The clock woke him. Incessant. Vibrating. He clawed at his phone and with bleary eyes, silenced it. 4:00 am. ”Ugh…” He ran a hand across his face and stretched out under the blankets. One of his feet slipped out and he felt cold. The thought of curling up again and sliding into sleep was inviting but… he knew that today was going to be different. He lay there in the darkness. One last time. One final dawn. The ceiling seemed so far away in the pale light from the bathroom down the hall. Shadows were his companions. Nothing stirred. He thought of her. She was everything he ever dreamed of. Her eyes he adored… and her cold snows. She was a Himalayan peak. Granite. She gave nothing. They met and it was as if all of his lifetimes beyond the gulf had led him there. This moment. Collide. They sparked. Their hearts were like two great fires… madness entwined. Perfection for too short a time. His happiness could not be measured. Yet, time slowed… her attentions eventually waned. Then came a day several months later. A long talk. Car. Rain on the windows. Her hands reached across and touched his face. “All you want to do is skateboard. You won’t even get a job. We are just too different.” Uncomfortable silence. Rain beating a sad song on the roof. Choices presented. Skateboarding or…?
He had watched his phone grow silent as she faded away and left him then. His soul ached and all the morphine in the world couldn’t stop his agony. It was like rolling in broken glass. He wept. A river under his eyes. Who could he speak to of his household Gods? Rage. Vodka. Vicodin. Despair. Sitting up in bed, he let the covers slip off of him. “Cold.” He stood and his joints cracked and popped. He flicked on a light and moved into the kitchen. Coffee. Life. He thumbed the start button on the dryer in the laundry room after throwing in a pair of corduroy trousers and a shirt. “Warm things up a bit…” he murmured. In the bathroom, he saw his reflection. His eyes stared back at him. Stranger. “No answers here.” - the sullen face seemed to say. Showering, he felt the hot water wash away the tiredness and ache he felt. His heart needed a hot shower too, he mused. Getting dressed, he felt his leg hairs stand up from the static on the fabric of his pants. They were warm and he felt better because of it. He glanced at the clock. He needed to get moving.
Today was different. He was going to do something special. Life had knocked him down like a playground bully. Bam! Bam! Bam! He had taken life’s blows and now it was time to strike back. It was his time. He recited the words to Robert Howard’s poem- Song Of The Mad Minstrel. ”I am canker and mildew and blight, danger and death and decay; the rot of the rain by night, the blast of the sun by day.” He mumbled to himself. He’d been doing this more often and periodically questioned his own sanity. Moving to a corner of the room, he slid the table away from the wall. Crouching down, he pried a floorboard loose and reached down inside. His calloused hands lifted a wooden box and rested it on the floor. He sat there briefly. Sigh. “How did it come to this?” he wondered. He removed the heavy metal object and slipped it into his front pocket. With it on him, he felt lethal. Ready for anything.
It had been handed down to him from his grandfather and he had told him that he brought it back with him from World War II in Germany. It was old. He would never forget his grandfathers words. He had pulled him aside when he was still a young teenager. His grandfathers long legs stretched up and up. His voice rumbled, a broken sump pump, spewing silt. “A good man knows when it is to time knuckle under and come out swinging. You can be hammered by life or you can grab it by the throat and make it give you what you want.” His grandfather looked at him. Their eyes met. His old wrinkled hands reached out and pressed a heavy object into his hands. It was wrapped in a piece of tattered blue velvet cloth. “Take this. When the time is right… you’ll know. Use this. There comes a time when you have to choose between turning the page, or closing the book. This will help.” He had stashed it away and now felt that the time was right. After all these years… His grandfather was long dead.
He left his apartment then. The sun was burning the horizon to the east. It was blood red. City buildings rose into the morning. Reflections. Chrome and glass. He walked like a new god with huge blue eyes and limbs of ice. The streets of the city had begun to teem with pedestrians. Workers. Secretaries. Lawyers. Firemen. On the filthy sidewalk, pigeons struggled over a french fry and he laughed as he strode by. He saw the sign dead ahead. Third Avenue Coffee and Tea. Tables cluttered the sidewalk. People moved in and out of the shops nearby. There was a line at the counter. He smelled the coffee beans roasting. Espresso. Amaretto. He touched his pants pocket and was comforted by the metal object inside. Assurance. His grandfathers words hung like a promise… “A good man knows when it is time to knuckle under and come out swinging…“ He noticed two uniformed policemen waiting for their coffee and felt a wave of nervousness. He moved further away from them and approached the counter. Time crawled. Everything was changing color. His pulse hummed and he felt the blood thrumming in his veins. Sweaty hands. He reached into his pocket. Cold metal. Heft. The manager approached him from behind the counter. Her mouth moved but he didn’t hear what she said. Words were stones in his mouth. Boulders. He glanced around. It was surreal. He thought everyone was staring at him. Her mouth moved again.“Can I help you…?” Questioning. He lifted the metal object in his fist and glanced down briefly. His grandfathers sterling silver pocket watch was open for them to see. He pointed. “Hi. I’m Adam. I’m the new employee. I’m supposed to start at eight.” Thank you to Luke Thompson for the pipe image. - Ozzie