I make a long brush stroke from the ceiling right down to the floor. I paint up from the floor to the ceiling. And back down again, leaving a trail of sea-foam green that I’m barely even able to look at with both eyes. It’s a truly horrific color, and much more so when you’ve seen it all day long.
It’s three-thirty four in the afternoon. Another hour and a half to go.
I’m on the twenty-third floor of the Preston Wisler building. Mr. Wisler himself has hired a crew of painters to repaint the inside walls of his entire fifty-six story office tower. He owns every single floor of this building, and all of the souls inside of it. He’s the fourth richest man in the city, and originally from Corpus Christi Texas. The Lone Star State. Janis Joplin was from Texas.
Preston Wisler has built his empire entirely from other people’s decisions. He is incapable of making any sort of reasonable judgment by himself. The man is a buffoon. And his empire is a veritable monkey circus, just waiting to explode from the inside out.
But he pays me pretty good. Mr. Wisler has hired us to repaint the entire building sea-foam green. The ENTIRE building. The boardrooms, the bathrooms, the elevators, and the janitor’s closet. Even the parking garage. And in every room, we’re painting the floorboards, the electrical outlets, and the ceiling fans. He wants the whole building to have a “unified” feeling. He considers himself something of an artist, and thinks that this chosen color scheme is perfect. And unfortunately, nobody is in the position to tell him it’s not.
There are four teams of three painters. Each team takes one floor at a time until it’s done. Spreading the Sea-Foam Plague up each floor, from the bottom to the top.
I was lucky enough to end up with the audacious duo known as Pascal and Monty. Straight from the mental hospital, to Painting Union Local #34101, and into your home. I’m usually able to avoid them during the day; they paint from one side of the floor, and I paint from the other. But there’s just one room left on the twenty-third floor, and we’re all here together.
These standouts of society are apparently both from a quaint little place known as Big Lick Tennessee. That’s the Volunteer State for those of you keeping track. And did you know Davy Crockett was from Tennessee? “The King of the Wild Frontier” I think the kids called him.
Pascal tells me that he’s an ex-con, busted for various money laundering operations involving grade schools and ice cream shops. Not exactly the kind of information you want to be spreading around just anywhere. But he doesn’t seem as though he’d know any better, so I actually believe him. Pascal also had both of his thumbs severed in a prison riot, and as a result, his big toes were surgically removed and grafted onto his hands. And he doesn’t exactly have what the kids call “quiet toes”. Those mothers are huge. It’s hard not to stare at them, and it’s amusing to see him try to use the paintbrush. His balance is also a little off, due to his missing toes, but as long as he doesn’t go too high up that ladder, he seems to hang in there.
All of this sea-foam green is giving me a headache.
Monty is a piece of work. The big ox used to play minor league hockey for a team known as the Big Lick Steel Zambonis. He tells stories about his hockey exploits and about his chance at making the pros. But his sixth grade education seemed to hold him back from making it big. Plus, I’m assuming he couldn’t skate either. The guy’s as big as an Indian Elephant on steroids, and about as nimble too. I’m not sure if anybody from his hockey league ever made it big though. The Carson City Ice Possums, the Albuquerque Sperm Whales, the Milwaukee Hockey, and the Philadelphia Fighting Amish don’t exactly sound like professional organizations bursting with raw talent.
He has the irritating ability to just blurt things out. Thoughts he has that really have no relation at all to what’s going on around him. I’d like to believe that he was hit in the head with one too many hockey pucks, but that would be giving him too much credit.
Monty also has some major size-complex issues. Everything he uses, eats, or owns has to be the biggest he can find. He always super-sizes his extra value meals. And he drives a friggin’ monster truck to work. Even painting this office building for example; it might all be just one color, but he still refuses to use anything smaller than the broom-sized paintbrush. It doesn’t leave much for finesse, but we just let him paint the big walls.
Another hour, and I’m out of here.
Pascal and Monty have been discussing the finer points of professional wrestling for the last twenty minutes. They really do get on my nerves, but as long as they just leave me the hell alone, I’ll put up with them.
And then Pascal turns to me. Damn.
“So if you don’t watch wrestling on TV,” he asks, “what do you watch?”
“I don’t have a television set.” I say, not stopping what I’m doing for a second.
They cannot comprehend what it is they’ve just heard. It’s almost as if they’d have a better chance trying to understand the concept of infinity.
Monty ponders this for a second, “How do you watch wrestling then?”
“I’ve found a way to live my life without wrestling. It’s really not that hard.”
The two of them turn to one another and shrug their shoulders.
Pascal carefully climbs up his ladder, his “thumbs” trying their best to hold onto the ladder and the can of paint at the same time. He applies a couple strokes to the ceiling, before another brilliant question ceases all motor functions.
He turns back down to me, “What was your name again?”
“That’s right. So what do you do for fun Jerome?” he asks inquisitively.
“I’m a writer.”
Monty is quick to respond. “Are you a sports writer?” he asks with a sense of hope.
His shoulders sink back down.
It’s Pascal’s turn again. “Is that why you only work here one day a week?”
“It’s something like that.” I tell him.
“Are you married?”
“No. I have a cat.”
“What’s his name?”
“Like the fish?”
Pascal is about to say something else, but Monty beats him to it, “You know, one time I buried my best friend’s yellow Pontiac in his backyard while he was asleep. Buried the whole fucking thing.”
Pascal pays no attention to him, and asks me another question, “So what does your girlfriend do Jerome?”
Now, I consider myself a fairly attentive person, and I am especially not one to lie about anything. So you can imagine how surprised I found myself when I answered his insignificant question the way I did.
“She works at a museum.” is what I casually say. Like it was no big deal.
But I don’t have a girlfriend. And the first person I could think of that actually worked at a museum was Julie. Julie? She’s not my girlfriend. I haven’t even had a girlfriend for longer than I can recall. I can remember the last girl I ever slept with, but I don’t remember her name.
This is about the point where Monty starts whistling “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”, which is enough to divert Pascal’s attention away from me, and put him back to work. I, on the other hand, just leave the room.
I open the sea-foam green door to the sea-foam green bathroom, and turn on the sea-foam green tap. I half expect the water to be sea-foam green too, and I’m relieved when I discover it isn’t.
I try to imagine Julie standing before me in the mirror, so I can ask her about that job again. But all I see is myself. And my faded blue eyes. I’m sure these eyes were once bright, but I really can’t recall. I don’t appear to be even half as tired as I feel.
charade /shuh-rahd/…n. 1 an absurd pretence. 2 (charades) a game of guessing a word or phrase from written or acted clues.
– ORIGIN Provencal charrado ‘conversation’.
I’ve been at the front of this lineup for about twenty-two minutes, and it still doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I look behind me; I don’t even know where the line of people ends. This is a one-hour photo lab, not the premier for Star Wars. I think these people surrounding me now bother me even more than the trolls on the subway this morning. I see the man in his three-piece suit, holding his briefcase and his fancy coffee. There’s no way it’s decaffeinated. He looks at his watch nervously, as though he was waiting for the last train out of whatever personal Hell he’s built for himself.
There’s the 400 lb. woman trying to control all three of her kids at once. I’ve been listening to her crying kids for about thirty seconds, and I already feel like I’m going to snap. I remind myself that it was a good idea to never accept that job with the postal service a few years back. Or that I never took up dentistry.
My attention is diverted to the man with the seeing-eye dog, and I wonder if his eyes are really laughing under those dark glasses. Whether he really is blind or not. I knew a guy once that tried to sue a major department store’s fragrance section for spraying him with perfume. He claimed his body had an allergic reaction to the chemicals, causing him to go blind. Of course, he never had any allergic reaction. It was a worthy attempt, but he had to prove that he really was blind. So he put on some tinted glasses and threw a leash around his pet ferret, suggesting it was a “seeing-eye ferret”. He kept this up for about three weeks before the ferret escaped from the leash onto the highway, and he chased it for two miles. After the ferret was hit by a tractor-trailer, he had to explain how he made it back home on his own.
Finally, I’m waved up to the front counter by a girl who looks as though she’s fifteen years old, and has been working here for twenty. But I know she’s new here because I come to this photo lab every week and I’ve never seen her before. She just sits with a chewed-up blue pen in her mouth and glares at me, waiting for me to speak.
“I’m picking up some photos.” I say obviously.
“Name?” is the only response I get.
She turns on her swivel chair, and walks through the brown curtain to the back room. She comes out with my photos sealed in the customary protective yellow paper package.
“You Jewish?” she asks unexpectedly as she punches some secret code into the front till.
“Do you know Tiffany Krakow?”
“No I don’t.”
She blows a big pink bubble with her gum. It pops quite unsuccessfully. “That’s too bad.” she says while trying to reel the gum back into her mouth.
“Seven-fifty.” She says holding out her hand for my money. I give her a twenty.
She takes two fives and some change and gives it to me. “Have you got a ten?” I ask.
“If I had a ten, I’d have given it to you.” She replies.
“Would you really?” I say, not really expecting an answer. I pick up my saxophone case and turn to leave.
I pet the dog gently on the head before exiting. “Please don’t do that.” Says the blind man. I give him a quick glare, and I just know he’s mimicking me under those dark glasses.
cloying…adj. disgusting or sickening because excessively sweet or sentimental.
– ORIGIN Old French encloyer ‘drive a nail into’.
I walk up to 12th and Morheard and sit down on the blue bench under the larch tree. Every Wednesday around this time I sit on the same bench with my saxophone case wearing my sea-foam green-covered overalls and I flip through my newly developed pictures taken the day before.
It crosses my mind for a moment that the idea of myself doing this religiously every week for the last six or seven years may seem to others as very similar to how I perceive Creepy Pete’s 22-minute daily ritual. Am I someone else’s “Creepy Pete”? I dismiss the ridiculous idea, and open the yellow envelope of photos nonchalantly.
I see the picture of the fruit stand that I took at 8:33 AM. There’s the picture I took of the fat Italian guy inside his bistro wiping the windows with a dirty rag. The picture of the old Mansler Building, which is scheduled for demolition December 6th. The old lady waiting for her bus, supporting herself with a cane. She’s right next to the woman with the all-too-obvious boob job that doesn’t seem to have enough support. I see the little girl in her pink dress trying to soak her father. The bottle of Colon Smasher hot sauce on the museum steps. And at the bottom of the pile is the picture I took of Julie.
She smiles at me childishly from the paper in my hand. I start to really notice just how beautiful she truly is. I look into her blue eyes and begin to read something more from that smile now. It’s a genuine kind of love. I can see it on her teeth. Between the tiny wrinkles on her forehead. Along the wings of her upper lip, around her red cheeks, and all the way to her earlobes.
I shake my head for thinking of any kind of sentimental bullshit love. I gave up on that eons ago. My parents conceived and gave birth on an airplane in the name of love. That’s fucked up. My roommate slit his throat in the bathtub for love. It’s all the same shit. From birth to death. They all dream the same bogus dreams.
I shuffle through all of the pictures once more, this time removing the ones that I don’t really like and tossing them into the nearby garbage. I put the rest back into the yellow envelope.
I slide the picture of Julie under my overalls and into my pocket, not even realizing that her kiss on the camera lens didn’t show up in the photo.
corollary /kuh-rol-luh-ri/…n. 1 a logical proposition that follows from one already proved. 2 a direct consequence or result.
– ORIGIN Latin corollarium ‘gratuity’.
It’s nine o’clock, and I’m in the elevator of Oracle Industries Tower Four, somewhere around the fortieth floor. The elevator moves so fast you can’t actually count the floor numbers as you go by. One year ago, I quit my Monday night job with the Arctic Solutions Water Company. It was my job was to replace water coolers from buildings like this all over the city. And I needed keys to get into most of these buildings at night. I also worked Tuesdays for a locksmith, and that’s where I had copies of the keys to Tower Four made. You’d think it would be harder than that to obtain keys for the tallest building in the city, but it’s not.
The elevator comes to a stop on the fifty-eighth floor. From here, I take another elevator up to the top floor.
From the top floor, I unlock a stairwell to gain access to the roof.
Another unlocked door gets me right outside.
I needed copies of four different keys and two security cards just to get up here. But nobody asked me any questions, and nobody knows any better.
The city din is barely audible from the roof, and the wind up here is cold at any time of the day. I set my saxophone case down on one of the metal maintenance boxes, and open it up. I attach the strap, and sling it over my neck. This is the best place in the city for me to play, and the best time for it. The sound isn’t as deep up here and you don’t get that echo you need, so I wouldn’t recommend recording any albums from the rooftop of an eighty-nine story office tower. But it’s one hell of a feeling that you can’t find anywhere else. I imagine that the entire city can hear me from up here.
I come to Tower Four to play every Wednesday night. There should almost be a sign out front to advertise. The saxophone is the release that I need. I’ve tried playing at clubs, but it’s hard to get a one-man sax gig at anyplace suitable. Plus, there were the hordes of people I had to put up with.
When I’m on this roof, I don’t have to deal with city morgue security, bus drivers, hairless cats, bed-thumpers, photo lab assistants, Bob Saget, or any of the shades of shame down below.
And I don’t even feel like jumping off.
Although if I did feel like ending it all, this would be the place to do it. There’d be more left of my saxophone on the streets below than of my body. But the thought has never crossed my mind up here.
I just put the instrument to my mouth and blow. I don’t play anything specific; I usually make it up as I go. One chord here, another there. I’m not looking for a Musical Achievement Award, just a release.
Sometimes I’m up here for ten minutes. Sometimes for two hours. And I’ve never been interrupted. Until tonight.
I hear the stairwell door swing open, and I turn to look. Surely it’s one of the guards from downstairs wondering how I got through their elaborate security system. Or an electrician coming to repair some auxiliary power supply.
But the only person I see is Julie from the Museum of Applied Arts and Technology.
“Good evening Jerome.” She says as she saunters towards me. Hot air rising from her lips, and up into the evening clouds.
I want to ask how she found me, how she managed to get up here, but I’m too preoccupied with wondering whether or not I got the job for Tuesday.
“I followed you here, and the guard downstairs let me up.” The words roll off her tongue.
“The guard knew I was up here?” I inquire.
“They all know you’re here. They’ve always known. But he told me that you weren’t hurting anyone so it was all right by him.”
She moves closer now, and sits down next to my saxophone case. She runs her fingers along the cold plastic shell. The job, I wonder. Do I get the museum job?
She pauses before continuing. “I can’t give you the job Jerome.”
“Not because you aren’t qualified, because you most certainly are. If ever there was someone qualified enough to operate a mop and a bucket of water it’s you. But I’m worried about the state of your mental health.”
My mental health? What’s wrong with my mental health?
Who does she think she is?
“And I care about you too much to see you suffer any more Jerome.”
I’m not suffering.
“I don’t know how any sane person can work seven different jobs in one week.”
I try to understand what the problem could be but I can’t seem to come to a conclusion. “It’s what I have to do to stay sane.” is all I can tell her.
Julie gets up from her cold seat. She looks at me. She looks into me. I can almost feel her inside me. And I’m not sure if I like it.
“Wait a minute,” I say, thinking back to the words she just spoke, “What do you mean you ‘care about me’? You don’t even know me.”
She walks closer to me now. I can feel her warm breath as though it were my own. “How many people have you really allowed to get to know you? I’m as close as it comes, aren’t I?”
I don’t want to argue her point of view. Could I even make a case to argue it at all? She lays the palm of her right hand gently onto my chest, and tilts her head to one side compassionately.
“There’s something in here,” she says softly, “that hasn’t come out for a long time, isn’t there?”
I don’t have the words to say. Julie slowly slides her hand down my side, into the paint-stained overalls, and into my pocket. She takes out the picture of her that I put in that pocket earlier today. Like magic, she pulls a pen out of thin air, and writes something down on the photo.
“I know how to find you,” she whispers, “and when you’re ready to find me, you can start right here.” Julie hands the photo back to me. I hold it under the moonlight and read what she wrote down.
Written across her face is the name “Julie”, with an address and telephone number. I look back to Julie. She’s already moved about fifteen feet away from me, towards the stairwell door.
“I’ll see you then.” She says, and is suddenly gone just as quickly as she had first appeared.
I put the picture back in my pocket, and place my saxophone carefully back into its case. Playing any longer tonight doesn’t seem to appeal to me. I take the stairs all the way down to the lobby.
The front guard says goodnight as I exit Tower Four and head home.
crux /kruks/…n. the most important point under discussion.
– ORIGIN Latin, ‘cross’.
I’m dressed entirely in black today. I tell myself it’s because I need to do some laundry one of these days, but I can really only think of one logical reason why I chose this morbid attire; today is Merle’s funeral. You remember Merle, don’t you?
I know I’m not going to the funeral, and I haven’t thought about him at all since Saturday night, but I think of him this morning nevertheless.
Marlon is at the windowsill, contemplating his demise. Shall it be a swan dive? Or perhaps a belly flop into the concrete below? I’d give him a push myself, but I’m already running a little late this morning.
On my way out the door, I almost trip over the dish of cantaloupe I left for him.
I walk around the corner of 46th and Alexander, and down another block to Joe’s Barbershop. There’s already an old guy waiting outside for me. He’s been here before, but I don’t know who he is. He wears an old gray fedora. He’s so decrepit, I feel like telling him to “save the twelve bucks. The morgue will do it for you”. But I just nod unemotionally and open the shop. Welcome to Thursday.
Joe’s Barbershop was originally my grandfather’s. I never knew why he named it “Joe’s” though, since his name was Walter. He left it for my father in his will, but since my father died before him, grandpa’s hair clipper dream was passed on to me. Of course, cutting hair was never a great aspiration of mine.
Grandpa taught me how to cut hair when I was in high school. Arthur Vaughan Biesen and I needed money for beer and smokes, so I helped grandpa out on Saturdays. He taught me how to cut hair the old-fashioned way. He and I would regularly give our customers wet shaves, shaving their beards if they wanted. But the law says I’m not allowed to do that anymore due to the AIDS scare.
When he died, I started working at grandpa’s shop once more. That was thirteen years ago, and I’ve never worked here more than two days a week during that time. I hired another barber named Gary Sparkles. Sounds more like a car wash than a man’s name, but he was willing to work here five days a week, and has done so ever since I gave him the job. He’s a nice enough fellow, but I don’t care to associate with him any more than I do anyone else.
I’ve never written a will of my own, but when I’m out of here, I guess Gary Sparkles will get all the paperwork.
I point to the dusty leather barber’s chair, and the old guy crawls his way up into the seat.
He snickers as he removes his hat. “Just a little off the top.” he says to me, his laugh quickly turning into a wheezing cough. “That’s a joke son.” he insists as he points to his freckled bald scalp. I try my best to find the humor in it, but I’d much rather just see him leave.
This is by far my least favorite job. The necessity people find in having to drone on and on about whatever issues are currently bothering them is simply lost on me. I don’t care that your radio is on the fritz. I don’t care that they don’t make mayonnaise like they used to. And I don’t care that your mother has died.
Just shut up and read another outdated National Geographic. This will all be over soon.
And when they think they have all the answers to life? I call them the “Barber Chair Prophets”. They come strolling in here thinking they hold all of the answers to making my own life better. That’s why I just cut the hair without a word now. They can’t get into my head if I don’t give them an entrance.
Some days when the senseless small talk turns into political bullshit or psychological drivel, I imagine these people are simply laid out in the morgue. It’s much easier for me to block it out if I can convince myself they’re dead. I can see the scars from their lobotomy. I can smell the ointment that’s temporarily keeping their skin from rotting.
Merle never gave me any small talk. Merle didn’t have any petty problems that he assumed I cared about. Merle was much easier to feel pity for. Let’s face it; if one of your biggest priorities is shelling out twelve bucks to get your receding hairline trimmed, things really can’t be as terrible as you make it out to be. If you can make time in your center-of-the-universe life to come to Joe’s Barbershop, don’t expect me to give you a handful of sympathy with your change.
As I trim the ghost-white hair off the sides of his skull, the old guy speaks up again.
“Take a step back.” He says calmly.
I stop what I’m doing, and hesitantly do what he tells me. The old guy snorts a little and smiles at me in the mirror.
“No, no. Take a step back from your life. From the usual.”
“What are you saying?” I ask him.
His eyes squint, as he carefully looks into my own. “I mean you need a break, son. Look at yourself in the mirror for a moment.”
He continues anyway. “You’re so wound up with whatever’s on your mind, that you’re not even here.”
I don’t even want to know what he’s getting at, so I simply turn my clippers back and continue. But he’s not done yet.
“You don’t think you can fall in love, do you? I can read it in your eyes like a children’s book. Might as well have big colorful pictures too.”
I suck up his accusations and try to spit out my own. But I can’t speak. It’s like he’s got a hold on me. I can only watch the tiny white hairs drift to the brown linoleum floor below as I snip them in half.
“Don’t think of me as some Barber Chair Prophet. I’m saying anyone can love at any time they choose. And you need that love in order to live.”
I clip the hair around his ears carefully. He’s got the big sagging leathery ears of an elephant. I find the words to speak. “I’m living right now, aren’t I?”
“Is that really what you think?” He taps his finger on the wrinkled temple of his skull as I brush the lose hairs from his head. “In your mind you’re living. But you’re still missing that one key ingredient for it all to make sense.”
He rises slowly from the seat before I even tell him I’m finished. I stand still as I watch him hobble to the cash register. “How much do I owe you son?” he asks as though we didn’t just have that conversation.
“Twelve dollars.” It’s almost a crime to take the money from someone who had hardly a hair on his head in the first place.
“It’ll be ten dollars.” I insist, changing my mind.
He hands me a twenty, and I give him two fives in change from the register.
“Have you got a ten?” he asks me.
“If I did, I’d have given it to you.”
“Would you really?” the old guy ponders, with a wink and a smile.
He carefully places his fedora back on his head, and exits the shop whistling. In the pocket of my slacks, I find the picture I took of Julie with her handwriting scribbled over top. And I can’t remember when I must have put it in that pocket.
deliverance…n. the process of being rescued or set free.
Another failed brushstroke. I’ve tried my best to save what I could of this latest portrait of Arthur Vaughan Biesen tonight, but I’ve realized it’s a lost cause. Although, I find some strange sort of relief in the fact that this time my stroke only appears to be off by about 1/5 of a centimeter.
I don’t know what’s got me shaking more tonight. Whether it’s the thought of the conversation I had in the barbershop this morning, or if it’s because I’ve had “Rainy Day Women” by Bob Dylan stuck in my head for what seems like weeks now. I don’t even remember the last time I’d heard that song. Probably years ago. Strange.
I take the flawed painting from off the right of the easel, and store it in the closet with the others. That’s one hundred and twenty-four now.
Marlon is on the floor, polishing off another serving of seedless watermelon. He refuses to eat the watermelon that has the little black seeds. It’s a good thing he’s missing his tail, because some days I think I’d be tempted to yank it as hard as I could.
As I make my way to the bathroom to rinse my brushes in the sink, the phone rings. I hold on to the brushes and reach for the receiver.
“Jerome? It’s me. Julie.”
Julie? How did she get my number?
“I got your number from your resume. I hope that’s okay.”
Of course it isn’t, but I’m willing to hear what she has to say. I assume that she hasn’t changed her mind about the job.
“No, I haven’t changed my mind.” she answers coyly. “I was wondering if you wanted to meet up tonight.”
Tonight? Meet up? What ever for?
“I just wanted to see you.” She insists.
I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what to say. I’m an old man Julie. I need my sleep. Would that be sufficient? I need love in order to live, but I don’t see the point of it all. How about that? Or maybe I should just say nothing. Would that be so difficult? She’ll hang up thinking I’m not even here. Or she’ll imagine I had a heart attack and call an ambulance. Hmm…
Marlon has snuck up onto the windowsill, and he watches me as I struggle to find the right words. He doesn’t give me the look, but seems more worried than anything else. If a cat can worry that is.
“I guess I just need some sleep too Jerome. Goodnight.”
Julie hangs up, and I wonder what it was that I should’ve said to make her stay on the other end of the phone for a little longer.
I put the receiver back down, and continue to the bathroom to wash these brushes. As the water trickles out from the faucet, I can hear the familiar thumping sounds coming from upstairs. I roll my eyes back in my head knowing that I’m going to be up all night.
desideratum /di-zi-duh-raa-tuhm/…n. something that is needed or wanted.
– ORIGIN Latin.
As I stand in the shower this morning rubbing my eyes, I start to wonder if I actually got any sleep at all last night. I think I remember a dream of some sort. I haven’t remembered a dream for ages. But I have an image in my mind of Julie on the steps of the museum.
She is dancing to a song I’ve never heard before, and wearing the same paint-covered overalls as the ones I own. She is dancing with Arthur Vaughan Biesen, who is sixteen again with his long greasy hair. The old man from the barbershop sits next to me in the fountain with Marlon on his shoulder. Marlon has his tail back now. We are right in the middle of the fountain, but we’re not getting wet. In my head, I hear a voice reminding me that I’m still young. I don’t recognize the voice, yet I feel as though it’s Merle speaking to me from beyond the grave. At the top of the steps, I see Pascal and Monty on stepladders painting the entire museum sea-foam green.
That’s some weird shit. Yet it doesn’t feel as though I dreamed it, more like I actually lived it.
Out from the shower I head to the window. The clock outside tells me it’s 8:36 AM. Sure enough, I see that the Chinese woman is rolling out the fruit stands, and Creepy Pete has just turned around for another pass down Alexander Street. Everything is right on schedule. And to no surprise, JRM Brothers is still mysteriously closed.
Marlon looks up at me from the floor. There’s that look again.
“What’s it going to be Marlon?” I ask him. “You going to make the big leap today?” He just touches his tongue to his nose as a response. I’m guessing that means “no”.
I leave a dish-full of red grapes on the floor as I leave.
deus ex machina /day-uuss eks mak-i-nuh/…n. an unexpected event saving a seemingly hopeless situation.
– ORIGIN Latin, ‘god from the machinery’.
So my boss, Mr. Pitt, informs me that they have to make cutbacks in certain areas of the company, and that my job was close to obsolete, which made me one of the first to go.
“So you’re firing me?” I ask him directly.
“Grab your R.O.E. on the way out Krakow.” he responds, not looking up from his desk even once.
“These cutbacks,” I poke a bit more, “they don’t have anything to do with your kid, do they?” Everyone knows that Pitt was using company funds to pay for his son’s sex-change operation. But unlike his son, he’s not man enough to admit anything.
I leave Avenue Insurance with a scowl, knowing that I’m going to have to find work for Tuesdays and Fridays now. I was only employed here for three weeks, not long enough to even figure out what my job was. I filled out some papers on my first Friday. I filed papers on my second. That’s when I learned of the fraudulent money transactions. And last week I was sent home early with pay because the offices had to be unexpectedly fumigated. Some kind of roach problem I think it was.
I slam the lobby door behind me, and stomp out onto the street. Rain has just started falling, sprinkling the asphalt. And I’m stopped in my tracks. I see Julie standing in front of the pawnshop across the street. She’s waving to me, so I dash over to speak with her.
The closer I get to her however, I get the feeling that her wave means something more. It’s appears as though she’s waving hello, but it feels more like she’s saying goodbye. And yet, I don’t know why I sense this.
She’s wearing her museum jacket and a knee-length skirt today. Her museum badge still pinned to her breast.
I ask her what she’s doing here, and she tells me that she was waiting to see me.
“I wanted to apologize to you Jerome. For not saying what I should’ve said before. I’m sorry if you feel like I’ve been smothering you these past few days, but I just needed to keep seeing you. Independence has been a hard thing for me.”
Independence? What does she mean by that?
I take a gulp. “There’s some things I think I need to say to you too Julie.”
She puts her index finger to my lips. “Not here though.” Julie takes my hand, and leads me up the street. I cannot stop myself from following her, and not another word is spoken until we come to my apartment.
I unlock the door, and Marlon pounces on my left leg. He has never seen another soul inside my apartment, but Julie’s being here doesn’t seem to shake him. I pick him up and toss him across the room.
“Is that a dog?” Julie asks.
“That’s my cat. His name’s Marlon.”
“Like the fish?”
No. Not like the fish. I find that her query amuses me, and I think back to how it only annoyed me when Pascal asked the same question.
Julie slumps onto the couch. “I’ve felt really tired lately,” she proclaims.
“Would you like a drink?” I offer, moving into the kitchen.
“No thanks. Help yourself though.”
I notice Marlon as he watches me from behind the corner. He gives me the look.
I pour myself a glass of ice water, and sit down next to Julie on the couch. I watch her for a moment as she rests her eyes. Her skirt rides up her legs, and I can see the emphasis of the black nylon material on her thigh. Tiny drops of rain dot her forehead.
I’m about to say something to her, something deep and profound, but all that comes out is “I was fired today.”
She speaks without opening her eyes. “I know.”
“Now I need to look for two new jobs.”
Julie’s eyes light up, and she moves a bit closer now. She kneels on the cushions of the couch as she faces towards me. “For someone who says they’re trying to avoid people, it sure seems the opposite Jerome.”
What are you saying?
“It’s almost as though you’re trying to surround yourself with as many people as you can.”
Marlon sits on his hind legs on the floor in front of me.
“This is exactly the point I want to make Jerome. All of those pictures you take. All of the various people you’ve met from various jobs. The painting of the best friend you could never forget.”
How does she know about the paintings? Or about Arthur Vaughan Biesen?
“You’re feeling as though you’re bound up with feelings of antipathy and resentment. But you’re really just enveloped in some unconscious admiration for society.”
Is she on to something here? I don’t want to believe it, but I can’t help but think of the points she makes. I wonder how I could sit and watch the world go by from my window every morning. How could I complain about listening to people’s problems, yet continue to cut their hair for thirteen years? And how could I have a yearning for someone that I’ve only known for five days?
As if on cue, Julie leans towards me, and puts her head on my chest. I hesitate for the longest ten seconds in history, but I manage put my arm around her shoulder.
“I wanted to tell you,” I say quietly, “that I think I love you.”
Julie responds as if she were simply reading lines from a play. “You can’t love me Jerome. That’s not the way it works.” Her words trail off, and she falls asleep right there on my couch, with my arms around her.
My eyelids start to feel heavy, and I try to fight unconsciousness for as long as I’m able to. I see Marlon turn away from me. He walks purposefully to the window, and leaps up onto the windowsill. His eyes turn back to look at me. His little yellow eyes.
And then I’m asleep.
dirge /derj/…n. 1 lament for the dead. 2 a mournful song or piece of music.
– ORIGIN Latin dirige ‘direct’.
I show my security tag to Joe. He says good evening. I wave my most convincing wave. Joe is still cheating on his wife.
I unlock the laboratory door, and flick the light on as I enter. The closet door creaks open like in some cheesy horror movie. I take my white lab coat from the closet, and put it on. I slide a drawer open, and take out a new pair of rubber gloves. I peel them over my hands, and tug at the fingers until they snap into place.
There’s a body laid out on the table for me, fresh from his autopsy an hour ago.
I check his toe tag. “Findley, G.; Herniated Abdomen, Result of Gun Shot Wound.”
So G. Findley, just what were you up to last night? Possibly at JRM Brothers for some illicit late night activities? I start to wonder where his body was found. In a dumpster? No. The body hasn’t been cleaned yet, and he doesn’t smell like garbage. In the East River? No signs of any contact with water in the last twenty-four hours. He was probably just left in a heap on the floor where he landed. In any case, G. Findley’s body has lost so much blood that it’s far more pale than most of the other bodies I get the pleasure of meeting. And a lot colder too. I can feel it from a distance.
I woke up around 11:00 PM last night to the sound of a gunshot fired from somewhere in my neighborhood. I assumed it came from the JRM Brothers. I got up from the couch, and walked over to the window to take a look. Nothing out of the ordinary down there. Although, I swear that I could see a bingo dabber on the sidewalk under the streetlight. Before I could come to any conclusions however, I felt compelled to turn back around.
And Julie wasn’t on the couch.
I scratched my head, and took a peek in my bedroom to discern whether or not she crawled into my bed during the time I was sleeping. She’s wasn’t in there either. My front door was still locked from the inside, so she couldn’t have left out the door, could she?
I turned back to the open window and I thought, “Where’s Marlon?” He wasn’t anywhere in the apartment either. Did he finally make the great leap out the window? I double-checked the sidewalk below me for any trace. Nothing.
The picture of Julie was sitting on the kitchen counter. I dialed the number written on the photo, but I only heard ringing on the other end. I listened until it rang nine times. There was no answer.
I tried it again. Nine rings. Nothing.
I waited all afternoon for any word from Julie or Marlon, but I didn’t hear a thing. Before I left for the morgue, I put a dish of tangerine slices on the floor. Just in case.
I doubt G. Findley can help me find the answers I need. I reach for some soap, and start to clean him up. The gunshot wound came close to piercing his heart, but G. Findley got lucky with a ruptured abdomen instead.
I think back to a week ago. This has got to be the longest week of my life. I think of Merle, and how he was probably the most cooperative corpse I ever had. G. Findley is going to be a problem. I just know it.
I’ve never known my mind to play tricks on me, but I could swear I hear a light tapping sound coming from the wall. I dismiss it as a case of simply not getting enough sleep last night. Disappearing women and cats can have that effect on a person. I take a toothbrush to G. Findley’s fingernails.
The tapping gets louder now, and it sounds as if it’s coming from the storage wall. From behind the drawers of bodies. The giant vending machine of corpses. I put G. Findley’s hand down on the table, and move cautiously to the wall.
The tapping turns into a loud slamming sound. Like a violent kicking against metal. It’s definitely coming from one of the drawers. I run my finger along them all until I can tell which one. The whole wall unit is vibrating with the force of the impacts, and they echo loudly in the lab. My hand comes to a drawer labeled “empty”, and the banging suddenly stops. This is where I put Merle last week.
I put the proper key into the lock, and turn. The drawer slides out quickly on its’ own. And I am just a little surprised to see Merle get up under his own power.
“Whew! Does it ever stink in there!” he shouts, as he springs to his feet.
What am I seeing here? The deceased body of Merle is animated and standing naked before me in the morgue. He scratches his head, and begins to pick at the stitches and scabs he discovers there.
“How long have I been asleep?” he asks me coolly.
I hesitate to answer, apprehensive whether I have truly lost my mind or not. “You were supposed to be taken out on Tuesday. Your funeral was on Thursday.”
“My funeral? You talk like I’m dead or something.” He looks at me with a worried expression. I fear he doesn’t realize the extent of his condition.
“I’m not dead, am I?” He nervously searches his naked body up and down.
But then he laughs a prankster kind of laugh, pointing childishly at me. “Oh, I got you good, didn’t I Jerry?”
I have no idea what the hell is happening here.
“Come on! It’s me here. Your buddy Merle!”
I try to subconsciously kick myself back awake, for I know I must be dreaming this. But there’ll be no waking up tonight.
Merle hops up onto the table and sits next to G. Findley. He takes a good look at the lifeless corpse next to him and sticks his tongue out in disgust of the gunshot wound. His tongue is a yellowish color, due to the allergic infection. “I guess it could be worse, huh?” Merle sticks his finger into the open wound. It makes an unpleasant squishy sound as he moves it up and down. In and out.
I ask him what he’s doing here. And if I’m losing my mind.
He turns to me with a more serious look. “I needed to talk to you Jerry, but your schedule doesn’t accommodate very easily.” He doesn’t bother answering my second question, but I don’t know if I even expected him to.
We stare at each other in silence for a moment. I notice his right eye isn’t moving. It’s just stuck looking off to the side. Probably the result of a pinched nerve during his autopsy. A trail of drool forms at the corner of his mouth too.
I sit down on a chair across the room from him, and try to collect my thoughts. “What did you want to talk about then?” I ask him.
“I just wanted to know why you never made it to the funeral buddy.” He says this with a smile that appears out of thin air. He laughs a little. And as he does so, some urine involuntarily squirts out from his penis about two feet. He pays no attention to it.
“I’m just fucking with you Jerry! Lighten up a little.” His left arm starts twitching
now, probably another nerve problem. Looking at him it’s easy to think he’s falling apart, but he’s already dead.
“Why don’t you tell me about her?” he asks as he whips out the picture I took of Julie.
“How did you get that?” I ask, searching my pocket for it, but finding nothing.
“Pretty quick for a dead guy, huh?” he snickers. “So what’s the deal?”
I start to explain to Merle the details of what’s happened to me over the last week. How I met Julie. How I’ve had these feelings about her that I couldn’t explain. And how she disappeared last night after I told her I loved her. I tell him about every detail since the last time I saw him. I even mention the fish-lady on the subway. I don’t leave out a thing.
“Crazy shit happens to everyone Jerry,” he starts, “But that’s pretty fucked up, even from my point of view.”
He gets up off the table, leaking some more fluids from the physical exertion. He walks over to me, and I start to get used to the fact that I’m having a conversation with a dead man. I even notice that he doesn’t really smell all that bad.
“What you’ve got to do is sift through all of that shit, toss out everything that’s of no consequence, and hold on to what’s important. You’ve got to figure out what’s real, what’s false, and what can help you move forward.”
He talks to me like I wished my father had talked to me when I was a boy. And I realize that’s the root of my problems. I just needed a little guidance.
“Because it’s all about moving forward Jerome. Even in death.”
Merle hands me the picture of Julie. I look into her eyes, and feel as though the answer is just a heartbeat away.
I look back up to Merle, and I want to hug him. I want to thank this dead man for his inspiration.
But he’s gone. The drawer that he came out of is locked tight. Like he was never here at all. I hear his voice in my head now, reminding me that I’m still young.
I check the clock. It’s four in the morning. Time to get out of here.
ego /ee-goh/…n. 1 a person’s sense of self-esteem. 2 the part of the mind that is responsible for the interpretation of reality and the sense of self.
-ORIGIN Latin, ‘I’.
I’m taking the 330 Ferguson through the city once more. It’s 5:12 AM. The city streets are littered with beer bottles, paper, and drunken bodies that didn’t make it home from some wild party last night. A green haze seems to envelop the city this morning.
Everything Merle said to me keeps running through my head like a stampede. “You’ve got to figure out what’s real, what’s false, and what can help you move forward. Because it’s all about moving forward. Even in death.”
I try to make sense of what he said, while at the same time, trying to block out the image of him pissing on the floor.
Should I believe any of what happened in the morgue tonight? Should I pay heed to his words of wisdom, or try to forget the whole thing? Am I crazy to be talking to dead people? They do it in the movies all the time. Or so I’ve heard.
I should’ve asked Merle if he really was from Nebraska.
Up ahead, I see a woman waiting at the bus stop. I pull over, and let her on. She drops some change into the slot, but I don’t even count it to make sure it’s the right amount. She smiles at me nicely, and quietly sits behind me.
I close the doors, and head off again. Another twenty minutes and I’ll be in Suburbia. Fucking Suburbia. Just the thought of it almost makes me want to hit another dog. I said almost.
The woman behind me taps my shoulder. Excuse me.
“Did you drop this?” she asks, holding up the photo of Julie. I wonder how I manage to keep misplacing that picture.
I thank her for finding it as politely as I can at this time of day.
“What’s the address for?” She asks me inquisitively as she looks at the photograph. Would she care if I told her?
“It’s Julie’s address.”
“Julie. The girl in the photo.” I state as bluntly as possible.
This woman takes another look at the picture, examining it much more closely. “Oh, right” she says. “The girl. Of course.” She hands the picture to me, and I take a hold of it.
There is a silence between us that seems a little too awkward for complete strangers to have.
“Are you going to visit her?”
Visit her? Right now? “I’m working.” I say.
“You love her, don’t you?”
I have no answer for this woman. Maybe it’s because I’m not entirely sure what my answer should be. But an obligation to say something to her strikes me.
“She disappeared the other night, and I have no idea where she went.” I remember turning back to the couch, and missing her instantly. “My cat’s gone too.”
“Your cat? That’s too bad. I lost a cat once.”
“He jumped out my window.”
Her eyes bulge for an instant. Out the window? “Cats always land on their feet. And I heard somewhere that they always come back to where they came from.”
“Did yours ever come back?” I ask her, trying to sound concerned.
“Do you think women can come back like cats?”
She thinks about my question for a moment. “If you believe in her she will. Or you may have to find her yourself. Women are not that predictable.”
She has a point there. I think of every time I ever spoke with Julie. “I’ve never met anyone who was so unpredictable.”
The woman smiles at me as she points up ahead through the windshield of the bus. “That’s my stop up there.” I oblige, and pull over to the right. She rises from her seat and walks to the door of the bus. She turns back to me with one more gracious smile.
“The thing about surprises is that you never know when the next one will happen.” She steps down, and is standing outside. She motions to the photo I hold in my hand. “Say hello for me when you find who it is you’re looking for.”
And then she walks off. Between the edge of the city and Suburbia.
Twelve minutes later, I lose mind my mind. Seriously. I think of all the words I’d heard the last couple of days.
“You’re still missing that one key ingredient for it all to make sense.”
“You need love in order to live.”
“You’ve got to figure out what’s real, what’s false, and what can help you move forward. Because it’s all about moving forward.”
“If you believe in her she’ll come back. Or you may have to find her yourself.”
Images of Julie flood all of my senses at once. It’s almost too much to handle. I look at her picture. I remember calling her, but she wasn’t home. I read her handwriting on the photograph. Her address. It’s right there in front of me. It’s been there all along. The woman on the bus asked me if I was going to visit Julie. But I never thought I actually could. Until now.
I grab hold of the steering wheel as tight as I can, and take the bus right off the road. Right off the 330 Ferguson route. I blow through an empty parking lot, speed by a construction zone, and cruise right though a playground, kicking up grass and dirt behind me in a spray of green and brown. I’m unstoppable behind this wheel. Merle is on the bus with me now, laughing his naked ass off. And reminding me that I’m still young. I imagine that we’re driving straight through rows of heritage buildings, destroying everything in my path. A trail of fire blows out the back of the bus now, as if it were a jet plane. We drive across the front lawns and backyards of Suburbia, smashing through mailboxes, white picket fences, and tree houses with only one destination in mind. Merle is naked on the roof of the bus, and he’s screaming his bloody lungs out. Police have set up a barricade. The SWAT team’s arrived. The army is en route. And it doesn’t matter, because I’ve got one thing on my mind now that I’ve never known in my entire life. It’s love. I’m doing this for love!
And here I am.
I pull the bus over. Merle is gone again, so I get out on my own to investigate. I step foot onto the soil of Suburbia for one reason alone; love.
I let the black air of Suburbia touch my skin, because I think it will be worth it. But things here are not as they are supposed to be.
The address is here all right, but that’s all it is. Just an address. An empty lot. And it looks as though it’s been empty for years.
I take the photo from my pocket once again, to double-check. And I cannot believe what I see. It’s the same picture that I’ve carried around with me for days now, but where there was once a beautiful picture of Julie posing in front of the fountain at the museum, all it is now is simply a picture of the fountain. Julie is gone.
The writing is still there, but it’s not her handwriting anymore. No, now I can see that it is my own handwriting, scribbled messily on the paper.
“You’ve got to figure out what’s real, and what’s false.”
“The thing about surprises is that you never know when the next one will happen.”
The silence out here is almost unbearable. The only sound I can hear is the faint voices crackling over the bus radio, wondering where the 330 Ferguson has gone. And I have no idea.
extrapolate /ik-strap-uh-layt/…v. use (a fact valid for one situation) to make conclusions about a different or wider situation.
– ORIGIN from EXTRA- + INTERPOLATE.
So now I need to look for a new Sunday job too. Stunts like that don’t go over too well. Maybe I shouldn’t even bother. What’s the point? Merle would tell me that it’s all about moving forward.
I believed him for about ten seconds, but now I’m beginning to wonder if moving forward is such a great idea. You miss out on a lot of things if all you have is forward motion. You need to give yourself time to look back on what you’ve done. Perhaps there’s some sort of happy medium that we all need to find. A healthy helping of forward progression with a little slice of hindsight.
I come home, almost hoping that Marlon will scratch up my leg. But that same dish of tangerine slices is still there. A day and a half later. I throw the fruit away, and take a look out the front window. The fruit market is closed. It’s way too late now for Creepy Pete’s scheduled freak show. And big surprise, JRM Brothers is still sealed up from society. Even the clock on 46th and Alexander has stopped. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen that clock stop. Life outside my own existence has ceased to go on. And I try to blame myself for it.
I wonder if Julie was ever real at all, or if she was merely a figment of my worn-out imagination. For that matter, maybe everything I’ve ever known was only in my head. Arthur Vaughan Biesen? I have a painted portrait of my supposed friend from high school, but no actual proof of his existence beyond that. Was there ever a Joe’s Barbershop? Maybe I just took a pair of scissors into a back alley somewhere and cut up cardboard boxes all day. It’s possible. Perhaps there’s no such thing as the Preston Wisler building. Maybe Pascal and Monty never existed either. How do I know for sure? I don’t. There may not even be an actual color called sea-foam green. It sounds made up to me.
Joe the security guard. The Gas-Guzzling Goth kids. Martha Stewart. Bob Saget. Creepy Pete. The Bed-Thumper. Fish Lady. The seeing-eye ferret. Gary Sparkles. The Barber Chair Prophet. Marlon the hairless cat. Merle the snake charmer from Nebraska. Maybe they’re all just made up.
Maybe even Nebraska itself is made up. I wouldn’t rule it out. I could be that crazy.
So what does one do when they believe their entire existence has been a sham? What could one even possibly consider doing, besides just waiting for the sand to run out?
But I still believe there’s something more. A healthy helping of forward progression with a little slice of hindsight. Could that truly be the answer? Is it possible that I’ve just solved the World’s problems? Did I have to wait until I lost hope in all that there is before I could realize what should have been done all along?
And as soon as I figure it all out, as soon as that moment hits me that I’ve reached my plateau of greatness, it all comes crumbling back down.
There’s a scratch at my door. My first thought is that it’s Merle, possibly showing up for game of charades or something. I walk to the door and open it without a fear in the world. For what is there to be afraid of, when nothing is real?
This is when I realize how wrong I was. Marlon pounces on me, clawing at my leg, as if making up for lost time. I have to admit, I was glad to see the little hairless bastard.
And I was also glad to see who else was standing at my door. It was the woman from the bus. The same gracious woman I spoke with this morning. Right before the curtains were pulled. She smiles, a little surprised that she recognizes me too.
“My cat was your cat?” she asks in disbelief. It appears so. That cat of hers that she lost some time ago? That was Marlon. And when he finally jumped out my window, after thinking I had completely lost my mind, he went back home to her.
“My name’s Jerome,” I say to her as I finally pull Marlon off. “Jerry.”
“Sophie.” She replies, her hand to her mouth. “What a funny coincidence, isn’t it?” Marlon jumps up into her arms. “He was waiting for me when I got home this morning, and then he made me follow him all the way here.”
“I guess you were right about the cats always coming home.” I joke.
“I didn’t say that. It’s some expression the kids use I think.” She asks me if I’ve ever noticed how much he likes to eat fruit. And what happened to his tail.
Marlon convinces Sophie to enter my apartment, and he convinces me to close the door behind her. And we just took it from there.
As it turns out, Marlon the cat’s real name is Merle. And Sophie bought him from a traveling snake charmer somewhere out west.
JRM Brothers eventually went out of business. You can actually see right through the windows now.
I work five days a week at Gary Sparkles’ Barbershop.
Was Julie real? Or was she merely a figment of my imagination? Or some kind of supernatural force? Does it even matter anymore? Not really.
And I couldn’t be happier.