This story is by Joe J. Cole and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The Off-Putting Sound of a Missed Anniversary
Nothing about living is easy and he was learning that the hard way. If he tucked in his shirt, it would sloppily fall out. If he manner-fully wiped his face, he’d not just miss a spot but it’d be messier by his effort. In like fashion, if he cautiously sipped a drink from any cup or container, it would mockingly and embarrassingly spill down his face. His efforts seemed to produce more dilemmas and his attempt at composure apparently groomed him for more agitation. To add further frustration, when he’d attempt to cleanse himself by washing off the mess or changing his clothes, he’d be met with the most adversarial resistance by either obstacles or inconveniences. For instance, he’d perpetually notice he’d be out of paper towels and soap when he most needed them. He’d throw on a fresh shirt only to notice it vehemently marred by oil stains. Amidst one of these stumble-a-thons, he’d find that the melee somehow turned his pants turned crabwise but when he unlatched his belt to turn them back edgeways, the buckle would rebelliously rip off. He’d call 911 to save himself from his own life but his cell phone was off to save power for Milania’s call.
Even though the tufts on the sides were notoriously thick, the top was becoming follically endangered. From a distance, what looked full and plentiful was scarce and illusory. A few wistful batches were combed back as if receding into the past where they were once jubilantly joined by the rest of their youthful kind. Strangely enough, his hair highlighted an appearance that enigmatically looked two ways at the same time depending on your viewing angle. Furthermore, when it was dyed brown, he looked about ten years younger, but when gray, at least that much older. Accompanying that dualism was his mouth which housed teeth that were complete in the front yet broken or missing many in the back. He stood well over six feet in height and his weight had increased to what would medically be considered obese although by modern standards, conventionally beefy and overweight. What was once perceived as size advantages in many respects now seemed to be a burden as he found himself being smushed into the tightest of spaces like a basketball-playing sumo wrestler driving a Smart Car.
Almost invariably, when he’d attempt to exit stage left to descend from the sort of routine crescendos by leaving home to buy the most basic domestic products, he’d realize a leprechaun took his wallet. The prior night typified all this so matter-of-factly, it was as if everything that had long gone awry was summarized into a disappointingly cursory yet shilly-shallying evening. His pockets had been brimmed with cumbersome and chancy doohickeys so he errantly tossed it in a machine-cloned plastic bag he’d used to bring in other bags and mutually adversarial stuff. But where was it now? The problem with clones is that they all look the same and when added cause the same problems in larger sums. Due to this mismanagement and things like time, the apartment was in a state of perpetual disarray. His things seemed to be using him as a tool and not the other way around. Bags were one inside the other like Russian nesting dolls.
The essentials were blurred by the excess. Only a small path now existed in the middle of the hallway in between unbreachable walls of clutter. His possessions created a smattering of self-imposed boobie traps, some physical and others mental. Like his life, his apartment’s structure indicated good bones and character, but there was a real sense that something essential yet inexact needed renovation. Physically his own bones had begun to hurt more and more in recent years as if symbolically struggling to support his life. He had a strong core but was simultaneously a wobbly collection of aches, pains, and displacement.
And the wallet he sought so unsuccessfully only theoretically contained some money in the form of credit cards and paper bills. There were no guarantees but he was being optimistic if out of desperation more than positivity. At least for him, it seemed like the pursuit to solve one problem routinely opened vortexes to other ones. He now began wildly tossing the evil bags in the air, uncovering a soggy and neglected copy of a bag containing leftover food. It exuded an ineffable smell. I must have forgotten to put it in the fridge, he thought with self-blaming conviction. His concerned depression began the spiral descent into an obsessive and worsening depression.
I’ll lose all dignity and my family will hate me and my religion will hate me for making wrong choices and I’ll hate myself and I’ll have nothing to live for and I’ll whittle away and if I allow myself to whittle away, it would have all been for nothing and even if nothing is an end goal, it’s too little to live for and for nothing, it’s so much to lose…
Ostensibly, his Christian thoughts told him he lacked faith and his Buddhist ones said he was too attached. He sharply turned into a cramped kitchen where he pressed his foot on the lever of a black garbage can, throwing the neglected and decaying meal inside with resigned displeasure. This action produced an off-putting metal clanking sound as the lid closed, no doubt produced by the dense weight of the food hitting a hard flat surface. Sure enough, when he reopened the lid, he found it had splattered all over the empty bagless bottom, making an organic tessellation of ill-featured food bits. I thought there was a garbage bag in there? He rubbed his forehead hard with increased anxiety. I forgot why I’m doing this anyway. Oh…right…to find the garbage bags.
Maybe the garbage bags are in the plastic bags when the plastic bags should be in a garbage bag and the garbage bag should be in the trash can and the can shouldn’t be dirty and the wallet should be out of all of them and should have something in it and he should do something with it and it should all happen soon and soon was now. The clock ticked as the day rapidly aged and yet the hours seemed to never end, cruelly reminding him the pain of both time lost and the endlessness of it. His thoughts were now quite sobering, to say the least. I wonder what’s more painful to accept, he pondered, premature death or the endlessness of an unfulfilled life. And what is worse, he continued, eternal suffering or never existing…yet…somehow knowing you don’t…The thoughts brought pain but were deceptively wise. A gift and a curse.
And eureka! He was touched by a stroke of purpose by almost remembering what the whole thing was for but…then… it slipped through his mind like a snake from the Garden of Eden. Consequently, he felt better for 2.5 seconds until his mood dropped like a bowling ball off the Empire State Building. He’d heard something as small as a cent from that height could kill someone. Is a penny really lethal from 1,250 feet or was that myth? Sure, he could Google it but what are those results after all other than a collection of other people’s opinions simply arranged for faster consumption. Google didn’t really know anything, it just compiled the most popular stuff the most efficiently. His thoughts were running deep in the circuit board of his brain. Unlike Google, he found it harder to get fast and powerful results but at least they were real.
He’d resorted to turning his cell phone off early that morning because he was overwhelmed yet he didn’t know if it felt worse than not getting any calls or messages at all. Off…or on, he thought, unknowingly. Then he turned it back on but let it sit on a pile because he was afraid of holding it close as it buzzed invasively. Before long there were a dozen pings. His fiancee Milania had called and texted numerous times about meeting at 7 that night for dinner to celebrate their 12-year engagement. The phone now said 10:00 p.m. Then as he swooped to scoop it up and call her, it flew from his hand and banged a wall in the back of him, cracking the screen in multiple places becoming unusable. He couldn’t simply go pick her up because he didn’t know where she was at this point. The coffee that spilled down his cheek earlier had gone on his hands and they were obviously still moist. It was just another piece of garbage on an already littered day. He picked up the phone and pivoted toward that trash can, stepped on the lever, and tossed it aggressively to hear a resounding and off-putting hollow clanking sound. A missed anniversary and the slightest chance at a normal life.