a serious joke: chapter 11

“Ask your doctor if Zyprexa is right for you …”

                        -traditional

 

 

 

It took Jon all he had to not crack a smile when told by the detective…an unusually large man dressed in leather, name by ‘Stone’…that his wife and two boys of differing ages had been found dead long before he’d come out of his coma. By long before, Jon wasn’t quite sure then—going over the flurry of questions and answers that had just been thrown before him—how long before, exactly? Stone had said a lot of things. And Jon had been enjoying the 3,6,9 or so different heavy-duty pain meds flowing through his bloodstream at the time. …Regardless of that, however, he hadn’t remembered in the entire litany of police things that had just been said to him the slightest bit of caring, on his part. Stone seemed perhaps only a bit less unconcerned, ‘uncaring’. But not a police’s job to ‘care’ about a victim in a triple homicide (or all three victims) for that matter. Jon supposed, if there were ‘jobs’ to be assigned here, he’d been caught sleeping on his…(for the moment, thanks to a healthy IV of dilaudid flowing through his veins, that fact failed to worry him).

 

Back to the not caring, however…Jon, even in his fuzzy, cozy, nuzzling up close and snug with Jesus God himself up on a cloud, feeling of well-being and joy…even in the midst of that cuddle session with God Christ, surrounded by angels and fuzzy warm kittens and synthesized chemicals banging on all flippers and switches of the stoned pinball game in his mind—even through the indescribably orgasmic pleasure of all that, not once had he felt as if a single word this Detective what’s-is-name…Stone…said, had been the least bit for real. Not particularly that Stone was lying. More like…the things he was saying to Jon were true—as far as the good detective was concerned, and even maybe as far as the facts supported it all—but that the things being said (it follows, logically, assumed now to be “true”)—simply had not happened. And that presented a good, stoned, philosophical quandary for Jon. If one’s to assume that something is factually truthfully (as he—it seemed—had surrendered himself to subscribing to)…then is it possible for that truthful, realistic, empirically fact-based something to ‘also’… ‘not have happened at all’…to also and at the same time simply, ‘not be’? Something beyond a gut feeling. Or a delusion. Or a hallucination. Or schizophrenia. Even something beyond being stoned into a past life on a million different painkillers. Call it something like… “an existential…metaphysical…incursion…”. Without realizing it, Jon had spoken the remainder. A thing where—for instance—one planet, in one of many possible parallel universes, for one split second, for only the billionth of a moment in time—out of forces unknown and unknowable to man, just happens to appear, blink into existence in our universe, and to ‘coincide’ with the exact spatial placement of our own planet. What theoretical physicists, he concluded (with no basis whatsoever in knowledge or fact), might call an ‘incursion’. The question then becomes, if such a metaphysical, inter-dimensional conflict of space-time is indeed possible—then what happens to the world we live on? “The bed I’m lying in”. “The dope in my veins…” Jon completed his stoned, internal soliloquy. What happens to all that…physically…and in any other sense…and what happens to me?….and to the bed I’m lying in, and the linoleum tile squares that bed is rested on…and the hospital that linoleum tile lines…square by square…foot by foot?

 

Does it all just blink out of existence?

 

And beyond the drugs, still, the reason for the helpless metaphysical probing presented with new symptoms, it seemed, by the second. “After all…” it shouldn’t bother me at all, none of this, “Jon posited,” if it were all just an effect of heavy drugs. “Not just the probing…” but the fact, beneath all the spacey, out-there what-ifs, it STILL didn’t feel one bit like the thing he knew pretty well not to question (a triple homicide of a family—supposedly his), bothered him. That is, if it didn’t actually—truly—feel like some sort of metaphysical cock and bull story, he would naturally be beside himself with grief for the death of his supposed family. But…it didn’t feel like it. It didn’t seem to be a thing that had happened. Even though Jon knew well enough it had. How terrible a person does that make me, he wondered. The Cat, snuggled between his legs, purring on all cylinders, seemed unconcerned at the moment. Something had happened. But it didn’t feel like it did. Good enough reason to not shed a tear? In present company, and more concerning, good enough reason to crack a doped-up grin? If this is true (I know it is, he thought to himself), then it surely is no laughing matter, and my heart ought to be laid bare on the pillow beside me…but it didn’t seem it.

 

Not in the slightest. “Does this make me a bad person,” he wondered, again. This time to himself. In his head. And the easy answer, of course, was ‘yes’. But only assuming the sense of ‘knowing’ this thing that had in reality occurred had—as per the ‘incursion’ theory—also ‘not occurred’. Holding to the sense this was entirely possible, and likely…then, perhaps, ‘no’. Perhaps then there would be nothing to feel guilty about. A poor man also named Jon—living on another earth—a carbon copy but nonetheless, a ‘different’ Jon, had according to the theory been the victim of some as-yet unnamed crime, and the massacre of his family. For one billionth of a second, that Jon had blinked into existence in the same precise space-time of the Jon presently confined to a hospital bed…and whatever grisly thing that had happened to that Jon and his wife and sons of differing ages had (perhaps?) seemed to have also happened to the Jon of the here and present. And then all the calamity and bloodshed and horror of that cosmic singularity had just as mysteriously blinked out of existence. Maybe.

 

One thing made no sense, then… If Stone had indeed found dead, bloody things resembling a wife and two offspring ostensibly related to Jon—himself—here—now…then what could possibly account for it? He’d overlooked the fact he had no wife, no children. No dead wife and no dead children for a Detective Stone to find. The same grisly thing that had happened to the ‘other’ Jon couldn’t have happened to Jon. The bloody things, the wife and children, ought to have vanished along with everything else temporarily taking up the same space-time. ‘Jon’, his ersatz ‘family’…all of it. The bloody things had been left behind. And that carbon-copy yet ‘different’ Jon had (luckily, it seemed), been whisked away to his ‘home planet’, in another reality, another dimension…or…something. As it stood, Jon…for lack of a better word, the ‘real’ Jon…had been left to clean up the mess of an inter-dimensional doppleganger. A dead wife and two children. Left to rot, here in the world he’d occupied for 46 years. Without causing a single major incident in all that time. Without even having earned more than a single speeding ticket in all those years. Now…a dead, bloody mess of things had been laid at his feet. Rotting. Or, to be fair, freezing. Stuffed into iceboxes. Like old meat—use or freeze by this date. And then…with the somewhat decent looking nurse coming by to top up his dilaudid, Jon had a pang of disquiet.
Well. “What if I’m wrong?”

 

And those simple four words happened to strike a chord every bit as utterly displeasing and confounding as those occupying the entire line of his thoughts to this point.

 

“Jell-O?” the pudgy yet attractive nurse asked.

 

Jon brushed her away, wordlessly…like gnats. The Cat between his legs gave a nice long stretch and squeaked on yawning, razor teeth glinting in the fluorescent din of the hospital room. The Detective had apparently left. Wordlessly. “It’s you,” he said.

 

“Me what.” Jon asked, wrestling his tangled IV away from the cat’s paws.

 

“Not some other you.”

 

“How do you know?” Jon asked.

 

“We hear things.” The Cat rose to its tippy toes and arched its back—a perfect crescent. “Remember when we were hanging out at your place, and I asked if you had bitches?”

 

“Watch your mouth,” Jon snapped, reflexively.

 

“You do remember.”

 

“No. I don’t. Just…watch the mouth…”

 

“…aaanyway, you couldn’t for the life of you remember where your bitches went. Or. Whatever you want to call ‘em. But just knew that something (something like a bitch) had been taken from you.” The Cat began gnawing in the spaces between his claws. Nibbling little flecks of cat dandruff from between his toes.

 

“No. Wasn’t that…”

 

“Don’t say it,” the Cat interrupted. “Seems like after all this happened,” he mewed, finishing the thought for Jon.

 

“How’s that possible..?” Jon was now officially not enjoying his drugs nearly as much as he had been to this point.

 

“An unfinished square?” The Cat guessed, sincerely. “Who knows. But think of it this way,” the Cat nodded toward the soap opera playing out on the black and white television set in the corner of the hospital room, “…every scene in this…whatever it is…has already been filmed. Photographed. You know. Then they play the photographs, in order, like a flip-book, real fast like, and you get…what?,” the Cat asked somewhat rhetorically.

 

Jon shrugged. Now scratching his nuts.

 

“…you get…the motion picture. The picture, in motion. That’s why they call it a motion picture. You get movement. Forward. Movement.” The Cat spoke haltingly, a specious authority in his voice. “But look.” The Cat hit ‘pause’ on the remote. “Now it ain’t moving no more. And look how the broad has her eyes halfway open. Lookit that dumb expression on her face!”

 

“What’s the point of this?”

 

“Who would pose looking that dumb in the face,” the Cat answered.

 

“No one?” Jon guessed, drowsy now from the fuzz of chemicals warming his brain.

 

“Exactly. No one would. So why did she?”

 

“Why?”

 

“She didn’t.” Pawing at the faux nurse in the faux hospital room, setting down a faux hospital tray in front of a faux hospital patient. The actors seemed to mirror the precise movements of the real nurse, emerging from behind the green curtain now and again to fiddle with this or that, and even that of Jon himself, scratching his balls and sipping on a juice box. “Know why?”

 

“Why what?”

 

“Why she looked so stupid in that freeze-frame”. The Cat hit had hit ‘un-pause’. The ersatz nurse and the ersatz Jon went about doing nothing in particular, on the vacuum-tube 50’s era television set. Is this even a show? “Because,” the Cat continued, sitting up, chest puffed out, “that little freeze-frame was just one of a million-billion pictures chosen at random—by me—to stand apart for a moment or two. There are so many pictures shuffling by us right now, there’s millions—billions—of things we’d never even notice going on around us this and every other split-second of every day. Same as that show. It’s already been filmed. All the pictures exist, in order. Or, alone. Or, in reverse. Or, out of order. But they all exist. And it’s only cause we’re so used to the grand illusion of the ‘motion picture’, that we always assume the show is going from Point A to Point Z, from beginning to end, start to finish…AND, that we don’t all look like maroons, like that chick on the TV did in that freeze-frame, when we take it out of context.” The cat squeaked out another yawn, then sharpened his claws, treading on the thick bedspread covering Jon’s lap. “So what I’m saying is…”

 

“You’ve seen this movie before.” The nurse—the real nurse—had just come by to top up Jon’s dilaudid. Again. The faux soap opera nurse exited the room as she did.

 

“Or, somebody has,” the cat added. “If not me…or you. Clearly, you haven’t seen shit. Hell, don’t you watch TV?” the Cat snapped.

 

The nurse poked in and out of the little green hospital room, doing nothing in particular. Jon’s nuts still itched. The cat yawned. Not particularly captivated by his own mini-lecture. The antique television set sat in the corner of the little green room, by two or three seconds lagging behind the decidedly inelegant movements of the real nurse. Her arm flab flapping as she aired out some soiled linens. Her graceless shuffling captured in the delay of the fuzzy black and white TV screen. The ersatz TV nurse a hypnotic, fuzzy, perfect homunculus…three seconds behind.

 

“Somehow, still. It’s just so much more interesting,” Jon excreted, lazily and out of nowhere; high and fuzzy on chemicals bounding to and from warm little receptors, bouncing like ping-pong balls in the playroom of the pleasure center of his brain… “…it’s just so much more interesting than real life…”

 

The faux nurse folded a sheet, leaving it over Jon’s legs. The nurse had wandered off, pulling the green curtain to the green room closed behind her.

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the individual devil/a lie agreed upon

[a man and his devil were talking…]

 

I wanted to run this by you: you’ve heard of Sisyphus, right?

 

“Sounds familiar.”

 

The ancient Greek king who was murderous and deceitful, and then when Zeus tried to send him to the underworld, he tricked Hades and chained him up…to a wall, like…

 

“Go on. Hades, the death guy. Stopped by a wall? Okay, but go ahead..”

 

Well, since no one could die as long as Hades was held captive, sacrifices could not be made, so he was forced to release him. He does some nasty stuff to his wife Persephone (always liked that name) after that; I can’t remember… but in the end his punishment is to be forced to roll a giant boulder up a hill, day after day, for all eternity…and every time he’s just about to reach the top, the boulder rolls back down and he has to start again. So it’s about the futility of life, and the fact that no matter what we do in our time here, it means nothing, and that at the same time, what we do here means everything. That’s my interpretation, based on some readings of it anyway. There are different versions, of course.

 

“I’ll bet you didn’t read much about this before starting up.”

 

…Maybe that’s true, I say, but sometime’s the reader’s digest version is sufficient to make a point.

 

“Guess they wouldn’t publish that version if if weren’t. Sometimes, anyway..”

 

Don’t accuse me of trying to be pretentious here,

 

“Wouldn’t dare…!” [gesticulating]

 

…because I’ve seriously been thinking about this whole thing, I say. I’m really not.

 

“Not really pretentious or seriously not been thinking about this whole thing?”

 

[the devil cracks a smile]

 

Bear with me….Camus’ interpretation is that, in the end, despite the frustration and futility and absurdity of it all, we have to imagine Sisyphus as ‘happy’. He says something like ‘the struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s heart’. I don’t know if he’s happy, but I can meet Camus halfway and say maybe Sisyphus was at the very least ‘occupied’. He had something to do. And maybe that was enough that he was neither happy nor miserable, but at least for the most part, ‘okay’….I guess.

 

“Worse things to be than ‘okay’. But I shouldn’t be the one to tell you this.”

 

My ‘something to do’ I’ve regarded as futile and meaningless, and maybe that’s why I’ve been so miserable. I’m coming around to maybe considering the idea that it really is just up to me and me alone to decide how it’s going to be: am I going to live out each day as some tragic ancient greek punishment….or decide to be contented, or at the very least ‘occupied’, with this giant boulder, knowing that this is all there is. This is all there is. And I’m really tired of being miserable. A giant boulder and a steep hill is all you get, maybe. I say.

 

“This is all very Greek [says the devil]…I’m more of a freezing, white waiting room in the middle of nowhere kind of guy. Fire, rocks, the dark…you can sleep in the dark, you know. Make do with the rocks. The fire…well, that keeps you warm. A bright-white, freezing waiting room…no blankets…no fire, no thermostat…that’s uncomfortable. And the key word…’waiting’.”

 

Exactly. Maybe it’s not about being uncomfortable at all. The punishment is wrongly prescribed to fit the crime. Or, taken the right way, maybe the prescription can be abused. You’re describing ‘waiting’, essentially. Not cold, not bright light. Maybe just having a boulder and a steep hill is more than enough to neuter the punishment of ‘waiting’.

 

“Talk of abusing drugs prescribed by Hades himself. You do belong in the Hell.”

 

Abusing your drugs, too. I think I’ve found a way to circumvent the ‘waiting room’. Simply…stop waiting. Take my medicine on my own terms.

 

“You’re still just waiting on yourself, no matter how you take your damn medicine, no matter how you wait or while away the days, everything is vanity, everything under the sun…and all that…and where you are, there ain’t no sun. Let’s face it, friend…just exchanging secret ecstasies of the imagination (hoisting at long last that giant boulder over the summit of the hill)…for a single moment of sweet release that never comes. The doctor is taking it easy on you. He at least says he’ll ‘be with you momentarily’ (that moment never comes…no matter…it’s the lie that gives you hope). You [the devil grins] are your own lying doctor…he who NEVER is there ‘momentarily’…or at all…he who NEVER comes. So by all means…self-medicate. It won’t make your days any shorter, any less tedious. Still a lying doctor…”

 

Only if I let myself be the lying doctor.

 

“Only if. But….won’t you?”

 

I want a boulder to labor over…even if it means never making it to the summit. At least I’m waiting on my own terms. Maybe not waiting at all…I say. Maybe the labor itself really is enough.

 

“Enough of a distraction. And what is it you’re really saving yourself from? What a circular argument! [exclaims the little devil]

 

That’s a matter of philosophy, I guess.

 

“Enjoy your philosophy, then. See if it keeps you captivated for an eternity. …Either way, it’s a lie. A lie agreed upon, either you tell it to yourself or the doc tells it to you, and either way, you agree upon it. You can’t win. Which is worse, who can say. Your thing is all very Greek, but when you get right down to it, who are you kidding. Who’s anyone kidding. You’re just waiting…I’m your doctor, friend…and I’m here to help.”

 

[the man’s individual little devil smiles; irascibly] 

 

Death, death death. Your thing is weak. Nothing but the dead and death. I feel some sign of life…having some inscrutable ‘something’ to roll up a hill…even if that is embracing misery, then what the Hell else is there to embrace? Otherwise you just wait…in the cold. I say that, and at the same time, I feel a chill rattle up my windpipe…perhaps I’m coming down with something.

 

“…’Who’ll sop my gravy, when I’m old and grey?’…[sickening, sing-song falsetto]

 

Who’ll roll my boulder…when I’m cold and ill… I say

 

[the man’s little devil grins irascibly]

 

“you just wait either way…burning in cold or drowning in flame…ain’t it?”

.Fire_Girl

the bare survival minimum

A— pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his head and took a seat inside the plastic enclosure next to the bus stop. Through sheets of rain, a man appeared and busily sat himself down on the bench next to A—, and absently went on tussling his hair, removing his frock coat, airing it out, flapping it and wringing it, inconsiderately shaking the wet from his body like a dog. A loud honk of a sneeze, clearing of the throat, a general boorishness. A— scooted over as far as possible and pretended to look at something in the distance.

 

“It’s a wet one,” the slob of a man let out suddenly. An older guy. Poorly dressed, mismatched socks, slacks an inch or an inch and a half too short…beaten up looking face. Like a retired boxer’s face. But not a prizefighter. Not a contender. A punching bag, rather. A jobber. A man who’s spent his life and career taking shots to the face and nose and jaw and not seen a dime or a single win for all his efforts. His face was that beaten. Like he could’ve spent a lifetime getting beaten…and for nothing, in the end. “Cats an’ dogs, huh?” the beaten old man said pleasantly, rubbing his wrinkly, prune-like hands together. Beaten and exploited, but pleasant; pleasant, and not down. Only god knows why, A— thought, but you could give him that much—he’s not down. The admirable still-standing beaten thing went on about something or other following that profound observation of the rain, cats and dogs-like, but A— was intent on staring through the veil of fog directly ahead, staring inscrutably at that particular little nothing.

 

“Mmm.” A— examined the imaginary little nothing harder now.

 

“You went to ___ University.” Referring to A—‘s hooded sweatshirt. The beaten old fighter leered, smiling pleasantly at the university logo on A—‘s shirt. Crooked, genuine smile revealing three or four missing upper teeth.,.two barely noticeable, off to the side…one a canine, quite noticeable, front and center. Had it been knocked out by a left jab or an uppercut? Had he fought to lose that tooth? Or had it fallen out due to abnormally poor oral hygiene? The way in which one loses a tooth can say a lot about a man, A— mused…

 

“…No,” he answered finally, after a quite prolonged silence. Not thinking. “Yes.” Pausing, pregnantly. Then saying nothing.

 

“Ah, well. My daughter went there.” Crooked smile revealing missing canine. A genuine smile.

 

Both men sat silently. The rain beating the little plastic box harder now. Waiting on a bus. Sky gray and cold between the raindrops. Fog shrouding the men as if to constrict—to ensnare the both of them—force them uncomfortably close and closer, like two animals in a cage. Two uncomfortable animals in one little plastic cage. Or, one uncomfortable animal, perhaps. The little plastic box like a Siberian outpost, a no man’s land…zero visibility for miles around for the fog and rain. A— began to legitimately examine that imaginary little nothing in the distance…staring at it inscrutably, soaked through to his bones. In this moment, he almost started to believe there was something to be examined; something out there…not just a means of distancing himself from the wet dog of a man to his left; the beaten fighter with the missing canine. Hypnotized by the pounding rain, the rattling of the plastic enclosure. The man to his left broke the trance with a hacking cough, a blowing of his nose into a soaked handkerchief. Sputtering little bits of mucus and saliva, he began to start up again…

 

“This was immediately after my wife passed…what I’m telling you now; I spent at least four weeks in my house, living off potato chips, dry cereal, plain white bread…like that…and after a certain point I said to myself, you need to get out and get groceries at least. You can’t just stop eating…or live off crumbs you know…pretty much all I had left at that point. So I build myself up you know, and I decide yes, I have to go out and go grocery shopping. Bare survival minimum type stuff.

 

“I’d been walking around my house with just my boxer shorts and a stained white t-shirt on you know…and I had no clean laundry. What I did was I took a shower…which I hadn’t done in at least a week by the way…and turned my boxer shorts and t-shirt inside out. Minimize the odor. I had no detergent you see. For the washing machine. So I couldn’t do the laundry and get myself right, put on a clean pair of pants and shirt you see. I’d run out of everything you know. Put my sweatpants and jacket on and I left the house. Wasn’t easy….let me tell you. The sun hurt. The sun hurts like that when you haven’t seen it in so long. I get in the car, right, and I feel like I can barely remember how to drive. Like I forgot everything… just like riding a bike. But I got out onto the road and managed…found my way to the store. I never did the grocery shopping you know. My wife did that. Couldn’t remember the last time I went grocery shopping by myself…….I felt like a lost little boy. I….” he paused. Maybe lost his train of thought. This bizarre non-sequitur, on pause, the beaten fighter with the missing canine grinding the remainder of his teeth anxiously now, perhaps laboring to recall something or other. A— was now looking in this man’s direction. Yes…..he exists. And before the thought of what the hell is this old man babbling about entered his mind, a genuine curiosity at the strangeness and the abruptness of it all came first. Now, if nothing else, he thought….this is entertainment.

 

Had the man in fact been a fighter? Surely, if he had, he never won a single bout. But then, A— thought, I’ve never even been in a bout, let alone won or lost one. His eyes darted away into the mist then, thinking on that. Whatever this wet dog of a man is…a poor old slob, a roguish nobody with a moth flying out of his pocket…his face, at least, gave the distinct impression of a man who’d spent his life taking hits and likely giving few or none back. Fighter or not, he had been beaten well and good. By something. And what have I been beaten by? A— wondered. The beaten old man, fighter or not, started up again. “I had to learn to cook for myself. At first it was microwave this, microwave that. Ramen noodles. The like. Flashback to the bachelor days you know. But I said to myself I don’t want to live like a 23 year old bachelor, you know, I want to live like a grown man, who cooks and cleans and takes care of his business the way a man ought to take care of his business you see. So…you know what I took a cooking class. I felt silly. But lemme tell ya, you know, I learned a thing or two. And I learned more than cooking…” he paused again. This time clasping his meaty, paw-like hands together and looking off into the distance, through the veil of fog…almost as if he’d spotted A—‘s mysterious, imaginary little nothing. “…yeah you know, I learned if you wanna meet women, hey fella, take a cooking class.” He grimaced slightly, absent canine presenting again, prominently through the crooked smile and his curled lips. “I wasn’t ready for that though. She uh, she…the one I met there she, you know, well it didn’t work out you know. Just wasn’t meant to be. Was just too soon. Or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe I’d ruined a good thing. Never could settle on that one. Huh.” He grinned sincerely, looked right at A—. “Huh, I’m really going on aren’t I. Why didn’t you stop me, fella? I’m chewin’ off your ear aren’t I? You don’t want to hear about this…” A—, at this point, absolutely did want to hear about this. He was thoroughly intrigued and entertained. “Wow. Don’t know how I got into all that. Really came outta nowhere I guess. How’d I even get on that?” Scratching his temple. “Oh right…your sweatshirt, fella. My daughter went to ___ University. That’s how.” He became very quiet all of a sudden. Almost sullen. A— felt compelled to speak now. Not quite sure what to say or why. Where at first he would just as soon not acknowledge the old dog as a man, an equal, now that impulse had changed. To what exactly, he wasn’t sure. The beaten old dog was also now less an object of entertainment. With his closing words, that voyeuristic curiosity had become dampened, and verging on something else entirely.

 

“I just got out of jail,” A— said. “…I didn’t go to college.” He looked straight ahead as he spoke, but not at the imaginary nothing in the distance. Simply into the veil of fog. Straight to the heart of the storm. “I got this shirt at a flea market, on my way out of jail. Only 99 cents. I was cold, see. When I went in, it was Springtime. Now it’s Fall. Walked out the front doors with just the shirt off my back. That and a few bucks. A few bucks sitting in my wallet for four and a half months. Heh.” A— cracked a nervous smile. All his teeth were accounted for.

 

“Well,” the old dog picked up, “everyone makes mistakes you know.”

 

“No,” A— said. “It wasn’t a mistake. I knew what I was doing. A mistake’s when you drop a glass of water on the kitchen floor. Broken glass. You didn’t mean to do it. Gotta clean it up. But it’s a mistake, you know?” A— stared ahead, through the mist. Unsure what might be hidden out there in the shroud of fog. “I knew what I was doing. I did it anyways.”

 

“That’s still a mistake, fella. You did something wrong I see, that much I got. Whatever it was though, you see, ya fouled up…see, I’ll bet, sittin’ here, now, thinkin’ about it, you could probably definitely say to yourself you wouldn’t do it again whatever it was. You learn. That’s what a mistake is.”

 

A— paused, pursing his lips tentatively. “…mistake or not. It’s something I did. Yeah I guess, you got a point there…I definitely wouldn’t do it again. Don’t think I would. Hope not. I’m not a criminal though. This thing…it was a one-time thing. A fluke. Something happened shouldn’t have happened.”

 

“Shit happens,” the old man said, honestly. And A— supposed that was about right. Shit does happen. It’s not a cliché. Shit happens all the time. Life is full of shit. And of happenings. “I worked as an engineer for 50 years,” the old fighter said, “and I didn’t accomplish a damn thing. I got a nice pension for my time and efforts but that’s about it, I didn’t split the atom, didn’t do anything important, not a damn thing important…just…a lotta shit. Then your wife dies. Suppose that’s shit happening right there. What’s the point I guess. Guess the point’s, maybe your mistake got ya sent to jail for a few months…gotta be rough, sure…but what about my mistake? 50 years wasting my talent. I wanted to be a painter, you see. I did a little bit here and there along the way, sure, but my life is defined by that 50 years doing not a god damned thing instead. Had to provide. You gotta provide. Maybe it’s a mistake maybe not. Feels like one. I dunno.”

 

“Painting. That’s cool,” A— said. “You know…you could be painting now. You’re retired right? What’s stopping you?”

 

“Ahh..” the old dog snapped his wrist dismissively. “That ship’s sailed. Starting out in the evening…not for me I don’t think.” His disposition seemed to have soured in that moment. “But you, you got plenty of time, fella. A minor setback that’s all. Jail, so what. Obviously wasn’t a capital crime, now. So you got time an’ opportunity still.”

 

“I don’t know about that.”

 

“Don’t waste your time. Take that from me, now.”

 

The veil of fog had begun to lift, slightly. The pounding rain decreased in intensity only marginally. But enough to notice. “Still think you oughtta be painting. You’re not dead, right? So you got time.”

 

“Maybe some time. Not time enough I think, though.” Through the fog a screeching of gears and metal on metal sounded. The bus squealed to a halt; barely visible through the mist, even seven or eight feet from the plastic enclosure. “Never enough time,” the beaten old man added as he prepared to stand. “Whatever you do, never think that…you know…that you got enough time.”

 

He stood, rubbing his meaty paws together for warmth. “Never enough time.”

 

A— remained in his seat. Only giving a half-hearted nod to the old fighter as he climbed aboard the bus. He’d planned to take it to a place he probably should not be, especially having just been released from jail. He supposed he still might take the next one there. Either that or wait till the rain lets up and simply keep walking.

 

He might walk to his destination. That, he thought, or he might just walk. And keep walking. The bus pulled away. A— was left alone. The rain had picked back up. Even harder than before. Alone, he thought only of walking. And eventually, of eating. And after that, of shelter. Alone, and with all the time in the world. Bare survival minimum-type stuff…