NOTE FROM INDY – I liked Jeff’s story so much at 654 words that I wanted to hear what happens next, so I asked him to make it longer…
A Long Way From Usual
Charlie leaned forward into the fear allowing it to choke the breath from his body. His fear had taken everything from him, his so-called friends, his grades, his family and ultimately his peace. Everything in Charlie’s life happened TO him, at least they can say he chose this. He felt liberated by the choosing. ‘This is the first thing you’ve ever chosen, Asshole.’ He said to himself on his way to say his last goodbye. He walked into church to tell Him himself. ‘At least I’m man enough to say it face-to-face’ he thought as he knelt down in his ‘spot’. ‘Who will take my ‘spot’?’, he wondered, ‘Who the hell’s ‘spot’ did I take?’
Suddenly illuminated, he glimpsed a part of ‘The Plan’ and wept deeply as he was overwhelmed. As his life leaked away, the parts of him that died first, if you can imagine a progressive dying, were the bits that no one noticed and would have never spoken to describe poor Charlie. The very same ones he clung to for his own prosecution and judgement. The thread of his life. Charlie thought his life was the nagging little bit of thread that the seamstress pulls from the machine to clip off and discard. Waste. The extra little bit that was required for the sewing and nothing more. in his selfish tearing he was threatening to pull apart ‘The Work’. His tears washed the scale and scab from the fabric. He couldn’t believe his life woven with other and he tracked his thread as it wended through countless fibers. Some ending abruptly as others swept in as though to mend and keep it whole.
Charlie came to his senses trying to take it all in and settled down with onee thought, ‘They aren’t worth it, them sons-of-bitches aren’t worth it.’ He looked up and Saturday night service was over. ‘What happened to the last hour?’ he thought as he sat back from the kneeler.
‘Are you okay?’ said a voice.
Startled, Charlie replied, a little uncertainly, ‘Yes.’
‘You’re not going to do anything stupid, are you?’, the voice inquired.
‘Not today.’ Charlie responded with a little more confidence.
‘Will you come and see me before you do?’ it probed.
‘Yes.’ Charlie answered. Resolved, Charlie walked out. The Inquisitor remained a mystery.
‘Damn it!’, Charlie shouted as he chucked the phone at the cradle. ‘Where the hell is Mike? I hope Matt is home.’ Flopping in his comfy chair as he dialed Matt’s number. ‘Come on, come on answer’ he pleaded with the phone.
‘Oh, hi Mrs. Gabaert, is Matt home? Oh, I’m sure you got to the phone quickly, I was talking to myself,’ he paused, ‘I’ve never been accused of being patient.’ Charlie explained. ‘I just really need to talk to Matt.’
‘He’s calling numbers at the Bingo tonight dear.’ She answered.
‘I’ll head that way and catch him on his break, thanks, Good-bye.’
Charlie set the phone in the cradle and headed out the door. Swirling thoughts came in and out of focus. ‘I gotta talk to someone before I lose it.’ Charlie muttered as he jumped in his mother’s car. ‘I hope she spots the note, BEFORE she freaks out!’ Charlie giggled, ‘she isn’t one for apologies. Somehow it will be my fault anyways.’
Rolling down the street he smiled, ‘I like this idea, I REALLY like this idea!’. He couldn’t get the Fiesta City Bingo fast enough.
‘What do you mean you’re free?’, Matt stammered, ‘What are you talking about?’
‘They don’t matter! Screw ‘em all, every last one of them bastards!’ Charlie exclaimed. ‘They can go screw themselves and the damn horses they rode in on!’
‘Hold on man! Stop it! Stop it for a sec! Charlie, STOP!’, Matt interrupted, ‘Give me a minute, it ain’t busy, maybe the manager will let me leave early.’ Matt disappeared inside for a moment. Returning, he said, ‘I gotta finish the next set of cards and then I can go. Can it wait an hour?’
‘Holy shit man, I’m gonna bust!’ said an exasperated Charlie.
‘Go home, bring your mother’s car back, before she kills you, and relax. I’ll come straight to your house in ONE hour. I’ll be right there. I gotta get back to work. Chill out. I’ll see ya there.” Matt said retreating to work.
‘You have ONE minute to explain to me, what is going on? Spit it out.’ Roxette cornered Charlie.
‘I’ll fill it up next time I take it, I swear, Ma.’ He gambled.
‘What? I don’t expect you to put gas in the car to go to church. Only when you go out out. What is Mrs. Bacon talking about? Kneeling and crying the whole mass, you didn’t even go to Communion.’, Roxette continued, ‘That doesn’t count you realize. You’re coming with your father and I in the morning. Are you okay? And then you just got up and walked out. Did you and Debbie have a fight?’
That stung. ‘I haven’t dated that bitch for two fricken months!’ Charlie exploded. ‘Do you even SEE what is going on here on any given day? If it doesn’t happen to you, about you, for you or by you it doesn’t matter!!’
‘Watch your foul mouth!’, Roxette fought back, ‘Don’t you dare speak that way in this house!’
‘For f**k sakes Ma!’, Charlie screamed, ‘I’m f**kin’ coming apart and you’re correcting my f**king language!’ Charlie stormed out of the room.
Thunder follows lighting and Charlie called down the thunder. ‘Get your ass back in here young man!’, rumbled the thunder. And waited.
‘Three!’, she hollered, ‘Four!’
‘You can count until the end of Time! I ain’t comin’ in there!’ the lightning struck again.
A chair collided with the kitchen table in the wake of the thunder rolling down the hall.
‘Damn, my ass is grass.’, thought Charlie.
‘Oh, Sweet Jesus, that is the best sound I’ve ever heard! In. My. Life.’, thought Charlie.
‘Oh, hi Matthew’, Roxette said to Matt, ‘Charlie’s hiding in his room, come on in.’
‘What the Hell, man? Your mom’s head looks like its going to burst.’, inquired Matt.
‘I’m sure I’ll hear about it. Let’s roll.’, said Charlie as he got off his bed and headed down the hall.
‘Where are you going?’ inquired Roxette.
‘When will you be back?’
‘I’ll be waiting to finish our conversation.’, she said.
‘I’ll probably be late.’, said Charlie.
‘And I’ll probably be waiting.’, Roxette said as Charlie closed the door gingerly.
The picnic table groaned in protest as Matt dropped onto one of the benches.
‘I don’t get it.’, said Matt, ‘Just because your Give-a-Damn broke, you think everything is going to be fine?’
‘Yes.’, said Charlie calmly kicking the pea stone in the playground.
‘How, in God’s Name, do you think that the shit is going to stop? Because you said so?’ asked and incredulous Matt pointing at Charlie.
‘I don’t know how to explain it, it just is.’, said Charlie shrugging with his arms spread wide, ‘I knew you wouldn’t understand.’ He wished Mike was there more than ever. Mike was the Universal Translator and could make sense out of Charlie’s handwaving, rapid-fire, all over the map, cornball schemes. But this wasn’t cornball, this was real, he could feel it. He crossed his arms in frustration.
‘Okay, start over, from the beginning, in a linear fashion. But, I’m going to stop you when you jump onto something else, so I can keep this straight.’, implored Matt. ‘We need Mike here, to sort through your bullshit.’
‘This ain’t bullshit.’, chided Charlie, ‘This is more than my Give-a-Damn breaking; it’s broken, don’t get me wrong, but it’s way more than that.’. Charlie spread his arms wide, indicating something grandiose.
‘I’m listening.’, said Matt resting backwards with his elbows on the picnic table.
‘Do you believe in God?’, asked Charlie.
‘Of course.’, he said as he shrugged, ‘We go to St. Anne’s, I think that’s like a prerequisite or somethin’.’ Matt leaned forward with his elbows onto his knees looking down to avoid eye contact.
‘I think he talked to me today.’, Charlie answered, as he put his hands in his pockets to restrain their waviness.
‘What?’, said Matt. His head snapping up so hard he baseball cap came loose.
‘I know, I know, I know. It sounds crazy and it may be.’, Charlie said, ‘But it saved my life today. I was finished with this bullshit.’
‘What the hell, man?’, he inquired as he adjusted his hat, ‘What are you getting at?’
‘Finito, caput, exit stage left. Done.’, said Charlie as he dramatically pointed his finger gun at his temple and pulled the trigger
Dawning recognition bloomed across Matt’s face, rocking his head back and snapping it forward, ‘Suicide?! Holy F**k man! What the? How could you? Oh, my God! Why didn’t you say something? I never knew!’, he cried leaping to his feet and hugging Charlie.
‘I would have been next. Oh, thank God you didn’t.’, he whimpered into his shoulder wetting his shirt with tears.
Half patting, half pushing, Charlie extricated himself from Matt a little uncomfortable by the embrace. He said, ‘It was just all too much, Debbie dumping me, Jason suckin’ her face at the party I wasn’t at the week before, her not even denying it like it was no big deal. Bob making it public knowledge like I was some kinda cuckold.’. He added, ‘I was just like, screw this shit.’
‘Cuckold?’, Matt asked.
‘Get a dictionary, dumbass.’, he cried up into the trees, ‘Like I couldn’t satisfy her or something, so I had to get a real man to do it.’
‘Well, you never really made out…’, Matt confided to the stones as he feet shuffled them about to get their attention.
‘Enough!’, he shouted then settled down, ‘I’m shy and waiting for the right woman. If Debbie would suck hisface; clearly, I chose well. That pig Jason, French kisses passed out chicks at parties.’
‘That’s probably not all.’, stated Matt plainly.
‘Whatever, enough of that, it’s pissing me off.’, Charlie planted his foot and the stones fled from the imposition, ‘Listen, it’s like this, my life is between me and God. I was like living my life aiming for their approval and failing. Over. And over, and over again. This became a game for those bastards and a diversion for their own bullshit. If they could make fun of me, they didn’t have to look at their messes.’
Charlie continued triumphantly pointing upward, ‘I have been freed from the shackles of their opinions. Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!’.
‘I don’t think it’s that easy.’, said Matt quietly shaking his head, ‘We’ll see on Monday, how this shit hits the fan.’
‘First, I gotta make it to Monday. Do you think my mother is asleep yet?’, Charlie questioned nervously.
‘The way you wound her up, I would say she’s gonna be awake til’ Tuesday for sure.’, stated Matt with a firm nod.
‘Hmmm. Maybe we should go find Mike and catch the late show.’, he said looking to the car.
‘You’re trying to avoid the inevitable, it will only get worse. At least now, your mother will only kill you, if we wait any longer, she’ll kill me too.’, said Matt thumbing himself in the chest.
‘Hmmm. You’re probably right. What would Mike do without both of us? At least he could have you.’, joked Matt, ‘He needs a pet project. Let’s go.’.
‘Come and sit down here young man.’, Roxette said from the living room. The only illumination was from the streetlamp in front of the home.
‘Look Ma, I’m sorry, it’s just…’, Charlie began only to be interrupted by his mother.
‘I understand it would have to be some pretty heavy stuff for you to treat me this way.’, she said in a dreadfully calm way as she turned on the reading lamp.
Charlie was terrified, ‘When she’s calm, it’s worse.’, he thought, ‘This is bad, I knew I should have stayed out.’
‘What happened at church?’
‘Wha’da ya mean?’, Charlie hedged.
‘It’s a very straightforward question Charles, I would prefer your version of the story instead of parsing the three versions of gossip I’ve heard so far?’ Roxette strained to maintain her calmness.
Charlie knew better than to spill his guts to his mother, so he lied. ‘I was pretty upset about losing Debbie, so it kinda came out at church. I’m pretty broke up about it.’
‘Kinda?’, said an incredulous Roxette. ‘Kinda came out? You call crying your eyes out on your knees for an hour, “Kinda came out”? I don’t buy it. What is going on Charles?’
‘Hey Charlie boy! Come here a sec.’, said his father Jim from the kitchen.
‘JIM! We’re having a discussion here!’, she exclaimed.
‘And I’m helping Charlie with some advice to better help him hold his end of the discussion.’ Jim calmly added as Charlie slid from the ottoman and quietly dragged his feet into the kitchen.
Jim’s eyes gripped Charlie, ‘Charlie, you couldn’t lie to save your life, and you’re getting close to the limit of your mother’s patience.’, Jim gently prodded, ‘We love you son, and we want the very best for you. Are you okay?’
‘I’m fine dad, I just am overwhelmed and tired. Can we talk about this another time?’, Charlie pleaded.
‘You need to negotiate, THAT, with your mother. You can do it, go on, she don’t bite.’, said his dad kindly. Waving his hand backwards ushering him back into the, somewhat quieter, thunderdome.
Charlie shuffled back into the living room dragging his heels across the tile floor.
‘Pick up your feet! You know that makes me crazy when you walk like a bum.’, growled Roxette.
‘Why me Lord?’, Charlie thought as dropped down on the ottoman resting his elbows on his knees looking intently at the floor. ‘Is there anything I can do right?’, Charlie asked defeated.
‘Oh, Charlie. It doesn’t matter what situation you’re in, you can walk like a proper human being, we’re not in a cave here.’, Roxette stated and then relentingly said, ‘This is the way the Lord made me, I can’t help it if it rubs you the wrong way. You’ve lived your whole life with me like this, why is it a problem now?’.
‘NOW?’, Charlie sprang to his feet, ‘There has never been a moment in my life when it wasn’t a problem! Your constant nitpicking and correction. Fix your collar! Brush your hair! I’m not going anywhere with you dressed like that! Pick up your feet! Close your mouth when you chew gum! It’s relentless and never ending! I can bring home a 90% on a test and you’ll ask me if it’s my best!’, Charlie began counting on his fingers, ‘I will never be good enough for you! I will never be smart enough for you! Not courteous enough! Not kind enough! Not thoughtful enough! I’m damn near ready to blow my brains out and throw myself at the feet of God and he tells me that His opinion of me is all that matters! Well guess what? Yours doesn’t!!! I CAN’T do this! I CAN’T CAN’T CAN’T…’, Charlie turned to run from the room, smack dab into the chest of his father. Jim clutched him tightly and held on for dear life. The wrath coursed through Charlie and dissipated into his father’s embrace.
‘Let me go, UGH. Let go of me!’, said a muffled struggling Charlie.
‘Never’, Jim whispered into his hair, ‘I will never let you go, ever.’ He rocked and twisted side to side with Charlie’s thrashing absorbing his energy into his hug. ‘Shhhh’, he kept repeating into his hair like he was rocking a baby. Charlie’s wrath decayed into anger and then frustration and then reality. He hugged his father back fiercely and wept into his chest and shoulder. Tears were now in uncharted territory trying to find their way down Jim’s face as he looked up at the shocked Roxette. A stunned silence invaded the room as they stared at each other. The gravity of the situation radiated from Jim and began to dawn upon Roxette. Understanding pushed aside her already primed Correction and propelled her to her feet. She found herself hugging Charlie’s back and Jim extended his arms to incorporate her in the embrace.
‘Oh, Charlie…’, she whispered into the back of his head.
‘Shhhh’, Jim murmured as he continued his rocking embrace.
– Jeff Sylvestre