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What To Do?

I stretch and make my way to the laptop and fiddle with the plug until I can pull up my Gmail and log in—everyone is there, everyone on chat that I’ve missed in my long voyage through the night. All my friends’ names are lit up, electrified by the morning screen. If I have any new messages, I’m excited—a sense of importance, of being-in-the-world floods through me, like planting seeds and waking up to find little green sprouts. I don’t respond to the messages immediately—but rather let the feeling soak in, and sign off before anyone else can get a chance to notice that I’m there online. I make my coffee then and stare out of the barred windows of my apartment, looking to see what the weather is like. I don’t know how long I sit there, staring. I get up periodically and pace the room, make coffee, sit on the couch. The sky is gray outside, as it always is. The windows look out onto a withered yard. Everyone was there when I signed onto the Internet this morning. And the several emails that make me feel happy. Sal messaged me, and we discussed our future plans.

“When I get out, I want to work on a sailboat. I’ve signed up for a crewing website and said I’m interested.”

“Yeah, that’s cool! Maybe I’ll sign up.” I said.

“You should.” He said.

“We should head off to Fiji,” he said.

“That’s far away.”

“That’s the point. We’ll be so far away…and everyone will still be here.”

“Yeah.” I wrote feeling hesitant. I looked at a crewing site—it was very complicated to sign up. I lost interest. I get a couple of more emails for work—a couple of my co-workers were having a hard time with a database and CC’d everybody in our department. I sighed and went to a left-wing magazine website and started reading an article about Kurdistan. Kurdistan was really three countries—the people there were Muslims, but moderate Muslims, so they drink and smoke and don’t often support militants. It sounded pretty nice. There were no pictures but I imagined it was dusty and friendly place with big cars, good food, and plenty of hash. I made a note to go there one day and eventually lost interest in the article. My mother messaged me on Gchat, popping up.

“Hello, son.” She wrote. I could tell she was in a good mood.

“Hi.” I wrote.

“When are you coming home?” she wrote. I could tell she missed me.

“Soon, I hope” I wrote, feeling bad about myself.

“When is soon? How will you get here?”

“I haven’t planned when.” I wrote, being honest.

“We miss you.” She wrote, “Everyone here misses you.

“I miss everybody.” I typed, “I’ve got a year left.”

“Well we’re thinking of you.” She wrote.

“I love you.” I wrote and sat on the couch, sighing. Then I heard a noise and jumped—the hiss of the steam heat turning on. The flat screen in the center of the room was black. The light coming from the lamp and computer didn’t fill up my room; it was if a vortex had opened somewhere and was sucking out light.

I cleaned my coffee mug and put away my dishes and wondered how many more were out there like me—sitting in their little apartments on a rug in the center of the room not at work in the dead wintertime, bars on their windows. I felt at the little square lump behind my ear and wondered if it was cancer and sighed more. I picked up my kindle from the shelf and played with it in my hands, shifting to Don Quixote. The words came to the screen like black grains of sand—endless pages, endless books, but everything else the same day after day. I read a couple of pages and then grew bored and put it down and turned it off. The morning had been a waste—a total loss. And I had grown hungry. I stepped out the door and onto the dingy street. Acid rain ricocheted off my cheap umbrella. I stared at the sorry people walking by on the mucky street and they either looked down and avoided eye contact or stared at my face, their faces contorted in horror at my visage, like the furies of old, pain written in their skin. Some had headphones or held little devices in their hands. I went to the grocery store around the corner—opaque walls and white tile floors, doors automatically opening—inside it was very clean like a doctors or dentists office. Foods were covered in plastic wrapping. I went to the fruit isle—lined up on five opaque shelves were little plastic baggies with bright neon inks on the front and see through plastic to see the sliced fruits inside—“apples” “Oranges” “pears” “grapes.”

The plastic-covered fruit wasn’t very appealing so I walked on, finding boxes of pizza and hamburgers beside a stainless steel heating device that had the words “High power toaster oven” engraved on it. I picked out a BLT in a box and slid it in, closing the door with a satisfying click. While it heated, I looked up at a flat screen and watched some coverage of a big arrest that was being made somewhere far out west in California—fierce looking men with bushy beards were being dragged out of a house, at the bottom of the screen a headline read The Enemy Within—Terror Cabal Finally Weeded Out Of Hiding Place.

The terrorists looked sinewy and buff, and looking at them I unconsciously began to rub my belly, feeling it’s flabbiness, it’s complete lack of definition. Then a digital bell rang out, telling me my BLT was ready, and I quickly forgot my physique. I felt excited. I felt hungry. I opened the little cardboard and took the soggy sandwich over to the register and ran the barcode over the sensor, the price popping up onscreen—the woman at the register didn’t look at me, just down at her phone—I pulled the card out of the metal chain on my neck and typed in my code. I don’t know what compelled me to do what I did next. I guess it was pure contempt—why though? As my card was being charged, I surreptitiously threw some candy into my bag from the racks by the checkout line. I paid and then looked up at the lady, who was still looking down at her phone. I took my receipt. My heart pounded out of my chest. I walked out the double doors, muscles tensing in preparation for the alarms to go off, for a police officer to step out of nowhere and tackle me. But the cashier just continued to look at her phone, staring into the void. I walked out into the parking lot, stood there for a moment looking up at the sky in the acid rain and acrid silence before setting off towards home.


Aaron Lake Smith

1 Comment

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