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Winning Synesthesia: A Short Story
It's only when the sirens go off do I really smile. It's not a real genuine smile, but it's as close to genuine as it can get. When they go off tonight, the alternating lights in the dark behind me reminding me of red and blue Jell-O I had as a kid, the smile is a smirk. I get synesthesia whenever I see them, a nostalgic blueberry for blue and a baste of strawberry with the red. Synesthesia can be a beautiful thing, mixing senses with each other so intricately, tasting colors and smelling sounds. I always thought it only happened when you dropped acid or shrooms or were born with it, but I guess it's just the same when the memory becomes the hallucinogen. It intensifies every time.
Tonight, when I pull over and I draw my window down, a gust of chill night air sweeps my hair to one side and I don't care to fix it; I want the policeman to see my ear beneath the mane, to know I'm listening like I always do. Then comes the flashlight illuminating the bare ear, caught in my peripheries.
“Sir, have you any idea how fast you were going?” Sometimes the voice is younger, a newbie on the job, sometimes older, a veteran who gets off on guys like me who give his night excitement, but won't ever show it. It's an older one tonight who asks the question.
“Ninety-five,” I answer.
“Have you been drinking?”
“You mean tonight?”
He pauses. “Yes.”
“Can I see your license and registration?”
I reach in the glove compartment and remove the forms, hand them to him, then my license from my wallet.
“So what was the rush?” the officer asks, examining the sheets of plastic and paper.
“Trying to get away.”
“From what?” His eyes go narrow, looking up at me from my crude representations.
“All of it.”
This has all happened before. For a while now, actually. I can't think of any other way to lose my money, and I hate charities, seeing as they still exist no matter how much you pay them. Or like sending money to the American Lung Association or the Heart or any other organ-labeled organization. They're all still there no matter how many billionaires pour their dough into them. All the hungry, sick little shits in this world still exist regardless of the green going into them. So, I figure gradually losing it all trying to run away from what I've got is the best solution.
Two years ago, I made a mistake. It started with a friend convincing me to buy a lottery ticket. One of those scratch-n-sniff little pieces of cardboard at a gas station in the middle of the night in the middle of a town in the middle of Nevada the two of us had stumbled on because of a missed turn.
“You could get lucky,” Clive said. He bought one himself.
I didn't really like the idea of a lottery to begin with, didn't believe it could really be won. Not by me. Another way for the government to get rid of the excess cash flow directed at all the cancer charities and orphanages.
I bought it, half-jokingly, decided to humor Clive, who held onto his.
Because of a missed turn, it all turned to shit. Because of a missed turn, on this deliberately impoverished road trip, I became insane.
The next few days were spent loathing this ticket, and the road trip wound up being a dud as Clive and I realized we were spending more of an intolerable amount of money than we'd planned. We cut it short, went back home to Arlington Heights once we arrived in Illinois from the west.
I almost threw out the ticket, merely because of the delusions settling in my mind that I could possibly win.
But then I started keeping up with the ticket drawings online. I constantly looked them up on the Mega Millions website. New drawings every day. It became a mild curiosity which grew into an irritating hope.
And then I saw my number, my whole future summed up in twelve digits: 13-23-19-34-52 + 15. It was the jackpot. $12 million.
I wasn't sure I wanted to go out and collect the money, until I realized just how much there was to bag. I could relax for the rest of my life. I'd never again have to work at that shitty little synthetic Italian restaurant with the perverted DJ who performs there on the weekends. Never have to loathe filling a tank of gas like I'm pissing my cash into my car.
I was going to be okay.
I went out, turned in the ticket, and got a nice little interview mostly consisting of the needless, obvious question, “How does it feel?” Like a therapist asking me how my meds are working.
I was fine.
At first I enjoyed the sensation of having so much. My parents said I never had to give them anything, but I gave them each a million. They bought some nice lofty condos in Miami. I stayed in Illinois, quit my job, told the pervy DJ he couldn't stare at my ass anymore, and I bought a loft in Chicago not far from Trump Tower.
It was all good for a while. I didn't have to cook my own food or microwave anything, actually selling my microwave. I sold my toaster. I sold them to the trash for nothing. I ate out every day. I visited the nicest bars and clubs and decided decorating my liver would be my newest hobby.
Then arrived the malaise; I was twenty-five, five dismal years from being half my parents' age, and it began to occur to me that there was no point. I wasn't able to pick up a woman, as no woman would want a man with more insecurities than J. Alfred Prufrock. No woman would want a guy who knows who J. Alfred Prufrock is. No woman would want a guy who looks like a living ribcage no matter how much he eats, or who's beginning to bald at the front of his head strangely. Whose coarse black hair is beginning to gray over his pasty face, he swears.
There was nothing that could make me happy, or change the fact I was still me. I was still this sad shit who was molding into an alcoholic whose parents dined out specifically for the dry martinis every night.
So I bought myself a silver Ferrari. A silver bullet for the highways. I started driving. I didn't know where to, but I began to run up the gas, pissing more cash. I drove. All over town.
At stoplights people stared. I liked the stares. They kept me out on the streets more than the feeling of cruising on the roads. Made me feel important. And I found driving endlessly on the roads helped me feel as though I were escaping something, escaping my loft, escaping the millionaires, and because of that, escaping myself, or at least what became me.
On the highway the Ferrari was the only one who could hear me, and it didn't condescend or make me feel inferior. It kept me level. So did the double-lines to my left... and then my right, on occasion.
It wasn't until I grew tired of my speed that I moved faster. I began to understand that I had to run faster to get away from the money, from the life. My drives would normally last hours, and I'd only stop to eat at the most expensive places I could find. It all became this quest to run out of myself, to drain my pocket on my own destruction.
I drank more. I drove more. Sometimes both together, more. And it was never to get to any specific point, just to run. The feel of it made me more alive. Then it became fully realized when I first and finally got myself pulled over one night. I knew I'd fall in love with the lights.
They say synesthesia is usually drug-induced, or is simply neurological in some people through nature, but I gave it to myself. More and more I began to taste that childhood Jell-O every time the cruisers closed in. I enjoyed the taste. It was weird, but it only fueled my taste for the chase. Blueberry and strawberry.
They always pulled me over. “Do you know how fast you were going?”
And every time I'd nod and know that the officer was myself. He was my money. He was everything I hated about myself come back to catch me. To return me to it. To make me pay for it all. I was paying the consequences to myself.
“Ninety-five,” became the regular answer. It felt like a good speed. At ninety-five I felt just enough control. At ninety-five, it was just below a hundred but enough above ninety to constitute a rush. And it was easier for the cops to catch than, say, one-twenty.
Every time, the little ticket I was given was giving me some piece of myself back. The thing was saying, “Come back to me.” It said, “You're wasting your winnings. Come back.”
But I wanted to disobey it. I had no use. No family. No need for anything more than my old shitty apartment and microwave. I almost wanted the cancers, tumors and poverty the charities begged me to give my winnings to. Just so they'd shut up.
Clive moved away, never speaking to me again for reasons only he could have said.
So I kept paying tickets. I kept trying to get away. I tasted Jell-O, every night. Sometimes I went to prison and paid more if I “happened” to dent an officer's fender. I began to run up the bills. The fines. I even considered a few acts of vehicular manslaughter. I had my license revoked for a while eventually and waited, just long enough. Returning to yourself can take time.
So tonight is no different when I tell the officer, almost two years after all this began because of a missed turn, “I'm down to six hundred and seventy-two dollars.”
He doesn't know what to say. In all his years of handing tickets he never hears how much is in a speeder's bank account. He doesn't think too hard about the comment, though. But I just thought he should know as he writes that sheet up with the little price tag on it, one more beg for me to come home.
“It sounds like you need some help,” the officer remarks unsympathetically. He walks away.
And then I close my window.
When the officer passes and the Jell-O lights pass by, both off, I finally begin to see that maybe by doing this I'm killing myself, but just before I die I'll actually be wearing my own skin again. Before everything happened. Before I became alone and confused. Before I could forget what Jell-O tasted like at all.
© 2011 Benjamin Graves All rights reserved.