by Jason Beattie
Philonious sat on a short wall no more than three feet in height. Mortar and rock held together by cement and weather stripping. He held a coffee and he held a newspaper. One of them he bought and one of them he had found on the seat next to him in a bus that looked filthier than the restroom he had spent the night sleeping in.
He sipped the coffee and he unfolded the newspaper. He looked down at a picture of a compact car crumpled in some probably easily avoidable collision. He folded the paper back up and put it down. He rubbed the spot on his finger where his wedding ring used to be. He knew that if he could only see himself he would be disgusted with the mundane cliché of a caricature that he had become.
All the same, Philonius reached into his pocket and shook the contents of a pill bottle out and into his open palm. He popped most of them out and into his open mouth. He sipped more coffee. He pulled out his phone and he looked at his schedule then he looked at a bus schedule then he checked his email or something.
The streets were starting to get busier now and the birds were definitely awake. Down a ways, a soccer field was filling up with kids in cleats and jerseys. He scratched at a pale scar above his eyebrow and he lit a smoke. He looked at the time on his phone and it was ten minutes passed the hour. He picked the newspaper back up and flipped through it so it looked like it was being read. He did this for a few minutes before he noticed a soccer ball rolling towards him and a ten year old girl in pigtails chasing after it. He tried harder than ever now to pretend to be reading the pages.
The ball bounced off against the wall beside his dangling feet. She grabbed the ball, sort of smiled at him, and then ran away. He watched her longer than he should have and then he squashed out his cigarette. He hopped off the wall and headed back to his bus.
The next day Philonious sat in the same spot with his same coffee and his same newspaper. He watched the same kids play the same games before hopping off the same wall and walking to his same bus. He took about four steps before he was met by a police officer coming around the corner
“Hold up a second.”
Philonious did exactly that.
According to the cop, someone had called to report a suspicious person and he matched the description. Cop said they had already called a couple of times before. The cop asked him what he was doing, where he was coming from and where he was going. Philonious answered his questions in the order they were asked but apparently the cop didn’t like something about the answers he was given. So, they walked back to the car and they drove to the station without saying anything else.
He sat in the back but he was never handcuffed. He was escorted into the station and made to wait around long enough to call in sick at work and run out of things to stare at. Finally, he was approached by a regular looking dude in an office that could have been a detective or a clerk or a lawyer, the guy never really said. The guy wanted to know why Philonious liked watching little kids play and why he would take the bus so far out of his way if he was just going to work and why, in God’s name, he has no ID on his person. Philonious told the man that he wasn’t doing anything wrong and that having a smoke was still legal, as far as he knew. The man told him it wasn’t the cigarette that concerned them. He asked Philonious if he had a record.
“Didn’t you check that already?”
“Yes, but now I’m asking you.”
Philonious told him that he didn’t.
“Any outstanding warrants?”
Philonious told him that he didn’t.
Instead, he told the man something else. He told the man the story about the time he and his wife were running late for an appointment to view a condo that they really had their hearts set on. They were always late for everything, so the fact that they were running late shouldn’t have bothered either of them, but it really did. It bothered them both. He was driving for a change and she was navigating. They were at an intersection and waiting for the light. He was looking around for somewhere to park up ahead and he didn’t see the light change.
The car behind him honked and his wife shouted for him to go, so he gunned the engine. The problem is, a car coming the other direction decided to make use of his procrastination and hang a left. He plowed in to the passenger side. There was a little girl sitting in that seat. She was sleeping with her head resting on the glass and he saw her wake up at the moment of impact. It’s the same thing he sees every night before he himself falls asleep. Well, that last part’s not true. She died in the hospital later that afternoon.
“I didn’t see any of that in the system.”
“Questioned informally. During the preliminary investigation. Cleared of any wrong doing, they said.”
The guy kind of smirked and Philonious noticed one of his eyebrows lift ever so slightly. He tells this guy about how the accident ruined his marriage. How, even though he didn’t actually blame his wife, he found that it made things easier to pretend that he did. The late night arguments and sleepless nights in turn ruined his career and he told the guy about that too. Told him he could look it all up if he didn’t believe him. He told him that watching the kids play made him feel better about the horrible mistake he had made. The guy felt pretty bad. They always did. The guy apologized and Philonious left.
The wind was picking up and it looked like it might rain by the time Philonious got back to where he was staying. The place looked ‘like whatever, but the closer you got it was like, gah.’ He walked up to a dude at a desk and gave him some cash and the dude gave him a key. He walked up to his room and the few things that he owned waiting for him inside.
He kicked off his shoes and turned on a light. He drank some cough medicine from a bottle and he shook out some pills while he shook out his head. He turned on the news and he sat down in a high backed computer chair at a tiny cluttered computer desk. He lit a smoke and then put it down in an ashtray next to him. He scratched at the scar above his eyebrow and he rubbed at the finger where his ring used to be.
He waited for his ten year old lap top to turn on and then he clicked on the icon for the external hard drive that he had plugged in to the side of it. He opened a folder named ‘poker’ then another within that one called ‘hand history’. This folder was full of video files and he dragged them all into a media player and hit shuffle. A woman in braces and a schoolgirl outfit appeared on the screen holding up her driver’s license. He skipped the video forward until her license was away and her shirt had come off. He watched it a bit longer, then he skipped to the next one. He skipped that one right away but then he watched the next one almost all the way until he then skipped to the next one and the next one and the next one and the next one and the next one