Short Story: Where Shelter Must Be Sought Outside the Home
A short, dumpy, lumpy middle-aged man, with a bulbous nose and an orb-shaped head trudged aggressively up to Daniel. Daniel was sitting on a bench outside the Find it-Get it-Go convenience store, but he stood up when this bumbling, unnerving idiot accosted him.
“Please sir, please, I have a favor to ask,” the man begged.
Daniel found himself shifting his weight away from the man, maintaining his position but reluctantly so. The man’s eyes were racing; his comb-over was clumped together by the copious sweat dripping from his scalp.
“Uh…Wh…What can I help you with?” Daniel stammered.
“Please sir, I’ve made a terrible mistake, and I need someone…you…to punch me in the face. Really give me a sweet one, black eyes, bloody nose, knock me to the dirt!”
“Why would I want to do that? You haven’t done anything to me,” Daniel inquired.
“Sir…I need you to hit me. I need someone to knock some sense into me, and the only way I’ll get any sense is if you bash me with it.”
This ridiculous logic struck Daniel as very odd. Daniel believed that no matter how hard he hit this man, nothing other than physical damage would be accomplished.
“Pleeeease, I have cheated on my wife, I never talk to my little boy, the weather in my head is always cloudy,” the odd man was suddenly emboldened, he stood more erect and lifted his chin, “Give me Sense, sir.”
Daniel stood there, thinking about it for nearly a minute. Though the logic did not make any sense to him, he was a bit stressed himself. Daniel, too, had fallen by the wayside in his love life. After two years of honeymoon stage, and a third year of nothing but torment and frustration, he had ended it with his girlfriend in May. It was now September, and not a night since that day in May, had Daniel spent sober, whether drunk on vodka or stoned, most often an excess of both. He couldn’t stand being alone. It was not that he felt loneliness, at this point he didn’t care if he ever had sex again, it was just that he no longer had someone who could calm him down, to make him feel relaxed when his mind began to tremble, when his despondency began to fester.
He took one step back, and electing to choose his weak hand, his left, laid a fat hook directly across the man’s lips. The man let out a howl, and fell to the ground hard. After a few seconds of rolling around, yelping pathetically, the man composed himself and rose to his feet.
“Oh, thank you, thank you so much, my generous and benevolent benefactor!”
The odd man sprang off down the road giddy with elation and epiphany, in what were now the tattered, rumpled clothes that only added to his pitiful condition.
Lighting a cigarette, Daniel sat down on the bench again, quizzical about the man’s strange request, and even stranger reaction to being pummeled. It was now three o’clock in the afternoon, and it was his day off. He worked multiple jobs, one as a grill cook in a diner, where the owner decorated a quaint, rustic motif by installing an old wood stove, an antique cupboard, and upon the walls, pictures of relatives long gone. One such picture was his great-great uncle returning from a rabbit hunt, standing on his porch clutching three dead rabbits by the ears in one hand and a long muzzle-loader in the other. Another was of his great-grandmother pretending to play the piano as she smiled pleasantly at the camera. His other job was substitute teaching at the middle school over in the next town, in which he always reveled in getting the chance to teach a history class, but for mathematics, he would merely hand out whatever problems the teacher had left for the students and sit at the desk, twiddling his thumbs, wishing they still allowed smoking indoors.
Most of his days off were spent in similar fashion as today. The Find it-Get it-Go was only a couple blocks from his house. On a daily basis, he would go in and buy a pack of Marlboro Reds and a large coffee, then sit outside on the bench, chain smoking and watching pedestrians and cars flash by in the hustle of their active, fulfilling lives. He never ceased to be fascinated by them, the other people of the world. Drivers would cut each other off then scream obscenities at the vehicle they cut off, as if they were at fault. People would walk by chattering business talk into their cell phones, or relaying harrowing epics of their grocery-store fiasco to the receptive listener on the other side of the line. He was puzzled by how everything he found so trivial, was treated so relevant and urgent by other people.
It was now six o’clock. Daniel sat up and walked down to the liquor store, then walked down a few blocks more to where his acquaintance, Eric, lived. A few minutes later, he walked out onto the sidewalk again and returned home.
In his kitchen, he tore open a bag of Ramon Noodles and placed a pot of water on the stove. In a separate pot he heated some frozen vegetables. He had already mixed up a vodka and Sprite and finished it before the water even began to boil. When the noodles and vegetables were finished he drained the water from the vegetables and mixed it with the Ramon. Sitting at his kitchen table he opened up his copy of “Becoming Visible: Women in European History” and read while he ate and drank.
After his meal, he rolled up a fat jay, plugged his iPod into his sound system, and blasted his mind while Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place” blasted from his stereo. Later on, he fell asleep on the sofa, while sexual performance enhancers advertised in thirty-minute segments, mumbled on the television.
The next day he was subbing for Mrs. Dewey’s sixth grade Math class. The students were acting rowdy, not really working on the assignment their teacher had left for them, but he didn't really care. He was again reading Becoming Visible, but his mind was elsewhere. He was preoccupied with thinking about the last five months of his life. He was fatigued by his lethargy and his over-analytic predisposition. Change must come from outside of me, from somewhere else or from someone else, but why should I expect it to come to me, why should I expect anyone to give a damn?
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