There was a single robin outside my window pecking at my bloated liver with his clipped staccato song. I supposed I slept at some point. Most of my time was charting the changing color through the thin white drapes: black, gray black, light gray. When it settled on a milky gray-blue it was time to pull myself out of the bed. Maureen had added a rule to the already burgeoning pantheon of rules I had to commit to memory: be gone before Katelyn awoke and stay away until dinner was threatening to get cold. (And none of that waltzing in the minute the bus dropped her off either.) Our daughter couldn’t know I was unemployed.
Snatching the clothes she had laid out from on top of the dresser, I trudged down the hall, ignoring the floorboards creaking their insults at me, dressed and brushed my teeth in the guest bathroom, making sure to wash down the pink drops of blood that dotted the sink. (Even my gums were conspiring against me.) Inspecting myself in the oval mirror I realized I had a day’s growth on my face. Of greater concern were my eyebrows which were coming together like the transcontinental railroad. I tried rubbing away the offending spider’s legs but to no use. It took too many attempts to get my tie tied evenly. It was a thin, all black tie. It had been my father’s. It was all I had of his to remember him by.
I poured a glass of orange juice and sat out on the front porch. The neighborhood was still. At the end of every driveway stood plastic trash bins, some green, some brown, some were partnered with a slightly smaller companion, filled with plastic and glass objects as an offering to the earth. I had never made an offering to the earth, God or any of the well-dressed men that frequented my door asking for money. Maybe that was the origin of my bad luck.
The sun had started its ascent.
“I need my prescription,” my wife said, clutching at her robe, taking the seat next to mine.
“Your medicine. You need your medicine.” I stared at the horizon which stared back daring me. “You were just in there.” I went into the kitchen, popped open the tab on the pink plastic pill container marked ‘Tuesday’, poured its celebrating contents into my hands.
“Here. I have to go,” I said handing them to her with a glass of orange juice.
“You couldn’t have brought water? That pulp makes it hard to get these down. And it’s so acidic. My stomach can’t handle it anymore,” she said taking them with a scowl. “I see you couldn’t bother to shave.”
I finished my orange juice, set the glass on the patio table, took her glass and did the same with hers.
“You have to stop going to the bar. The bills are unacceptable. Need I remind you we don’t have any money coming in?”
As the sun continued its ascent, my life continued its inverse downward arc. We did this every day.
I didn’t want to respond. I wanted to shove it in that gaping space with all the other pointless endeavors that went nowhere but toppled through inner space and would continue to fall until the day I ceased to exist.
“You used to get mad because I didn’t invite you.”
“You’ve gone every day this week.”
And every day when I walk into that damn place that cunt bartender perks up and asks, “Divorced yet?” It had become a running joke. Even Phil who has never been seen with a woman was in on it now. I had little choice but go there. There was only one other bar in this shit town and I ghosted on a rather elephantine tab. They’ve been calling me looking to settle up and even sent Bobby, the over sized nephew of the owner to shake me down at the Mobil station yesterday. It would be a secret from Maureen only a short time.
“I know the day I was let go-”
“Is that necessary?”
She didn’t answer.
I couldn’t see very far to my left as the street took a sharp turn and slipped away. It was for the best. That Indian man who had repeatedly called the cops on us lived up that way and the sight of him or his luxury car would send this already egregious day sailing right off a cliff. “Anyway I know that on that particular day we spent four hundred dollars,” I paused to let allow the power of the amount reverberate, “to redo Katelyn’s room, which to my eye was perfectly fine.”
“She needs to know things are stable.”
“Is that why I get up before the sun and waste my day avoiding my own god damn house? Applying for jobs from the library?”
Dropping myself into the front seat of the rusted out Dodge I avoided my daughter’s bedroom window and turned the key delicately, popped the beast into neutral and rolled down the driveway, cranking the steering wheel a hard right when it reached the street. I tried as best as I could to start the engine quietly and crept through the still slumbering neighborhood.
The route to the Federal Express Ship Center was artless and far. The two lane highway cut like a scythe through reaching stalks of corn and claustrophobic, dormant fields. Despite the autumn chill I kept the window down and the radio off. There were no other cars. No lone bike riders or joggers edging the shoulder. No sudden deer making a desperate break for it. The sun was pink like a halved grapefruit or bloodshot eye. Then without telling me it changed clothes and was a bright, some would say hopeful orange. Things are always doing that. Changing without giving notice. Katelyn has a birthday in two weeks. My wedding anniversary – my tenth wedding anniversary was in a month. (A fourth of my life had been spent with Maureen, a statistic terminal and unavoidable like an amputated stump.) A nuclear holocaust would have been less troubling.
I pulled into the Federal Express parking lot at 4:40. The building was a massive cement lung, pumping out gray air from two large smoke stacks and several smaller ones. As I entered one of the giant bay doors I was terrified that I would never be seen again, terrified that no one would care, or have anything good to say about me, that my funeral would be a series of awkward silences, and relief when it ended and roast beef sandwiches were brought out; a sense of panic rippled through me: perhaps I didn’t have any real belongings, any friends, connections that mattered, perhaps I was not a good man.
I was directed into a cramped room with a single outdated computed blinking anxiously at me.
“You’ll have forty-five minutes. The instructions are next to the computer,” the man said and exited.
I finished in twenty-three minutes. That was bound to impress somebody. It briefly impressed me. I guess you could say I had lowered the bar on the expectations of my life.
A man in a blue uniform a different man from before a clipboard suffocating under his right arm and whose belly was itching to make an escape from the bottom of his shirt, burst into the small room a few minutes after I had completed the assessment.
“There seems to be something on your background check that will prohibit us from hiring you.”
I sat in my car and methodically smoked a cigarette. I was nauseous and furious with myself. For getting my hopes up, again. For having to disappoint my wife once more and dash our future (as she will no doubt point out) upon the rock of that late, late night and its ensuing bad judgment (did I have anything else anymore?) that is forever disinterestedly linked to me like an steel umbilical cord in some government database.
The dream, of course, was to have a moment of reckoning. In this case having nearly reached my car I would turn march back through one of the yawning bay doors, through the bustle of activity, and zipping forklifts until I found the man directing a small crew of men knock the clipboard out of his hands and tell him to fuck off and march triumphantly to my car righting the wrong perpetrated upon me and through this small act transform my existence.
I pulled into a SuperAmerica picked up two dogs, slathered them in mustard and a forty ounce beer and headed over to Sarah’s tiny little house in Needmore. I sat in her driveway staring at the bedroom windows thinking about her lying in that bed (no doubt in a pair of black underwear and nothing more) that looked so much larger than it was because of how tiny Sarah was. It was the one place in the world that maybe I belonged or at least didn’t flat our reject me. I ate both hot dogs. I cracked open the beer and knocked on the front door.
“Sarah. Sarah, my little fuckbird, it’s me,” I whispered into the door.
I went at it for some time, past the point when it was obvious, despite her car in the drive that she was home, had grown tired of me (that was apparent the last few times) and wasn’t answering the door. Making my way to the end of the driveway I sat on the curb and drank my beer laughing at the passing mothers and children and the embarrassment my presence caused them. They weren’t seeing some lost saint. Eventually (there’s always an eventually with me) a neighbor like a Greek God in human form appeared on the opposite side of the street and stood imposingly, silent. I laughed even louder, chugged the rest of the beer and tossed the empty husk at his feet where it shattered unceremoniously and left.
I directed my car home. Refused to acknowledge any notion of time or the context of my situation. I drove fast, reckless towards my home. Because in the end where else does a man run to? Despite my wife’s long grown cold heart, the eventual exile by my daughter, and all the Sarah’s in the world – what else did I have? I was relieved when I turned the final corner of the final street to find Katelyn and her mother on the corner hand-in-hand waiting for the school bus, was overjoyed watching my daughter’s face explode into the grandest supernova smile as she saw me, and (this is how perverse the world and family and our place in it both is) was comforted by that scowl of complete derision of my wife, standing not even a foot to her left, as if that moment justified the reasons she would later, no doubt divorce me. I waved deliriously and screeched away.
It will come as no surprise to you, my wife and at some point, my daughter (when recounting this to some future husband, wife, bartender or therapist) that I ended up at that dank bar. I stormed the front door like it was god damn Normandy beach and was barely inside when Ole Bess, pulling a beer from the tap, glowering like the cat that ate the bird, asked, “Divorced yet?” and I punched her square in the jaw.
David Haight received a degree in English and later an MFA in writing from Hamline University where he was distinguished by the Quay W. Grigg award for Excellence in Literary Study. He published the novel Overdrive in 2006, Me and Mrs. Jones in 2012 and Lemon, a collection of short stories in 2015. He is working on a second collection of short stories.