Monday, November 1, 2010

WORKING TITLE: The Worst of Times


Nate peered from under the booth towards the door, watching the woman he had just seen enter the restaurant.  He was on all fours, and crawled back towards the wall.  “Fuck,” he said, shrinking into a fetal position, “please tell me she doesn’t know I’m here.”  He watched in dismay as her slender legs strode briskly towards the table.
            “I don’t know, man.  It’s not looking too good...” Scott looked up at Ellie as she neared the booth.  “Hey, Ellie!  How’ve you been?  I haven’t seen you in a while…”
            “I know he’s under there.  Amy texted me she saw you two sitting here,” she motioned towards the lounge, where Amy was seated with her boyfriend.  The couple pretended not to notice.  “And with all the commotion you made getting under the table,” she said loudly, “you’d think you wanted me to find you.”  She kicked her Roxy boots blindly under the table, narrowly missing Nate’s ribcage.  “Scott…leave.”
            “He’s all yours,” he said, abdicating his seat.  Nate sat in a sordid daze, suddenly feeling foolish for thinking he could hide. 
            “Get out from under there," she said,  "You’re like a child.”  She placed her hands on her knees, craning her neck to peer into his bastion of shame.  “Only, kids have dignity,” she added. 
            “Bet she thought that was real fucking clever,” he thought.  “Mother fuck.  Coming here was a big mistake.”  His silent silhouette remained absolutely motionless.
“Seriously, knock it off and say something.  Your silent act isn’t cute.  Act like a man, even though we both know you aren’t one.”
              Reluctantly, he crawled out from under the table and slid back into his seat.  Her eyes glared at him, burning his psyche, and he stared at the 2 half-eaten burgers that lay on the tabletop. 
            “What is your problem?”  She demanded.  She stared at him in fierce silence—something she loved to do—and waited for the answer he never had.  Spying the opportunity to visit the table before the conversation got too heated, the waiter brought over the slice of carrot cake Nate had ordered, and customarily asked if there were anything else the couple needed.  Nate stared at the carrot cake, which had cost him $3.79.  Ellie continued.
            “Really.  Why the fuck haven’t you returned any of my calls or emails.  It’s been over a week, it’s ridiculous.”
            He paused for a moment, trying to look as thoughtful as possible, before beginning to explain, “Look, it’s been a really rough month for me, and I even told you before we started fighting that I was going to-”
            “I don’t fucking care, you should never ignore my phone calls, you promised you would stop doing that.  I’ve had it, really, I’m just…” she closed her eyes in an attempt to give her dramatic pause more depth.
            “Insensitive?” he interrupted, leering humorously.
            Her eyes flashed red with anger, sending a tremor through his body.  For an instant, Nate had feared she would reach across the table to slap his face.  “I’m just so over us,” she continued, “I really think we’re sick of each other.  I thought the closure of telling it to your face would help me.  I mean thank God Amy told me she saw you.  Now, maybe I can get back to my life.”
            “Over?” he echoed, “Over us?” No matter how many times he heard her say this, his heart always fell short.  Their two-year relationship had long since fallen into a trench, and it seemed that neither enjoyed the other’s company.  The fights were so frequent, in fact, that Nate had come up with ways to make them fun.  He would take lyrics from songs and try to use them in his arguments without her noticing, or say the corniest clich√© that came to mind, or be as melodramatic as possible.  As he came up with more ‘games’, he had noticed that the frequency of fights had increased almost exponentially—so much, that he had began to wonder if he had started to view his one-sided humor as entertainment. 
            “But, I’m not over…I’m not over you, just yet,” he sang softly, without adding any sort of solid evidence to back up his claim.  In truth, he was entirely over the relationship, and had been for quite some time.  But, more than anything, he absolutely despised the arguments that led to ‘breakups’.  To him, they were just excuses Ellie would use to keep him on the phone until 2 AM.  It was for this reason he had avoided her, and rejected her every phone call, and he never dared admit their relationship had been as unhealthy as anything else in his life. 
            “I mean it.  You don’t even take us seriously,” she choked out as her anger abruptly turned to tears, “I know you aren’t happy with us, and I love you so much more than you love me.  It hurts too much.” 
            “There, there.” He said, as he placed his hand on her face, wiping a tear away with his thumb, a phrase he had mimicked word for word in nearly every fight in the past four months.  He liked it because it was one of the sappiest things he could come up with to console her.  She tugged her head away in frustration, and he wiped her tears from his hand onto his pant leg.
            “You are an asshole.  You don’t even care about me,” she said again, “I mean, you always choose your friends over me.  I’m always paying for you whenever we do anything. You’re one big selfish, useless asshole.  You even care about that stupid iguana more than you do about me.”
            “Don’t talk like that about Dr. Greeny!” Nate said, “I love you both,” he assured her habitually, “and if you just listened and trusted me, we’d both be better off.”
            “Enough of your bullshit.  I could do so much better than you.  I hope you rot like the fuck-up you are.  No girl will want you, and maybe someday you’ll realize how you took me for granted.”
            “I’m sorry…”
            “Yes, you are.  We’re through.  I really mean it this time.”  They sat in silence for a few long moments, then she stood up abruptly, paused, and then added “And I hope that iguana does die soon.”  She left a very surprised Nate Reuss alone at the table, bewildered over how quickly the fight had ended.   
            “What a bitch,” Nate said to himself quietly, “Man, I hate her...”  He looked around the restaurant.  The outbreak hadn’t been the most animated fight he had experienced, but it was enough to cause Amy and her boyfriend to exit before he had a chance to glare at them.  There sat an elderly couple in the corner near the broken grandfather clock, which loomed near their table like some harbinger, but it seemed they had paid no attention to Nate’s table.  Five minutes passed, and as his eyes drifted towards the streaked front window, he watched as Ellie’s VW Beetle scuttled out of the parking lot. 

The awning over the front window served no purpose on the cloudy day in May, as the weak sun couldn’t penetrate the ominous clouds.  He savored the silence, but expected to see her pull back into the parking lot, twice as fast as she had left, and storm back into the restaurant drenched in abhorrent anger.  To his relief, Scott reentered the restaurant, as alone and composed as when he had left.
“Did she say anything to you out there?”
            Scott sat down, emitting a stifled grunt, “She did mention how much of an asshole you are, and how you’re messed up in the head.” He picked a few fries off Nate’s plate.
            “And?” Nate asked.
            “And of course, I agreed.”  He laughed to himself.
            The carrot cake no longer looked appetizing to Nate.  Although he always remained emotionally detached during arguments, this fight had left him with a lowered ego and a mess of a headache.  He crossed his arms on the table and rested his head on his forearms. 
            “What the hell started the fight this time?” Scott asked.  He had stared through the window nearly nonstop during the fight, and his curiosity had been clearly visible to both Nate and Ellie.
            “Does there have to be a reason?  Half the time I don’t know,” Nate said.  “Do you think she’s serious this time?”
            “About what?”
            “Breaking up.”
            “She said she’s breaking up with you?  Oh, shit, stop the press.” Scott said sarcastically.  “Are you going to eat that?”  Nate shook his head slowly as Scott pulled the slice of carrot cake in front of himself to take a bite. “Ugh, what the hell is this?!” He swallowed the bite whole, washing the taste away with his water.
            “Usually, she would have called me by now.  Or come running back in, or something.  It’s been almost 10 minutes.” 
            “You eat this shit?” Scott asked in amazement.  “This is disgusting.  What is it even?”
            “Fucking carrot cake, Scott.  Don’t eat it if you don’t like it.  Listen, I’m being serious right now.”
            “What’s it matter what I think?  I have no idea what you guys even talked about.”
            “I saw you staring through the window the whole time, you could tell me what happened better than I could.” Nate drew a deep breath, “Man, each time we go through this it seems like I’m closer and closer to getting her to break up with me.  I always thought if these fights happened often enough, she’d be rational enough to see that it wasn’t working, and would break it off.  Save me from having to do it.  I hate doing that kind of shit.  It’s too hard for a guy to do.”
“A guy like you,” Scott corrected, “All you’ve done is complain about her for like over a year almost.  I’ve never seen a girlfriend treat anyone the way she treated you, ever.  Even if she doesn’t mean it, you should break it off and play the field a bit.”  Nate groaned, frustrated with what had transpired.  “Seriously, don’t worry about it.  If you really want to know what I think,” he said as he nibbled at the carrot cake’s frosting, “I think you guys won’t break up after this.  I think you should break up, but I don’t think you will.  So don’t sweat it.”
            “No, it’s not that, really…” Nate mumbled into the table.  “Daaaamnit,” he said as he sat back into his chair.  “It’s not that at all.  I could give a shit about her leaving me, but not one goddamn thing in my life is going right, right now.  I mean, I have a lot of crappy things in my life—I had a lot of crappy things in my life.  That relationship, my dad, that fucking job…it all left me feeling pretty bad.  I didn’t think things could get much worse, but then he died, she put me through hell, and the job ended.  It’s like someone’s playing triage with my life, and all the bullshit that used to get me down isn’t there anymore.  I’ve got nothing going for me.  Not even the bullshit that everyone else has—that everyone else needs.  It’s a shit sandwich, no matter how you chew it.”  He picked up his half-eaten burger and took a big bite. 
            “Well,” Scott said, “you should consider yourself lucky; all your problems solved themselves.”
            “Except she’ll probably come back to me, more pissed off than ever, and now I’ve got an even shittier job.  Oh, fuck,” Nate looked at his wristwatch, “my lunch break is over.”

***

            Nate parked his Honda in the corner of the parking structure, far away from the crowded area near the elevators.  As he exited his car, he habitually patted himself down to ensure he had his keys, his cell phone, and his wallet.  “1:07…dangit,” he thought to himself, as he walked towards the stairs.  He hastened his pace towards the building, hoping his supervisor was still at lunch; he had only worked at Transcerpt for a week and a half, and was still trying to make a good impression.  The seventh floor of that building was as sterile and foreign as any place Nate could ever imagine, and the work, while not exceptionally difficult, was mundane with infinitesimally many nuances.  The first training project given to Nate had taken up an entire week, not including the numerous invaluable hours he leeched from his boss due to the questions he so frequently asked.  “She’s a shitty teacher,” Nate had told everyone who asked.  It was a job without rewards, and little to no personal advancement, but he did his best to leave a good impression.  Work was work.  And work was rare. 
            Nate let out a sigh as the elevator door opened.  He stepped inside and watched as it slowly closed, cocooning him in the pseudo-professional atmosphere.  It ascended past the empty offices marked by “for-lease” signs and dark corridors, before finally arriving on the seventh floor.  The door paused for a moment, and lurched up slightly.  Nate’s heartbeat grew stronger, as the door lay shut tight.  After several more suspenseful seconds, the door opened to a drab hallway with exactly the same layout as the main lobby. “Damn,” he thought.  He drew a deep breath, and began his way down the hall to Transcerpt’s entrance.

He closed the door as inconspicuously quiet as he knew how, but was caught off guard by one of his portly coworkers.  Nate couldn’t remember her name or her job title, but her gargantuan mass and flowery shirts led him to believe she was the secretary.  “Why hello, Nate!  How was lunch?” Her eyes disappeared behind her cheek-fat as she smiled. 
“Lunch was delicious, how are you?” He asked.  In fact, the more Nate examined her, the more he realized that he didn’t even exactly know whether she was a woman or a man.  Her name was Max, or Jo, something leaning heavily on the masculine side, but her breasts and perfectly androgynous face threw all sorts of mixed signals to Nate. 
“I’m fantastic, couldn’t be better!” She exclaimed in a jovial tone, as she caught her breath and continued on, wheezing slightly as she walked away.  As Nate walked past her, he couldn’t help but wonder if the two Subway sandwiches lying atop her desk had anything to do with her fantastic mood. 
He cut through the break room on the way to his desk, taking the last three Peppermint Patties from the candy plate with him and leaving only the Smarties and Yellow Starbursts for everyone else.  He carefully unwrapped and placed one of them in his mouth, and turned on his computer screen at his desk.
Hell…” he thought, staring at the same file he had been troubleshooting all morning.  His mind worked furiously to find a solution to the work ticket, but in the end he chose to seek the help of his supervisor. 
“Back from lunch, chief” he messaged his supervisor on their instant messaging program.  “Sorry to bug you again, but I’m stuck on this invoice still.”
A short while passed before he received her response, “I’ll be over in a few minutes”.  Nate hated having to bother her and had a suspicion she found his frequent questions irritating and unproductive.  Several of his questions had actually elicited an unfriendly ellipses response, and one time she even had written “seriously?”
“Fucking worst teacher ever,” Nate would tell people.  He took a break from his usual task of staring at the computer screen to stare out the window.  He saw an airliner cutting lazily across the sky, waiting to land at the airstrip half a mile away.  He watched as it banked towards his direction and began its descent to the airport.  As the hum of the engine became audible, he began to daydream.
            “I’m always scared a plane will crash into the building one day,” Nate recalled a talkative coworker telling him one afternoon shortly after he was hired. 
            “You know what, Nick?” Nate said snidely, “I don’t think you have to worry about that.” It was a small, nice victory for Nate, who thought Nick was annoying before he even knew his name.  Nick never nuisanced Nate again. 

            On the contrary, Nate secretly liked to watch the planes shrink off into the distance.  He’d often imagine himself sitting on the different jets, each with a destination as far away from ‘here’ as possible.  He had never traveled much, and his only memories of plane rides were those from his childhood.  Back when he was able to enjoy activities without the immortal sense of dread that his life was becoming more fucked up than anyone he had ever known.  He yearned for the day he would be able to return to such an infantile state of mind.  Maybe I’ll break down and take a plane to Brazil.  That would be nice…” he thought.
            “What did you need help with?”  Jessica asked.  Nate’s gaze snapped away from the window and onto Jessica. 
            “I don’t know what to do…if I open the PDF in RSC, the letters are all scrambled, but when I open it with PDF viewer, it looks normal.” He demonstrated what he meant.
            “Does it still scrape correctly?”  Nate dragged his mouse over the letters on the screen.
            “Yes…” he said, “but I can’t get it to reference anything, because everything looks jumbled.”  He pushed himself away from the desk, and she leaned in to take over.  She right-clicked on an area, and opened a window where she started writing code.
            “You need to write a code for this one,” she explained.
            “Ah,” Nate said.  “How the fuck am I supposed to know that?” he thought to himself.  She chicken-pecked a few characters, selected OK, and then returned to her seat, leaving him in a more clueless state than before she had arrived.  He reclined in his chair and popped another Peppermint Patty into his mouth, and began to work fruitlessly on the rest of the project.

            By 3:50, Nate had yet again found himself stuck on an issue.  He was on the final stretch—the last hour always went much quicker than the rest of the day.  “What the heck can I do for this one…?” he asked himself, staring at the invoice.  His job consisted of downloading electronic invoices and using a program to write rules for extracting information.  The purpose of this was to allow for automatic invoice delivery and payment for vendors. 

            “So how come we have to work on invoices from companies we’ve had as clients for a long time?”  Nate asked Jessica on the second day of training.
            “The invoices from each vendor differs.  The spacing will be different, the wording will be different, and so we have to rewrite the rules for it to go through without an error.”  Nate’s stomach grew cold.  Up till that point, he tried his best to keep a positive attitude for the job, but after working on several different invoices from the same vendor, he had lost all morale. 
            After 10 minutes of relaxing, he sent Jessica another message.  “I’m stuck again.  Sorry.”
            Several minutes later, she responded with the first bit of good news Nate had heard all day.  “That’s alright.  Why don’t you go home early and finish it up on Monday?” She suggested.
            “Is there anything else you need help with before I go?” Nate asked.
            “No. But stop by my desk on your way out.”
            He briskly packed up his notepad, and shut off his computer.  He walked across the small office floor to Jessica’s cubicle.  “OK, I’m taking off!”
 “Oh, right,” she said, “I just need to get your key.  It turns out we gave you the last copy we have,”—his coworkers all had card keys—“and Joanne needs to make a few copies of it.”  She spoke nervously, as though she was out of breath.
 “Sure, that’s alright.  I can give it to Joanne myself if you want.” 
“No, I’ll give it to her.”  Nate handed her the key before saying farewell for the weekend.


            Nate’s home was his only refuge.  As the sun gently faded behind the trees and rooftops, the sky turned a soft blue-gray.  The front yard was large, and the verdant lawn carefully sloped downhill to meet the street.  The tall sweet maple tree, which stood in front of his bedroom window, turned both the sky and ground pastel with red and orange leaves in tune with fall each year.  From its branches hung a simple, home-made swing—one of the few remaining physical remnants of his childhood.  Since high school, it had hung almost completely motionless save for the times when he was drunk enough to take the time to sit in it.  The house itself was nothing impressive, but to Nate it was a pleasant trip into his past.  A large brick chimney, colored dull with age, displayed itself proudly in between the two large sash windows.  Ferns lined the lush planter that ran all along the front of the house, their fingers spread out as far as possible, reaching towards the porch. 
            As he pulled up, he could see through the windows and into the back of the house where his mother was preparing dinner.  She was basked in the dusky orange light of the sunset, and looked particularly tiny from where Nate stood.  Although the house had only three bedrooms, it was very spacious; the living room and dining room were partitioned by an enormous double door, which had been long since removed at his mother’s request in order to ‘open things up’ just after his father had passed away.  Aside from that, Nate was relieved that the house had remained more or less the same as when he had left for college.  He approached the tangled American Flag that hung off the porch’s wall and opened the dark green door.
            “Hi, Mom,” he called out over the clanking dishes and clinking silverware.  The air smelled of marinara and garlic making his appetite—which had vanished due to the unpleasant lunch—suddenly reappear with full zeal.  “I’m back!”
            “Nate, honey!  Dinner’s almost ready,” she said, peeking her head out of the kitchen door.  “Pasta.  How was your day?”  Nate felt bad for his mother, who had been alone in the house for nearly two years while he and his brother were away at school.  He wondered just how heartbroken she had been after his father had died and whether or not she held him in contempt for not taking a semester off to help her cope.  In the end, he had decided things would have been rough for the kind woman regardless of what he did. 
Her retirement fund abruptly vanished after the market crashed and she was cajoled into staying at her job rather than live out her golden years in absolute destitution.  He considered it a blessing in disguise.  Although her job nearly drove her mad with countless tasks, he felt it trained her mind on things other than her dearly beloved husband.  While he was away at school, Nate assuaged his guilt by telling himself that her job was there to keep her company.  After all, she had many supportive friends at the school where she taught.
            “Not too shabby.  I’m starting to think it’s kind of like monkey work.  I’ve been doing the same thing as last week, this week.”
            “Well, you’ll get used to it, don’t worry,” she assured him.  “Every job feels that way at some point.  Sammy’s back, by the way.   Tell him dinner’s ready in ten minutes.”
            “He’s here?  When did he get back?”
            “His friend dropped him off a couple of hours ago.  He’s probably asleep; the drive was six hours.  He looks good.  I missed him,” she said gingerly and without reason. 
            “What about me, Ma?”  Nate asked with a smile, fishing for compliments.
            “I love you too, dear, you know that.”  Nate bent over to let her kiss his forehead. 
            “SAMMY!”   Nate yelled out.  His mother flinched.
            “Go get him,” she said.
            Nate smiled sheepishly and went down the hall towards his brother’s room.  “Wakey, wakey, hands off snakey,” he sang as he burst through the door.  “What’s up, brother?”  Sammy was on his computer, pecking away furiously at the keyboard.
            “Nate!!” he said, turning around, “aahh, it’s been a while.”  He stood up, and they gave each other a half-hug.  “I missed you, bro…how have things been around these parts?”
            “Been better…” Nate said, trailing off.  “Pretty sure I’m no longer with Ellie.” 
            “She finally broke up with you?”  Sammy asked, interrupting.
            Nate’s face slowly melted into a frown.  “It’s been a long time coming, I guess.  Somehow I thought I’d handle it better.  Happened this afternoon, and it messed up my day…I think I’ll be fine if I don’t think about it too much.  I mean, we weren’t half as close as she thought we were, but I was used to having her around.”
            “Shit…But does she mean it this time?”  Sammy was always the first to know when Nate and Ellie had a falling-out.
            “It sure feels like it, but I dunno.  I’ll find out soon, probably.  Well, anyways…besides that, the job I’m working at totally blows.  Nothing else has changed.  Mom’s the same.  I’m glad you’re back for summer.  It’s gonna be a boring one, Smythe got a job in Nebraska so basically it’s just me and Scott now.”
“I thought I told you I wasn’t going to be staying here for summer…” Sammy said.
“No?  Why the hell…what are you doing?”
“Actually,” Sammy motioned to his computer, “it’s a film project I’m working on for submittal to the Sacramento Film Festival.  It’s a documentary I’ve been working on for the past year!”  His animated voice became noticeably more animated as he continued to explain.  “It’s basically about love.”  His voice tapered off softly.  Sammy was sensitive when it came to his projects because he was a perfectionist and hated to present an unfinished product before he felt it was ready to be ‘accepted’.
            “It’s about love…?  I was right, studying art will turn you into a fag,” Nate replied.
            Sammy went on, “I’ll be taking a road trip all summer to film it.”  Nate rolled his eyes; he had met a lot of film majors in college and he was sick of hearing one stupid plot after another.  “It’s going to be fan-flipping-tastic.  I mean, fuck me if I don’t take home first prize for documentary!  I’ll tell you more about it if you really want to hear!” he said earnestly.
            “I’m fine, thanks.  Dinner’s ready.  You gonna come eat?” 
Sammy nodded.  “Give me a minute,” and he turned back to his computer.  Nate left for the dining room table where hot pasta and a salad were waiting for him.
           
            Dinner smelled delicious.  The pasta was cooked al dente; soft yet firm, exactly the way Nate and Sammy used to request as children.  The garlic in the marinara was a savory contrast to the tartness of the red wine, and the salad…well, it was a salad.  Nate had always found it difficult to swallow the crisp, leafy greens—he’d chew and chew them until they became a bitter mash on his tongue, after which the only way he could swallow was to wash it down with a liberal swig of wine.  Lucky for him, he was an adult now and dessert came to him whether or not the veggies disappeared off his plate. 
            “Are your hands washed, Natey?” his mother asked.
            “I’m the one who always washes my hands.  It’s Sammy you have to ask that to, remember?” he said, seating himself in front of one of the three placemats.  He sat next to his mother, straight across from the empty seat where his father used to sit. 
            “Is he coming to the table?” she asked, hopeful.
            “In a bit.  He said to start without him,” he picked up a slice of bread from his plate and had just begun to butter it up when his mother cleared her throat.
            “Would you like to say grace?” She asked.
            Nate shook his head. “You say it better than me.”  She bowed her head and Nate followed in suit. 
            “Dear Lord, we pray that you bless this food to our bodies.  We thank you for keeping our family safe, and ask that you be with Richard in heaven.  Thank you for protecting Sammy on his drive back from school, and for blessing Nate with such a fantastic job.  In your holy name, Amen.”
            “Amen,” Nate said.  Immediately, he began to stuff his face while his mother told him about her day and asked him menial questions about his.  He neglected to mention the run-in he had experienced with Ellie, as he didn’t want the poor woman to worry herself over his state of emotions.  Nate had excused himself just as Sammy approached the table to take a seat.
            “Oh, Nate, sit back down for a minute; there’s something important I need to tell you two.”  Nate sat back at the table, while Sammy started to serve himself some salad.  It sounded slightly out of place to hear that she ‘needed to tell them both’ something, and consequentially he could feel a small amount of alarm arise from the pith of his soul.  The last time she ‘had to tell them both something’ was when she first told them their father had grown ill with that wretched disease.  The old man didn’t even have the decency to tell them himself.  You’d be surprised how little family time a father has when working a nine-to-five job, especially when he has a family of barflies that require his nightly presence.  That news hadn’t struck Nate as difficult as it had struck his poor mother, who loved him unconditionally.  And, because she was devastated, so was he. 
            “Is something wrong?” he asked.  Sammy stopped eating and reached to pour himself a glass of wine.
            “Hey!  Are you 21, yet?” she asked rhetorically. 
            “I’ll meet you half-way,” he replied, motioning to the fact he only poured his glass half full.  She frowned in disapproval and continued.
            “Well, there’s something I have been meaning to talk to you two about.  I should have mentioned it a long time ago, especially to you, Natey,” she breathed in nervously, “but it’s a bit of difficult news…” Sammy and Nate waited in silence for her to continue.  “Since your father passed away, things have been difficult for me…financially.  The state’s been cutting back on school funding, and the market crash along with no pay raise really doesn’t leave me with much money.”  She took a deep breath before grimacing the painful words, “I had to sell the house.”
            Nate looked down towards the center of the table.  Sammy stopped eating long enough to look pensive.  Their mother apologized and waited politely for their input.  In the stillness of the moment, Nate could hear their dining room clock slowly beat to an endless rhythm.  To him, it was deafening.
            “What?” Nate asked in delayed disbelief.  “You sold our house?  Why didn’t you tell us?  Is it too late, isn’t there anything I can do??” his voice escalated.
            “Nate, stop yelling!  It was the hardest thing in the world for me to do, but I had to do it.  I just couldn’t keep up with the mortgage payments…I was forced to short sell it, and there was no way I could make the payments, even with your help.”
            “If that asshole hadn’t taken out a second mortgage for his stupid contractor business—“ Nate wasted no time bringing up his scapegoat.  Even in death, his father was the source of all of life’s problems.
            “Stop it,” she scolded him, “You should know, Nate, that the only reason his business failed is because most of the money he took out ended up going to pay for your schooling.  Both of you,” she looked at Sammy “He loved you more than he showed.  That’s far more than many adopted children can say.  He stuck with me despite my flaws, when all he wanted was a child of his own.  And for that, I loved him.  You have no idea, Nate, how much he worried…and cared…and did for you.  But he wasn’t a man who showed his emotions, that’s just how he was…” her eyes swelled with shimmering tears and her voice grew distant.
            Nate remained seated for a moment, then rose abruptly and retreated into his room.   She called out after him once, but he didn’t want her to see him cry.  From behind his closed door, he could hear the muffled voice of Sammy consoling her. 
            He flopped down on his bed and then rolled over onto his side where his iguana greeted him.  The fluorescent light on top of his cage bathed Nate in a sterile aura.  He stared into the dirty cage at the iguana, who stared back, as still as the driftwood atop which he was perched. 
The iguana’s brown scales were dry and painful to look at.  He thought back to when he first received the poor creature as a gift from his parents.  Over the course of a year, he’d begged his parents tirelessly for a pet iguana.  For the life of him, Nate couldn’t remember what had introduced this pet into his mind, but perhaps it was because he had grown impatient with hamsters and mice, which would roll over dead at the mere thought of an empty water bowl. 
Not Dr. Greeny—he was a trooper.  His green scales had slowly turned brown, as though he were a sort of chameleon trying to blend in with the soiled bark chips that lay piled unevenly on the floor of his cage.  Nate knew this wasn’t the case, as the iguana’s diet had gone from fresh fruit and a variety of vegetables to romaine lettuce.  Day in, day out, the lizard would wrestle the hard stalk down his gullet, and would never once complain. 
“Sorry, Dr. G…” Nate said quietly.  “I guess both our lives are pretty fucked.”  He thought to himself in silence before continuing. “Only, I’m the one to blame for making yours so bad.  Fuck...”  The iguana stared at him, completely still.  “It’s your fault too, you know...you could at least try to be more friendly.” 
Dr. Greeny cocked his sideways and looked at the dirty floor of the cage.  His evil tail had long since grown withered at the end, and as a result its whip was even more ferocious than when he was younger, so Nate never handled the lizard.   
“I was just a kid when I got you.  You were hardly bigger than my hand but you freaked the fuck out when I’d get near you, and my fear just…stuck.  I didn’t think an iguana would be so…” he trembled as his subconscious reminded him that this house—this room that both he and Dr. Greeny shared—was no longer his.  In three short weeks, as he would soon find out, their lives would be uprooted.  Dr. Greeny climbed off the driftwood log and went to the other side of the cage where he nodded off rather quickly. 
Nate’s monologue with his pet ended abruptly, as his single audience member had tuned him out.  He rolled onto his belly and felt the pillow grow moist with emotion.  Somehow, he fell asleep.
***
The following day passed as quickly as any Saturday has ever passed.  Nate woke up at 11:30am.  He apologized to his loving mother, who then discussed the details of the move with him.  He caught up with his brother.  He fought with his brother.  He ate, and even took a quick nap, four hours after he woke up.    There was absolutely nothing to separate this Saturday from any other, save for the cataclysmic news he had received the previous night.  The news of the short sale had sunk in quicker than Nate expected, but the phone call he was to receive at precisely 4:23pm would bring him right back into depression.  It was, as Nate would put it, “one hell of a wake up.”
He was in a deep sleep dreaming about a recent cabin trip he had taken in his senior year of college.  Only, there were dinosaurs, and he was running around in the sewer system under Lake Tahoe trying to get away from them.  At one point, he almost got to third base with a girl he fancied, but for some reason his subconscious could never seal the deal.  It was a pretty fucked up dream.  Just as he was about to show his penis to her again, he was awoken by his ringtone.
“One, two…one, two, three, four!”  A heavy guitar and spastic drums shook him from his REM cycle as the vocals started yelling through his phone’s speakers.  “The only girl I’ve ever loved…was born with…”  He answered his cell phone, quickly glancing at the caller ID.  It was Alicia, his temp agent, so he did his best to sound awake. 
“Hi Alicia.”
“Hi, Alex.” She replied.  Her voice was vibrant and slightly nasal with the potential to be irritating, but she was such a nice woman that Nate tried everything in his power to please her.  It also may have had something to do with the fact that she was beyond beautiful.  “Sorry I didn’t get back to you yesterday, how are you?”
“Doing good!  I think I’m starting to get a handle on the job. I called yesterday about the fax number for my timesheet; I tried to fax it to the first number, but it didn’t go through and the two other numbers both have different area codes.”    
“Actually,” she paused, and her voice perspired with regret, “the job is what I was calling about.  I spoke with Jessica, and she felt that you weren’t a good fit for the job.”  She drew each word out longer than the last in an effort to abate the disappointment.  It wasn’t much, but he appreciated it.
“Oh…”
“Sorry!”  She said awkwardly.
            “That’s alright,” he began.  “…Did she give a reason?”  He asked.  Oh my FUCK.” He thought.  That fucking key thing makes sense now.  What a weak bitch, doesn’t even have the balls to fire me.”  Suddenly, he felt very stupid for not being suspect of Jessica’s odd request—to take Nate’s key to make copies of it.  Nate was doubtful they even had to make copies of the key.
            “She just felt that you weren’t picking it up fast enough.  It’s not the kind of work that everyone is made for, some people get…” He lost sound of her voice over the ferocity of his raging thoughts. 
            Fast enough?” Nate thought, “It’s been one. FUCKING. WEEK.  He fumed to himself until she finished giving her pep talk.  “Yeah, it just wasn’t the right job for me.”  He ended up saying. 
            “Well I’ll keep looking for you!  Let me know if you decide to change your preferences.  Sorry again…”
            “It’s alright.  Thanks.  Bye.”
            “Take care.  Bye.”
            The phone went silent, but there were a million words echoing through Nate’s mind.  “Holy shit.  That is one fucking hell of a wake up.” He said aloud.  Setting the phone down, he took a moment to collect himself.  Shit…SHIT!!” He thought.  HOLY shit.”  Immediately, he picked his phone back up and dialed Scott’s number.  It rang five times and Nate hung up as soon as it went to his voicemail.  Instead, he texted Scott, “Are you free?  I need to get sloshed hardcore.”

5 comments:

  1. I'm not sure how to put my critique into words.. the writing wasn't too bad, but to me it just doesn't flow. It was stiff, rigid. Like a breadstick.

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  2. Good premise. Stick with it , if you are feeling it.

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  3. Wow I can't believe I actually read that all, but it kept me going. Strong first(actually second) post man. I look forward to reading the rest, so hurry up haha

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  4. I like. post more please. I would like to finish

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  5. Keep at it buddy, its coming along nicely!

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