Secret Santa #2
The alarm clock goes off and I roll over and stare at it. I wait about a minute before switching it off. Then I lie very still and I talk to God in my head. I either tell him to strike me dead where I lie, or I tell him to fuck off; depends on the morning. Right now I tell him to fuck off. I roll over and face the wall. The first coughing fit of the day sets in. This one: five, almost six minutes. I breathe heavily for about a minute more, then I go into the kitchen to make coffee.
I actually have a really nice coffee machine. It does everything. Cappuccino, espresso, latte, mocha. I’d really splashed out on this coffee machine. This coffee machine cost me so much money that I hadn’t eaten for days after buying it. I make a lot of coffee, though.
I make coffee before work.
I make coffee when I come home from work.
I make coffee before bed.
On my day off, I invite people round and make coffee for them all day.
That’s what I do, I make coffee.
Agent Dale Cooper sits at my kitchen table. He gives me the thumbs up.
Damn good coffee!
The second, shorter coughing fit of the day sets in. What it lacks in duration, it makes up for in tone. Then I take my coffee (mocha?) into the bathroom where I stare at myself in the mirror, horrified, for about three minutes. I pull down the lower lids of my bloodshot eyes and peer, not really sure what I’m looking for. I make weird faces, feigning surprise with raised eyebrows and wrinkled forehead. Marginally more depressed upon exiting the bathroom, I go and jerk off. Jerking off isn’t what it used to be. It takes forever to come, and when it does, it’s a lousy fucking climax. Given the time and effort I put into achieving it, the crummy nature of this climax just makes me angrier. I still jerk off all the time, though. Make coffee and jerk off, that’s what I do.
I sit on the bus on the way to work. The bus stops at the traffic light, in front of the methadone clinic. Three grubby men and one grubbier woman stand outside.
The possible lives of the grubby methadone users:
They live three, maybe four blocks away. They all live together? Yes, they all live together. The grubbier woman has a grubby kid with one of these grubby men Which one? They don’t know. Three Grubby Men and a Baby.
The bus moves on and I’m late for work. I stand behind the counter at the bookstore, writing words on my hands. Lists of words that I hate; unctuous, lugubrious. I hate a lot of words, and I soon run out of room on both hands. Now, I stand there some more, staring, doing nothing.
There are two managers in this bookstore. One of them is called Michael. He’s alright. He just hides upstairs in the office and tells everyone he is going to quit soon. He interacts as little as he possibly can. The other one is called Vera. Vera is an old hag. A short, thick woman in her 50s, with an under-bite the size of a continental shelf, she is unfailingly squeezed into a too-tight tweed skirt suit. She makes the place feel like hell. She skulks around, creeping up behind me and breathing heavily just below my left shoulder. My hands ball into fists. I wait for her to mention something about stock; toilet paper is her favourite subject. But instead, she leaves.
Vera leaves and Clive shuffles up to me. I’m looking down at a book on the counter in front of me. My hands are still in fists.
“I swear to God, if Vera says anything to me about fucking toilet paper, or staples, or post-it notes or fucking anything, I’ll fucking kill her,” he rasps.
I look up from my book as a kind of acknowledgement, hoping that will be enough. But, no.
“Seriously,” he continues, “I don’t think I can stand to have that type of fucking conversation even one more time. I don’t want to spend my days talking about toilet paper,” he finishes, out of breath a little.
To carry his feeling a little further, I feel that I can’t decide which is worse: hearing about toilet paper from Vera, or hearing about hearing about toilet paper from Vera from Clive.
I nod and fidget. My body feels like it is perpetually in angry motion, as if I am constantly pacing on the spot. Hoping the nodding is now enough, I look back down at my book.
“Whatcha reading?” he asks me, still standing there, irritatingly.
“Hmm?” I look up again.
He is scratching his bird’s nest hair studiously with his blackened fingers.
“When was the last time you showered?” I inquire.
“I don’t know. I don’t have a shower right now.”
“And where are you living right now?”
“I’m living in my car right now.”
“You’re living in your car?”
“My car, yeah.”
I don’t much like that answer. I go back to my book.
“Whatcha reading?” he says again, doggedly.
“It’s a book of photographs.” I say curtly.
“Photographs of what?” he asks.
Jesus fucking Christ.
“It’s a book of photographs of people who live in the desert.”
“It’s not boring. It’s not boring at all,” I say, pointing at a picture on page 31.
“It’s a house and a fucking cactus. I don’t get it.”
“Look at that house and that fucking cactus. The guy that lives in that house wakes up every morning in the middle of nowhere, goes outside and looks at his fucking cactus…he looks at his fucking cactus and it’s all quiet around him…maybe some tumbleweeds…and, and he just knows that there’s no one around for miles and miles…and miles…” my voice trails off, as I stare at that fucking cactus so hard that I can almost touch it.
“You O.K.?” Clive asks me.
I don’t really say anything else for the rest of the work day. Instead I watch everyone to see if I’m right. A month ago, I’d began noticing, to my abject disdain, the little routines that my co-workers adhered to religiously. For instance, I know that when Danny comes into the staff room at lunch time, he will walk over to the mirror above the sink and rub his face. This will be followed by a slump into one of the chairs and an unfolding of the newspaper he keeps rolled up in his back pocket.
I know that after Clive takes a shit in the bathroom at work, he will immediately drink a full glass of water in one go, and then go out for a smoke. I know that Hayden will have a ham on rye sandwich for lunch, and that he will study while he eats, and that he will flip a page of his book, and then flip back almost immediately, as if he had missed something vitally important on the last page. I know all of this, and it happens that way every day. Now I pass the rest of the day proving myself right.
I go back home and I lie in bed and I think about gravity. Personal gravity. With each day of your life, it grows stronger. With every flat moment, it grows. With each practical explanation, it grows. With every day passed in which nothing at all fucking happens, it grows. This gravity grows and grows until you’re tethered to the ground by it. I wonder what the escape velocity is. I close my eyes. I jerk off. I fall asleep.
I stand behind the counter at work, looking out of the front window, writing words that I hate on my hands.
On my way home, I stop at a restaurant in Chinatown for some fried rice. This place doesn’t have tables. It has long counters, and I just sit next to strangers and awkwardly eat in silence for a while. There is an elderly lady from the Philippines sitting next to me. She strikes up a conversation with me. She tells me that her husband has just lost his job in Hong Kong, some kind of forced retirement, and that they are travelling and enjoying the free time. She asks me what I do, and I tell her that I write stories. She asks me if I am writing anything at the moment, and I say yes.
“What are you writing about?”
“I don’t know anymore.”
“Everybody gets lost a first time,” she said nodding, “That’s normal.”
“It’s when you get lost a second time, that’s when you are in trouble,” she continues, “Your personal compass gets too damaged and I don’t think you can find your way back again. I used to work in the church, so I have seen this too many times, you know.”
Shit, the church.
I exhale heavily.
“Are you OK?” she asks me.
“Shrimp.” I answer with a strange emphasis.
“Shrimp. There’s shrimp in my rice. I don’t like shrimp.” I say.
I take a half day off to go visit my dad in hospital. He’s been in and out of hospital for the past few months. The first time it was because he’d grown this nasty ooze-filled cyst on his spleen. It had poisoned his blood and he’d ended up with septicaemia. They’d taken his spleen out and put him on antibiotics and sent him home. One month later he was back in hospital with a bunch of nasty ooze near his pancreas. They stuck a drain in him and waited. And he is sitting there, attached to a bag full of nasty ooze, waiting.
I meet up with my brother Robin. We always go to the hospital together.
When we get to the hospital, we stand waiting by the lifts. Those lifts really fucking piss me off. I mean, they piss me off an inordinate amount. It takes them three bloody years to go up, and another three bloody years to come down. So, even if there wasn’t a crowd waiting with you when you first got there, it would take so bloody long that by the time the lift finally came, there’d be a thousand people trying to squeeze their asses in with you. And if you were in a wheelchair, you were fucked.
List of films with important lift scenes:
Shit, just one?
After the requisite three bloody year wait, we get in the lift and go up to the seventh floor, where my dad lies in a ward of sorry motherfuckers moaning in pain and glaring at me as I walk past. They aren’t glaring at my brother. They are glaring right at me. Well, fuck you too, you sick fucks, I think testily.
I stare at my dad’s ooze bag, unable to look away. This goes on for a good three minutes. Then I hear him call my name and I look up to meet his gaze.
“Do us a favour, will you? Go down to the shop on the ground floor and get us a pack of biscuits.”
My stomach sinks. I become incandescent with rage instantly. The thought of waiting the three bloody years for the lifts twice more before having to wait again so we could fucking leave feels like way more than I can handle. I look at Robin blankly. He is looking in his pockets for some money. I pray under my breath that he doesn’t have any.
“I don’t have any money,” he says.
“Shit, I don’t have any money either,” I lie, “I’m sorry dad.”
We walk out again, past all those sick motherfuckers and their baleful gazes.
While we are waiting at the lifts again, the guilt is there.
“I lied about not having any money,” I say to my brother.
He looks at me, confused.
“Shit, the biscuits. The biscuits. I lied about not having the money for them.”
“The bloody lifts, alright? I didn’t want to fucking wait for the fucking lifts again.”
Robin looks at me kindly.
“Is that really awful? The bastard is sitting there oozing into a fucking bag and feeling like shit and I can’t be bothered to get him some biscuits.”
The lift finally opens its doors, and we squeeze ourselves into the crowded space. I fall silent, and my brother pats me on the back calmly. On the 3rd floor, we stop and the doors open to reveal a woman in a wheelchair. Everyone looks at her.
“You won’t fit, you’re gonna have to wait for the next one,” I say and press the ‘close doors’ button. I do this without even thinking about it. After the doors are closed, everyone on the lift, except Robin, glares at me. Shit, I think to myself. I just told a fucking cripple to wait for the next bloody lift; is that awful?
I go home and drink coffee. I jerk off. I lie in bed and close my eyes.
Robert DeNiro and Mickey Rourke.
Man gets in lift and goes down.
Shit, just one? Really?