a battery acid kind of morning
Tuesday was my first day back at work after a week long vacation. I had only gotten four hours of sleep the night before, having picked up my youngest daughter when she got off work at the video store at midnight. I've got two daughters living here in town, both with new jobs and neither of them drives, so I am forever taking them to work and picking them up, and spending a lot of time sitting in the car in parking lots, watching people walk in and out of stores, which I kind of enjoy. You see them for a few seconds coming and going, and you wonder about their livings, their relationships, about what they are thinking or if they are thinking anything at all, and it's more or less fascinating, but then, I am easily entertained. So I didn't get enough sleep that night and was dragging myself around, exhausted, scrambling to get ready for work, and as if I don't have enough to do, the dog has just thrown up, voluminously, in the hallway in front of the bathroom, and I have to clean that up before I go to work. He's been upset lately. Every night there are firecrackers going off in the neighborhood, and it upsets him. The rednecks are using up their Fourth of July stockpiles, a few cherry bombs and Piccolo Petes at a time, and it's been going on for a week now, fireworks booming every evening, and it freaks out the dog. He's a sensitive soul. A coward. A baby. He gets so frightened that he loses interest in everything he normally enjoys. Even food loses its appeal. He won't touch the treats I put in his bowl. All he wants to do is hide. He won't go outside to pee. He throws up and pisses on the floor, and then I have to clean it up, and if I drag him outside on the leash to try to force him to do these things outside, he gets stiff, turns towards the house and pulls me back in. So when I should be brushing my teeth and making my lunch, I'm sopping up dog puke with double thicknesses of paper towels. It's completely disgusting. I'm not sure what he threw up, because I haven't seen him eat in the past 12 hours, but there it is, cold and gelatinous, and I'm grabbing handfuls and slopping it into a trash bag. Then I wash my hands and start making my lunch, and notice the two flashlight batteries sitting on the kitchen table, which I mean to take with me to work where I can recycle them. I grab them and am holding them in my left hand, about to shove them in my pants pocket (good thing I didn't), when my daughter starts complaining that she's not ready yet and it's almost time to go. She has to catch a Greyhound to Eugene for a job interview. She should have prepared for the trip yesterday before she went in to work, but didn't, and now she's not ready and it's time to leave. And I'm suggesting things she should bring -- her cell phone, debit card, coins for phone calls in case the cell phone battery dies, pocket money for coffee and lunch, paper and pen for notes, a map to the place she's applying at. "I don't have enough time!" she cries. I'm about to say she should have taken care of all this before now, but something stops me: a burning sensation in my left hand. Suddenly, the skin on my knuckles and between my fingers is burning, red and burning. And I think, what the fuck? Acid! Leaking out of the batteries! Jesus! I dump the batteries in a plastic sandwich bag and toss them out the door, to be dealt with later (irrationally fearing they'll burst into flames if I throw them in the trash bag under the sink), run over to the faucet and rinse off my hands, wash away the acid, stop the burning. If I'd have shoved them in my pocket, no doubt there would be a big hole in my pants by now. Or I'd show up at work, not having noticed the leak until it was too late, with a hole in my pants and nothing I could do about it. It's that kind of a day. When I do get to work, everything goes wrong. Problems pile upon problems. I'm too tired to care about any of them. I work mechanically, robot-like, and feel myself slipping into an involuntary dream state as I sit at the computer, my fingers doing I-don't-know-what on the keyboard. They have a mind of their own. And the rest of the day and the night follow suit.
DAVID BARKER (USA)
Your Mother’s Shoes
I tried giving him platitudes, percentages. To make him understand. He was listening, I could see that. In the end, it felt as if I was lecturing him:
This is how your life will be. I would have hated that myself. He swung his shoulders, side to side.
I told him to wear trainers, or at least flat soles. There are people out there who do not like this kind of thing. At least in flats he could run off, I explained. London can be dangerous. People do not like other people being different: Kill anything you do not understand. I saw that on a t-shirt once.
You could make excuses for those people: He had a bad childhood. He lived with a man-hating mother. But it is you in the hospital, or you visiting.
I am not an actor.
I am not the kind to carry out my revenge.
MICHAEL CURRAN (UK)
WAFFLES DONE PERFECTLY
He sat erect holding his paper exactly twenty inches from his face. The paper did not move or quiver in the grip of his hand; trained over countless sessions to do its job - hold the paper. Without moving his eye from the printed word, his other hand fed him and offered liquid refreshment.
He cut and speared his waffle with the indifferent affection of lovers holding hands, lifting each bite mid-way to his mouth and there holding it in glorious suspension - reading some final detail or paragraph before allowing it to complete its journey to his mouth - never letting his eyes lose contact with the paper.
Bill Corey sat at attention though his morning ritual of coffee, orange juice, French waffles and the Seattle Times. A short slightly balding man with pure white hair, he possessed a respectable belly that hugged his shirt perfectly - a rigid man comfortable in his skin.
To watch him eat and read was to observe breakfast raised to ritual. Like an exquisite Tea Ceremony where no move is wasted and all is in service to the tea or, in Bill’s case, the marriage of waffle and reader.
I watched him, studied him, and tried to copy him, wanting to enter into his mind and body. I wanted this ceremony for my own, but nothing seemed to work. The syrup dripped on my shirt, the paper didn’t fold with a smart snap pop in service to me. I was a shamble of imperfection and quickly realized this was not my gift, but that he was a treasure to behold.
What Bill left behind was as perfect as his consumption of it. The dissembled paper sections stacked and folded. His napkin placed over his plate as if it were a blanket of gratitude. He was the Pavarotti of my morning coffee and bagel; the morning symphony conducted by a maestro with a fork.
CHARLES P. RIES (USA)
I got tired of selling tickets to my suicide. No one would buy. I could not even give them away. I was stuck with a roll of tickets and an empty theater. All the hard work an rehearsals had gone to waste. On the day that should have witnessed my final performance, I visited the theater where I had planned to hold my demise. The equipment was set up, but, without an audience, there was no point.
I prepared to dismantle the gallows, pack it away for another occasion when I heard the door opening. I looked up. A janitor walked in pushing a bucket on wheels and carrying a mop.
“Excuse me, “ he said. “I thought the show was canceled and no one was in here. I was just going to clean up.”
He turned to leave.
“Hold on,” I said.
My spirit was lifted for the first times in weeks. I jumped down from the stage and walked briskly over to him. I wrapped a ticket in a five dollar bill and placed it in the breast pocket of his green coveralls.
“Have a seat,” I told him. “I will only be a minute of two.”
The janitor pulled the bill and the ticket out of his pocket,. He peaked at both, and then slid the pieces of paper back into his pocket. He took a seat in the otherwise empty theater.
“Okay,” he said. “I can give you a couple minutes.”
“Fantastic,” I said. “It will be something to remember.”
I ran to the front to the theater and climbed back on to the stage. The gallows were still in place. The knotted rope dangled invitingly. I slipped my neck into the noose and prepare to kick the lever that would open the trapdoor. The show, I thought, must go on, until the final curtain falls.
JOSEPH FARLEY (USA)
Seeing the Last Day for the Rest of Your Life
Nat knew the gun was underneath the car seat as he entered the bar. The question of when or if he was going to use it still had to be answered. He understood as a psychologist that patients are going to go south on you; hospitalizations, falling off the wagon, blowing off appointments—but Stanley Harper was the first one to actually commit suicide while in a therapeutic relationship with him. He has been a psychologist for fifteen years now, dealing with the trials and tribulations of human emotions day after day. He has heard of broken dreams, obsessive compulsive disorder and tear stained break ups and has been able to separate his work and private life…until now.
Stanley Harper was different. A pseudo-poet, he was a college administrator for eleven years before a surprising layoff left him jobless. He made a half-hearted attempt on his life six months ago—taking 20 sleeping pills and drinking a 12 pack of beer. He was referred to Nat after a four day hospital stay, where it was determined that he was suffering from clinical depression and severe anxiety.
The sessions went well between Nat and Stanley. Stanley was a very eclectic individual who had a variety of taste in music, books, sports and politics. However it was the words Stanley wrote, the despair he described while “walking through life,” that intrigued Nat. The pain of seeing the homeless and mentally ill reaching their hand out to non-committal passer buys for change and sympathy. Being alone with only your thoughts—influenced by witnessing the ugliness of this thing we call existence. Stanley would convey all his feelings in a little notebook, filling page after page with observances of drunken patrons in dive bars, hookers crying at 5 A.M. over the plight of their lives, and old men who slowly looked down at the street for a nickel or dime.
It was a darkness that Stanley would relate in his sessions. Between talks of the latest Alice in Chains CD or the Bruins playoff run was the talk of ending. The ending of life; not only for him, but for all that exist around us. Some of their conversations went to places that sorrowed Stanley’s psyche. His suicide attempt being the most painful to discuss, facing the possible last moments of your life while the world decides to go on around you—but the opening up of these inner thoughts Stanley entrusted in Nat left the therapist feeling better about his patient. They developed a bond of trust…one session could touch upon thoughts of death, the Beatles and Jack Kerouac.
Progress was being made Nat wrote in his notebook but it was still evident that Stanley still had depression issues. He would slowly shuffle into Nat’s office—seating himself like a clump of clay in the brown leather chair. Forgoing eye contact, Stanley would stare at a picture of DiNiro in Taxi Driver, a facial shot that hung next to Nat’s post-graduate degrees. His speech was sometimes slow and deliberate almost on the verge of contemplating whether to say the next word or not. His talk of hanging in the gin mills often left Stanley welling with tears about their plight…of the living darkness that he shared with the patrons.
Now, though Stanley could communicate these emotions to someone. This was a huge breakthrough Nat thought…that he could confide these dark demons without judgment. This outlet for Stanley became a ritual that kept him somewhat safe over the months. Nat still had concerns about the suicide threat of course, and he would ask him at the beginning of each session if he had any thoughts of hurting himself. Stanley always replied the same when asked the question—he would share a sly smile and quote the Alice in Chains song Rooster:
“Ain’t found a way to kill me yet.”
However two days after their last session, Stanley listened to the darkness that loomed inside his head. He walked into the woods of his youth, put a .45 colt to his head, and blew his fucking brains out all over the pine needles and rocks.
He was dead and somehow Nat missed the signals.
This thought of finality; the body not moving, the brain scattered among the pines in Bellington Massachusetts—no more words, observations or interpretations made Nat want to scream. He was alive just days ago, Nat was sure of this because he met with Stanley for his weekly session. They talked about his depression; how his thoughts lingered inside his soul like a death penance. Stanley assured Nat that his suicide idealization is a normal reaction to clinical depression. They signed a “contract”, that stated if Stanley ever felt overwhelmed and his thoughts of suicide were on the verge of action—he would immediately call 911 or drive straight to a hospital emergency room. Stanley assured Nat that he would not act upon his thoughts…which made Nat feel a bit better.
That all changed when Nat got the news of Stanley’s death. He began to question himself about not taking steps to hospitalize Stanley. He felt that although Stanley has shown one overt action of suicide, the contract was signed in earnest and Stanley would take the necessary steps to keep him safe.
Now, Nat was walking into Stanley territory—his domain of sadness, riddled ideas of a parched future; the dive bar where Stanley retreated to so many times when he needed to collect his thoughts on the human race. All the regular cast of characters were there, just waiting for something…something to bring a man to the beginning or the end.
His head was full of confusion as he ordered the shot of whiskey. Nat was not a hard drinker— but at this moment he felt a weird kinship with Stanley …an uneasy feeling of sadness and understanding, fear and acceptance, calm but edgy. In trying to accept the truth that Stanley was dead; Nat’s mixed emotions made a strange sense…he felt this strange war and right at this moment all forces were tearing at his soul to find some answers he was all too familiar in asking but not admitting to fend for himself.
Fear of living, fear of dying…it must be a terrible feeling to wake up to. Walking among the masses blindly, seeing the people around you in their self-involved life stare…What are their joys, their sorrows? What makes them motivated to get up in the morning? Why exist? What does this sphere possess that makes us go out each day…fighting, scraping, laughing, and crying?
If you wanted out what do you do? Nat studied his shot and thought…he thought a lot. Was Stanley right? Is life just riddled with yes, no, thank you and goodbyes?
So many questions to deal with in a profession that is supposed to have balance and prospective.
Nat took his shot and looked around the bar. He thought of the others around him who were on the verge of dying—by disease, motor vehicle accident, or just giving up one day and saying “the hell with it”. All the drunks were star struck with nothing…staring straight ahead blindly, looking at the dirty panels that made up the walls. No joy, no sorrow on their beaten faces.
He thought about the gun in his car again. When would he pull the trigger?
Nat’s eyes teared—not just for Stanley…but the torment he felt within himself, within the patrons of the dive bar he was drinking at…the loners, the look down at the ground walkers… He was part of the pain, the cries for help that never get answered; the blackness that fills up the soul of a man who makes the decision that taking his life is the only option.
He heard their stories daily as an outside observer. No right, no wrong, no nothing
Then he thought about the gun again.
DAN PROVOST (USA)
An on-going conversation
My alter ego wants to live somewhere else but I’ve said no yet again … if I can’t move away, why should my alter ego get to go? Anyway, where would he go, where would we go? Admittedly, we’re outsiders here, where we live, where we’ve essentially lived our entire lives … yes, we’re outsiders, in spite of all appearances to the contrary … we don’t belong here … we’ve known this for a long time … and, yet, I know why I’m still here … and if life were fair, he would have been able to have left a long ago … but life’s not fair, increasingly so in the twenty-first century but let’s not get into that … anyway, it’s too late now … he wouldn’t “fit in”, to use the phrase, anywhere else … I know this because I wouldn’t either … nevertheless, he says we could be true outsiders somewhere else … that would be authentic, he claims … he’s long imagined himself an existentialist, although I’m fairly certain he really has no idea what it is … we could go to Prague, with each of us knowing twenty words of Czech … yes, we would be true outsiders there … we both know a bit more French … we could go to Paris … hang out … people-watch, which is a euphemism of course – everyone knows it’s a euphemism …
My alter ego is still single … he’s been, by his own admission, a miserable failure with women all his life … that’s not entirely true but it’s what he keeps telling me … and he simply stopped looking after the love of his life turned him down … for some men, women have the supreme power to say ‘no’ in ways that leaves them utterly devastated … my alter ego’s one of them … and that’s exactly what happened to him … the woman who was, in his eyes, the love of his life finally simply said ‘no’ to him … and he didn’t recover … he ended up devoting himself to his work, which was a truly stupid thing to do, when one thinks about it … he kept telling me that she was the third one to say ‘no’ and that was that … he wasn’t going to give a fourth woman the chance to do it all over again … it takes a lot out of guys like him when the ultimate answer is ‘no’ – getting geared up for the whole damn thing and then having it all fall apart … of course, he was still interested in women … don’t get me wrong … overly interested, if you must know … all his life he has been inordinately interested in women …
Wasting his life at the office managed to divert him from what he really wanted in life … women! Or a woman … no, it’s correct to say women plural … it’s the great unspoken truth for most men – the fact that they will want to have more than one woman in their lives … maybe even hundreds of them … and women, in spite of everything we’ve been told about them, will want to have more than one man in their lives too … for my alter ego, the women in his life ended up simply passing through … they were the ones that typically pass through many men’s lives … but, for my alter ego, while they were passing through, many of them stayed within his consciousness … who were they? Think abut it! Use your imagination! What kinds of women would have been the types to waltz through my alter ego’s existence? Anyway, it was one pseudo-relationship after another, very much one-sided, very much conducted entirely in my alter ego’s imagination … but I dare say that he’s not alone in this …
One day, as part of our on-going conversation, my alter ego told me that I had married far too young … he said that I hadn’t spent enough time “being single”, as he put it, like him … I responded scornfully that this was something that was completely inappropriate for him to say … he disagreed … he said that it’s exactly the sort of thing that needs to be said … had he been around at the time, he would have said it to me when it really mattered … but it’s a bit late now … we actually agreed on this … and some things should be left unsaid, I added … maybe, maybe not … that’s what he said … maybe, maybe not … I could criticize my alter ego for not getting into any kind of real relationship of any kind with a woman … but what would be the point? After all, had he done this, he and I would have a completely different relationship … actually, had he met someone, after the third woman said ‘no’, he wouldn’t even be my alter ego …
I understand his desire to live elsewhere … I’ll give him that one … we live in a fairly mundane part of the world and we really are outsiders where we live … we both know “people-watching”, and it’s still a euphemism, would be far better somewhere else … but I have my reasons why I’m still here, why we’re still here … everyone has reasons why they’re somewhere … everyone has reasons for doing things and not doing things … but not everyone has an alter ego who complains about it …
D.A. PRATT (CANADA)
Sorry I forgot to give you the mayonnaise.
–the last line from the novel 'Trout Fishing in America' by Richard Brautigan (1967)
ADRIAN MANNING (UK)
Please note that American spellings have been left in as is the intention of the authors.
All text © of the authors 2013.