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A Day’s End
by Matt Krasnoff
Elliot was working late in the office—as usual; running on fumes like an engine stacking over two hundred thousand miles beyond its natural capacity. The second hand displayed on the oversized wall clock, paces itself slowly; tick…tick…tick—on a heightened volume inside his mind. The feeling of nausea struck like the hour on a grandfather clock, when the ending hour of his work day came; signaling the sounding scatter of his co-workers gathering their things together to leave, yet he wasn’t even close to finishing his assigned tasks due by morning. Elliot wondered if there was more to his life then the endless taunting orchestra of keystrokes and the ticking from the pale-faced office clock overhead…
He would sometimes hope for a power to develop from within his mind that would not only supernaturally speed up time, but also penetrate his own manager’s thoughts, deliberately forcing him to expand all due dates that were rushed for Elliot to meet—darn well knowing the finished work required was never as urgent as his boss made it out to be. But he never even got the chance to test this hopeless ability to manifest…
His focus would either break from the distracting sound of congestive breathing from a co-worker who should’ve stayed home, who unfortunately thought they were doing everyone a favor by coming into work as a carrier of their illness, or the other employees who decided to eat lunch at their desk; filling his inner ear with the crunching of a chip or a slurp of something like last night’s reheated spaghetti.
“Turn off your computer and go home”, softly says a voice interfering the dwelling thoughts within his mind. Elliot replies back to the imaginary voice within his head, “I just have to finish one little thing…”
However he postponed his own proposal he just made as he reached into his slacks, pulling out his cell phone to call his wife who was at home; to inform her he’ll be missing dinner with her yet again.
The phone rang once…then it rang twice. Elliot was already prepared to hear the answering machine that featured his own recorded voice after the forth ring—which seemed to happen more often than being welcomed by the live voice of his wife. Ring…third time passed, followed by the fourth…Ring; this time serving as a strange cue for his manager who abruptly stopped by his desk on the way out. Personal calls were shunned upon in the office, so Elliot hung up his cell, unsuccessfully making contact with his wife—or his answering machine…Who would’ve thought perfect timing would happen on such an imperfect moment?
“Hey buddy, what’s going on?” his manager asked. Elliot was taken back a bit by the question, since it was the first time he was ever referred to as “buddy” by his manager. Even though it was just one word that echoed in his mind, “buddy”—he was still able to read between the letters that sugarcoated the word’s true meaning of slave or servant.
“Just finishing up a few things before I head home to the Mrs., I’m hoping dinner doesn’t get too cold”, he replied.
“That’s good. Since I may be actually doing you a favor…”
‘Favor…then pause?’…Something about the ending of his manager’s statement made the feeling of nausea come back again. Even the thought of his dinner at home that’s cooling, has now taken its place at the end of the line in Elliot’s mind.
“Today is going to be your last day Elliot.”
“What do you mean?” Indeed I meant more to the question than just the perplexity of how it’s dark out now, with no sign of it being daytime ‘today’.
“There have been some cuts made.”
Interrupting, “Cuts? Who got cut?”
Elliot noticed the jacket of a co-worker, whom he has deemed the laziest sack of flesh ever to work there, draped over his office chair which signaled a confident return back to work tomorrow morning.
“I’m not allowed to say but…”
Desperately now, “What did I do? Whatever it is, I can fix it! I’ve been with the company for over ten years!”
He felt like someone pushed the mute button on his back, since his manger easily finished his prior statement, “…I’m going to have to ask you to leave the company, right now.” Suddenly, two security guards arrived from behind him.
“I am truly sorry about this.”
‘Sorry? Sorry is right, you sorry excuse of management!’ he wanted to say…
Instead, Elliot felt his tense lips move without a controlling thought and his voice pass through his teeth, “Do you mind if I just finish up the work I’ve started?”
Even he was shocked by this request, remembering his plan that if ever there came a day when the company would let him go; he would go out in a blaze of glory. But even he realized he turned out to be more like a dud.
“Sorry, you can’t. Now, if you can be so kind, please gather your things and leave with these two gentlemen here.”
Gentlemen…They didn’t show the facial expression of gentle beings, but rather of great hopeful anticipation that if I made just one wrong move.
“Have a good day buddy.”
The poster child of corporate management strutted away in his expensive suit towards the exit.
Elliot was sure his ex-manager already forgot about him after taking his first few steps walking out the door. If he didn’t, Elliot was sure he would’ve readdressed him in correction with a “good night buddy”, realizing it is well past daytime outside…
The two guards gestured at the exhausted ex-employee like they were going to escort someone from death row to their execution. ‘Ridiculous’, Elliot thought; as he armed himself with just his briefcase and exited the building with the two brutes in uniform.
One of the Neanderthal guards couldn’t help himself, shoving Elliot who already had one foot passed the transitional strip on the floor. The physical roughness was quickly overcastted by the realization of being outside, and unable to return to normalcy within the company he gave up a decade of his life for…
It was a short distance to the car, but the walk there seemed to take forever. Reaching for his door handle, Elliot entered his car as he routinely had for the past ten years—just an earlier time than usual. Keeping his composure and without hesitation—as if the last five minutes ago didn’t happen—he attempted to start his car but with no luck. He tried again. And then again until the engine finally cranked up running; and he drove away.
After traveling just two blocks down the road, Elliot felt a slight vibration. He glanced at his cell which was now planted inside his shirt pocket. Elliot stared at the absent screen indicating no callback from his wife. Thinking logically, he understood if he had left a message for her, it would simply indicate a later time of expecting his arrival, but having caller I.D. at his house to verify his number without leaving a follow up message on his answering machine—it could mean he’s faced with a possible emergency or perhaps he could’ve been involved in a car accident, does she even care?? That thought didn’t last long when he realized that she would definitely care about something very soon—she would care that he lost his job. He cautiously slid his cell back into his slacks, not taking his eyes off the road in order to really not cause a car accident. The vibrations came again; but this time strong enough to acknowledge the waves coming from within him, and Elliot knew it was his nerves serving as the true source…
Almost passing by his own house, he made a sharp right turn into his driveway, causing a mild squeal with his tires. His hesitation wasn’t due to the over-focusing on his current deep thoughts, but due to every light within the house being turned off. It was just as dark inside the home as it was outside now. Peeking through a small window serving as decoration on his upscale garage door, he saw his wife’s car parked inside—as usual.
He approached the door, and reached into his slacks to grasp his house keys. He again had to move his cell phone that was in the way, which presented its blank appearance to his subconscious one last time…but even his pondering didn’t last long once he slid his house key into the deadbolt of his front door.
The front door opened with surprising ease, pushed gently by the insertion of his key; never turning it to unlock…
He stumbled inside due to the darkness of the foyer; feeling the area of the wall where he thought the light switch was by instinct. He finally felt the hard plastic between his fingers; but before he could turn the light on, he heard a faint squeal. He wondered if it was a sound from another vehicle’s tires that made a sharp turn into their driveway, but then a realization hit him. There were no other cars seen passing by the open front door, nor any visibility of approaching headlights.
There it is again, he said in his mind as he heard the same squeal but this time it seemed to come from within the house. Knowing the location of the light switch, he decided not to turn it on and instead reached down with the same hand; grasping an umbrella from the stand below. Maybe it’s an intruder and he did not want to cause alarm—but he also needed to see where he was going, so he flipped open his cell phone using its glow to make out the outlines of the hallway.
After pacing a few steps forward, he heard the squeal again—but this time a little louder. He wasn’t sure if it was by taking just a few steps closer towards the source that resulted in the increase of volume, or if the squeal itself became louder… He also wondered if his wife was possibly in danger; tied up and trying to shake loose.
He felt the vibration of his nerves gaining momentum as if an earthquake was occurring within his body. He tightened his grip around the umbrella’s handle as he neared the bedroom which seemed to be where the source of the continuous sound dwelled. With the cell phone in his other hand still, he used two fingers and his thumb to slowly turn the doorknob, in order to not make his presence known in case his worries became a reality.
He cracked open the door just enough that the hinges did not creek with resistance. Even with the glow of his cell phone, he was not able to see any details inside the dark room; except for an outline of two humps underneath the sheets of his bed. He gasped inside his mind, wondering if his wife was tied up underneath the sheets and if the intruder was hiding behind the door—waiting for him to come in…
But then the two humps began to move; shifting apart and then back together again—followed by a high pitched squeal.
Elliot’s thoughts of urgency suddenly took a turn to another subject. A turn that should’ve spawned the worse for any normal person towards a crime of passion—but Elliot simply closed the door quietly; careful not to disturb.
He then twisted around, closing his cell phone, and walked towards the open front door of his home; this time by memory.
Exiting outside, he shut the door and did not lock it, putting it back exactly as it was. He entered his car, dropping the umbrella from his hand onto the passenger seat, and started the engine. It cranked up right away; still heated, not given enough time to even cool down.
His body maneuvered the shifting of the vehicle, reversing it out of the driveway as it sped away. But he felt his mind left behind; as if it was something he forgot to pack. Elliot went blank as to where he was heading—all he knew was he was driven by instinct to desperately want to get away…get away as far as possible.
Driving as fast as his racing thoughts began to flash, Elliot passed by many other vehicles on the road. Some he even recognized—hoping they didn’t do the same of him. The numbers on the road slowly diminished, until he was eventually the only one on the dark, abandoned road. When his mind finally caught up to current time, he noticed that he was in an area that struck him with uncomfortable familiarity. He ended up driving into what is known as the roughest part of town. Featured on the evening news daily, Elliot knew he was in a territory where gangs and drugs ran rampant, and murder was consistently monitored like the stock market. The buildings that edged the road displayed boarded windows and would have been deemed uninhabitable if it wasn’t for a faint light glowing from within. However, the idea of a meth-lab operating inside, dimmed what little light shown, so despair continued to remain as dominant.
This wasn’t by mistake, Elliot believed of how he was directed into this dismal territory. It must’ve been by fate he thought.
The overhead traffic lights at an approaching intersection turned yellow. Normally he would blast through the intersection anxiously; not wanting to stop, fearful of a car jack or mugging. But this time, his foot became heavy on the brake…
The light switched from yellow to red. He hoped the color was a sign of what’s next to come… He unlocked his doors and sat back waiting for what was rumored to be common routine around these parts at night.
Minutes went by…not even one vehicle passed perpendicular to him. The surrounding stillness didn’t even feel real. Maybe, he thought, “maybe I fell asleep at my desk at work, and this is all just a bad dream…” The light changed to green…a sign that this is not a dream but a nightmare.
While lifting his foot off the brake and easing down on the accelerator, Elliot glanced over to the umbrella lying on the passenger seat. He wondered if he had instead laid the umbrella between his legs with the pointed end up—would he have been given a chance to slam his brakes while cruising at high speed, throwing his body forward…
Desperation once again set in causing frustration to linger. The feeling reminded him of testimonies given from recent new hires at his old company—how they felt lucky to obtain a job despite the poor economy, even though some graduated from an Ivy League school. Elliot would’ve preferred any opportunity presented that could’ve justified an occurrence outside of his control—especially since accidents happen everyday and those who meet their fated end, are usually honored afterwards…
But the only thing that came to an end was those mere chances that could’ve easily ended his emotional pain. However, it was all up to Elliot now to make that ‘choice’ on his own. But how could he choose—feeling as lost as he was…
So he did what any lost soul would do, he reached towards the glove box to fetch a map. But at that moment, his answer came in a shiny reflection of the light within the compartment. It was his 9mm pistol that he forgot was stored, due to his constant worries of being harassed by a threatening intruder. He reminisced also about it belonging to his father, before being passed on to him as a symbol of ‘gaining control’ of your life.
Wanting to avoid wrecking his vehicle, which may alert the police to come; he glanced up and saw a sign… “EZ GET-AWAY—cable available”
Even though the “E” flickered on and off, it called to him like a beacon to a lost sailor. The “Get-Away” alternated word to word; blinking its florescent glow at Elliot, enticing him like the OPEN sign of his favorite pizza place back when he was a kid, riding in the back of his parents car on a Saturday evening.
Like a tracking beam, it pulled him into the parking lot of the motel. Without hesitation, he grabbed the gun from the glove box and stuffed it into his slacks. Standing outside of his car, he noticed the handle of the pistol was exposed. So he pulled it out and laid it on his seat. He then reached in and pulled out the cell phone that took up the space in his pocket.
His mind became ‘supernaturally focused’ as he rid the cell from his view and tucked his gun back into his slacks, completely hidden this time. He walked up to the front desk of the motel, and told the clerk he wanted a room. The clerk reached underneath the plastic countertop; not even taking his eyes off the trash magazine he was reading, and handed a room key to Elliot.
“Check out is at eight,” the clerk muttered.
I didn’t even pay for the room yet…Elliot thought, but didn’t say anything. Why should he? He deserved something going his way finally…
So leaving the clerk behind in his Babylonian trance, Elliot paced towards the location of his room…room number three.
When he reached his destination, he entered into the room. Instead of the smell of stale cigarette smoke and saturated body odor that he expected at a cheap motel, he got hit instantly by the memory of his wife and someone else inside his bedroom earlier that night. He flicked the light switch expecting to find them underneath the sheet of the motel’s bed…but when nothing appeared, a melancholy drenched his gut.
He plunged down onto the bed that was covered in stains. It creaked just as the front door of his home did. Even in front of him, a pale-faced clock barley hung on the nail—ticking furiously.
Clinging to a small anticipated last second of hope, he pulled out his cell and looked at its blank screen one last time…Even though you have nothing to say to me verbally right now—you said enough… So I will do the exact same to you my dear.
Outside the cracked window of his room, Elliot could still see the motel’s sign that previously beckoned to him from the road. This time, the “Z” went dark from a bulb burning out, and only the “E GET-AWAY” remained.
He removed the pistol from his slacks and placed the open barrel to his temple.
What else do I have worth living for?
He shut his eyes and pulled the trigger.
A counting –tick- broke the silence as it sounded from the overhead wall clock…it was the longest second Elliot ever experienced. Within the pause, Elliot felt his mind consumed by just one thought, why am I still here?
His eyes dropped down center…why didn’t the gun go off?
He checked the 9mm in his hand still—it was completely dry inside and out. After unlocking the chamber; he noticed that all the bullets were properly inserted. The trigger was flush against the firing pin. Absolutely nothing was jamming the gun—neither inside the barrel nor within its rotating chamber. There was apparently no reason for its malfunction.
Suddenly a rush of emotion swept over, urging him to bolt outside before the next tick sounded from inside the room. He darted towards his car and fidgeted with his keys, making it difficult to unlock the door. When he finally got inside his vehicle, he started the engine and swiftly drove away.
The overwhelming emotion engulfed his system, remaining static and signaling his mind to focus on his unanswered question of why the gun did not go off as it was supposed to. The gun…the gun …the gun!
He frantically patted down his slacks and rechecked the glove box; the pistol was no where to be found…
“I must’ve left it back in the motel room, on top of the bed!!”
Calming himself down a bit–taking in deep breaths, he remembered that he never officially checked into the motel as a result of the lack of attention from the motel clerk. Therefore, the clerk would never know that the gun belonged to Elliot without having his identity on record. “Besides, that gun was worth at least a week of motel stays.”
He felt for his wallet inside his pocket just for reassurance—it was there.
However, he did not feel his cell phone in neither pocket of his slacks or dress shirt.
Taking a glance over at the passenger seat, he did not hope to see the reflection of the street lights shining off the blank screen of his phone, but he desperately needed to confirm it wasn’t in the motel room either…but it wasn’t on top of the seat.
Panic swept over, thinking he had left his cell phone behind at the motel on top of the bed beside his father’s 9mm, since that could ‘easily’ be traced back to him.
He took his eyes off the road, spastically patting himself down; soon realizing he needed to return to the place that had its own gravity effect on him earlier like a black hole.
But now he finds himself fighting the urge of wanting to escape as far away as possible from the “EZ GET-AWAY”, since its sign had failed on its empty promise made.
After a deep hopeless sigh, he raised his head slowly—finding himself quickly slamming on his brakes!
His car came to an interrupting stop—inches from a woman, whose reflex caused her to plant the palms of her hands flat against the front of his hood.
Elliot noticed shock on the woman’s face and moisture built up within her wide eyes, as they stared at what was almost the last sight she would’ve seen….a splat of bird droppings on the grill.
Elliot knew the area he was still in, and that this lady who had the strong will not to scream, was probably seconds away from going berserk on him…but regardless, he did indeed almost end her life as a result of the selfish thoughts of ending his very own. So he stepped out of the car as he felt compelled to do and asked the shaken woman, “Are you okay?”
The lady didn’t even glance at him, but replied; fighting back her tears, “No. I’m not okay…”
Elliot approached closer, “Are you hurt?”
Releasing one of her open hands from the hood, she grasped tightly the material of his dress shirt pulling him in close, “Why?!”
Nervously he replied, “B-B-Because I care!”
“I mean why?”
Staring within her fiercely locked eyes, he was about to explain how the tense situation occurred until the woman continued on, “Why did you have to stop your car…”
Taken back a bit, he wanted to confirm that he understood what she said was actually correct. However, he also knew time was of the essence and that he had to get back to the motel, back to ‘Room 3’…
Yet he found himself naturally concerned, “Why are you not okay?”
She began to tremble as Elliot thought maybe it was from the shock wearing off, but the woman seemed to pay no attention to her body as if her fixated mind instructed her mouth to take priority and continue speaking…
“I caught my boyfriend cheating with another girl as soon as I got home!”
A moment of silence passed that intensified what was stated; but Elliot didn’t flinch as he stood motionless, eager to listen.
She began grinning like a woman gone mad, “You see… I live at his place with him, since I can’t even pay rent due to not having any work—but hey, some women like to stay home to clean and make dinner for their man right?”
Her grin slowly drifted into a frown, as her eyes watered up tears that trickled down the sides of her cheeks. Her faced signaled the conclusion of her pondering thoughts, “What am I going to do now!?” She continued to sob, “Where am I gonna go?!”Streams began pouring out causing her to bury her face into her hands, letting go of Elliot’s shirt.
Elliot knew this was his chance to break away and get back to the EZ GET-AWAY to reclaim the evidence of his misfortune. So he crept as he previously had within his own house earlier that night.
Suddenly, the women belted out, “I just want to die!”
Elliot stopped in his tracks after the wail. The surrounding silence grew louder than the poor woman’s crying within Elliot’s mind as he stared at her wondering, “How could such familiarity come from an area of town that was so unfamiliar to him up until now…”.
Without hesitation, he reached out his grief stricken hand, placing it gently on top of her shoulder. Accompanying his gesture was the mentioning of a common phrase,
“I know what you mean.”
The woman raised her head; displaying swollen eyes and nostrils bubbling as a result of her heavy crying. She was ready to ream him due to her common assumption of satire. However, peering into his eyes, she could see that the man was not lying about his understanding of her internal struggle which brought her comfort.
Feeling uncomfortable now; scratching his head, “I meant to say that I’m still here, so you should also be fine.”
The lady wiped away her tears and rubbed the bottom of her runny nose with her forearm; nodding at Elliot.
He didn’t say a lot, but for some reason it was just what the woman needed to hear.
After easing down with a few sniffles, she replied, “You know…You do remind me an awful bunch of a friend of mine I used to hang out with all the time before Mr. Scumbag came into my life. Maybe you could give me a lift up to their place which is just a few blocks from here?”
She pointed in the opposite direction that Elliot needed to go in order to get back to the motel, but nonetheless, he welcomed her with an inviting gesture into his running vehicle prioritizing the evident bond created between them. After strapping in, Elliot pushed down on the accelerator and proceeded to an old apartment complex just a few blocks away. The lady exited the car to enter the complex, but turned back one last time.
“By the way, my name is Jesse.”
“Hello Jesse. My name is Elliot.”
“Are you single Elliot?”
Unknowing how to answer this, he did not want to tamper with the upward recovery of Jesse’s emotions so he kept his reply simple, “No, I’m married.”
“So why are you out this late driving alone?”
Elliot paused, for his mind went blank…
Turning back around, “Thanks again for the listening ear and the lift Elliot.”
He acknowledged his name, “No problem. I’m sure your friend won’t mind seeing you again.”
The lady smiled, “I’m sure she will…”
“She?,” recalling his comparison to her friend.
Jesse winked at him as she opened the front door; entering the complex.
Elliot felt a smile creeping upon his face which took him by surprise.
His face wasn’t as paralyzed from his own prior emotional distress endured that he thought it was.
But soon enough he reclaimed his place of uncertainty, remembering the urgent matter that was pushed back in his mind, needing him to get back too.
He sped his car around and pushed the pedal to the metal catching up to the place he picked up Jesse within seconds. His mind played over and over the scenario of how he will get back to Room 3 without being noticed, uncertain of what’s to happen this time when arriving…
Soon the street lights gained more distance in between edging the poorly maintained road. Elliot took it as a good opportunity to search once again for his cell phone that may be lit up by a missed call or something—only to find his dash board flutter with lights instead like an expensive Christmas arrangement.
“What in the world is it now?”
His car sputtered and came to a halt. Sitting inside his vehicle, hands still clenching the steering wheel; he thought about how he felt so completely out of control with everything in his life from his job, to his wife, to his car, even helping his new friend Jesse was just a random fluke—but the gun that was his only control; given from his father, was now unobtainable to him.
Oh, how he wished he was able to get another shot off instead of overreacting to that one misfire—after-all, the gun was old.
Suddenly darkness shadowed over the dash board in front of Elliot, leaving one light to remain. Oh, what irony! he thought.
The alert was due to an overheated engine.
He was stranded in an area of town that he felt must’ve had its most quiet, uneventful night ever.
“What did I do so wrong that you must brainstorm ways to make matters worse for me?”
He thought hard of how he was going to get back to the motel. Everything he has gone through started to take its toll on Elliot. His tiredness turned to exhaustion. He reached into his pocket hoping to pull off a magic trick making his cell appear, but instead out came his wallet.
He opened it, fiddling through a twenty and a couple of ones; not enough to pay for a cab ride. However, his attention faltered to a lit up sign half a block away on the right:
THE ALL NIGHT DINER – it displayed.
“I don’t remember that being there.”
His stomach groaned for a refueling of energy. So Elliot stepped out of his vehicle, thinking maybe the engine just needed some time to cool off…as he felt he did also.
He walked up to the front entrance of the hole-in-the-wall diner and saw it wasn’t very crowded inside. But the overhead clock above the counter, told him the reason why – 3 AM. The front door creaked as he paced towards an empty booth closest to the door. The waitress wasted no time,
“Just coffee for now please.”
She scribbled down some chicken scratch and detoured to the back of the kitchen.
Surveying the inside of the restaurant, Elliot noticed an old man hacking within a cloud of smoke in the corner, but anxious to light up another cigarette after finishing just one prior. The second waitress took advantage of the down time, chewing on her gum and muttering over the out-dated land line, twirling the cord around her ring finger. And then lastly, a grizzly man hunched over the counter with his flannel shirt draping over his stool, stared into his coffee cup—never taking a sip.
While countering back around due to a strange smell in the air that that didn’t seem to fit in the diner, the corner smoker nodded at Elliot with a lit up cigarette pinched in his mouth, aware that his eyes were gazing upon him. At that moment, the waitress who took his order came over with his cup of coffee.
“Thank you,” he said.
However, she continued to stand over him even after placing the cup and saucer onto the table, as if she was fishing for a compliment. So Elliot took a sip of the steaming hot coffee, but it was so hot it actually burnt the exterior of his top lip…but wanting to be alone so desperately in his thoughts, he told the waitress with a smile, “It’s good.”
“Good,” she replied back with a ten foot grin and retreated back—back into the kitchen, probably to fix another pot taking the compliment way too seriously.
Alone finally to dwell on the circumstance of it all, Elliot repeated to himself, “Good.”
“What’s so good about it?” asked the rugged man on the stool, whose back was still facing Elliot.
“I’m sorry, what was that?”
The man turned around on his stool; showcasing a scruffy beard, dark bags under his blood shot eyes and skin that looked like tattered leather.
“What’s so good about it?” he asked again.
Elliot was confused at first, but then made the connection to the steaming cup of coffee below his chin.
“You can really…”
The man looked at him with a suffocating stare.
“…taste the bean.”
After a brief pause, the burly man turned back around in his stool.
Elliot gulped down the coffee that came back up his throat from the tension.
He really wished he had a glass of water to drink right now. So he attempted to signal the second waitress that was still chatting on the phone—all attempts failed.
But something must’ve signaled the man who vastly stood from his stool and plopped down onto the other side of the booth, facing Elliot.
“Let me tell you something. It’s not good! It’ll never be good again!”
Speechless, Elliot didn’t know what else to say but, “The coffee?”
“No. Life! Nothing’s good anymore!”
The man began stewing over his emotional anguish. Elliot didn’t know if the reason for his next statement was because he actually cared or because he was simply scared of what this juggernaut of a man would do to him… “What do you mean?”
The man calmed down a bit and locked eyes with him.
“Well, I use to work at the steel mill down the street, but used to be really the key word here.”
‘That’s what that smell was, saturated within the woven fibers of his flannel.’
“I’ve been there over ten years. Made some real friendships along the way, like brothers we were. Then last night we went out to the usual pub, got wasted a little bit more than usual—ol’ Mike found out his girl’s been cheating on him so we kept him company through the wee hours of the night. Everyone went home, except me and Mike. Next thing I know, the owner is waking me up at a booth like this one, telling me it’s time to go. I asked him, ‘Where did Mike go?’ ‘He took a taxi home when you passed out, paid me not to wake you.’ he said.”
“That does sound like a good friendship,” Elliot concurred almost feeling jealous.
“Yeah, some good that did.”
The look of puzzlement must’ve flashed from Elliot’s face, because the bearded man continued telling his story…
“I showed up to work a few hours late even though the place was just roughly a half mile away. When I got there, no one noticed except my buddies from last night that usually chat it up in the morning over a cup of coffee before starting the work day. They promised to not say anything to the boss man, and I would do the same if the situation was reversed. But they announced they were making cuts that day over the speaker!”
Over the speaker—It almost made ‘doing it in secret’ a less demeaning process, Elliot thought.
“I didn’t give it much thought though, since I’ve been sweatin’ it up there for over a decade and knew everyone pretty well…” a grizzly smirk appeared on the man’s face, displaying a set of teeth that looked like they went over a decade also without seeing a dentist…
However, in no time, the man’s smile drooped into a sultan frown. “Well…at least I thought I knew them…”
The elderly smoker in the corner of the diner began hacking again within his pollution gaining the attention of the burlap man.
Elliot wondered if this was a sign for him to sneak away as the bearded man had his back turned. But before that decision could be made, the waitress approached the booth asking cheerfully, “Anything else?”
Elliot quickly replied, hiding his annoyance through his cringing teeth, “No, thank you.”
The man rolled his eyes around, making the dark bags under them shake.
“You know what? I would normally yell out at that guy to take another puff of his chimney stick—being sarcastic; hoping it will make him want to quit before death takes him.” “But now…I don’t know…I just see it differently. He’s an old man and hasn’t croaked yet. And here I am, never smoked a day in my life, ready for death to take me!”
Weighted in sorrow, he lowered his head; his thick beard brushing the surface of the table.
A brief pause entangles Elliot back into the conversation again, abandoning his retreat.
As his instinctual nature rose, he found himself asking, “What happened?”
The man lifted his eyes up like a forgotten dog at the pound.
“Well…the boss man ended up picking Brad, one of the guys in our crew to cut—he’s just been there for less time than the rest of us. But Brad couldn’t accept it as black and white like that, and turned yellow instead. He told the boss man about how I came in that morning a few hours late and it wouldn’t be fair for him to be let go; coming in responsibly on time. So, the boss man approached me and asked if that was true. I’ve never lied to him before, so I wasn’t going to start then.”
His eyes became glossy and Elliot could see his own reflection within them.
“Who would’ve thought that a few hours could overshadow ten plus years…”
The man took a sip finally of his coffee and made a face as if tasting something awful; not knowing if it was the flavor or the cooled temperature.
“I ain’t worth a damn now! There ain’t another steel mill around here and I ain’t got no friends outside of one either! I just want todie!”
Even though this man could eclipse the sun on a clear day or lift up a car serving as a human jack, he sat there in front of Elliot, letting two tears fall from his eyes into his coffee cup; again taking a sip and repeating that same disgusted look. It was evident the coffee was beating up this ox of a man in his weakened state.
Elliot felt a similar emotion begin to take over as it did previously with Jesse, but this time it came on stronger. All of his focus went directly inward towards the eyes of the man sitting opposite of him and he naturally said, “I know what you mean.”
The melted face of the steel man tightened, as if he yelled out ‘Bull!’ within his mind, but when he opened up his eyelids and pierced up at Elliot, he saw the same familiar seriousness that his friend Mike had at the bar last night, when telling him about his unfaithful girlfriend.
Elliot continued—not wanting to leave it simply as that, “I too was let go from my work, but that’s the irony of it I feel—calling itwork… I’ve been there so long that the work just turned into a habit.”
“Just like you could do it in your sleep, huh?” the man confirmed interrupting.
“Yeah…In fact, like right now I actually feel I’m in a place where I’m able to put the work back into something important…”
“A new challenge perhaps,” the roughneck said with a gleam in his eye.
“Or maybe back into something I became distracted from or chose to neglect…” Elliot began to wonder on what he just said.
The bearded man smiled, showing off his set of chompers that also needed the work desperately to be put back in.
Elliot thought about what was truly important to him that lacked the work needed or needing to get back into as well…Himself, hisrelationship with his wife and his car…‘My car!’
Almost forgetting, he glanced at the clock up above in the diner showing 4 AM.
Urgency took over as he began scuffling out of the booth on his side, “Sorry, but I have to go.”
However, a giant hand grasped his arm and held him in place.
“You’re not going anywhere,” said the rugged man.
Elliot sat there frozen wide eyed like a deer in headlights.
“Not ‘till I can buy you something to eat,” he said with the same jagged grin.
Simultaneously, the waitress approached and asked if they were ready to order.
Elliot did not reply; staring at the clock above the bar— tick-tick-tick…
The man’s beard shimmered as he answered for both of them, “Sure we are toots! I’ll have the steak and eggs and my friend here will have the same!”
Hearing himself referred to as a ‘friend’ was enough to break his urgent state, especially being a steel mill outsider.
He turned his focus towards the marbled gleam within the man’s eyes, no longer realizing his dingy imperfections but seeing a clean and soulful spirit that wasn’t there before within the same remaining body.
Elliot saw the reflection of his own eyes peering back, but even though his reflection wasn’t as clear, he too felt the felling of a warm cleansing happening within him—assured that it was the same occurrence his new friend just experienced.
Just then, the same massive hand that grasped him previously, was now openly extended towards him for a handshake.
“What’s your name anyway friend…Or should I just call you the ‘bean guy’?”
Even Elliot chuckled at the reminder of his ridiculous response earlier.
“My name is Elliot.”
Shaking hands, “Name is Herman.”
“Nice to meet you Herman.”
“Same here brother.”
The waitress came bringing over the two huge plates of food, “Here you go boys.”
The smell of steak and eggs off the grill caused Herman’s beard to glisten along with his eyes, drenched in a drooling hunger.
“Thank-you,” replied Elliot with a peaceful smile. The waitress responded back, “You’re welcome,” obviously feeling his sincerity this time.
Time flew by as the two ate their feast and shared food for thought. Right about the same time that the second waitress finally hung up the land-line, Herman groaned, “Man, I can’t take another bite even if you held a gun to my head!”
The ketchup spread over Elliot’s eggs appeared to change into a thickening blood red.
“I got to go…” Elliot mumbled chewing on some food in his mouth.
Herman’s eyes squinted; confused of the place anyone without a job had to be at six in the morning.
Regardless, his wallet was out—ready to pay.
Elliot glanced around the diner unable to locate the waitress who initially took their order. Maybe her shift ended; the only reason to this irony…
“Don’t worry about the check, I got it brother.”
Shocked by this he replied, “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, Herman is here for you.”
Elliot rose and walked towards the door, he didn’t even attempt to look at the clock since his eyes became sensitive by the smog of smoke engulfing the elevation of his stance.
“Thanks for coming in,” said the second waitress, meagerly stating it as a memorized line she was forced to say.
“Yeah…thanks for ‘everything’ too.”
Before exiting, the rugged man belted out a final word, “Be good to yourself Elliot.”
Elliot paused before saying, “You too buddy.”
The man smiled at the word ‘buddy’—sensing nothing in between.
The sign of the diner went dark at the transition of night to day. It was the first time in a long time Elliot appreciated the beauty of a sun rise. After stepping into his car he took a deep breath before cranking the ignition. It started right up.
A smile developed over Elliot’s face—but it wasn’t from the starting of the engine, but due to the feeling of warmth still resonating within. He thought about the sensation of it during his first experience with Jesse. And then how it came back again stronger in his venture with Herman. But this time…it didn’t fade away or totally disappear, but remained; as if energized by the sun’s rays.
Even though there was no tick, the clock on the dash caught his attention, as it changed from 1:33 to 1:43.
The clock shown the wrong time, but it came at the most perfect time snapping him out of it…
Elliot stomped onto the accelerator and pushed it until it couldn’t be pushed anymore.
His memories came just as fast as he flew from one lane to the next.
He remembered about how his father cared so much about him—taking him to ‘his’ favorite pizza place every Saturday evening, even if pizza wasn’t at the will of his own father’s. How he was taught about using his father’s weapons when he took Elliot camping in the wilderness. And about the day that his father told him to be responsible with the gift he was passing unto him.
Elliot suddenly realized that the views outside his windshield started to become familiar to him. In fact, he realized that he was somehow approaching his very own house on the right…
His thoughts became disconnected and confused, ‘How?’ ‘Did I miss a turn somewhere?”
But the questioning thoughts didn’t last long after impacted by the sight of his wife sitting in the middle of the driveway—hunched over…
He stops the car near the edge to exit the vehicle. Walking over–he hears her crying; noticing the shoulders of his wife shaken with every sob.
‘This should give me some sort of satisfaction,’ he thought—but it didn’t. Instead, he naturally wanted to lift his wife up from her sadden state. But in order to do that, he has to ask a question that he had surprisingly already asked twice today…just worded differently.
His wife looked up at him with unguarded eyes.
“I cheated on you El.”
Elliot remained silent, unable to answer—pulled deep into his wife’s eyes as if the search of something within her has taken over his priority.
Sure to be stabbing silence within her ear—his wife continued speaking.
“I didn’t mean to. I don’t even remember his name. He just came up to me at the grocery store when I was stocking up on frozen dinners for myself. Said a few things and asked me to dinner. I guess it was just something that I felt was missing for so long, that it just took over me—wanting to so desperately be filled!”
Elliot felt his eyes water up, and a tear dropped from his eye onto her uplifted cheek.
“I love you El, but I just don’t know who I am anymore…”
He gently sat down next to her on the cement.
“I just want to kill myself!”
His wife bowed her head down between her knees. But before she could even get back to crying, Elliot replied back softly, turning his head towards her.
“I know what you mean.”
She lifted her head up and stared into his eyes, “You do?”
After nodding he started speaking again—but with a grin, “Hey. Remember when my father dropped me off at sleep-away camp and I tried so hard to leave because I really didn’t want to be there?”
She smirked back, “Yeah…you even clogged all the toilets with paper towels.”
He laughed, “Yeah, I really wanted to get out of there I guess… And when they finally decided to send me away, that is when you and I first spoke. Do you remember that?”
Looking deep into his eyes, “You asked me if I was always around, since you didn’t remember ever seeing me.”
“That’s right. And do you remember what I said next?”
Pushing out a quick rush of air; it was a sign of laughter to Elliot and a release of tension to her.
“You said that no matter how bad it was going to get for you now, you weren’t going anywhere.”
He paused seeing the frown on his wife’s face turning upside down.
“You know what else I remember from camp?” he said as she gazed at him with suspicious anticipation.
She looked deep into her husband’s eyes knowing the truth behind the numbered code.
“Yeah I remember that also from camp…” she replied softly. “143” her tears turn the tide from sadness to joy. “I love you too El.”
He grinned at the acute memory recall his wife demonstrated and more…and she smiled back.
They leaned their heads against each other watching the sun rise above the roofs of the neighbors across the street. And one last thought eased upon Elliot’s mind.
It was all a gift from his Father.
Elliot turned his head, and saw the work chair next to him spin. He looked up at the oversized wall clock and saw that time only ticked by one minute passed the end of the work day—as if it froze. The other employee next to him lazily took his time gathering his things before leaving as well.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his manager with his designer suit jacket; exiting his office. Turning his attention forward, he saw the cursor on the computer screen blinking, waiting for him to finish his report.
But Elliot said to himself with a smile, ‘It can wait until tomorrow.’
He grabbed his briefcase, powered down his computer, and exited the building before his manager reached him; anticipating the warm meal with his wife.
The manager stared at the backside of Elliot, confused by the unfamiliar occurrence. Confirming his curiosity, he mentioned to the slower employee, “Hey there buddy?”
The other employee didn’t even waste the energy to look at who it was, he simply replied, “See ya buddy!” before leaving.
© 2011 Matt Krasnoff