Ominous black storm clouds chugged across the early morning sky. They cast dreary shadows across the cemetery. Yet a few hopeful rays of sunlight pierced through the clouds, sparkling upon the dew laden grass. It added a mystic and surreal look to such a sadistic and somber reality.
Headstones lay in ineffable lines at whichever way you looked at them. Up, down, left, right, it was all straight. It was all stark. It was the geometry of death.
Aaron sloshed mindlessly through the jaded grass, dampening the toes of his shoes as he trekked onward. A cigarette hung from his mouth, like a tumor feeding off of the brain of a young child. Every now and then he would sling his hand up to it, take a long and satisfying drag, ash it, and keep walking.
He was here yesterday. There were a lot of people here yesterday. Friends, family, all of those people. But they didn’t matter. They were just stand-ins, to make the sardonic ceremony seem more real. Once the tears were shed, and the last shovel full of dirt was heaved upon the casket—everybody left. And they forget. They move on. But Aaron didn’t.
He took another long drag on his cigarette—he held in the smoke like a lover holds their dying partner—and then flicked it off onto the path that now lay on his left. It smoldered for a bit, and then died out. He slipped his hand in his jeans pocket and slid out his pack of Newport 100s, only to discover that it was empty.
“Dammit,” he muttered, tossing the box onto the path as well. He continued walking. His mind, now not focused on the cigarette, began to spiral into a whirlpool of unwanted thoughts. He thought of Her. And that emptiness that now lay in his heart, even though before he had thought it was always there. But it wasn’t, and now he knows it is, and there are not enough shovels full of dirt in the world that will ever be able to fill this hole. This emptiness. This void.
He stopped at a freshly laid mound of dirt, which lead up to a sullen silver tombstone. He lowered his head, and as he did his glasses began to meander down his nose, he didn’t bother to slide them back into place. His eyes slowly grazed over the words etched spartanly into the stone:
Eva M. Dover
December 3, 1963-March 27, 2002
A Rose Among Thorns
He fell to his knees, sliding easily into the moist, virgin dirt. He reached out, and brushed his hands upon the words, and tears began to gather at the corners of his eyes. But he held them in. Like he always did. With everything.
Freshly cut roses rested against the stone, a small note was tied to them. He snatched them up angrily and tossed them away. He was alone. And nobody could share his sorrow.
“I loved you mom,” He whispered into the silence.
He eased himself up, took one last glance at the tombstone—a symbol in every language for death, and an end—then he turned around, and strolled back to the parking lot.
Aaron sauntered out into the parking lot, his feet hollowly slapping upon the vacant asphalt. His eyes fixed upon his car, resting in the distance. It sparked memories. A lot of things had happened in that car. His first cigarette, his first kiss, hell his first of many speeding tickets. It was his safe haven.
He fished his keys out of his pocket and jammed them into the door. The lock was messed up. You had to really stuff the keys in there hard then jiggle it left and turn it right to actually open the damn thing. But he wasn’t going to fix it, because this car held memories. And he liked it just the way it was. Like when he got it, on his 16th birthday. . .
“Ok, take one and pass it back, this will be due at the end of the period, you have plenty of time to do it,” stated Mrs. Wantz, handing out a handful of white, stark worksheets to the class, “I’ll be at my desk if you have any questions.”
Aaron was seated at the back of the classroom, slouched low in his chair, and longingly gazing at the strenuous movements of the minute hand on the clock. Thirty more to go. Thirty long and monotonous minutes of Advanced Statistics. A lot of nothing can happen in that amount of time. A helluva a lot.
“You gonna stare at the clock like a goddam Neanderthal or you gonna take your paper?”
“What,” Aaron questioned dreamily, lowering his gaze onto the pestering voice that had distrupted him.
“Yeah,” Aaron said snatching the worksheet out of the kid’s hand and laying it on his desk, “I’m going to take one.”
The kid in front of Aaron twisted his face, turned around and muttered low under his breath, “Fucking weirdo.”
Aaron smiled at this, glanced at the clock once more, then began to read over the worksheet. Answer these problems. Show your work, check your answers. Same old bullshit. Graphs and equations that he will never remember, and even if he does he won’t ever use them. Just a coveted form of mind control that every American student must face, yet only a few of them realize it.
Aaron opted—instead of answering the mind shrinking questions—to vomit an intricate design of ink upon his paper. He began scribbling lines and shapes, twisting and serpentining across the page, growing over the letters, and devouring the numbers. He became lost in his art. If one could call it that. His mind was focused solely on adding more and more darkness to the white, more personality to the melancholy.
“Can you fucking stop scratching that damn pen across the table?!”
“What,” Aaron asked, truthfully.
“You fucking heard me,” Said the kid in front of him, Lucas Delong, a jock, who was probably not concentrating on his work, but rather the pink thong that Brittney is wearing today, which she had intentionally pulled out of her pants and raised her shirt to display.
“No, I didn’t,” Aaron said, melting back into his drawing. He began to draw broader strokes across the paper, producing a long, scratching noise as he did so.
The kid in front of Aaron spun around, plucked the pen out of his hand, and threw it on the floor. Other students began to look up from their work and rubberneck at what was happening. The teacher studiously continued to hover over her People Magazine.
“Told you to fucking stop,” Said Lucas, in a proud voice.
“What the fuck is your problem?!”
“What is my problem? I asked you to stop sliding that shit across your desk and you didn’t so I fucking solved the problem.”
More students began to turn around, and even the teacher began to slowly lower her magazine and look over at the brewing situation.
Aaron began to stand up, and at that point the teacher decided it would be best to say something. She laid her magazine down, after meticulously dog earring her page, and began to tread over to the two boys cautiously.
“Get back to work everyone,” She said, slowly gaining control of the situation one piece at a time.
Aaron was out of his seat before Mrs. Wantz arrived. He towered over Lucas by a foot, but Lucas had muscles, Aaron was just skin, and bones.
“Pick up my pen.”
Lucas laughed, “I’m not picking up your pen you fucking faggot.”
“That language will not be tolerated in this classroom, Aaron sit down. Lucas turn around!”
It was falling apart again. She was losing control. They all had stopped doing their work, and were watching the situation dilate.
“Now,” She demanded, walking up to Aaron, yet keeping her distance.
“You heard her you fucking dope, sit down,” Muttered Lucas.
“That will not be tolerated Lucas. TURN AROUND!”
“That’s bullshit, he can’t talk like that to me, and toss my shit on the ground. Make him pick it up. That’s all I want. Make him fucking pick it up!”
“Aaron Sit DOWN!”
She was losing the situation; it was slipping through her hands like water through a sieve.
“I’ll sit down when he picks up my damn pen.”
The phone in the back of the room began to ring its three beat chirp. It rebounded off of the tense air in the room, and sounded louder than it truly was.
This was her chance. She backed away from the boys, then turned around and stomped over to the phone.
“Mrs. Wantz….Yes….He is…Yes….Alright I’ll send him down now…ok…thanks….bye bye.”
She set the phone gently back in its cradle, and without turning around she said, “Aaron, take all your belongings and head up to the main office.”
He slung his backpack over his broad shoulders, and liberated himself from the classroom. He stumbled down the hallway, feeling an odd anxiety fluttering in his stomach. Was he in trouble for what he just did? Did the cameras in the parking lot catch him smoking a cigarette? Did something happen to his family?
He reached out and pulled the door open, and stepped cautiously into the main office. There was a mid-aged blond-gray haired woman tapping on a keyboard at the desk while muttering condolences into the phone which was crutched between her ear and shoulder.
“Can I help you,” She mouthed.
“Yeah,” Aaron said, glancing around at everything in the office except the lady, “Uh I was called up here from fourth period.”
“Ah yes, this package is for you.”
“Here you go,” She handed him a yellow envelope with a medium sized lump in the middle of it, “Have a nice day,” she said, and then faded back into her phone conversation and keyboard typing.
Aaron exited the office, and greedily tore open the envelope. There was a set of keys, and a letter.
He read the letter; it was scrawled in his mother’s childish cursive script. It said happy birthday, meet me for lunch at the café.
“What the hell,” Aaron muttered to himself, digging his hand into the envelope and fishing out the lump of keys inside.
They were keys to a car. A Honda. On a guitar key chain.
“Sweet,” Aaron exclaimed running out to the parking lot, and setting his eyes on his car. That sleek silver 1997 Honda Civic, 5-speed. Probably the best birthday present ever. He ran over to the driver’s door, slid in the key and began to crack open the door….
The odorous smell of cigarettes floated out as he slipped into the driver’s seat. He stuck the keys into the ignition and fired up the engine. He thought about turning on some music, but decided not to; he also decided not to use his seatbelt. No point anymore.
He slammed the car into reverse and then paused. Where was he going? He didn’t know. He wanted to get the hell out of Auburn, go to another country maybe the Netherlands and start anew. But he couldn’t. He had one more semester of high school to finish, and a father to take care of. Or at least keep sane.
Aaron stretched over to the glove compartment and popped it open, he dug past a pair of gloves with holes in them, a manual of some sort that had never been read, some rope, a flashlight and a disposable camera. There were no cigarettes.
“Damn,” He sighed, slamming the door shut. His hands were shaking. He never really got jittery from not having a cigarette. But he felt really sick now. His head felt heavy, like his brain was smashing against his skull. And his eyes were popping out of their sockets. He reached over to the passenger seat again and grabbed a bottle of water that was littered upon the ground, there was still some in it and it was cold enough outside to be drinkable. He guzzled it down. The water made him feel better. Or sane at the least. He gripped the wheel and revved the engine, gazing out at the road ahead. He rolled down his windows slightly, out of habit, and then began to roll slowly towards the exit in neutral.
He squealed out of the parking lot, and fishtailed onto Davis Parkway. His mind was pounding. Like a goddam stampede of wild boar were storming through it.
“Christ I need a fucking cigarette.”
The light up ahead flashed yellow. He sped through it as it faded to red. He glided over into the right lane, and took a sharp turn, cutting off a red pick up truck. Trees merged with buildings creating a pseudo time machine effect as Aaron punched his car onward. He was going around eighty miles per hour. He weaved through traffic, dodged shifting stoplights, and eventually squealed into the BP station that was on the corner of Jordan and Canteberry Road.
He parked his car next to the tire inflators—nobody ever used them—killed the engine and got out of the car. He absent mindedly dug in his pocket for a cigarette, but angrily came up empty. It was habit.
“Ok sir, have good day,” Said Raj to a morbidly obese man, that was bordering on exploding out of his pinstriped business suit. The obese man nodded, and proceeded to plod out of the gas station. He—huffing and puffing the whole way—reached the door, stretched out his sausage sized fingers, and wrapped them around the grimy once silver handle. He slung it open with much effort, and squeezed through the frame.
Aaron was walking towards the door as this dough faced being was stumbling out of it. The obese man gave Aaron an odd look, and attempted to offer a friendly smile.
“How you doing,” Aaron muttered.
“Just fine,” The obese man sputtered, his jaws jiggling and flapping aimlessly as he spoke.
Aaron walked past him, nodded a farewell, and entered the building.
It was a regular, small town gas station. Three isles—full of chips, dip, cookies, and other foods to clog up your arteries—lined the left side of the store as you entered. Further left, hiding behind these isles of gluttony were two coolers, stuffed full of cheap beer, and the other stuffed of off brand sodas. If you took a right from the coolers you could use the restroom, a unisex ordeal which was cleaned once every two months. Give or take. But to the right of the entrance, was the real meat of the store. The checkout counter. It was surrounded by a plethora of trinkets and gadgets that nobody ever buys they are just pretty much dismal forms of decoration. Hovering behind the checkout counter was what Aaron had really come for. The smokes. There was a white rickety rack which was suction-cupped to the window that held every brand imaginable, and had one whole shelf dedicated to solely Newports.
“Ah, hello my friend, how do you do today,” Raj questioned, as Aaron began to shuffle closer to the register.
“Why is this?”
“Man, I dunno. You know how my mom died. . .” he stopped, took a deep breath then started again, “. . .my mom died and I just can’t seem to cope with society anymore. I feel like I’m stuck in a void between life and death. Like I’m awaiting something, but. . .I dunno. Can I just have a carton of Newport 100s?”
“Yes,” Raj said, turning around and snatching down a carton of Newport 100s from the shelf, and slapping them on the counter, “But these things are going to kill you some day, you know?”
“Why? You believe that your life is bowl of cherry,” Raj questioned, as he pecked his code into the register and scanned the box of cigs.
“Right now. I need a cigarette.”
“It will be thirty-two dollar and eighty seven cent. And you know, you never need the cigarette, you just want them. Like. . .”
“No man,” Aaron said, tossing two twenties onto the counter, “I need them, if I don’t smoke I feel an emptiness in my chest like . . . like my soul is gone, and with my mom being dead I really can’t have that feeling now.”
“Did I ever tell the story of why how I come to America,” Raj said, depositing the twenties into the safe under the register, and digging for change.
“No, and keep the change.”
“Thank you. But if you have time, I believe you would like this story.”
“Shit Raj, I’ve got all the time in the world.”
“Then let us go out front, you can smoke, and I shall tell you.”
They walked out of the gas station side by side; Aaron looming over Raj by about two feet making them look like quit an odd pair. A cool breeze whisked through the gas station, wrapping around the pumps and sailing through the two friends. Raj led Aaron over to two pale green lawn chairs which were surrounded by old cigarette butts and empty cans of beer. They talked here often. When it was raining, when it was cold, when it was hot and when it was comfortable. It was their escape. A place where ideas could be born and subjects debated.
Aaron sat down on the chair, searched his pocket for his lighter, and lit up a cigarette. Raj sat down as well, and cracked open a beer.
“Well, my story begins like all stories; I was young, proud and. . .”
Aaron burst into laughter. He dropped his cigarette onto the ground and clutched his abdomen because it felt as though it would explode. He didn’t know why he was laughing, but it felt good. Necessary. He hadn’t laughed in ages.
“See I make you laugh.”
“You make me lose my cigarette you damn baboon,” Aaron giggled, lighting up another death stick.
“But really,” Raj said cautiously setting his beer down on the uneven concrete, “I have a story, and I was young. . .
I was born in India, of course as you know. My parents were poor, peasants so to speak, and we had nothing. No house, no food. Nothing. The only thing that seemed to keep us sane was being able to have each other. But that didn’t last for long.
My father was drafted into the military by the new communist dictator that had ascended into power; Nubian James was his name I believe. I was sixteen around that time, too young to be drafted, but old enough to foster my own family. My father went away and I never saw him again. We like to believe that he fought in glorious wars that were waged to better our nation. But that is not what really happened. All of the soldiers that Nubian drafted were executed, because he wanted to be the only powerful male amongst our people. And he was.
Soon after the “draft” Nubian began taking young women to surround him at his throne, my sister being one of them. He raped them, beat them, and eventually when he deemed them to be worn out, he executed them by cutting off their limbs and allowing them to bleed out in the dungeon. I was left alone with my mother.
We were in limbo, my mother and I. Her being too old to be a whore of the sultan, and I being too young to be his weapon. Nonetheless all we had was each other. And we had to escape. There was a militia forming that was going to attempt to take over Nubian, and abolish his throne, most assumed it was just loose talk, but I did not. I wanted revenge; I wanted to stride up the steps of his sadistic palace and wrap my hands around his scrawny neck and ring it of its spoiled blood. But I couldn’t. I had my mother to think of.
Days and weeks faded into months, which gradually grew into years. We suffered. The sultan took everything from us. Our friends. Our families. Our food. And most of all our freedom. It was his goal to demoralize us as much as possible, and push us submissively into his control. And it worked. To earn money in his sadistic economical make up, we had to suffer. Literally. He had machines of different sorts that would inflict varying amounts of pain, which would then in effect pay the tortured varying amounts of ruby. There was no other form of income. Everyday I watched as my friends dwindled away from starvation, my home crumble from destruction, my mother fade into darkness, and my life spiral into a paradise of a madman. I was lost. I begged my mother to allow me to go into the right of passage, that is what Nubian called the torture chambers, but she would not allow it. She said she would rather die by my side than watch me suffer for her goodwill.
The times grew rough. The military had completely demolished our house. We were living on the street. My mother had weighed a sickly eighty-nine pounds, and myself ninety-nine. We were skin, bones, and broken souls. The time had come to journey into the right of passage.
The entrance to the right of passage was a twelve foot high iron rod fence, with well sharpened spear points on the top of each rod. There was no gate, only a gaping entrance into its dark, and screeching madness. Two guards flanked the dark depths on either side, both clad in dark blue linen uniforms, and a light blue turban. They held machine guns at their hips, and had swords slung on their belts. Their eyes never moved. My mother and I stopped at the entranced and attempted to gaze into the right of passage, but our pupils would simply not allow it. But our noses gave us a simple taste of the sardonic smells that floated out of the black hallway. It was so strong that it burned our noses and watered our eyes. We moved in.
As we stepped over the divide of light and dark, we could feel coldness envelope our fatigued figures. And we could see nothing. We walked onward for what seemed like miles until we saw a dim red glow illuminate the end of the tunnel. It greeted us, as much as it warned us.
We stumbled into a dank and bland room, red light danced around us. There was another guard here, shirtless, with black pants. Beside him was a sign, scribbled with the types of torture they offered, and the rewards. None of them were worth it. And yet they all were worth it. We were kissing the feet of our maker.
The guard grunted profanity at us, then held his tongue momentarily, offered us a stilted, leathery grin, and told of us companion tortures. Sneering as he did so. Companion tortures. The life of one for the freedom of another. The more sadistic the torture, the better the reward for the one left living. After of course, they watch their companion die in the most brutal of ways.
My mother looked at me, and at once she knew what I was thinking. And she quickly dissolved my idea, by questioning the guard. She asked him how she could send me to America. What she would have to do. He only offered her a cold stare, and uttered a guttural line of words into his radio, then grinned, turning his back, and beckoning us to follow him.
He led us past rooms and rooms of screaming victims. Blood was coagulated on the floor, and scratched across the walls. Vicious looking machines decorated the walls, their spikes and points glinting with grime and glee. Their masters doing the same. Cloaked in black and bathed in blood, they gazed at us as we traveled through the right of passage to what they were calling it, Niger animus quod somas.
Our murderous guide stopped abruptly at an enormous, and elaborately detailed oaken door that stood at the end of the hallway. He melted towards the wall, and motioned for us to enter, maliciously nodding his head to us, and peaking into my depthless, horror filled eyes. I was scared.
We both grasped a handle on either side of the door, and pulled it open. It screeched noisily upon the floor, and a dim rancorous crimson light drifted towards us, beckoning us to enter the room. And we did.
In the center of the room there was a towering edifice shrouded in a silken black cloth. On either side of it were two guards, they had no shirts and no guns, only swords which curved from their waists to the tops of their knees. They wore black masks with simple slits for eyes and a grated design on the mouth for air. The guards looked at each other, and turned to light the lanterns behind them. The room glowed orange as the fires began to burn. The guards then nodded to each other, snatched either side of the cloth cloaking the morbid machine of death in the center of the room, and swished it off. What was under it was a wretched primal machine crafted of splintered black wood and sodden rope. One log of wood was planted into the floor and reached up to the ceiling, which connected to an over head log that stretched about five feet across. On the top log were two steel cuffs. Mounted into the floor were two more cuffs, directly below the ones above, only three feet apart. And glaring in the flickering flame, hanging on the back of this machine, was a standard two man saw. Its blades were glossed over with blood and rust. Its handle spiraled with splinters. It was truly what they called it, the separation of body and soul in death. A sadistic machine. But at that time we only knew the half of it.
The guard seized my mother, and ripped off her clothing, exposing her bony body sheathed in rotting skin. She did not scream. She only lowered her head and became limp. Docile. They straddled her legs and inserted her feet into the chains at the top, and her hands in the bottom. I was frozen with terror. The guards then moved over to me, and handed me the saw. I accepted it—enclosed my hands around its splintery surface, allowing the wood to sink into my skin, and watched the blood drizzle down my hands—then I froze.
I stood there staring into the black coals of my mother’s tired eyes, she whispered to me, “Finish, go to America, and live with my loving memory. I am nothing now. My life is over, YOU CAN LIVE! DO IT!”
But I didn’t move. I heard the guard unsheathe his sword from behind me and felt the cold steel tip slice through my left calf. Hot blood trickled down my leg. I didn’t scream. I just stood there. A screenplay of my life flashed in the back of my mind. I saw my birth, my childhood, all of my life up to this defining moment. And it sickened me. Everything that I ever accomplished. Everything that I ever failed at. I did with the help of my mother. And now she was tied before me. A mere slab of meat. Waiting to be freed. I etched forward slowly, hands wringing around the splintery saw handle, then stopped. It was at that point that I realized the reality of life and death. The dividing line. It was thin. And it was thick. I stood behind her, and placed the cold, corroded steel between her legs, and began to tear the line of life. Separate the flesh from the bone. I began to saw.
The saw squished uneasily through the flesh, and with every forward and backward movement of it, my mother let out a sad cry. And then the screaming began. The pleas for mercy. But there was no mercy. By the time I had sunk to her ribcage she was dead. Blood had spattered onto the floor, on my arms and on the guards. I looked at them longingly. I wanted to stop. But they did not allow me. I finished cutting my mothers cold dead body in two. And after that I was given a ticket to America. I left empty. I left alone. But I left with my freedom. My life.
Raj stopped talking, and stared out towards the street. Three cars passed by. Moving onward to their destinations. Going through the motions. Living their insignificant routines they call lives.
An empty pack of Newport 100s lay idly on the ground, surrounded by a snowfall of butts smoked to the filter; Aaron lit another one, and gazed into the distance. Not really seeing what was in front of him, but what was inside of him. He tried to think of something to say, but he couldn’t think of anything. He couldn’t grasp what he had just been told he himself losing his own mother, but in a much less gruesome way. Or was it. He pondered this for a while, but the silence began to sicken him. He looked over at Raj who was cracking open another Beer, his third. He had an odd glint in his eyes. And Aaron knew he had to say something. Raj was waiting for a response, that is what that glint said. It begged him to say something. Aaron came up with his best response he could.
“Damn,” Aaron said, taking another drag on his cigarette, “That is some fucked up shit man.”
“Yes,” Raj muttered carrying his beer to his lips. The corners of his mouth showed the hint of a smile as he did so.
“I don’t want to…”
“I know what you are thinking.”
Shit! Aaron thought, he knows that I don’t really believe it. He tried to vomit up a pointless conversational topic before Raj could speak again, but he was too late. Instead Aaron lit another cig, and listened.
“You believed every word of that,” Raj snickered, “It did not happen. Like that. You think I saw mother in half and am still sane?”
“It is an old ghost story. It originated in India, and it holds much meaning. My parents did die, but not in such the horrific manner that I tell you. They gave me everything they had, and most of all they gave me life, and when they died I realized how beautiful life is. I was sad. But I promise to them that I will not dwell on their deaths, and cherish the life that they granted me. And that is what your mother would want you to do. Cherish your life.”
Aaron’s mouth was gaping open, he put out his half smoked cigarette, looked Raj in the eyes and said, “What the hell, that story chilled me to the fucking bones I thought it was real and now you say its some old wives tale?”
“And you are ok with that?”
“Yes, because it has meaning, one that you must learn,” Raj said, gazing at the white pick up truck that was turning into the gas station its bed was full of tires, and on its side it said, “Perfect Traction Tires”. It rolled to a stop in front of the two lawn chairs and the driver killed the engine.
“The saw is in your hands,” Raj said, then standing up he crushed his beer can and waited for the man to step out of his truck.
A weathered man stepped precariously out of the truck. His jeans were pasted with dirt, as well as his yellowing work boots, his shirt—a red T-shirt with an ironed on company logo—was peppered with holes, and his face was heavily eroded by the years of his life.
“You the owner of this place,” The man questioned in a gruff voice, staring at Raj.
“Yes,” Raj said, standing up and offering his hand to the man. He didn’t take it.
“I’ve got your usual shipment, where you want it?”
“Around back, I will help you carry it.”
“Ok,” Spit the man in the flannel shirt, turning around into his truck and fishing out a clipboard dangling with paper, his hands were caked with grease. Calloused, “But first sign this here.”
Raj scribbled his John Hancock on the paper and tossed it back to the man.
“Aaron, we can continue our conversation tomorrow if you like. I will help him carry these, and then I must go back to store.”
“I’ll help you out,” Aaron said, tossing his cigarette on the ground and smothering it under his shoe. He still looked shell shocked from the story Raj had just fed him. The lie he had just eaten. But it did have meaning. And maybe he could even relate it to his life. But not now. He needed to eat, and he needed sleep, he just realized now that he hadn’t slept for the past three days, its Sunday now and he has school tomorrow, that means a bright and early morning starting at 5:45.
“Alrighty,” Said the man in the flannel shirt absentmindedly adjusting his genitals, “Grab three tires each, and we will be set.”
They each grabbed three tires, and walked over to the empty rack near Aaron’s car. Raj dropped his tires first, they bounced aimlessly and he began to set them on the shelf, Aaron followed, then the man in the flannel shirt.
“That should do it,” Grunted Raj, wiping off sweat from his head.
“Uh-huh, I guess I’ll let you two get back to your palaver over there.”
“Actually its getting late Raj, I’m going to go ahead and leave,” Said Aaron, cracking open the door of his car and climbing in.
“Ok, I shall see you again friend.”
The man in the flannel shirt rudely interrupted, “Whoa boy, your back tire there isn’t looking so hot. Flat on the inside and ridged on the outside. Bound to tear anytime now. I reckon you need a new one.”
“Uh . . .Thanks, but no thanks. I’m tight on money now, and if it decides to pop maybe it’s for the best.”
And with that Aaron closed the door and sped off into the last rays of light of the day.
“Where are you going?”
“You are not leaving this house until you tell me where you are going young lady,” Said Mrs. Gothard, a woman of her mid forties. The first strands of gray were slithering into her once auburn hair. And wrinkles were slowly folding over the once fair angel skin of her naturally tanned face. She was aging. And she was fighting it, with dyes, make up, the works. Anything to conserve her beauty. She was all about beauty. Her daughter, Katie, was a mirror image of herself when she was younger. And from experience, Mrs. Gothard knows, a young woman like that is sure to attract boys. And predators.
“Uh,” Katie protested, resting her hands on her slender, bony hips, “I’m going out to lunch with Julia, then maybe the movies. Gosh does it really matter?”
“Yes it does. Be back before dark or I will have the cops out looking for you.”
“You are psycho.”
A car screeched to a smoky halt in front of the Gothard’s house, and beeped its horn twice. Katie opened the door and ran out to the car. Here dark brown hair fluttering in the wind. That was the only difference. She had taken her fathers hair.
“Be back before dark,” Yelled Mrs. Gothard after her daughter.
“Sure,” Shouted Katie, sliding into the passenger’s seat and speeding off.
Susan Gothard watched uneasily as the red civic dissipated into the sunset. She knew that children were supposed to have fun, but. . .well but what? They should have fun, and hell she had a good time. But something was wrong. She couldn’t put her finger on it. But it was there. Hovering in the back of her mind like a bee hovering over a virgin flower. Pondering its next move.
Susan looked around outside again before closing her door. Across the street was the Miller’s house—Susan utterly despised those green shutters which were fading to a mossy brown and hung at uneven angles at each window—in their front yard were their children’s bicycles. Must be time for dinner over there. She stared longingly at the bikes. They brought back memories for her. Katie running around in her mother’s high heels, playing in the dirt with her boy friends, watching the power rangers and even willingly going to church. The old days. The easy days. Days when Katie was young, innocent, a child. They always say with little kids you have little problems, and with big kids you have big problems. She hasn’t had any big problems yet. Except for Katie’s experimentation with cigarettes one night, but other than that, Susan has had an easy time parenting a teenager. Too easy. Almost like all of the small problems and infractions are going to build up and come tumbling down upon her, like the snow build up before an avalanche. The slightest scream will set it into motion. And maybe soon.
She ran her hand down the smooth wood which had been warmed by the last dying rays of the sun, glanced at the bikes again, and closed the door. She never bothered to lock it. This was too nice of a neighborhood. Nothing bad could possibly happen. Nobody breaks into houses anymore.
She went into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine. Or more like a goblet fit for a king. She set the bottle down after the cup was brimming over the rim, and sucked the wine off of the top of the cup like poison from a wound. She straightened back up, greedily snatched up her glass, and started over to the couch in the next room. Then she stopped. And grabbed the bottle as well. No need to bother with getting up when she needed more right? Just because she has the bottle right next to her doesn’t mean she is an alcoholic. Alcoholics drink out of the bottle.
She cautiously set the bottle on the wooden oak table her mother had given her when she died, and then fished a coaster out of the drawer with her free hand for her glass. She took a gulp, and then set the glass down as well. Susan never just drank. Because alcoholics just drink. And she was not an alcoholic. She stumbled back towards the kitchen, past the stove which blinked 325 in red, past the microwave which flashed, “Press start to continue cooking,” and then entered the laundry room.
It was a small room, almost claustrophobic. And it smelled of must and tide. The once pearly white tiled floors were stained a wicked yellow and clothes were piled upon them, like cast away snake skins. White collared shirts curled around black lingerie, sheltering like a lion shelters its cub. For this room was much like a jungle. In its smells, and its visuals.
To the right of the entrance rested the washer and the dryer, they were both silent and empty. To the left of the door was a closet. It was where the cleaned clothes rested, awaiting to be folded, and carried back to their masters.
Susan stumbled into the room, and flailed her arms around aimlessly to find the light switch, which was upon the right wall of the doorframe. As it always was, and as it always will be. She caught it, and flicked it on. But nothing happened. The bulb was out.
“Goddamit,” She grunted, moving forward. She bent down, picked up an entangled mass of clothes, and stuffed them into the washer. She clobbered the start button, poured some detergent in and slammed the door shut. Then she spun around, and popped open the closet door behind her. A pink basket sat idly upon the floor, it was brimming with an assortment of clothes. She kneeled down, grunted, snatched it up and stumbled mindlessly back towards the living room.
She slouched lazily upon the couch, and absent mindedly folded clothes. And her drunken mind began to swirl through the dark side of her life. Or what she thought was dark. That bitch. Always running around with her friends, she thinks she is so damn pretty. Gonna go out and get fucked, then we will see.
Susan always thought like this when she was drunk. This was the way she really felt about things. Her life. Her daughter’s life. Her husband. She hated them. And did she hate that weak stomached son of a bitch husband more. Damn! He comes home every night asking what is for dinner and bitching that it’s too cold. Make his own dinner if he is gonna bitch. Goddamit.
They had been married for thirty years and out of twenty-seven of those years she had been a closet alcoholic. To her own knowledge at least. She was very meticulous about it. She would never drink casually around her husband, and neither at parties. She was always the designated driver. She never understood social drinkers. But when she was alone she really knocked them back. It was a way of relaxation as much as a way of reflection. And since nobody has stopped her so far. Why stop?
She turned her head as she heard the garage door rumble open. It was him, that son of a bitch husband. Gonna come in and ask what’s for dinner. Not gonna say its cold, just gonna get up and put it in the microwave. That really pissed her off.
She continued to fold the clothes, placing the whites in one pile and the colored in another, and when she was done she placed them neatly back in the basket. The door cracked open. And she froze. The bottle of wine was still resting on the table next to her, but it was empty. And so was her cup. She jumped up drunkenly, knocking over the basket of freshly folded clothes, and sloshed into the kitchen, gripping the bottle and goblet in her hands.
“I’m home honey,” said her husband, closing the door and latching it. His voice was heavy. Tired.
“How was work,” Susan croaked, placing the bottle in the trash can, under other trash, and then setting her goblet meticulously behind the coffee pot.
“Same shit. Where is Katie?”
Katie. Who is. . .Susan had forgotten all about that bitch. Her skinny teen body that she was so jealous of and her father’s dark silken brown hair. Where was she? She had forgotten. It had sunken through the sieve of her drunken mind.
“Oh, she is out with a friend.”
“At this hour? It is nearly nine. And it is a school night.’
“I told her to be back soon,” Susan lied, shifting her eyes towards her husband as he walked into the kitchen. He set his bag down and continued to take off his shoes.
“Think she will listen,” Mike muttered, lying his shoes near the back door, next to a pair of high heels, and an empty spot for his daughters sneakers.
“Yes,” Susan said, then abruptly blubbered, “Are you ready for dinner it will be getting cold soon.”
“Yeah, let me go up and change first.”
“Ok. I’ll warm it up.”
And with that, Mike went up stairs and began his strenuous changing routine which took about fifteen minutes. In that time Susan would abruptly warm up his dinner, and watch angrily as he warmed it up again.
Susan, after popping the meal into the microwave, sat down at the table and poured him a glass of wine. She took a sip. Her first of the night for all he knew. And she waited.
After the ritual of changing was completed Mike sauntered down the stairs. He was tired. He worked at a pharmaceutical company with a boss that was half his age and made double his salary. Not only did Mike end up doing his boss’s work and was getting paid less, he had to come home and put up with his drunken wife. He saw his wife sitting drunkenly at the table, and saw his cold plate of dinner glinting under the light. Another day in the fucking life.
Mike grabbed his plate, smiled at his wife and said, “Guess I took too long. It got cold.”
“Guess so,” She mumbled, flipping him off as he turned around.
They ate in silence and were sound asleep before Katie returned home.
Aaron drove past his house. The blinds were open, but only darkness could be seen inside. A dove white car rested idly in the steep and windy driveway. Rust colored leaves peppered it like bullet holes. Aaron began to pull into the driveway, but stopped. He was hungry. Not only had he not slept in days, he had not eaten. He knew his father would be passed out on the couch, clutching his happy pills and drooling from the mouth. There would be no food. And there would be no comfort. Aaron lit a cigarette and sped off.
Darkness began to slowly stutter across the sky. Aaron drove around aimlessly looking for a place to eat. There were many close to his home. But he drove past them. And as he did his mind began to wander. It wandered into the dark, unruly forest of death, into the desolate desert of loneliness, and into a serene and reflecting lake. And in the reflection of the lake, the image of his sullen faced father stared back at him, cold empty eyes longing to live again.
His father hadn’t taken it well. But did anybody ever take death well? It is so final. Once the casket is closed shut and the dirt lay upon it, it seems that the world has forgotten who that pile of rotting organs and skin was. What they stood for. Who they loved. And who loved them. And now he was alone. He had Aaron, but Aaron himself couldn’t cope with the reality of it. The Dover family was riding a downward spiral into destruction. Into madness. Aaron’s father seemed to be able to cope with the death of his beloved wife, until the funeral. Until he saw the mahogany casket sealed shut, the crimson roses lying atop it, the preacher. . . .
It was a warm day. For March at least. But everybody was dressed for the cold. Because at a funeral. It was always cold. Death was present, and with it, it carried its empty touch, which swirled around everybody who it would soon strike down and carry to the grave. Into darkness. Leaving loved ones to drown in pool of loneliness.
An assortment of chairs were placed at the left of it. It was a scar upon the luscious green grass that surrounded it. A gaping hole six feet deep, but it seemed much deeper than that. It seemed endless. Once that casket fell to the bottom and puffed up a plume of dirt, it entered another universe. A land of the dead. An emptiness which no religion could fill.
The preacher was draped in a white cloak, decorated with golden embroidery. In his left hand he grasped a censor, and in his right a miniature bible, bound in black leather. He pranced around the grave muttering phrases from the bible and censing the grave. Smoke pillowed over it and dissipated into the distance. Rising into the sky like a lost soul searching for heaven.
Aaron’s dad, Connor, was not sitting. He was standing behind all of the people in the chairs, wavering heavily on his weak knees. His face was sheathed in a days worth of beard and his hair was pulled every which way in unruly tufts. This was the day he stopped caring. She was all he had.
They had been married for twenty one years. And they cherished every single one of them. They were not rich, but they got by. They lived in a house two rooms too large for them, had one car too many and three computers, one for everybody. And with that they had a large visa bill and a basket full of bills. But life was good. They had happiness. Their own vision of it at least. Until now.
The priest continued to dance around the casket, uttering pointless, empty words. Aaron was seated at the front, smoking a cigarette. And then there were THOSE people. All of them shrouded in black. Watching. Waiting. Filling in the spaces.
Connor broke up when they lowered the casket. The spiral began. He screamed, he protested. He cried. And most of all he refused to accept the simple fact that she was dead. And nothing could bring her back. Aaron left. He felt as his father acted. But he held it in. They were both alone.
Aaron got into his car, and drove away from his past. He glanced up into his review mirror. And saw his father.
In the mirror. Everything is reversed.
Up ahead was a burger joint called Jagged Jack’s. It was a step up from fast food and three steps down from a family restaurant. Aaron pulled into the parking lot, and got out of his car. Darkness had enveloped the sun for the day.
Aaron walked up to the “burger bar” near the registers which lead to the kitchen and took a stool. Three other men were already sitting there. Two on his left and one on his right. The two on his left were sitting next to each other, both wearing the same dismal gray uniforms, and tired, cracked faces. The one on the right was wearing a rich business suite, shirt untucked, jacket lying on the stool next to him, and an astray full of cigarettes in front of him. He had a suitcase at his feet.
“What will it be?”
She was young. But age had draped itself over her early. Her hair fraying from blonde to gray. Her face hanging about her bones. And too much make up. Her uniform was splattered with grease.
“What will it be son, I ain’t got all night.”
“Oh,” Aaron’s mind had zoned out of reality. He saw what the rest of this lady’s life held. And it scared him. “I’ll have a Jack Burger with coffee. Black please.”
“Uh-huh,” the lady grunted as she scribbled it down upon her coffee sodden pocket notebook. She disappeared for a while, then swiftly returned with the coffee, and muttered something about the meal being ready soon.
It came. And he ate. Afterwards he ordered another cup of coffee and enjoyed a few more cigarettes. Alone.
“So, where do you want to go?”
“I’m hungry really.”
“Ok, feel like a burger,” Questioned Julia, pulling into Jagged Jack’s parking lot. She parked next to the silver civic.
“Guess so, now that we are here,” Laughed Katie.
“Maybe we will find some hot guys in here.”
“Doubtful, this place is a dump,” Katie said, following Julia into Jack’s.
They walked in side by side, their tight jeans grasping their thin legs, and their revealing tank tops dipping low, displaying a hint cleavage. They sat down at a booth on the left and waited to be served.
“Want a cigarette,” Questioned Julia, digging restlessly in her purse for her pack. She dug it out and lit it greedily.
“No,” Katie said, her mind flowing back to what had happened the one time her mother had found out she had smoked. It was bad. It was the only time her mother had hit her. And it was enough. Plus cigarettes killed people.
“Ok,” Julia said easy enough, blowing out a puff of vile smoke that drifted over the table towards Katie. “I don’t want to go to school tomorrow.”
“Yeah, but at least spring break is coming soon. And prom!”
“Prom. Like we will have dates.”
The same haggard waitress that had just poured Aaron’s second cup of coffee appeared at the end of their table and asked her age old question.
“We just want to share a meal,” Katie said, offering a bright smile to the waitress. She only frowned, and dug her notebook out of her pocket. Then she waited.
“We want the Jack Rabbit burger, no onions, tomatoes, or mayonnaise please.”
“Uh-huh,” The waitress grunted, turning around and returning to the kitchen.
Katie pulled out her lip gloss from her purse and circled a small amount upon her lips and said, “I think we can get dates. And if not we can just go and have a good time.”
“Yeah, I…hey. Look over there.”
“What,” Katie questioned, lowering her voice and leaning across the table.
“That guy smoking alone at the bar. Doesn’t he go to our school?”
Katie looked at him. She didn’t recognize him at first. Medium length dark brown hair, glasses, three days worth of beard and a black jacket. It was Aaron. And Katie’s heart sank. She didn’t say a word.
“Yeah he does,” Julia answered herself, gazing over at him with lustful eyes, “And I think he is kinda cute. Needs work but…”
Katie cut her off, “His mother died on Friday. I feel sorry for him.”
“So he does need a woman in his life,” Julia laughed.
“That’s not funny. Look at him. He is alone.”
“How did you know his mom kicked the bucket?”
“She passed away,” Katie protested, and then she continued, “And I know because he lives in my neighborhood. Down the road a bit.”
Julia took a drag on her cigarette, and turned around to see the haggard waitress come tumbling over to their table, she was holding their sandwich in her left hand. And the two drinks pinched between her fingers on her right hand. The waitress set down the food, and walked off.
And the girls began to eat. Splitting the already child’s burger in half, and dividing the potato wedges evenly down the middle. They didn’t use ketchup.
“So tell me about him,” Julia questioned, taking a bite out of the burger and chewing on it loudly.
“I dunno,” Katie replied, working on the fries.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, he is 17, like us. And a senior and. . .” Katie stopped. She thought of what she was going to say next. How she was going to place the words. That was always the hard part. She took a long sip from her drink and began again, “He is never really out of his house much. I never see him with friends. But truthfully. I think he is beautiful. And I want to get to know him.”
“HA,” Julia exclaimed, setting down her drink with a clang, “I knew it. Once you stopped. And how you actually felt sorry for somebody. Hell, you never feel sorry for me. Like when I fail a test and have to fess up to my damn parents. Shit. I’m happy for you.”
“Go for it. Ask him to prom,” Julia laughed, lighting another cigarette. The meal was gone.
Katie played with her straw and said, “I want him to ask me. Isn’t that the way it is supposed to be anyways. Like in the movies?”
“If you live your life in those goddam movies you watch. You will be a virgin of 75 with a house full of black cats.”
They both laughed at this. And noticed that Aaron had idly peered over his shoulder to see what was going on.
Katie, catching her breath managed, “He saw us.”
“Yeah,” Julia whispered, “Lets see what he does next.”
And they watched him.
Aaron tossed a ten on the counter. And walked out of the restaurant. He didn’t even spare them another look. It was as though he was lost in his own world. Hiding behind steep castle walls.
“He didn’t even look at us.”
“Yeah,” Katie mused, sucking the last of her soda out of the straw, creating an obnoxious vacuum noise, “Guess he didn’t.”
“Well,” Julia said, clanging her keys on the table top, “Its getting late, bet your mother is all in a tangle, lets get you home.”
And with that. They left.
Katie eased open the front door silently. There were no lights on inside the house. It was only 10:00pm. But it was a school night. If she was lucky her parents were asleep. Or rather her mother was passed out and snoring while her father laid restlessly beside her.
They were. She tiptoed to her room, clicked on the light, took off all of her clothes except for her panties, and dove under her pink bed covers. Her thoughts drifted to Aaron. And she fell asleep. Loosely dreaming of him.
Aaron pulled into his windy driveway, killed the engine, and locked up the car. He opened the house door and was greeted with the rye smell of beer and popcorn. Otherwise it was silent. It was desolate. He walked around and shut all the blinds, then climbed the stairs up to his room. His father was passed out on the couch. He would wake him in the morning.
Aaron continued up the stairs in darkness. They creaked longingly as he stumbled upon them. It was a comforting sound. He turned right at the top of the stairs and continued down to the end of the hallway and entered the room on the left. It was his room.
He clawed at the light switch to the left of the door until his flailing hand finally caught it. A dim light stretched across the room.
It was a mess. In the center of the room a pile of shirts, pants, boxers and socks lay entangled in a wiry mass. To the left of the door was the dresser it was strewn with papers, coins, a model boat, and a red hat that he never wore. Beyond the dresser—following the left wall and between the two windows with the blinds pulled shut—was a television. An Xbox was hooked up to it, and two wires stretched out of its mouth towards the door. Like vines searching for sunlight. Straight across from the door was the bed. It was unmade, like usual. There was no time to make it. And why bother? Only going to mess it up later at night right? At the foot of the bed was a bookshelf, stuffed with portals that carried Aaron to other worlds. Portals that held hope. It was overflowing. On top of it was a picture of him and his mother before. . .before the spiral began to spin, carrying him and his father towards their own personal end. It was when everybody was happy. And there seemed to not be any troubles in the world. There was peace.
Aaron closed the door. It muffled lightly as the wood met flush with the doorframe. Then he was encompassed by silence. He began to undress. He lifted his shirt up and added it to the pile which was mounting in the center of his room, and his pants as well. He only slept in his boxers. Even in the cold, because he liked to pull the covers up over his head and make a hood around his face so that was all that was exposed to the evil silence of the dark nights. Well that was the reason when he was a little kid. And like his smoking, it was now habit. And habits are hard to break. Even when you think that you have quit. They come back. They dwell deep inside your subconscious, and when you are vulnerable they seep out, and attack you.
He began to walk over to his bed. He felt lightheaded. The room seemed like it was moving. Ever so slightly. But moving nonetheless. He rubbed his eyes, slapped the alarm clock on and crashed upon his bed. It had been a long weekend. Aaron glanced over at his backpack lying at the foot of his dresser. It hadn’t been opened all weekend. And he had a ton of homework that needed to be done. And a term paper due tomorrow. But it didn’t matter now. His stomach was full, his nicotine cravings were fed, and he was tired. He pulled the covers up tight, wrapped them around himself and fell into a deep sleep instantly.
A cold winter wind whisked through the trees rattling the bare branches against each other. Creating an unbearable rubbing sound. The sky was gray, as though an artist had rubbed charcoal all over it in broad strokes. It cast shadows all around the jaded green grass. He had been here before. But he moved onward. His hands were stuffed deep into his pockets to protect them from the cold. But they were cold anyways. The breeze cut right through him, like a guillotine slicing through the neck of a child. A black bird cawed upon his left, and stared at him as he trekked forward. Watching his every move.
He began to wonder where he was, even though he recognized it. It didn’t feel the same. It was different. Something was different but he couldn’t quit put his finger on it. Hell, he didn’t even remember why he was here. He was just walking. Past the tombstones, past the trees. He stopped. All of the tombstones were blank. All of them were the same. He glanced over his shoulder. And what he saw sent an ice cold shiver down his spine, which meandered to his legs and brought him to his knees. It was a reflection of him. And the endless land of the dead which stretched behind him. He reached out to touch it. It rippled like water. Then stilled once more.
“What is this,” He muttered under his breath. But it didn’t come off as a mutter. It was amplified, and echoed all around him.
Everything began to spin. Aaron tried to center himself, but fell back down to his knees. And he closed his eyes. . . .
She was smiling at him. A genuine smile, that wasn’t forced. One that would light up the darkest of rooms, and lift the lowest of spirits.
“Go on open it,” She said, continuing to beam down at a young Aaron. He was four. And in his hands he was grasping a box wrapped in shiny green paper. It seemed to be too pretty to tear open.
“Mommy, I don’t want to.”
“Why not honey,” She said softly, ruffling her hand through his hair.
“Because it is so pretty.”
“Yeah, but what’s inside is even better.”
“Yes,” She said, kneeling down to his level.
He worked his fingers around it, carefully searching for the corners, and began to peel the pearly green paper off.
The grass began to part, and a path serpentined through it. The dizziness had left him now. He stood up easy enough and began to follow it. He could hear his footsteps plodding against it noisily as he walked. And from up ahead he could hear bells, softly jingling. And he saw smoke rising from the ground. He began to run towards it. But the faster he went the further away it became, and the softer the bells sounded. He stopped, hunched over and coughing, and looked up again. He was at a funeral. There were the chairs, the people, the priest. And the casket. It was closed.
Aaron walked over to the headstone. It was blank as well. But to be sure he ran his hand down it. There were no grooves.
“What the hell is this,” He croaked standing up quickly and turning around as soon as he heard the bells of the censor stop ringing. And then he noticed something. The priest’s hand had fallen off, and Aaron could see an eroded white bone protruding out of the priest’s robe.
“Mind giving me a hand sonny,” The priest cackled, his dead leathery face crumbling up into a sadistic sneer.
Aaron didn’t say anything. His mouth was open in horror. He unglued his eyes from the priest and set them on the audience. But they were not there anymore. So he moved his eyes back to the priest. And he was gone too. All that was left was the coffin, and the blank headstone.
He stood up, and stared blankly at the casket. His hands were shaking. He was pondering his next move. Like a game of chess. Should I open it, and risk death, or should I leave it and risk insanity. He didn’t have time to decide.
The casket top flew open, and thumped dully on the grass. It was followed by a milky white arm. And then he saw her. Her eyes were gone, and thick stitches adorned her neck like a tribal tattoo. Her hair was matted and her lips were cut.
“It begins,” She muttered, standing up out of the coffin.
Aaron screamed. But he couldn’t move. Instead he watched helplessly as this rotting figure moved towards him.
“I have a present for you Aaron,” It grunted. Its voice sounded earthy. As though its throat was full of dirt.
“I don’t want it,” He managed, and glanced down at the ground.
“Oh but you do,” It said, placing a cold finger upon his chin, forcing him to stare into those depthless sockets in its head. “You do,” It cackled.
“Son of a bitch,” He muttered, furiously wiping the steaming coffee that was flowing down his white shirt. It was going to stain. But at least it didn’t soak through to his undershirt.
He tossed the foam cup on the ground and continued to gather his things from the car, a laptop stashed in a black briefcase, a shoulder bag stuffed full of books, and finally his green book of death which he never put in any bag, afraid that it would be stolen. Or lost.
He heard a ringing in his head, and assumed it was the suppressed anger from spilling his coffee all over the shirt. He wasn’t as mad about the shirt as he was about the fact that he would have to drink the grimy faculty coffee, which was also always cold.
He slammed the door shut, and began to walk towards the school. It was dark outside. And the parking lot was empty. Since Jason Anderson had been a teacher he was always the first person to leave and enter the school. It was his routine, allowing him to enjoy the rest of the day. Meaning going home to his apartment and writing. In hopes that some day he shall be published and free of the chains of being a teacher. But for now, he must teach.
He climbed up the steps to the main entrance, gazed at his reflection in the glass doors and stopped. Something was missing.
“Christ I forgot my name tag,” He muttered laying his bags down near the door and jogging back to his car.
He had always been a forgetful person. Ever since childhood. He always got good grades, but it always took him the extra mile. The extra hour of studying, the extra hour of reading, the extra everything. Not to mention the extra bullying he suffered because of the extra weight that sloshed around his gut. But that was gone now, unlike the forgetfulness. It was like a fog that always hovered over his immediate thoughts, and sometimes it ruined everything. Such as the time he was supposed to meet Susan at the coffee shop after school for a chat, he had completely forgotten and ruined his chances with her forever. But it isn’t his fault. It is just the way he is.
He reached into his pocket, furiously jumbling around change and pens, searching for his keys, but came up empty every time. By the time he peered into the driver window he knew what that ringing sound was. It was the door sayin, “Hey dumbfuck, the keys are in the ignition,” but of course he had forgotten that.
He slammed a fist against the window and swore. This had happened before. Hell more than once. But it was always a pain. There was a little keypad at the bottom of the handle where he could type in a code. But of course he would have to run back up to the entrance dig in his bag, find the code and run back. And by the time he had done all of that the sun will begin rising and he will have lost twenty minutes of his grading time. It was panning out to be a great day.
Once he was in his classroom he felt better. He peeled off his coffee stained shirt, exposing a black t-shirt that said, “We Never Sleep.” Mr. White, the principal, wouldn’t be happy about it, but it was more presentable than a stained shirt. At least Jason thought so. He plugged his laptop into the school intranet, snatched two books out of his bag, and a folder, set them on his desk and placed his green book of death on top of them.
Virgin rays of sunlight began to dance shyly across the window, by the end of the day they would be piercing through the window, and lancing the students in their tired eyes. But now, it was rather beautiful.
Jason signed onto the computer and reached out to take a sip of coffee. But there wasn’t any. He sighed, walked out of the room, locked it, and set off to the teacher’s lounge.
It was a mess. The counters were splattered with week old coffee stains, the chairs were not pushed neatly under the table like all teachers tell their students to do, and the microwave door was open, emitting a sickly sardonic smell.
Jason moved into the room, stumbling over the trash can lid which was lying askew upon the floor. He tapped the coffee machine on, and sat at the table, awaiting it to fill up with caffeine filled goodness.
As he sat there, rolling a stirring straw across his knuckles, his mind drifted into his own immaculate universe. His novel ideas. Which he was running rather dry on now. Very dry. The last five novels he sent in to publishers got rejected. He wasn’t crushed, those novels weren’t his best, he had more, but for some reason it was hiding. Huddled up in the back of his mind like a troll sleuthing in a cave, hunching over their hidden treasure. Savoring it. Not allowing the public to view it. But one day it will come out. He knew it.
The coffee machine beeped, startling Jason who snapped the straw in half between his middle finger and pointer. He left it on the table and poured himself a cup of coffee. It was black as hell, just the way he liked it.
He couldn’t escape the teacher’s lounge unnoticed. Mr. Euler, the obese physics teacher, was bumbling down the hall with a stack of papers stuffed under his sweaty armpits.
“H-hey J-man, hows it a goin,” Mr. Euler flapped, continuing on. Jason didn’t say anything, he took a sip of his coffee, and offered a staged smile. Then moved on back towards his room.
7:00AM. The room was really lighting up now when Jason walked back in, and a small train of students were circulating around the hallway, dropped off by their overprotected parents, or by the over scheduled bus drivers.
Jason sat back in his chair, and began to grade a stack of papers. One could say he enjoyed his coffee as he did it, but he didn’t. It wasn’t strong enough. But he drank it nonetheless, savoring his last fifteen minutes of freedom. Before the bell deemed it was time for him to begin his work.
The alarm chirped restlessly upon the nightstand, red numbers flashing the time over and over again.
She looked around, eyes cracked open slightly, and all she could see were the familiar shapes of her room, cloaked in darkness. The alarm continued to scream at her, but she didn’t want to get up. It was cold out there. She was comfortable under her warm covers, safe from the troubles of the world. But she had to get up and go to work, like every other person in the world. Just like her mother always crooned at her, Susan, life is work, at home, school, work and play. It is WORK! She was right, to an extent, but she was also a drunk, who killed herself with sleeping pills and a bottle of wine.
The alarm screeched louder, like it always did after it had screamed for five minutes straight that is when Susan always got up. She kicked the covers off, and eased up on her side. This was going to be a long day. She got up, and stumbled over to the alarm clock punching the OFF button savagely. And then she was surrounded by silence. A lonely silence.
Her apartment was always cold, and her heating bill was always high. She always complained to the landlord about it, but he would just say, Back in my day we didn’t have heat. We just gathered ‘round the wood stove and bundled up in blankets. Then he would spit, and go back to his business.
She turned on the shower, and as she waited for the hot water to begin sputtering out of the faucet, she began to floss her teeth. It was her new year’s resolution, to floss her teeth everyday, she hadn’t really kept it, but she did it every now and then.
Steam began to collect on the mirror, that was her signal that the water was hot, and was only going to be for about ten more minutes. She took long showers, especially in the mornings. There was something calming about standing in a stream of warm water, preparing for the trials of the day.
She got out and damped off the wetness. She wringed her hair, wrapped the towel around it and began to brush her teeth. She never ate breakfast in the mornings, it was too early, and she didn’t have the appetite.
Susan began to blow dry her hair, light began to shine through the curtained window, and she closed her eyes, basking in the warmth of the blow dryer.
She had always wanted to be a doctor, hell she even had the grades for it. Just not the money. In high school she got a scholarship to the local college, a full ride. There was a catch of course, she had to be a teacher for four years after her initial four years of college. That wasn’t too bad, she had said to herself, back then, when she was young. She planned on doing the teaching thing for four years, making some extra cash, then going to med school. But of course she didn’t. She became trapped in the system. Now ten years later, she is still a lowly biology teacher at the local high school, making enough money to live comfortably. Alone. That was the sad part.
She wasn’t beautiful, but she wasn’t hideous either. She was average. She had dirty blond hair that draped right above her shoulders, deep blue eyes, and full red lips. She wasn’t thin, but she wasn’t fat, she was about average. But she thought she was fat.
Her hair was dried and her teeth were brushed, she stumbled sleepily into her bedroom and began to put on her clothes. She always dressed conservatively, because of course she was a teacher, and also because she was conservative. Timid. She strapped on a black push up bra, and pulled on a pair of matching panties. Then she had to decide what to wear. There was the black skirt with the deep red shirt, the black skirt with the blue shirt, the black skirt with the white shirt. Or any of the shirts with the denim skirt, teachers were not allowed to wear jeans, except for on Fridays. That was dress down day.
She opted for the denim skirt and white shirt, the sleeves circled just past her elbows; she didn’t think she would need a jacket.
Susan grabbed her bag which was fraying at the bottom, her purse, and slipped on a pair of uncomfortable black shoes. With her belongings bogging her down, she stepped out of her door.
Mondays were always slow, groggy, monotonous days. Teachers hated them as much as students did, probably more, but at least the teachers were getting paid. Susan—balancing her bag on her hip, and searching for her keys in her garbage bag of a purse—felt the cool breeze swarm around her, and began to have second thoughts about that jacket, but it was too late now.
She got in her car and drove to school in silence.
“Katie watch the road!”
Brakes screeched, horns honked and fingers flew. But nothing else happened. She had just absent mindedly gone through a stop sign. She had more important things to do than drive, like put on her makeup. And if she did get in a wreck it would be her mother’s fault, she always rushed her out of the door.
“I am watching it,” Katie protested, speeding up and weaving through traffic, “How much more time do we have?”
“We are late,” Emily said, crossing her arms across her budding breasts. Emily is a sophomore that lives a few houses down from Katie, and of course Katie’s mom (in a drunken state of mind) had thought it to be a good idea for Katie to drive her.
“I’m going to get lunch detention!”
“Just say we had car trouble,” Katie said, brushing her bangs out of her face, “And plus, the school is right up here it won’t even be more than a minute or so late.”
“We are already FIVE minutes late,” Emily cried, stomping her foot on the floor, “Who are you trying to look good for anyways? Not like you have a boyfriend or anything.”
“It is none of your damn business. I only drive you because my mother said I had to, I don’t need to talk to you, and I DON’T need to tell you about my personal life.”
“Fine,” Then sputtered without thinking, “I bet he is ugly anyways. And still won’t give you a second glance.”
Katie slammed her hand on the wheel, but she didn’t say anything. She got over into the turning lane and slung the car into the Eddy Lake walking trail. She stepped on the brakes and the car rocked wildly on its springs first bouncing forward, then rebounding backwards.
“Get out of my car. Now,” Katie said, steadily looking ahead, not turning towards Emily.
“No. Get out.”
She swung open the door, before she could snatch up her back pack Katie tossed it too her, and sped off.
“I’ll tell your mom,” Emily cried after the car. But Katie was gone, and she didn’t care. Her mom was an alcoholic, and alcoholics don’t give a damn what goes on, as long as they stay liquored up they are fine. Happy and confused.
Katie sped into the school parking lot, and turned sharply into her parking place. She peered into her review mirror to make sure that her hair was still the way she liked it, and that her makeup was still perfect. Or at least close. She fished around her purse and pulled out some lip gloss, smearing around her lips and smacking them together loudly. She closed up her purse, thought of grabbing her backpack but decided against it because she had lunch between the next two “real” classes, and climbed out of her car. She didn’t lock the door either, who was going to get into her car at a school? Plus there was nothing valuable in it anyways, only some books, and if they want to steal them then go for it, she didn’t like reading.
Katie strutted up the steps towards the school, her short skirt rising up her legs making it even shorter, and her red tank top was riding up as well, allowing all they boys to get a good look at her mid drift. She didn’t have a belly button ring. Yet. Her mother claims that if she ever gets one she will rip it out, but Katie didn’t think she would, not even when she is sober. Now her dad, that might be a different story, but she could hide it easily.
She pressed the handicap button on the left side of the door, it swung open and she stepped in, and continued to stroll towards her first class. The halls were empty and her slow but steady footfalls echoed ominously upon the multicolored tiles. She was always late, but her teacher never cared.
“People are strange. And no I’m not quoting The Doors, although most of you probably have no clue as to who they are anyways, I am merely making a statement. A personal bias so to speak,” Jason said, pacing in front of the students. Most of them had their heads down, a few were falling asleep sitting up, three were paying attention and one was taking notes. He didn’t care, it was their loss really, he was teaching them from the heart not from a textbook, he was teaching real world connections, not some scripted scene from a government made book. Though he did recognize that it was early, and also that the school system over works their students, and lies to them. They don’t need to be in clubs and score high on the SAT to get in college, they just need to be good people who can form a sentence and solve an equation. Then they need to study. The SAT is merely a means for obtaining a scholarship. “Alright class. I can see that you are all tired, but so am I. . .”
“Yeah, well maybe you shouldn’t take your shirt so literally,” Snickered an obese kid in the back of the class. He was full of jokes, the fat bastard, but could never take them himself.
“Yes,” Jason said peering down at his, “We Never Sleep,” Shirt, “It is a funny story actually, if you would like to hear as to why I am wearing this.”
“Yeah,” The class cried in a dry sort of excited unison.
“Ok, well. . .” Jason began, but there was a knock at the door, “Ah, that must be Mrs. Gothard, she is right on time,” The class snickered at this and Jason continued, “Let us all give her a round of applause as she comes in shall we?” The class nodded in agreement, and Jason swung open the door and bowed oddly. “Welcome my fair lady,” Jason bellowed in an over exaggerated British accent.
“H-Why are they clapping,” Katie said, rosy patches of embarrassment gathering upon her cheeks.
“Because, M’lady, their queen has arrived.” Laughter thundered through the class, like electricity traveling from one metal rod to another.
“You are strange,” She managed, stumbling over to her seat and pulling down her shirt.
The class settled down, all of their sullen faces now awake, and a hint of life was actually in them as well. They had awakened, as though he had walked up to a graveyard and said, “Come forth.” This brought a rather crude image to his mind—hands protruding through the dirt holding tufts of grass by their roots, tombstones toppling over, caskets popping open. .—he pushed the though away abruptly and began to speak again.
“You are lucky you got here at the time you did though, I am about to explain to the class as to why I am wearing this shirt. And why I am drinking this wretched teacher’s lounge coffee.”
He told his story, acting it out to the best of his abilities, pausing every now and then to explain how psychology affected this part and that part. He was teaching as well as entertaining.
When he was a timid student teacher he was always afraid of getting up in front of the students and talking. He thought it was like a stage, and he was the lone star. He found it easier to preach from behind a podium, like a priest preaching to his congregation while hiding behind his own sins, but then the students were intimidated. There had to be a middle ground. Jason found it, he took his idea of being in front of the students as a stage, and he became an actor, teaching through his stories, and his actions. It was the only way he found to hold their attention.
“Now as I was saying before, while you were all still climbing out of your REM cycle of course, people are strange. It is harder for people in our society to say no, than it is yes. Now that may sound odd, but it is true.
“Say for example you are walking through the mall; somebody asks you what time it is. You are busy, you have work, and you have a cell phone in your pocket with the exact time that is being transmitted from thirty or more different satellites.
“You know that when you got to the mall it was around five, and you assume, which you should never do, because we all know it makes an ass out of you and me, that you have been at the mall for forty minutes.
“So you say to the questioning person, “It is 5:40,” and move about with your day.”
“What is wrong with that,” Questioned Christy, a cheerleader, who actually had a head on her shoulders asked.
“Exactly. See that class? She doesn’t see anything wrong with just assuming what time it is and lying. Because it isn’t 5:40, you have been at the mall for an hour and a half, now the poor soul you have just lied to is going to be late for their own appointment.”
“That isn’t lying though,” Rick said, sitting studiously up at his desk.
“No, it is just being lazy.”
“And is being lazy simply just lying, saying yes? We have built a society on lies, and deceit. It is the new American way, just like waking up and slapping on a pair of pants—we lie. We lie to further ourselves but what we are truly doing is digging ourselves into a foxhole, that we will soon have to fight our ways out. And if any of you have ever studied World War One, which I highly doubt because our history classes now days just rush through everything as though it happened in a minute, then you would know that trench warfare is hell. Also. . .”
The bell rang. The students didn’t jump up eagerly; they sat there and stared at him awestruck. They had the looks of deer staring into the eerie movement of headlights. Then sound of the bell registered to them. They sprung to life. The students clamored out of their seats and began to make a mad dash for the door.
“Oh, before you leave,” Jason began, “Your homework is to write an example of a lie that you have told that has affected more than one person around you, and broken a friendship or two. You can simply write down a few words to remember it, we will have a seminar on it tomorrow, then on Wednesday we shall start our unit on dreams.”
A few groans rattled through the classroom as the students left, and then the room was silent. Jason’s second period was planning.
He closed his door and sat down at his desk. He had a headache from the murky coffee he had to drink, but otherwise he felt pretty good. Psychology was a subject you could bullshit the hell out of, and he had done just that. But in the end it had a meaning, he supposed. Or guessed.
He turned on his computer and opened up Microsoft word. He was going to do the homework that he had assigned his class.
She paced back and forward before the class, ranting on and on about photosynthesis, though it was first period the students diligently scribbled notes. She made her classes interesting, well as interesting as one can make biology, which was now a last minute requirement for all students planning on graduating and not flipping burgers for the rest of their lives.
“Six molecules of water, plus six molecules of carbon dioxide produce one molecule of sugar, plus six molecules of oxygen,” Susan lectured, “A pigment is any substance that absorbs light. The color of the pigment comes from the wavelengths of light reflected, in other words, those not absorbed. Chlorophyll, the green pigment common to all photosynthetic cells, absorbs all wavelengths of visible light except green, which it reflects to be detected by our eyes. Black pigments absorb all of the wavelengths that strike them. White pigments or lighter colors reflect all or almost all of the energy striking them. Pigments have their own characteristic absorption spectra, the absorption pattern of a given pigment,” She took a deep breath, “And you know what. I think that is enough for today.”
“We have any homework,” A student questioned from the back of the room.
Susan removed her glasses, “No, just read your book in class for the rest of the period,” She wiped her eyes absently, “Or talk quietly.”
Susan strutted over to her desk and collapsed into her uncomfortable rolling chair. It felt springy, as though it didn’t want to be sat upon, but that is the school system for you. She wasn’t ticked at the school system, she was ticked at Jason. She really thought—
The door swung open violently and Emily stormed into the room. Susan didn’t say anything; she just stared vacantly at her computer screen.
“Sorry Mrs. Fisher, I. . .”
“Not a problem Emily,” She mused, “Get the notes from your partner and read the pages on the board.”
There was something wrong here. Something terribly wrong, Mrs. Fisher was the harshest of teachers when it came to tardiness, she always said, “You can’t be late for work or you’ll get fired, so don’t get in the habit during school.” But now she said nothing, she didn’t care. Emily hesitated, and then moved towards her seat.
She sat at the second desk from the last in the back of the room. They were long black desks which reflected in the fluorescents above, it gave the room a surreal look, sterile, yet eerie, like an autopsy room.
Emily pulled her chair out and it screeched ominously upon the wretched tile floor. She tossed her bag on the side of her table and sat down. Her partner, Aaron, was slouched back in his chair nonchalantly, nibbling on the end of his pen.
“How are you doing today Aaron?”
“Fine,” He muttered, not taking the pen out of his mouth. He paused, and then thought he should ask her how she is doing, “How are you doing?”
“Well I,” She unzipped her backpack.
Shit, here she goes, ask a girl one simple damn question and they give you their whole fucking life story. There is no simple answer to anything, hell Aaron didn’t feel fine, he felt like fucking shit, but he didn’t talk about it. Hell, he was scared. But he didn’t show it.
Emily slammed a book on the table, “I was riding to school with Katie, and she kicked me out of her car because she is such a…” Emily sighed, “An ignorant person.”
“Yeah,” Aaron replied, “Wait, she kicked you out of her car?”
“Yes. Out at the lake, I had to walk all the way here.”
“Yeah, now I am all sticky with sweat and I have a test next period that I think I’m going to fail because I didn’t read the book, which I was going to read when I got here but I couldn’t because Katie!”
Aaron, even though his mind was spinning, felt sorry for her. She wasn’t pretty, hell but she wasn’t ugly. She had light blonde hair, fair skin, and blooming breasts, ones that would soon blossom into something more amazing, “What book is it?”
“Uh, some stupid book,” She rummaged around in her backpack, “This,” She said, plopping it in front of Aaron.
“To Kill a Mocking Bird? This is the best damn book you ever read in high school.”
“Really,” Emily questioned, looking Aaron up and down. He didn’t make eye contact with her when he talked, that irritated her, yet intrigued her as well. She began to fidget with her already scooping neck of her shirt, exposing the pallid slopes of her breast.
“Yeah, it is. It made me c—made me,” He looked over at her and noticed her hand adjusting her shirt, he could see down it, there wasn’t much to see, but it was still worth seeing, “It makes you think you know? About life.”
“I didn’t get anything out of it.”
“How far did you read?”
“Only the first chapter, I have,” She was going to say a lot of other things to do, but that would be a lie. Kind of. She just didn’t like reading, but it seemed that he did, so she held her tongue.
“Well read it,” Aaron said, setting his eyes back towards the front of the room, “You’ll like it.”
“And by the way,” Shit, why did you have to say that? Why the fuck did you have to say that? You don’t like to give people rides! You like to smoke in solitude on your way home. Why, “I can give you a ride home I guess. I live in your neighborhood, few blocks down and,” Don’t do that, shit at least keep your, “I can also give you a ride in the morning I guess.”
“Oh really,” She said excitedly, “Thanks. What kind of car do you drive?”
“Shitty one, silver civic, it’s in the senior lot.”
A silence ensued after this. Emily began to read her book and Aaron began to think, or at least try to.
He set his eyes on Mrs. Fisher, she was typing now and it seemed as though it was an angry letter the way she rapped upon the keyboard, he then moved his gaze to the clock, ten more minutes of first period, then second period, then lunch. Which means cigarettes, and he was really fiending now. He allowed his thoughts to drift back to the dream he had the night before. He tried to make sense of it, decipher it, shred it and place it back to order, but he couldn’t. Not without a pack of cigarettes and a cool breeze to set his mind at ease at least. Instead of thought of Emily, she was a pretty decent looking chic, for a sophomore at least, and he lived down the road from her. Maybe they could hook up sometime, see a movie or something, but most likely not. Aaron was a loser, he had one friend, and had never had a girlfriend, but it was his mind, he could think what he damn well pleased. He played different scenarios in his head like a movie and smiled wanly. With the loss of his mother, a girlfriend would be a good addition, something else to fill the holes. Gotta fill them somehow. And they keep popping up, getting deeper.
The bell rang out and the students piled out the door, leaving Susan alone in silence. Her second period was planning.
Jason closed his computer and guzzled the last drops of his stale coffee down. He wanted more, even though it was grimy, it was still caffeinated. He made his way down to the teacher’s lounge and poured himself a cup. There was nobody in there luckily, and he exited without confrontation as well.
As he was walking back towards his room he passed the stairs leading down to the science pod, he wavered a bit then decided he would go see Susan, and apologize for not meeting up with her. But he knew deep down in his heart that she would not forgive him. Not even the slightest bit, but he would try, he liked her, and it wasn’t his fault really, he was just a forgetful person, it ran in his genes. She would like that joke.
She was sitting at her desk grading papers when he popped his head in the door. Her dark brown hair glistening in the fluorescents above, creating a dizzying halo effect. She didn’t look up; he knocked on the door frame and entered the room.
“Hi Jason,” She replied dryly, picking up another test to grade. She began to immediately blot it in red.
“Hey I’m—about yesterday, I—well.”
She looked up.
“I’m sorry I forgot all about coffee, I just get tied up in the moment and forget about what matters.”
“Oh,” Susan mumbled, “And what was the moment this time?”
“Look, Susan,” A custodian bumbled past the door, dragging a screeching trashcan behind them, “I’m sorry ok. Can we reschedule? Something?”
“Please, I’ll be on time we can go right after school today.”
“Ok,” She said, “But this is your last chance Jason. No more, I have had enough waiting, and being left to dry. I’m sick of it. . .I—Well,” The bell rang cutting off the rest of her sentence, she didn’t repeat it, Jason only nodded and exited the room, plowing through the throngs of students to get back to his class on time. Not only to get there on time for his students, but to get a sharpie out of his desk door and write down, SUSAN COFFEE 2:18.
Susan watched him leave, and felt an odd sense of vertigo drift through her. She likes him, but she didn’t really even know him. Of course they had sat next to each other during those monotonous staff meetings, and seen him in the lounge, but she never got to know him. She couldn’t wait to go have coffee with him, even though it would be her last.
Students rushed towards the doors, yet they all seemed to want to exit the same one. Aaron didn’t though, he went out the door on the far left and stepped into the lucid rays of sunlight as they shadowed through the thunderheads above. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his pack of cigarettes, he didn’t like to smoke in front of people—it was his foible and he didn’t like to expose it to society. Nonetheless he had holes to fill, and he began to shovel the dirt down.
He took a long drag and exhaled as he strode down the stairs into the parking lot, some girls passed in front of him offering him a disgusted look, and the one in the back went so far as to forge a fake cough. He felt bad, but he didn’t care, nothing could really bring him any lower. A few weeks ago it might have bothered him a lot, but now he didn’t give a fuck.
“Hi Aaron,” Sherry called out from behind him, smile radiating, “How are you doing?”
“Fine,” Aaron nodded, sheathing his cigarette in his hand, he was embarrassed now. Sherry was a real down to earth girl, hazel colored hair, mature figure, and a genuine smile. She was also a goddam bible thumper, but still she was nice and outgoing, so Aaron felt disgusted that he was smoking in front of her and attempted to hide it.
“Where are you going out to lunch today?”
“Just going to hang out with my friends up at the edge of campus.”
“Oh,” Sherry nodded, waving to her friend theatrically, “Well have fun.” Then she was gone.
Shit, Aaron thought lighting up another cig, why is she so nice to such a loser like me? Then it hit him flat in the face. She knew. Of course that was the answer, they all knew, Aaron Dover’s mother died, she’s six feet under and rotting you happy now? So now everybody was being nice, hell even that Emily girl. Whatever he didn’t need them, he had his own medicine—his own dirt reservoir.
He came to the edge of campus, a sidewalk that looped around into the Eddy Lake walking trail; he skipped there sometimes, but not often. And not today. His friends were not really friends as much as they were acquaintances, but out of the lot of them that came and went, he had one he could call a friend, and he saw him walking towards their spot just down near the middle of the parking lot. It was David, he was cloaked in a black sweatshirt that he always wore, a pair of dirty jeans, and a cigarette was sticking out of his mouth like a looming exclamation point.
“Sup Aaron,” David said, tossing his backpack on the ground.
“Yeah,” David nibbled on the butt of his cigarette, exhaling smoke around it giving it the look of a rocket ready for take off, “You feeling better today man?”
“You know man—your mom and shit.”
Aaron tossed his cigarette on the ground and grabbed another shovel full of dirt to cover his loneliness, “Yeah,” he exhaled.
“You sure dude?”
“Well look,” He crossed his arms a car passed by crunching over the gravel sounding like the rattle of a distant machine gun, “I had this….”
David interjected, “Shit here comes Adam, probably wants a cigarette.”
Aaron nodded, “Hi Adam.”
“Hey man can I bum a cig?”
“I guess,” Aaron moaned flicking Adam a cig, “Things are going to kill you, you know that?”
“You smoke them.”
“We are old enough,” David said.
“And,” Aaron added, “We are some fucked up mother fuckers.”
The three of them broke into fits of laughter melded with coughs, and then there was silence. Adam puffed aimlessly on his cigarette then tossed it to the ground half torched, “Guess I should get back to class.”
“Yeah, school is you ticket out of this hell hole,” Aaron mused, lighting up another stog. He watched as Adam disappeared into the shimmering asphalt of the parking lot then began, “As I was saying, I had this dream last night. And I know it sounds crazy but.”
“You think it was real?”
“Don’t fucking interrupt me.”
“Anyways I was in this. . .place I dunno and I was at a funeral, my mother’s. And she came out of the grave.”
“Shit,” David uttered, studying his feet.
“Yeah, and she talked to me man. Some trippy shit. And I had a flash back to my birthday when she gave me a watch, a long time ago, and it scared the shit out of me. But the worst thing is,” He sighed, “She said it now begins or something and I woke up.”
“Yeah,” Cars began to speed into the parking lot and slide into their allotted spots, laughter flew from somewhere down in the parking lot on the wind, and the higher sound of the bell. “Guess we should head in.”
“Yeah,” David shouldered his backpack, “Man what are you doing tonight?”
They strolled silently back towards the school, both tossing their last seven minutes of their lives onto the asphalt as they ascended the stairs. The line of blue doors stared at them blankly as they glided towards them.
Aaron opened the door and gazed ahead at the swaying ass of a cheerleader ahead of him and grinned, “Well David, I’ll call you I guess.” And with that he disappeared down the left hallway and David down the right.
The metallic clang of the bell vibrated through the empty halls, classroom doors swung open wildly and emancipated students busted out of them. It wasn’t Friday, but it was still then end of the day and students had the rest of the evening to enjoy. The halls quickly filled with masses of students plodding towards the door like an advancing army, and then everybody was free. Light poured into the building and glared off of the sullen tile floor creating a lucid dreamlike effect of the path beyond the door.
But Aaron was not among the students charging for the door. After the bell had rung he gathered his belongings and strolled towards the doors like the others, but he was captured. His math teacher, Mr. Westin, had stopped him before he would exit.
“Aaron, can I have a word with you?”
Aaron spun around hesitantly, “Sure.”
“Come over here,” Mr. Westin motioned to his desk, “Sit down.”
“Ok,” Aaron mumbled, moving towards the desk, what did he want to talk about that involved sitting down, and a desk?
Mr. Westin sat back in his chair and breathed in deeply, “Aaron,” He began to type onto his computer, “Dover is it?”
“Your last name?”
More typing then, “Ah here it is,” He turned the screen towards Aaron, “Your average for this quarter.”
Aaron studied the screen, sixty-seven test average, hundred homework average, fifty quiz average and an eighty project average, tallying up to a whopping sixty-seven overall.
“Failing,” Mr. Westin mused, setting the screen back to its normal position.
“Well I’m not really that good at math.”
“I am aware of that, and I am also aware of. . .your situation.”
“The death of your mother, it is affecting your grades Aaron. I know you can do better than this,” He motioned liquidly towards the screen, “And I am here to help. Here is a card you can call the number anytime to talk or anything; also there is a number for the school psychiatrist.”
“Thanks,” Aaron said moving towards the door.
“And Aaron,” Mr. Westin called after him, “You smell like an ashtray, smoking is not going to keep you comfort.”
“Ok,” Aaron replied dryly and rushed out of the room.
What a dick, who would act all nice about the death of his mother then go and complain about his smoking? Aaron reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his cigarettes, he wasn’t anywhere near the door, but he needed one. Bad. He stuck one in his mouth and continued walking. Just the feeling of having a cigarette rest in his mouth calmed him down.
Shit, that was the voice of a teacher, a male teacher, probably his math teacher running to bitch at him about something else. He snatched the cigarette out of his mouth and replied, “Hi.”
It was Jason, psychology teacher, “Going home?”
“Yeah,” Aaron answered, cupping his hand over the cigarette nervously.
“Well, if you need somebody to talk to you can come to me, I. . .” Jason set his eyes on Aaron’s hand, “Those Newports?”
Jason motioned to Aaron’s hand, “The cigarettes, they Newports?”
“Hey I know this isn’t really protocol,” Jason said, “But you mind if I bum one off you? I’m going to lunch with S—a friend and I don’t have time to stop by the gas station and buy a new pack.”
Aaron was shocked, not only did his teacher smoke, he was asking to bum a cigarette off of him, “Sure,” Aaron replied jovially pulling a fresh cigarette out of his pack, “Enjoy.”
“Thanks, and like I said, if you ever want to talk about what happened just let me know.”
“Well there was this dream I had. . .but I think I’ll just try to figure it out on my own.”
“Dreams are powerful forces in our lives Aaron. They speak of what we want, what we lost, and where we are going. And they hurt,” Jason shifted his shoulder bag from his left to his right, “Actually we begin our unit on them soon, so maybe you will have it figured out by then and can share it with the class.”
“Not this one,” Aaron said, moving towards the door, “But yeah it will be interesting.”
“Uh-huh, have a good one,” Jason said, raising up the cigarette, “And thanks.”
“Welcome, have a nice dinner with your friend.”
Aaron stepped out the door and made his way down the eroded steps into the parking lot. Cars were pulling out, students were chattering in clusters, and in the distance, he saw Emily leaning against his car, bickering with Katie.
“You probably did something to it,” Katie screamed, tossing her backpack on the ground.
“I didn’t, you don’t know how to drive so that probably broke it,” Emily cried, crossing her arms in protest. A sticky silence ensued between the two of them.
Katie’s car was broken, the engine wouldn’t start and she had no way of getting home. Now she had to ride home with Aaron, the boy she wants to go to prom with, and the same boy that she assumes Emily is trying to seduce, like she will be able to anyways. She is flat chested, pale and static.
Aaron walked up to his car and jammed his key into the drivers side door, “Um—hi guys?”
“Hi Aaron, I’m Katie,” She offered him a bashful smile, “My car won’t start I was wondering if you could drive me and Emily home? We live right down the street.”
“Sure,” hop in.
“Thanks,” Emily said climbing into the seat behind Aaron, Katie sat in the front.
Aaron rolled the windows down and eased out of his parking place, he always drove safe when he had passengers, he even buckled up, “You guys mind if I smoke?”
“Nope,” Katie said not looking over at him.
“No I don’t mind.”
Aaron lit his third cigarette since his meeting with Mr. Westin and inhaled deeply, his mind began to replay the events of the day—try to make sense of them.
It was his first real day back since the accident, or the fuck up the death, the digging whatever you like to call it, and today was fucked up because of it. It is almost as though all his life he has been digging these holes and now that he has reached the core of his insanity he must fill them back up in fear of going insane. Yes he was failing math, and yes he smokes and yes he is antisocial but who the fuck cares? None of that is because of her death. . .it has always been like that (but not as bad).
Aaron slammed on the brakes and watched as his car etched precariously towards the bumper of the mail truck in front of him. “Sorry,” He muttered dreamily, “I wasn’t paying attention.”
“No damage done,” Katie laughed adjusting her seatbelt.
“Well you don’t drive as bad as Katie,” Emily sneered.
“Emily, just because. . .”
“Look at that.”
“What?” The girls both said in unison.
Aaron tossed his butt out the window and lit another one, “Those birds flying across the sky,” he rested his arm outside of his window and hung his head out, “They are so peaceful, so free, just high above the world without a goddam care,” He took a drag, “I wish I was like that,” He exhaled moving forward with the mail truck.
Neither of the girls answered they just nodded and rode the rest of the way home in silence. Aaron smoked a total of six cigarettes and Emily would have to explain to her mother why she smelled of an ashtray when she got home, it would not be pretty.
They were silent for the rest of the ride. The silver Civic turned smoothly onto Emerald Park Lane and rolled to an easy stop in front of Emily’s house.
“Yes,” Emily answered, climbing out of the car. “Thanks for the ride Aaron,” She offered him a brief smile then turned around abruptly and headed towards her garage.
Aaron set the car back in gear and rolled towards the intersection above, taking a sharp right, not stopping at the stop sign.
One more right and a left and they were on Lion’s Head Drive, Aaron’s house rested on the left, and Katie’s on the right, both of their driveways were empty and their houses looked vacant.
“You can just pull into your driveway,” Katie said, “I can walk over to my house from there.”
“Well, I was. . .” What? Going to go out and grab some lunch by yourself like a loser? Going to seclude yourself to your bubble of pain and sorrow? What a joke. “If you want.”
“Well I was actually going to go grab some food if you wanted to come,” Aaron blubbered, tossing a cigarette butt out the window.
Katie grabbed her books as the car came to a squeaky halt in Aaron’s twisted driveway. “I’d have to change first, and let my mom know my car is messed up. You know, just do whatever you need to do in your house and come and get me afterwards if you still want to go ok?”
Aaron stepped out of the car and shut the door methodically. “Sure, I’ll be over in a bit I guess.”
“I’ll be waiting,” Katie began to walk across the road towards her house, “My mom is going to be pissed, I mean she always is, but this time she will give me a helluva story.”
Aaron nodded, watched her diagonal across the street and disappear into her house. She was a pretty girl, she had some problems of course, but everybody has problems.
Shit, the world has problems, and they can be worked out. Hell Aaron has problems. The world is spiraling upon a pinnacle veering closer and closer to destruction every day, and its inhabitants are silently watching the fire sear the luscious bubble at which they live in. But they are happy, and that is what makes it continue to spin, continue to spiral, continue to breath. Aaron needs to have happiness too, yet not only by himself, he needs to find it, and share it with others. He cannot live his dismal life sheathed in death and darkness forever; he must grow, and become a man, accept his loses and move on. But he should never forget.
He shut the door behind himself and made his way up to his room. He really didn’t have anything to do inside, but he thought he would come in because Katie needed some time to cool her mom off anyways.
He slung his backpack into the corner and sat down at his computer, he stroked the mouse and the black screen buzzed on dreamily. His eyes fell to the bottom right hand corner of the screen; the clock said it was 6:17 PM.
“What the hell,” Aaron croaked, rubbing his eyes and looking back at the clock. It now said 3:19 PM, the time that it should be.
He clicked on internet explorer and checked his mail, there was none, and he closed it out.
About fifteen minutes had pasted, enough time for Katie to cool her mom off or whatever, Aaron grabbed a fresh pack of cigarettes and left his room. He felt a dizzying vertigo sweep through him as he closed the door, but imagined it was just that he had smoked too much, or needed another cigarette; nonetheless it was something he didn’t really want to worry about.
Susan sat alone at a table in the far corner of Java Jive, she had a half empty cup of a cappuccino steaming at her left, and a coffee stained magazine resting before her.
He was late. Again, or maybe he wasn’t coming at all, it did seem to be his routine at least.
Susan flipped rapidly through her magazine glancing at the ads and waited, looking up every now and then for Jason.
Katie stared out her window at Aaron’s house. Her mother had just screamed at her for a good ten minutes about responsibility, respect and some other bullshit. What it really came down to was her famous sane, “Life is work, at home, school, work and play, life is work Katie! And until you understand that you are nothing!”
Katie’s mother called AAA to have the car towed and yelled at Katie some more, then she went into the kitchen and popped open a fresh bottle of wine. Drinking at 3:00PM, that is a new record.
But now Katie was waiting, just like Susan, waiting on Aaron to take her away from this hellhole if only for a short time. If only for an hour, it will seem like an eternity.
“How was school today Emily?”
“It was good—
“Emily,” Her mother exclaimed clamoring out of her chair and waddling towards her daughter, “You,” She sniffed deeply with her smashed nose, “You smell like cigarettes!”
“You have been smoking!”
“No mom I did—
“Oh Emilllllly! My only child! Smoking, burning her life away with a filthy habit.”
Emily fell silent, then took a deep breath and attempted to cut into her mother’s babbling, “Mom listen—
“No, I have heard enough. Go to your room, I will have to think this over. This is….this is the work of the devil Emily, He is inside of you, and I,” She broke into hysterical tears, “I have to find a way,” She plopped back over to her chair and picked up the phone. Emily stormed up the stairs in tears.
Jason sat at his computer, eyes running over the lines of type over and over. It was a story he hadn’t touched for years, but now he had some inspiration, some spark, he didn’t know where it came from but he knew it was gold. He had to run with it. His fingers drilled restlessly at the keys as though they were separate from his body, as though he were not really writing it. He felt like he was taking a back seat in his mind and somebody else had taken the reigns, for the better.
He wrote late into the night, alone. His phone was unplugged and his cell phone was dead.
He turned the key three times before the car would start and rolled the car restlessly out of the driveway. His head still felt heavy, his whole body felt heavy, maybe he was anxious he didn’t know. He lit up a cigarette and put the car in park in front of Katie’s house.
He didn’t see any lights on inside, nor hear any yelling when he rolled his windows down. He felt like honking but decided not to. Instead he sat patiently, smoking and pondering the events of his dismal life. He shut his eyes, and a tombstone with the words, “Oh, Nobly Born, Now is the moment. Before you is mind, open and wide as space, Simple, without center or circumference. Now is the moment of death,” flashed before his eyes. He threw his head back and popped open his eyes wildly.
“What the fuck?!”
Katie spun around as she was locking the door and looked at Aaron questioningly; she turned back around, locked the door and began to move towards the car.
“So,” Katie said sliding into the passenger’s seat, her skirt rising as she did so, becoming even shorter, “Where we going?”
Aaron started the car and began to drive out of the neighborhood, “I dunno.”
The car slid onto Canteberry Drive and drove forward for what seemed like hours. The landscape on either side of them melted and twisted, Aaron watched as the trees and road signs melted away. The sun glistened on the leaves, reflected off the signs, and glimmered off of the sparkling asphalt. Everything was beautiful. All the colors of the world seemed to grow and deepen. All the sounds seemed sharper and enhanced. He was floating. He was spinning.
After what seemed like an eternity Katie spoke up, “So, did you decide where we are going to go? I feel like a sandwich place or something, but it is really up to you. Maybe we could. . .”
“Sandwich sounds good,” Aaron mumbled taking the next right into the Nightshade Shopping Center.
It was a small strip mall with the local grocery store, Harris Teeter, a drug store that used to be a CVS before it shut down, and a handful of authentic trinket stores. In the midst of these stores was a tobacco shop called The Watchmen, where Aaron visited sometimes for a cigar or foreign tobacco, and there were restaurants as well.
They weren’t fancy restaurants really, just the regular shopping center restaurants, there was the Quiznos, the McDonald’s, a family owned Chinese joint, and a partner owned Deli called Delsquizz’s.
An extensive, barren parking lot encompassed these shops and restaurants like a moat warding off would be attackers. Aaron pulled into a parking place that was in the middle of the lot, next to a Jeep and in front of a BMW. He killed the engine and stepped out of the car, he was going to go around and open Katie’s door as well, but she got out before he could circle the car.
“Wanna try Delsquizz’s?”
Katie flipped her hair, “I guess, I’ve never been though. It may not be good.”
Aaron nodded, “It is always good to try new things.” They began to walk side by side towards the restaurant fortress.
Aaron sensed a tingle of euphoria escape his body, and shivered noticeably from head to toe.
“You ok,” Katie asked. But it didn’t sound like that to Aaron, it echoed in his head, becoming more distant with each repetition, spinning around over and over. Piercing, stirring up the dirt of his mind and uncovering unwanted memories.
“Ok,” Katie said glancing at Aaron uneasily, “Glad to hear it.”
“Well you asked,” Aaron replied, opening the door for her, the bell above it hammered its three pronged chime into his head as he did so. His eyes fell to Katie’s skirt as she strutted in, he could see her tight ass swaying hypnotically underneath it. He shook his head and entered the Deli.
There was nothing inside, it was vacant, shattered glass littered the floor and molding boxes lined the walls. Aaron turned around to find Katie and saw nothing, he began to move towards the door, yet with every step he took the door took ten. He began to hear a subtle ringing noise flutter all around him, and smelled the distant scent of roses; acrid and sweet, beautiful and deadly.
“You going to order Aaron, or just stand at the door?”
“What,” Aaron asked, shaking his head and blinking his eyes as Katie came back into focus, “Yeah, Just had a little bit of a flashback or something. I’ll be right there.”
He began to move towards Katie and the counter, his body felt as though there were millions of needles penetrating his skin and injecting novacaine into him. He raised his lead lodged feet dreamily and attempted to plod forward. He began to hear voices echo around in his head like a murder of crows fluttering from a rooftop as its inhabitant steps out onto to dry their clothes.
“There are three ways to describe. . .”
“Walking. . .The fine line. . .betweenpaganandchristian.”
“Just close your eyes and ta—“
“And travellers, now, within that valley.”
“It’s a present.”
“Beautiful, Beautiful, beautiful, too beautiful to…..open…..”
He slunk down to his knees and glanced up towards where the counter should be, he saw Katie motioning for him to come, smiling, grinning, and laughing. He was alone, lost in his mind, he could hear the doors closing. Could feel the keys sliding the locks shut, this was insanity at its best my friends. It is a disease as much as it is a cure, but here it is, the nuclear fallout of Aaron Dover.
He propped himself up on his hands, not feeling the shards of glass slice smoothly into them as he did so, stood up and gazed around the restaurant.
A metallic darkness floated across the walls in rhythmic waves. Everything was veiled in darkness, yet the room was spinning, vibrating, shaking fluidly through Aaron’s legs and sloshing his stomach about gently; producing a somber vertigo effect. He was floating.
Sardonic smells swirled around the humid air suffocating his sense. Mold, moist newspapers, burning leaves, copper minerals; the smells of the unwanted, the unknown.
He began to breathe more deeply; his shriveled lungs filling halfway then leaking hot air over his dry lips. The air was heavy, he felt as though a plastic bag were tied about his head, filling up rapidly with his own carbon dioxide. He began to scream, and fall into a void of nothingness.
His body writhed and twisted; his arms pinwheeled aimlessly at his sides, this went on for what seemed like an eternity.
And then it stopped.
Below him a thick oozy mass of water glistened virginly. He transfixed his glazed eyes upon it and studied his fluid reflection.
Aaron’s face expanded, shrank, twisted and bubbled. His eyes, eternal black coals, glared like an idle television screen; pupils pulsing, expanding, vibrating like a plate spinning inside of a microwave.
The skin upon his face began to sag and melt, elongating and dipping precariously into the placid water below. His eyes plopped out of his drooping face and sunk restlessly into the pool. And his body followed. Sinking into a cool sphere of nothingness. It was a sweet bubble of bliss in all the hell that surrounded him. . .And then he heard the bells. The bells beckoning him into the blinding darkness. Deathening bells, yet. . .
Aaron glanced over his shoulder and gawked as the door opened a an aged man hobbled in with his cane, Katie sat in front of him and was eating a salad, he had a half eaten sub in front of him and. . .
“How is your sandwich?”
Aaron turned back around and looked at Katie uneasily, “It’s. . .yeah it is good,” He managed picking it up and taking a bite.
“So, you have a job or anything?”
“What,” Aaron was still examine his surroundings, trying to grasp this reality, “Oh yeah, I work at a bookstore down the road a ways, just on weekends, but it pays pretty well,” His mouth was doing all the work for his mind was eons away, piecing together the phenomenon that had just happened, or was still happened for all he knew.
“That is cool, I,” Her words droned off. He could feel his brain swelling upon his skull, and felt beads of sweat secreting from every pore on his body, his stomach tied in a knot, hot air expelled from his mouth. He began to convulse his left arm wrapped around his chest and his right one dangling at his side like an electric eel, they vibrated and writhed, blood began to trickle down his lips.
“But that doesn’t matter,” She continued, “What I’m really. . .” The words died off again, faded into the black, the nonexistence, the void.
His eyes lulled into the back of his head and he sunk onto the floor, the spinning was more vivid, and the bells were more vibrant.
“I really think you are a nice,” more gibberish.
The bells, beckoning, calling, screaming his name. Silent, only audible to his troubled soul. A darkness like no other crawled through him, chilling him to the bone, his body felt as though it was metal cast into a frigid snowstorm. It was hard to move his hands, his fingers wouldn’t bend, his mind was drowning in a pool of nothingness.
The bells became more fluid, more real more….