Morning Bells

  • Strange – 13 Pages

Some days, especially Sunday, no one comes in. If I didn’t work here, neither would I. I find Sundays especially gloomy – but I don’t know why. The sun could be shining, and the world would open wide with a smile, and I would say, “Dude, tomorrow’s Monday.

Since I work Sundays, my week runs together; smashed like a train wreck where Saturday is the way in or out. But I get to spend my train ride watching cute and shining Disney films. The ones in the overly large, plastic boxes. The ones that never fit quite right on the shelf. The ones that say Disney Classics on the side. Yeah, those movies. We’re not allowed to watch anything that isn’t drawn by a team of fine-tuned animators.

And So It Goes.

So, Sunday is the beginning. Someone actually walks in. Ding, Ding, Ding goes the bell on the door. This is to let me know it’s time to work. I still sit, though. I guarantee it will be hours before they are done and made one last decision. The ones that do come in on Sunday, well, they’re just not like the others.

I sit in my hard foldout chair, and I watch them on the security television. I watch; they squat. I watch; they walk. For nearly an hour now. They move with the slowest of pace; up and down the isles. They never break contact with the titles on the shelf. Sometimes they walk into each other.

I work at a video store and I watch the customers. That’s kind of funny. It’s like, I have the cake, but don’t eat it.

I almost stand up when he starts walking with a box toward my counter. He turns around and puts it back on the shelf. The hunt continues. Sometimes they will do this for hours and just leave. Sometimes they come in and never rent a single thing. The videos have won, I guess. People will come in out of the rain and stand around, getting the videos wet. They won’t rent anything, and I can’t make them leave. It’s like a homeless shelter for people who can’t commit to the price of a video.

Too bad…but it doesn’t rain much in Texas. But this isn’t Texas. Jersey…maybe. Seattle…Washington? No, no we are in St. TownNowhere. It rains here, and it rains too damn much.

“Sir, you finally picked a gem?” I say. He doesn’t even know I’m talking. My hands are ready to swipe his bar code. It’s ‘14633 14398’, and I’ve rented this movie out before. It’s a large, white Disney case. I say, sorry, sir, it’s out. Now he listens.

“What do you mean!? You’re watching it.” He, of course, turns and points to the TV across the room. As it turns out, it is playing. But for your information, I wasn’t watching it. I glance and say, yeah it’s all checked out. He stares and continues to point. I say, sorry, it’s my fault. This shouldn’t have been on the shelf. Try again tomorrow.

With a very red face he says, “But you’re watching the damn movie!”

My name is Justin.

And I am a video store clerk.

Justin is a strange name. Much like a shirt, you out grow it and it stops being trendy. My parents were trendy and didn’t buy a baby name book. At seventeen, the name is great. You’re on top of the world with your blond hair and washboard abs. At 31, it’s just your name; another part of yourself that you would like to work off in a gym. I’m almost thirty, and I work professionally at a video store. This, of course, never runs through my head when I’m on the way to work in my Nissan. This car of class is bright blue, with plenty of dirty brown. It used to be red. But that’s another story and not very interesting.

“Justin, hand me the screwdriver.”

I shouldn’t be thinking about all that now. I need to be thinking why I’m in a damp parking lot at three in the morning. Brian says we’re slashing tires. But he won’t tell me whose. We’re bent over next to a very, very ugly station wagon. It has a garbage bag duct-taped over where a window used to be. I think to myself, “Talk about tinted windows…” And I make myself laugh.

“What?” Brian asks, “You don’t think I can puncture some tires with a screwdriver? This is how I always do it.” He says it like he has actually done this before. So…Brian grabs the screwdriver and jabs into the side of the not-so-plump tire. Nothing happens. He says, “Dude, it didn’t go in.”

Try again; he tries again. It doesn’t go in.

“Man, what do we do?”

Here, I say, I’ll hold it next to the tire and then you go ahead and kick it. I think to myself, “I’ve had better ideas, right?”

“Sounds good,” and Brian stands all the way up. He steps back and makes a practice swing. “Ready?”


His leg triggers, and his foot slams into the screwdriver. Brian falls flat on his ass, but it worked. The screwdriver is in, but no air is coming out. “Shit man, why isn’t this working…Black people can do this so well.”

Yeah, I bet they use knives.

“Man, shut up and help me.” We hold hands and he stands up. “I guess we just pull it out now…” And so I do. I pull it out. Looking back, I wish I didn’t. See, when air leaves a tire that quickly it makes the most awful noise. And it’s loud. And it hurts my ears. It hurts them to where I can’t hear the cops. And then I think to myself, “I bet this lot has video cameras. Damn.”

Cop dramas on TV never prepare you for the anxiety that erupts in your stomach.

The swift lawyers that quickly take the most screw angle on every case. The competence of the main characters; filled with infinite connection after connection. Oh, and the ‘take-no-shit’ attitude while incarcerating a teenager for raping a delivery boy. In the show, they are clearly here for the benefit of society. In real life, they’re here like I am. Video clerks with guns – they even have to catalogue me. Me, well, I’m serial number 90357 90003.

The twelve-year-old cop sitting next to me is processing my information into his Commodore Computer. He even has rosy-red cheeks, and light blonde hair. If you ask me, he should be in the 5th grade. Of course, all this is very ironic. For a twelve-year-old, he gets paid plenty more then me. Sure he gets shot at – but I have to deal with children. To further my disposition, this is the second time me and this youngster have crossed paths.

A few weeks back, in the warmth that is late autumn, me and Brian went for a ride. In one of my lesser moments, I decided it would be a good idea to drive backwards for a little. So we did; or so I did. See we were in the correct lane for the direction we were going in and the car was indeed going the correct speed. We were just in reverse. This child stops us and says, “NOW…What in the hell do you think you were doing?”

I kept thinking, “Is he on a field trip?” He barely stood taller than my Nissan. He wrote me a delightful ticket, and told me my court date. Which I missed. It really just slipped my mind until around three last night. That’s about when the cops came to see a failed attempt at a couple of burnouts try and slash a tire. No, I wasn’t arrested for tire slashing, oh no. Brian was. I haven’t seen him since. I guess they are trying to see if we will rat on each other. It’s a lot like the game Clue, just a little less fun. I was always a Monopoly fan myself.

Before I can say, “I wish I could type that fast,” he’s done. He looks over in my direction while he opens up a tan-colored folder. It must be mine. Quickly, he opens it and flips through a few of the pages. His lips move while he reads, and I try to figure out what he’s reading. “We have the results of your drug test…”

Oh yeah, the piss-test. And I hold my breath.

“You’re negative…”

It should be positive.

“…but when we picked you up, you were intoxicated.”

I’m still recovering from the pressure of additional evidence for my incarceration. The test really should have come up positive. It’s only been…what, like, two or three days. I can only think, “I hope Brian shuts-up.”

“Well, me and Brian had a few drinks before hand,” I say.

“Do you think this attributed to your actions?” Before I answer, I imagine myself in a large courtroom, filled with eager media. Everyone has shut-up and they’re leaned forward to hear what I had to say. I press my lips against the microphone for the jury to hear, and I say, “NO.”

The cop, still dressed in black and blue, types yet again.

I’m walking in a hallway. It’s almost half past seven. It’s lit very badly and is lined with doors leading to potential offices. Potential jobs. I’m holding bunches of papers which all happen to be bunched together. My crime and punishment all written out in black and white by a blue and black. They tell me I’m done, but not to leave town. I told them I can’t leave and that I have responsibilities. The videos need me. The people on Sunday need me.

So, here I am, and I have walked into the waiting room. The lights in this room spiral into every corner. It’s so much brighter, in fact, that I can’t see Brian waving me down. My eyes adjust, and I realize that Brian was the moving, dark spot against the white.

I stumble over with my hands up around my stomach and the paper is in my armpits. I say how did you get out? Brian glances up at a flickering light and tells me. “Well, my mom came and got me out. They kept wondering why I was slashing my mom’s tires.”

It was your mom’s station wagon? And I think to myself, “His mom can afford to fix a window.”

“Yeah, it’s kinda weird. That’s why I didn’t tell you, because I didn’t think you would help me.”

But she bailed you out?

“Well, she really didn’t have to. There were really no charges brought up being she wanted me to slash her tires.” And so it goes.

Here, Brian tells me his really lame story about him and his mom. Apparently, his mom is a little short on cash, so she goes for the insurance scam. Nothing too big, just a little tire slashing. Money from tire insurance. I guess she couldn’t afford to fix her window.

Brian says his mom drove out to that parking lot and left that car. Brian’s job is to slash the tires and do just a little bit of vandalizing. You know, make it look authentic. She would find the car and scream burglary. And I think, “The perfect crime…”

Brian leans back in his bench and wipes a lone strand of black hair out of his face. “You’re so lucky your mom is in a nursing home.”

Thank you?

The shirt I’m putting on says Lincoln’s Video Lodge. Take a big guess where that came from. They don’t give you pants to wear; you have to go out and buy those yourself. For a person with a fixed income, like me, this is the exact opposite reason I need a job. I don’t work for extra khakis, but what an interesting idea. Button 1, 2, 3…

The phone rings; I feel needed. I turn too quickly to pick up the phone and knock over a glass of Diet Coke. Damn, that will never come out. And coke spins a web of soda across my carpet; resting next to the bloodstain. My foot steps in the soda in my attempt to reach the phone. Damn, these are white socks, too. Click, and I’m talking. I say hello.

“Um…hi, is this Justin?”

The one and only, but I don’t say that. Instead the word is, “yeah”

“Well then, I guess I have the right number. I saw you last night…”

“Who is this?” I say this while tucking my shirt into my pants, and I’m still standing in spilled soda. I have squishy toes.

“I guess you could say that I helped you out. I work at the police station, and I believe you had a drug test last night…”

Oh yeah, the piss test. And I hold my breath.

“…See, it came back negative because of me.” This makes sense, I guess.

“Do you want me to say thank you, because I will.” Here I go, “Thank you.”

“No, I’m just calling to see what you’re doing Friday night.” This hits like a baseball bat. She is picking me up; a guy who couldn’t pass his drug test. Suddenly the names of certain VD’s run through my head when I wonder how many times she has done this before.

To this I ask, “Are you asking me out?”

“Kinda…” And she trails off.

“So you’re a girl who picks guys up if they fail their piss tests? What if I’m a rapist? Or if I kill little boys or something?”

“Well, in that case I usually don’t call back. Usually. But you…you slash tires, and not very well, I might add.”

“They let you read the files?”

“Well not really, per say. They don’t let me, but I control who passes and who fails the drug tests. I have them by the balls…so to speak.” And she makes a muffled laugh. And I respond with a laugh of recognition. A comfort laugh. “So, Friday night it is?”

“Um, sure?”

“Ok, I’ll pick you up. I know where you live.” This is all very shocking. I hear a click. I shouldn’t have to pick up dates this way. I put the phone down, and step out of the soda that has glued me to my carpet. And I think, “Damn it, I got to get to work.”

It’s something like Wednesday or Thursday. It’s really hard to tell after a while. Brian is talking about something; something about M&Ms. I’m not listening because it’s a little too cold to be listening. You know, since we’re outside. We just got done bowling, if you can call what we do bowling. Now, we’re walking along a building to get to my car. It’s continuously damp here. The blacktop sparkles in the street light. That’s the rain’s fault again. We keep walking.

“She’s real crazy about M&Ms now. Yesterday she filled an entire cart full of M&M bags and just walked out of the store. They wouldn’t stop her because of how old she looks. They must think she has a condition. She’s been doing this for awhile. After she gets the M&Ms home, she cleans every single one and places it somewhere in the house. She already filled the bathtub.”

I can’t help but laugh.

“Dude, this isn’t as cute as it sounds. Where am I going to take a bath? Goddamn M&Ms…Anyway, dude, I was wondering if…” He trails off, but I know very well what he is getting at. I wince before he says it.

“…Well, can at stay at your place for a while? You know, until I can find a place of my own…without my mom and without M&Ms.”

We’re almost to my car. I open my mouth to talk but it’s too late. A large truck comes spiraling next to us at an idiot speed. The truck has its brights on. This is oh so extremely frightening. The light coming from the truck happens to catch the soft mist floating up from the ground. Funny that I notice something like that. The light comes off and the driver side door flies open. The truck has yellow and orange flames painted on the side. “YOU! You Justin?!” asks the driver. This man sounds like a he smokes way too much. His voice is so raspy you can barely make out what he is saying.

Brian points to me and says, “Man, that’s Justin right there.” Brian the genius.

Now the angry truck driver is pointing. “Justin?! We got some talking to do…” At about this time I think to myself, “I hope he doesn’t want to stay with me too.” The angry man steps away from his truck and shuts the door. This is when I notice a few more heads in the car. I think they were talking to each other. The man’s black face is rather nasty, what with his facial hair and all. He is slowly clanking his boots in my direction. Brian steps out of the way. He is now close enough to where I can smell the whisky.

He starts pointing at my car. “Is that your piece of shit car, man?” He says it really slowly like he is sounding out the words in his head. I happen to glance at Brian, and looking back I wish I hadn’t.

“Yeah, that’s his car.” Impeccable Brian. Whisky man walks over to the hood of my car, but his back is away from it. He shakes himself around, like he’s gonna fight the wall. He looks at me and then he jumps. His ass lands right on the hood of my car. Whisky man slides off; leaving a nice size ass dent in the hood. “Who the hell is this Whisky man,” I’m thinking.

I step forward and yell, “What the hell is this?” And just at that moment, another door swings open and a woman comes out screaming. “Jesus…” is what I’m thinking. She’s running in my direction, and I’m thinking, “Jesus Christ…”

“But I’m in love with Justin!!” That’s what this crazy lady is yelling.

“Bitch, get back in the car, NOW!” cries the Whisky man.

At this point I’m embracing the crazy lady. This woman who I have never seen in my life. By now, I’ve realized where I’ve heard that voice before. Right now, my life has never been more surreal. The crazy lady pulls out of our embrace and says, “Oh, Justin…tell Deavon that you love me!” She’s talking with tears running down her face.

Brian stops leaning against the wall to tell me, “Come on, tell the lady that you love her.” And I shoot an angry glance at Brian. “Shut the hell up,” is what I’m thinking.

“Get in the car, NOW!” says Deavon as he starts walking my way again.

The crazy lady leans in to my ear and whispers, “We still on for Friday?” Then she simply walks away and into the truck.

“NOW, let that,” and Deavon points to my car, “be a lesson to you!” He walks away just as simply as the crazy lady. Then the car is gone. Just like that.

Brian laughs. “Was that who I think it was?”

Friday has finally hit me. The day is actually only half over when I slide through my door a little after noon. I took part of the day off so I could spend time with my significant other. So, now I’m at home, and there are suitcases everywhere. Brian snakes his head around the corner to say hi.

I ask, “What is this?”

“Oh, sorry for the mess, it’ll be out of here in just a little.”

“So…I guess I said you could stay here…”

“Well, I can, right? ‘Cause I’ll leave if you want.”

I say it’s not a problem, but what I really mean I get the hell out of my house. What I really mean is get the hell out of my life. My feet are tunneling their way through the maze of suitcases. They’re everywhere, and it’s like he brought his mother’s M&M problem with him. I make my way to my room; the only place that seems safe. I don’t know why I allow his presence here. I’ve always felt uncomfortable with guests. So, here I change my clothes to a more date-like attire. Comb my hair; brush my teeth.

When I’m finished, Brian asks, “What’s that smell?”

“Oh, God, I’ve forgotten…”


“It’s KFC, they’re right next to my store, and sometimes I smell like chicken after work.” Brian’s eyes are really wide. “You know, sometimes I can watch grease seeps through the pores on the wall.”

“Really?” He looks like a child in awe.

“No, not really. I’d better take a shower…” The phone rings. The phone rings. The phone rings. I can barely make it to the phone with all these suitcases everywhere. Click; and I’m talking.


“I’m on my way…”

Cars for five dollars, now that’s the kind of deal I’m looking for. All the pockets around me are filled with five dollars and they all have cars in mind. Stolen cars fill the lot around me, along with boats, knives, guns, and a vending machine or two. See I had to pick between a cattle auction and a police seizure auction. And since I’m not in the market for some fine castrated meat, this is the only time a seizure might sound pleasant. Buying a cheep car on a first date, I bet that’s a first.

The people around me are rabid white trash, just praying for a deal. Well, everyone but my fine date. Yeah…the crazy lady. I don’t know her name yet. I thought she was a rather odd person, so the first thing I asked her was how much she weighed. She said she weighed 125, and she looks 125. Lovely, if she wasn’t crazy. Next I asked her how she stayed so thin.

“Oh, umm, I smoke three packs a day…” She said this while trying to drive and light a cigarette. Then she asked why I asked such weird questions, you know, since we just met. So I’m the weird one.

“I don’t know…small talk, I guess.” Well, that was back in the car, and now we’re just trying to make our way through a very unhappy crowd.

I glance at her face and I can tell she is poking at the inside of her mouth with her tongue. She’s really working it, too; he tongue is going all over the place. She glances at me and stops. “You know a canker sore is a form of hepatitis. So are cold sores. Those things are so nasty when they burst.”

And I’m thinking, “I bet Deavon has cold sores. Deavon, the ex-VD.”

We’re walking past a bright blue Volkswagen bug. I hear someone explaining where one might hide twelve kilos of cocaine. We walk past some vending machine that had been hollowed out. I wonder why they are selling these things back to the public.

“I’m hungry,” she says.

“Where do you want to eat?”

“Um…they have a hot dog stand by the boats. They are quite the tasty pieces of meat; fresh from the packages and everything. And if you fork over an extra dollar they have this big needle filled with cheese and they inject melted cheese inside your dog.”

I think she’s been here before. So, here we go, over to the white trailer with the huge line of white trash. They also smell like grease or oil or smoke. It’s all the same after awhile. The line also moves so amazingly slow, I find it hard to come up with things to talk about with my date. And we soon find ourselves in the kind of silence that’s only appropriate for long road trips. I find myself asking very stupid questions.

“Wow, so you like blue hair?” or “That’s a nice tattoo, is that Superman?”

Then she’ll ask, “Do you have any pets?” I’ll, of course mention my gold fish and Brian.

Finally, I buy her two dogs and a large fountain drink. I ask her how she can eat such greasy things.

“Along with the smokes, I don’t eat much. This is probably the first time I’ve eaten in three days…” My eyes grow so wide…and I’m thinking, “Drugs.”

Here, it’s Sunday again, and I’m at work. I’ve rented a total of one copy of the movie Phantoms.

Ding, Ding, Ding, goes the door, and a burly truck driver walks in. Deavon has come to visit me at work. It’s funny because it’s only, like, noon and I can still smell the whisky. He walks in with a cock-eyed look on his face and he’s staring deep into everything he looks at. This is when I realize he is wearing the same things from when we first met. I watch as his hand reaches down his Black Panther’s shirt and pulls out a very large knife. Since I was in the boy scouts, I should really know what kind of knife that is, but I don’t. This is about the time I duck behind the counter. If this were a convenience store, I would have been saved by now.

I’m sitting with my back against the counter as Deavon hovers above. I get the sense he’s looking for me. “White boy, ya in here? Justin!?” Thank God Brian isn’t here.

And I hear a door shut. I’m foolish enough to stand up.

“Ha! You fell for it, white boy…You come with me,” he says as he shoves his knife in the direction of the door. I’m off with him, and out the door.

Sitting in front of the store is his giant of truck. The one with fire painted on the sides. We get in, together, to go on a ride.

My thoughts are very scattered right now. I’m thinking I should stop biting my nails. I’m thinking who is watching the store. I’m hoping they loot the place blind. God…I’m still biting my nail; it’s the one at the end of my index finger. This is too much for me to take. Deavon is babbling about something, but I really try not to listen.

“See, look at that girl…mmm…she’s H-O-T, hot! I bet you’d like that girl instead of mine…I mean, just look at the tird pincher on that one! How ‘bout it, Justin? You’d like her…” But I don’t answer, because I’m not really listening. Instead I’m the center of my own calm little world. The only thing I’m really thinking about is how much pain my index finger is in. This is when I realize how much blood is coming out of my finger. I taste the copper in my mouth and I begin thinking how could anyone bite off their finger nail. I try to wipe the blood on the door and the seat, but it just keeps coming.

“Man,” and he finally looks at me instead of just pointing the knife at me, “What the hell are you doing? Oh! That better not be blood! Do you know what kind of seats these are?” I can’t imagine how much blood I’m loosing, but it’s all over the place now. It’s covering everything around me; making everything brown and red. “Seal! Yeah, do you know how much baby seal costs!!” The car jolts to a stop and my forehead flies forward to meet the dashboard. More blood, but this time from my forehead. Deavon leans between the dashboard and me and opens the door to my right. I watch as he lifts up his leg to kick me out. Now I’m best friends with the sidewalk. This is about the time I pass out.

Now, I wake up and my face feels crushed against the concrete. I open my eyes, and although I can barely see, I know it’s night. Just a couple of minutes ago, it was noon. My hand reaches up to feel my teeth. They are all still with us, but one’s about to fall. I wiggle it with my finger, and you wouldn’t believe the pain. I push myself up and turn over to sit. My hand wanders along the side of my face and I feel craters and scars along with those little rocks. Dried blood has forever encased them in my cheek.

I slide myself against a wall, scraping my legs along with me. I look down at myself and I’m covered in dark splotches. I try to move my jaw until the pain spikes in my brain. I get the idea people are walking past me, but I have no idea. I’m so dizzy, and I can’t imagine how much blood I’ve lost. My head feels it’s about to cave in on both sides.

I turn my head up and I see a street sign. I catch flashes of what it says when cars pass by. It says something like Lincoln Ave., and I’m thinking I’m not that far from the video store. I try and focus across the street, and I think I see the store.

I stand, but I think I’m slipping. I’m not, but I think I am. My thinking is, I will get to the store and call Brian. “This is the right thing to do,” I tell myself.

I simply walk across the road. “Stumble” isn’t the right word, but it’s the first to come to mind. As two headlights drive past, I think, “Why hasn’t anyone helped me?”

I wander past the KFC and into my store. One of the lights is busted and hanging from the ceiling. Some glass seems to have found it’s way to the floor. Two or more shelves have been knocked over. It could be more, but I can’t tell. I step over to the counter to see my smashed computer. A lot of videos are gone. It’s too many to where I really don’t want to guess. This doesn’t phase me right now. This is the opposite of déjà vu. I know where I am, but I don’t know what happened.

I’ve left the store, now, to go and lean against the wall outside. I smell chicken, and I’m hungry.

I slump against KFC’s door, and I nearly fall in. Everyone is staring as I hovel across the floor. Everyone has stopped eating. They have stopped taking orders. A guy moping across the room stops and whispers, “Jesus…” I wish I got this kind of attention all the time. It’s this kind of attention that makes killing myself seem…rewarding.

I’m at the counter. It’s so quiet I can hear the grease in the back.

“I just want at bucket of chicken, please…” I say this as pain makes it’s way all through my face. I was making an unhappy expression, but you couldn’t tell.

“Sir, please leave the store…or I’ll call the cops,” the kid behind the counter says. Poor kid, but at least he will have something to write home about. This kid is about seventeen, and I can’t help but think this is a world ran by children.

“Look,” and I pull out my wallet and throw some money at the kid, “I just want some fucking chicken. Can you just do this one thing for me?” I’m talking out of the corner of my mouth, and I sound about sixty.

“Sir, this isn’t enough?”

“Not enough?” Looking back I don’t know why I did this. I reached into my mouth and I pull out my loose tooth. It made a sound like ripping cold vegetables in half; a sort of smooth crunching sound. Blood begins pouring like a waterfall again. I held the tooth in my hand and rolled it around. For a tooth, it was a lot more yellow then I would like it to be. I then handed it to the nice young man in front of me. “There…and go ahead and call the cops…I need a ride home…”

Before I step out of the police car, the twelve-year-old cop says, “You sure you don’t need to go to the hospital?” Something tells me he’s been looking at my face.

“No, really. I’ll be alright, but thanks for the ride.”

“Alright, whatever, just don’t get into anymore trouble, you hear?” I slam the door at him, and he drives off. I’m at home with my bucket of chicken. I guess Brian’s home from a busy day of job hunting, since his car is in the driveway. Before I slam open my screen door, I reach into my bucket and grab a nice leg. I hold it up to my mangled mouth. I rip piece after piece and swallow. Finally, I’m inside.

There seem to be more suitcases in my living room. I step a little into the room and a see a lady, a certain crazy lady. She’s sitting on my couch.

“What happened to your face?” She’s says it so matter-of-factly; as if I wasn’t standing here.

Out of the corner of my mouth I explain most of the story. I leave the part about KFC out.

“Wow, I guess you could say you had a bad day.”

“Yeah, you could say that…Want some chicken? I got a whole bucket.” And I’m gulping chicken down. Skin first, all the skin first. Then I dig into the white fleshy part.

“No, I never eat at KFC. You know its not even chicken…” She’s doing her nails and staring at the side of my face.

I squeeze out the word why between mastication.

“It’s not chicken…they grow them like you would grow an organ that lacks a body…kind of a particle chicken.” I’m still eating because I don’t care. It’s tasty either way. The skin’s the best. As she’s talking I throw a leg back into the box, but only with meat on the ends.

“That’s why it’s called KFC and not Kentucky Fried Chicken.” Brian shoots his head in and out of the room. He glances at me and glances at the lady.

“Patricia? You tell him yet?” Brian asks, and I’m confused. So…her name is Patricia. And I’m thinking, “As long as her last name isn’t ‘Hearst’, I’m fine.”

“Look Justin, I’m going to be blunt with you. You’ve had a bad day, and I think I’m just going to make it worse. Brian and I are deeply in love with each other and I think he will move in with me.” I’m still into my leg. “I’m so, so sorry I have to do this to you. I really think we had something, but Brian might be the one.”

I stop chewing, I guess because I’m full of chicken. I tell them to get out. I tell them to leave me the hell alone. I tell Miss. Hearst to never talk to me again. I tell Brian to move his Goddamn car. These people don’t need me, and I don’t need them. I have no input on their lives, they just move themselves around me and somehow I end up in the middle.

My friends, I mean these people, are answers to fill-in-the-blank questions, but the questions change everyday. At this moment, hate is creeping behind my eyes, and I want someone to hurt. Before Miss Hearst exits my shackles she happens to mention the hospital has left a message on my machine. The home. Something about my mom. Something about her condition. I also have a message from my boss, and it’s something about me not being fired for letting the place be raped. I don’t bother with my boss, but the other message…well I’m already out the door.

When I was younger, I was always in and out of hospitals. I was so white and so sickly that I was in here nearly every weekend. The filled me with tubes and needles and fed me green Jell-O. It used to be my mom who would sit up into the night, desperately worried. I don’t think I’m ready for these things to change. I still want my mom’s comfort; her caress. I want her to make everything all right.

Here I am, now, sitting next to my mother. My eyes follow tubes that disappear under her covers. The room is nearly silent, but I’m listening to her heart. We’re here, alone. The nurse said she’s critical and that these may be her last days. I’m thinking, “No shit…”

I begin to stare at her face; it’s so beautifully framed by her white hair. Her eyes are shut, but she’s dreaming. Well I hope so. Her fingers twitch, and they’re so small; she’s so small. And I love her so much. My hand reaches to my eyes; and I’m shaking.

A few seconds go by while I’m sitting; nearing tears. A pain rises inside of me; this must be anxiety, right on time. I try to distract myself, so I walk over to a window and open the blinds.

“Justin…?” Her voice startles me. Quickly I come back to my seat, and I’m listening.

“Mom…” and as I say such a simple word, my emotions come flooding back. I try so hard to smile, but it comes out so contrived.

“Oh… I was having the most wonderful dream…” When she say this, her entire face comes alive. “It was so long ago, but it was when we lived in Dallas. Do you remember that?”

“Yes, mom, I do.” I’m starting to choke on my words.

“You where so little then. In my dream, your father was there, bless his heart, and so was you. We were all dressed up, like if we were going to church. All the way to the airport, you kept asking where we were going, but you’re father said it was a surprise. Since it was late in November, your father and I wanted this to be an early Christmas present.” I know the story she’s telling me, and I wish I could remember it as clear as her. “Finally, we get to the airport on time. Now, you thought we were taking a trip. You kept saying in such a cheery voice that we were going to London. You always wanted to go to London. We waited for only about fifteen minutes and then his plane arrived. Your father was so delighted you could have this opportunity. We were on the runway and it was very windy. I remember thinking I should have worn a hat, but I didn’t. Someone brought out those big stairs, so the people inside the plane could get out. As those doors opened, your father leaned down to you and picked you up. He said he wanted you to remember this forever.

“Oh…you should have seen your face light up when you realized who it was. You said mommy, mommy, it’s the man from TV. He was at the bottom of the stairs when your father greeted him. He simply said, “Good morning, Mr. President.” He came over with that grand smile and said this must be your son. Your father let you down and you ran to him. You told him your name and that you wanted to be just like him. He leaned down to you and he whispered something to you…you never told me what he said, do you remember?”

“He said that one day, I will grow up to do something wonderful…” It’s hard even to see; my eyes are overflowing now. I could remember the smell of his hair. It was like seashells.

My mom, she smiles at me. “Your father came forward and said thank you, John. Then they shook hands. You were so happy. Your father was your hero for the rest of your life.

“That poor man’s life ended that day. I remember how we both cried together. I told you to remember this forever…” I grab her hand and I squeeze. She doesn’t seem to notice that I’m crying. My words are coming out just as sounds, and they make no sense. I hold her hand to my mouth and then to my forehead. This is when a nurse walks in and tells me it’s over; time to go; I have to leave. To my mother, I say, “Mom, I’ll have to see you later, alright now? You take care.” I’m out the door.

It’s so dark and so cold outside of the hospital, but I don’t call a cab. Instead, I walk, and I walk forever. I don’t know what time it is, but it’s that time of night where it’s so ominously dark, yet light emanates from somewhere. Streetlights glow pink in the moonlight as they frown down on me. I don’t know where I’m walking, but I just follow the streetlights.

I’m thinking about everything; everything all at once. I’m angry about the situation at home. I’m angry with Brian and Miss. Hearst. I’ve lost my best friend, but somehow, after talking to my mom, I don’t care as much. But he doesn’t need me to function, my mom does. This week has been so completely insane. I mean look at me; I’m just walking. I walk for what seems like forever.

I’ve leaned up against a building; forever staring at the sky. I turn my head toward my feet and I slump down to the ground. I let my tongue slide in and out of the gap my former tooth made. My head between my knees with my hands over my head. I close my eyes and suddenly I’m encased by black. I move my eyes and I can feel them across my eyelids. This is just like my mom dreaming. My thoughts forming in oblivion; across a sandscape of nothing; they come and leave. My ears begin to twitch because they fill with snow. I feel it blanket across the back of my neck.

The cold doesn’t last long before it feels like it’s turned into heat. I think I begin to cry. My emotions just slide off the end of my nose. They will turn into nothing when they hit the concrete.

People are walking past me in the snow and sometimes I hear them whisper. This is when the strangest thing that has ever happened to me…happens. I feel something move up against my left side. I sit up and look. A little girl is sitting next to me. She’s crossed her legs and swiped a strand of long dark hair out of her face. She has a turned up nose with the sweetest brown eyes. “Little girl, you’re sitting in the snow.”

“Sir, you look so sad.” The heartbreaking thing is she sounds like she actually cares.

“I am sad.”

“Is that why you’re sitting in the snow?”

“That’s probably how I got here. Why are you sitting in the snow?”

“You looked so sad. You, just sitting here in the snow. So lonely….Look!” She points to the sunrise. “It’s so beautiful every morning at this spot.”

“What day is it?”

“Sunday.” The word seems to hit me slowly. I realize what day it is, and it seems to make so much sense. This isn’t déjà vu, it’s the exact opposite. This is irony, but I don’t want to spell it out. I glance at the little girl and she smiles really big.
She puts her hand around me and I begin to cry again. I’m lost in my own oblivion, until there is a sunrise. This little girl has turned forever into just a bad week. I’m sitting here, crying into my hands, and opening up to a child. A child that will one day rule the world; a world ruled by children.

The darkness turns black into light blue, a color of the new age. A new time. For nothing is truer then crying in the snow.

Nothing is closer to freedom then being able to cry in front of a child.

Originally posted 2/10/2003

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