Friday, May 18, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Maybe They've Stopped Using Stamps

He means to get up early the next day. For a sleepy instant he thinks he’s woken even earlier then expected – and then his eyes adjust to the hands of the clock.

Fucking ten thirty, he means to yell.

He tries to yell it.

He claps his ears. Gets out of the rickety bed and pads across loose floorboards. He can’t hear a thing, not even the ambient usuals.

A drowsy fog still slowing his wits, he decides this must be going around. Twenty-four-hour deafness. You eat enough processed lunchmeat and that probably happens to you. Everything sprouts new side effects all the time. Or maybe he’s sleepy and his ears haven’t woken up! But this can’t be permanent because he’s got bills due and a postman to beat.

He signs the last check, the alimony one, certain to bounce. He stuffs the last envelope and seals it with his last stamp. In a few years, they won’t even use these anymore. The electric company will own your bank account and know there’s nothing in there long in advance.

He pulls on jeans and a plaid button-down. He buttons it halfway down and skips the shoes because pants-and-most-of-a-shirt is exactly how much he cares about the neighbors. No thigh, no belly, but no more decency than that because they all sided with Zelda in the divorce.

He bursts through the screen door and runs for the mailbox. He is halfway there before he recognizes that it is now a pit in the ground.

It was not a pit in the ground yesterday.

The road is now a series of smoking pits. He visits where his mailbox should be and turns down Cherrywood. Everything below the hill is one gaping crater.

He swears. He doesn’t hear it. He swaps his ear with a pinky and finds blood.

He looks around. The neighbors’ houses are all replaced by smoking craters, so nobody else heard him swear either.

Just before reason sets in, he turns up Cherrywood and checks the other direction. It is another gigantic blast zone. He can’t even see the bottoms of those craters. King Kong could be hiding in there. King Kong may have been responsible for all this.

He cannot beat the mailman today. There is no mailman to beat. There is a good chance they have stopped using stamps by now.

Reason sets in. A hand fists over his scalp and tears out a clump of hair. He runs screaming to the porch, deaf to his own terror. A foot plants inside a bucket and drags it with him halfway down the hall.

He picks up the phone. There’s no dial tone.

Of course there’s no dial tone, he actually tries to say.

The world is over, plus you’re deaf. He realizes enough not to say that.

Can he get Disability Pay? That might cover alimony.

He looks in the mirror. Blood trickles from his earlobes. Did whatever blew up the world pop his eardrums and then concuss him back to sleep? Is that possible? Would Disability cover that?

Wait, he watches himself mouth. You don’t owe alimony anymore. Zelda’s dead. Plus, probably everybody at the Social Security Office.

He mourns the Social Security Office workers on his way through the kitchen-cum-living room. There were probably some charitable people working there and it’s sad that they died. Kind of sad. About as sad as he can be about strangers dying without CNN describing them.

He tries to switch on the TV. It won’t go.

Of course it won’t go, he thinks he says. The world’s over. Electricity has ended.

He stubs his toe against the bookshelf. The one thing Zelda left; she was a movie girl, he was a reader. He growls mutely and knees the ugly oaken thing. So wide that it always jutted just a little into the hall and caught him on the way around, even when one foot was lodged in a bucket.

His bookshelf doesn’t run on electricity. As he pulls off the bucket, he jostles against the shelves and a couple hardcovers shake free, plopping open on the floor. He collects them, shaking his head. He always did buy books twice as fast as he read them. He hasn’t done nearly any of them. Shirley Jackson: Novels and Short Stories. Les Miserables. Man, you could bludgeon a guy to death with The Brothers Karamazov. Plus it’s Russian, so somebody probably does get bludgeoned to death in it.

He picks up The Brothers Karamazov. He brings his bills for bookmarks, and in case the mailman has survived the end times. He plops down on the edge of his filthy porch, resting his back against his filthy but trusty plastic bucket.

He reads out loud, not because he can hear it, but because Zelda hated when he did that.

42 comments:

  1. This I think is one of the best pieces you have written. It was funny, yet sad, in a strange sort of way. I liked the last line, he may just be the last man standing and it pleases him to do something that annoyed his wife. LOL

    This line made me laugh out loud "The world is over, plus you’re deaf. He realizes enough not to say that.

    Can he get Disability Pay? That might cover alimony."

    Really a good piece John.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ironic that what you think is one of my best pieces was actually rejected from three markets and sat in my consideration-drawer until last night. I'm so glad the humor landed for you. There is a bit of my personal ethic of selfenfreude about this schlub. Thanks, Helen!

      Delete
  2. You are so skilled. I really disliked Zelda from quite early in this piece. I am not certain I like the hero - but I approve of him more. A reader always has at least one saving grace.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, thank you! What made you dislike Zelda so much?

      Delete
  3. Love this, John. A different take on the usual post-apocalypse fare, it avoids being over-dramatised and is instead understated, very real, very human, and humorous. =)

    Some great lines in there too. I particularly like, "Electricity has ended."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wrote that line entirely unconsciously, and then was immediately so proud with myself. I'm glad you dug all those lines. I can't figure out what it was about this fellow in this circumstance that made it so easy to generate them.

      Delete
  4. This is a great piece. Great progatonist - he seems like a bit of a miserable character yet by the end of the story I felt like I knew him well. I enjoyed the dark humour in this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I could not help but toy around in dark humor. In responding to John Xero's comment I was going to blame it on having written and seen so many apocalypse stories, but honestly I've always found them avenues for amusement. Did you like the miserable fellow at all?

      Delete
  5. I rarely offer criticism, but this is only because I love you (yes I do) and your writing. Loved the experimental form. It makes for active writing, somewhat like an external monologue. You set the scene for his solitude AND living situation so damned well.

    But here, you broke tense: "The electric company will own your bank account and know there’s nothing in there long in advance."

    I am always confident that visiting this blog will leave me mulling over this story or that. Thank you, John. xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Please always feel free to provide feedback, and especially to tell me if I've done something wrong. Incorrect tense changes would count. I just woke up, myself, and am not sure if this case is wrong. In that sentence he's hypothesizing about what will happen, so it shifts from the present tense to the future ("company will own"). Did that intentionality not read through? Is there a way to correct the implication aesthetically?

      Delete
  6. Actually, tense is probably the wrong word. I'm sure you know what I mean.

    Signed,

    Not Enough Coffee (and didn't finish school) ;)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great shcok-reaction to the disaster. However, I wonder what this guy is going to do when he realizes the water company and the supermarkets are also gone forever.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Probably going to be very unhappy, since he doesn't own any books on farming. Luckily, the kid in the other disaster story I'm writing does.

      Delete
  8. This reminds me a bit of "Time Enough at Last." Nice one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Quite a fair comparison. I hadn't thought of Twilight Zone until after finishing the piece, but one disability plus one reader in the end-times kind of begs for it.

      Delete
  9. This made me feel such melancholy. Very beautiful, succulent writing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. While there are a lot of possible answers, what elicited the melancholy for you, Sylvia?

      Delete
  10. I love how the hero of this story is... probably not the hero of the larger story happening out there. It's a nice break from all the disaster stories where the "ordinary guy" just happens to have random extraordinary survival skills that come in handy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is an angle I was going for! He's not even necessarily the hero of his own life. It's the story of background characters, or at best, the last man on earth's foolishness.

      Delete
  11. He's a bit self obsessed! I like the internal dialogue that keeps the story moving.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Gail, glad you got into his morning.

      Delete
  12. I enjoyed this very much. Particularly how he moves back and forth toward the realisation of what's actually happened - realistic and humourous.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Natalie. I'm glad you enjoyed it - did any bits get you to laugh?

      Delete
  13. I think those 3 place that passed on publishing this piece missed out, they obviously have no sense of humour :).

    "A foot plants inside a bucket and drags it with him halfway down the hall."

    This made me laugh out loud.

    I like how after the initial panic he took everything in his stride and the easy tone of the story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, really? What was it about that line that got you to laugh, Craig? I didn't even ponder that one.

      Delete
  14. Little things like him trying to pick up the phone even though he's deaf and civilization has ended really give him that human quality of irrationality in the face of disaster.

    Oh, and I'm guessing those book titles he had but never read are the same as yours? :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, you had the unfair advantage of talking to me about Les Mis! But yes, the first two are unread books on my shelf. Brothers Karamazov, though, I have read, simply too fast such that I don't remember it clearly anymore.

      Delete
  15. Really like. Unexpected take on the end-of-the-world idea.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Was anything particularly unexpected for you?

      Delete
  16. John, you have some great biting humor at the end of this. I like how you captured him running around outdoors, not really realizing what had happened yet. Unfortunately, some days I find myself feeling that way and I don't have craters to blame it on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think we all have those periods of acute unawareness. What was your most recent period?

      Delete
  17. Love the humor in this, it flowed so well I don't have any standout lines to highlight. Although I do have to say the part about reading out loud to piss off his (probably dead) ex is brilliant.

    I don't suppose he has a field guide on his bookshelf? Maybe he should read White Pickups first!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If it all flowed together so tightly that you didn't think about standouts until the last sentence, then that's a great achievement, either on my part as writer or in your experience as reader. Thanks Larry!

      Delete
  18. If Raymond Carver had written post-apocalyptic fiction, this is what it would look like. Marvellous short John.. There is some amazing use of language in this piece, wonderfully memorable phrases such as " but no more decency than that because they all sided with Zelda in the divorce" The juxtaposition of a microscopically small, personal domestic drama with the horror of waking up to the end of the world is absolutely sublime.. I'm with Helen. I reckon it's one of your best..

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hahaha! I can't quite decide if his survival was due to good luck, or bad luck.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Great story. All the little details that he tended to though they no longer mattered really made the story.

    ReplyDelete
  21. It's amazing how you can end up feeling pity for people at the social security office, but not your mailman. I think it's the details that really bring this story together.

    ReplyDelete
  22. What a delightfully strange little man you've created here, John.

    I half expected the bookshelf to fall on him, in a 'he-survived-the-apocalypse-but-not-some-shoddy-DIY' kinda deal. Great fun nonetheless!

    Also, I like the CNN line. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  23. What a trip that was to be inside this guy's head for a while - he was so odd that it seemed perfectly normal when he went outside to the mailbox only to discover it and most of his immediate world gone.

    I loved the details in this, and connected with him when I got to "He always did buy books twice as fast as he read them." (Only twice as fast? I wish I had his discipline!) And I'm hopeful he might just come through this all, now that he's rediscovered his books and is taking time out to read them, instead of running around panicking. And I love that he's still defiant and is reading aloud, because his probably now Ex didn't like him doing that!

    ReplyDelete
  24. Well, there's a silver lining to everything I suppose!

    I liked the humour and the mundane protagonist. I really liked the line "a hand fists over his scalp and pulls out a clump of hair".

    And screw you Zelda!

    ReplyDelete
  25. I knew I'd be rooting for this unlikely delicate hero with the bleeding ears and then, when he shares his love for books, I am. Grim yet funny. Especially the thoughts racing through his frantic head. With a name like Zelda, that wife had to be a book hating witch.

    ReplyDelete
  26. This was fantastic! A very entertaining read for me. Loved the ending too and I thought the tone it was written in is engaging even as the situation that he's dealing with is not.

    ReplyDelete

Counter est. March 2, 2008