I do not know what to do. I stare at the wall, I stare at a screen, I stare at a fan, I stare at a floor, but I do not dare stare at myself. I fiddle my thumbs and am subsided with boredom. I know not who I am or where I want to go. I, therefore, am inert and guileless, crippled by my freedom and weakened by my inhibitions.
What the hell am I going to do today…? thought James.
After his morning shift at the lumberyard, he laid in his bed, staring at the ceiling. His bed was in the adjoining kitchen and bed basement of a large home in the most northern, desolate and rural neighbourhood one could imagine. The type where tumbleweeds roll by from time to time in the summer and everything freezes over with a snowy ice in the winter. He was not himself the owner of the house, nor was he related to the owners; he rented out the basement for a grand a month, eating up a quarter of his earnings. His bed, from the rest of the room, was only divided by the transition of carpet to wood flooring. He rarely had visitors and therefore felt no need to, literally and figuratively, hide his dirty laundry.
James had dark blonde hair, cut short but not too short as to not show texture or flow, as well as green eyes and was quite skinny but still had some muscle stacked on his bones. A triangle tattoo on his ribs and a silver chained necklace.
He laid in his bed, staring at the ceiling. Staring at the twirling fan above his head, his eyes moving in circles. Tick tock, tick tock. Round and round and round. Nothing was on his mind. Nothing was the way he felt. He sat up, put his bare feet on the carpet, elbows on knees and stared at one of the wooden floor panels just above his toes at the brow of the carpet. The dark brown grained curves cut through the mahogany base. An ant crawled across his path of vision. He got on his hands and knees and started following it along the kitchen floor, then down the short and nonexistent hallway, towards the door. The ant crawled closer and closer to the door with James following right behind, practically looking down on it. The ant crawled right under the door.
Knock knock knock!
James’s head tilted up looking with his eyes shocked and wide open. He looked left and right as if looking for someone to ask, “is someone at my door!?” Yea someone is at your door man, go look who it is! He stood up slowly and peaked an eye through the peek hole. It can’t be, her?
The words shit shit shit ran through James’s head as he raced and jumped around his room looking for a shirt and pants and simultaneously trying to clean up leftover dishes and sprawled clothing. A full circus act. He pulled on a pair of jeans off the floor then grabbed a shirt from under his bed, gave it a sniff to make sure it was clean enough. Definitely not that one. Now, running back to the door whilst putting on a different shirt, he took a deep breath, whispered a self-affirmation and opened the door.
Standing in the doorway was the daughter of the parents who owned the house and therefore the basement he rented. Her brown hair softly curled and waved around her plush face. Her eyes were big but not too big and her lips were plump but not too plump. Never could one think that someone could be so beautifully innocent and quaint, yet strong and authoritative at the same time. She was a walking paradox of beauty.
“Hi James, sorry to bother you, but…” she said.
“Hi Amanda, urgh.” Smack. James hit the side of his face on the door frame from his hand failing to locate and lean against it.
Amanda smiled embarrassedly and let out a small giggle. “Are you ok?”
“Yea, yea I’m fine, aha.” Just being an idiot. “What’s up?”
She laughed again, then said, “I just wanted to let you know that my parents aren’t happy about you not paying last month’s rent and I just wanted to like warn you about it because they probably will kick you out if it happens again,” her face full of awkward concern. James thought back as to why he didn’t pay last month’s rent. He knew he didn’t have the money for this month yet, seeing that he gets paid right before rent is usually due, but he swears that he paid last month? Looking confused but not wanting to look more like an idiot in front of Amanda, he said “Oh… well… yes, I had some trouble with my bank the past couple weeks, something to do with transferring money between accounts, but I should be able to pay last and this month by the due date, no problem!” James gave a big smile of reassurance to Amanda, even though he had no idea if he could actually pay her parents what he owed.
Amanda smiled back and said, “Oh good, that’s good, wouldn’t want to live out on the streets now… would ya?” Now they both were smiling. Although James let out a laugh that far outweighed the joke, swallowing it back as soon as he heard how manic it was. This was followed by a long pause of silence and random glances at the ground and each other. They opened their mouths at the same time but then withdrew, not wanting to interrupt the other.
Finally, James said, “how,” – gulp – “how are you doing?”
Amanda told him how she was doing with great enthusiasm. She asked him how he was doing, to which he replied with equal, if not more enthusiasm. After another moment of silence and staring into her beautiful eyes James asked, “Well, I don’t know if you’re doing anything this weekend…but do you maybe, I don’t know want to,” – cough – “go to dinner and see the new Superman movie?”
Amanda replied with a big smile, “I would love to James.”
It’s only Wednesday.
James accidentally found the envelope to last month’s rent underneath the driver’s seat of his car while he was reaching for his dropped phone on his way to work. The drive to work was about 30 minutes. But that 30 minutes, other than potentially seeing Amanda, was the favourite part of his day. Driving to and especially back from work. The destination never lived up to the expectation created during the journey; the drive was the best part. He could play whatever music he wanted, as loud as he wanted. Music full of crescendos and innuendoes. Balanced and bright, yet salient and sad. Emotion was the goal. Whatever emotion was the easiest to access determined the genre of music. Most of the time it was intense piano solos. Ones that made time stand still, each passing mile moved slower and slower as each thought became more clear and in a weird way special. Once the car was put in park, the music stopped, and so did the dreams. Reality hit like the axes and hammers at the mill.
Driving home surfaced a whole other array of emotions and thoughts. The primary one being, one day. One day what? He did not know. But one day he was going to get what he wanted. The secondary one being, what the hell am I going to do when I get home?
The car door slammed shut. James walks around the rich house to his grey basement entrance in the back. He takes his shoes off, takes out his lunchbox from his backpack, puts the backpack slightly behind the couch and washes his containers used to keep his chicken sandwich, veggie snacks, cheese slices, and pretzels fresh. He then turns around to look at his alarm clock, which reads 4:34 pm. I should probably do something productive. Don’t be lazy, he thinks. So he grabs the book beside his alarm clock and starts reading.
Chapter 3: How to Get What You Want.
“If you are unable to get what you want, then perhaps you never really wanted it in the first place” – a late great philosopher.
First, in order to get what you want, you must figure out what that is. You must clearly define what you want, only then can you obtain it. Second, once you figure out what you want, you then need to seek it. You must travel far and wide, through heaven and hell for what you seek, never give up. Third, once you get what you want, enjoy it with every fibre in your body, you may not get it again. Fourth, you must stare at the ceiling of your secluded bedroom, pretend like you do not exist, do nothing, think about everything you think you want and don’t have because you don’t know what that is and fantasize about your soon date with the pretty girl upstairs because the rest of your life fucking sucks.
Saturday night was finally here. Friday was a bust since Amanda had to work late and study for a test earlier today. Who has a test on a Saturday? Anyways, James was ready – he couldn’t not be since he had all morning and day to get ready, his schedule being completely open. He cleaned his room, did some push-ups, showered twice, put on cologne and hair gel, and wore his clothes that were perfect for a Saturday night movie and dinner. The perfect balance between casual and classy, or so he thought. Casual jeans and a beige long polo sweatshirt. Only till the door opened to Amanda’s parents’ house did he realize that he was severely underdressed. What stood before him was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen. Amanda stood in the doorway like a painting. She smiled with pearly white teeth and red lipstick. She had gold dangling earrings and a velvet dress that fit like a glove, showing off her sneaky curves. Her hair flowed like water and her eyes ate away at James’s soul. He finally found what he wanted.
James opened the passenger door to his, only until recently, very clean Toyota Camry, and then walked, or rather skipped around to the driver side. He couldn’t contain himself. He was so happy. The biggest grin stretched across his face; especially when he looked over to see her returning the same big smile. James plugged in his phone to play his preplanned playlist of music for a joyous night out. Showing off his classy side, slow jazz ruled the night. Conversation flowed so easily, both Amanda and James seemed to have no trouble finding things to talk about. From her classes, her job, her future job, her parents, her little brother, her friends, how she slept last night, what kind of food she liked, why she was wearing the shoes she was and not another pair, how excited she was to see this movie, and his work. They talked and talked and talked. James couldn’t do anything but smile. He thought of her as such a kind person. Everyone she talked about, she talked about with compassion and care, never judging or creating assumptions. Her usual response to someone doing her wrong was, “well I guess they’re just having a bad day?”
They were nearing the restaurant which was beside the movie theatre and thus anticipation of arrival made everything a little quieter. James pulled up to a red light just outside the restaurant parking lot. Despite Amanda doing most of the talking, he was very happy to be spending time with someone, especially someone as beautiful as her. The light turned green and he went into the intersection to turn. Everything froze as his sudden slight glimpse of happiness was ripped from his body, replaced by pure fear. Bright lights, mimicking a rapid and torrent sunrise, were reflected in Amanda’s eyes, as she horridly screamed “JAMES!!!”
Screams and cries and explosions and shatters flashed faintly through the blackness, like timid random fireworks. James didn’t remember what happened. He opened his eyes in the hospital bed, and then only remembers the feeling he had – for it had not left – when he looked into Amanda’s shrieking eyes. The beeping and fragmented silence of the heartbeat monitor filled the room. The beeping filled his ear and the silence cut through his brain. Every muscle ached, despite feeling drowsy and high from the drugs he was on. He couldn’t bear to move, not even his fingers. Although, it seemed that someone was holding his hand… but when he slowly looked over to see who, there was no one there. Scared once more, a cough arose and was paired with a sudden sharp pain in his throat, like a jagged knife with a sandpaper handle being dragged along the pink flesh. He tried to speak but no sound was uttered. Even more frightened than he was a minute ago, he kept trying harder and harder to say something. No sound was made.
“James, James thank goodness your awake,” Amanda’s mother came rushing in, hugging James. He winced at the pain coming from her grasp. Amanda’s mom realized she was squeezing too hard and retreated, saying she was sorry. So many questions rushed through James’ brain but Amanda’s mom and her later entering husband started to explain the situation. They said how he was in an accident – a vision of the rising bright lights in Amanda’s eyes came flashing back in horror, a scream and a BANG! They went on to say how Amanda was fine, just a broken arm and a couple of bruises, as well as some signs of a small concussion. James was relieved to find that Amanda was okay. They then seemed like they had one more thing to say but they just couldn’t bring themselves to say it. They looked at each other then back at James with intense foreboding.
“James, honey… your vocal cords were damaged in the accident… you, you won’t be able to speak for a while. The doctors say they can heal, there is a chance that you’ll be able to get your voice back, but for the time being, it’s gone.”
James reached up to his neck despite the pain in his arms, discovering thick bandages wrapped around it. A tear rolled down Amanda’s mother’s eye and her father looked down upon the both of them with a warm heart and a hand on his wife’s shoulder.
Just then, Amanda herself rolled in on a wheelchair. James’s heart sank, how could he have done this to her? She smiled and came closer to the bed, saying, “I’m okay, don’t worry about me.” She put her hand on his, it was so warm and soft. James had so many things to say but didn’t know where to start until he remembered that he couldn’t even begin.
Looking around at the three of them, he admittedly liked having them there. It was nice to have a sense of family again, even under these unfortunate circumstances. The three of them looked at him with deep consoling eyes, other than the father who was a tough guy to get a read on. The room felt thick. Then time seemed to slow, in tandem with James’ thinking mind. Despite how nice it was to be cared for like this, he still had this itch at the back of his neck that he just couldn’t reach. Why now? Why are they here now? Well, you crashed a car with their daughter in it there Jamesy boy. I know, but, where were they before? I’ve lived under them for years.
Amanda’s mom told the others that James should rest. She kissed him on the head and said she’s glad he’s okay. Amanda’s father told him to hang in there and Amanda asked if she could stay a little longer, which she did, as her parents left the room. She then told him about her injuries and what the doctor told her and what the doctor told her about him. He listened, he did like her, she was still – despite being in a car accident – very beautiful, but it’s not like he had a say in the matter.
Fifteen years later.
James and Amanda got married. Her parents got to know him a lot more since they had to help take care of him after the accident. They had him upstairs for dinner nearly every week. His voice came back slowly but it was never the same. Each word was a struggle so he seldom talked. Nevertheless, Amanda’s parents enjoyed his company just the same and this seemed to make Amanda very happy. So, when they were a little older, James proposed to Amanda and her father paid for a big fat spread that made the wedding one to be featured in a magazine. James loved the fancy festivities. He got drunk as a sailor and that night they conceived a little boy.
“JAMES!” Amanda yelled. “What are you doing?”
James sat up completely startled. “Nuffin, nothin… what’s… tha… problem,” he replied, slow and hoarse.
“I need help with the sink, it’s leaking again and there’s barely any pressure.” Seeing that James was now a plumber, one would think that the pipes in his house would be working a little better than they currently were.
“I’m coming… wun… second.” He made his way up the stairs, out of the basement of their newly bought home, a couple of blocks from Amanda’s parent’s place.
After a couple of minutes of tightening this and replacing that, it was fixed. “Thanks, honey,” Amanda said as she leaned up and gave him a wet kiss on the cheek. James wiped his hands on his jeans, even though they weren’t dirty, signalling a job well done.
“Are you able to get David from school today?” Amanda asked. Even though she normally picked David up from school. James nodded, smiled and kissed her on the cheek.
Another Toyota Camry, dark grey, pearlescent finish.
The door shut. He didn’t put the key in the ignition just yet… he just sat there. For some reason, he just sat there. No music. No radio. But after a couple of minutes, he started the car. Still no music or radio. The sound of rolling rubber on gravel was the only thing he could hear; however, it slowly became a white noise of nothing. Thus, it was like everything was silent. The houses passed by and the trees too. They passed by, but not from where they were, not from beside him. They felt as if they were passing through him. Everything he passed seemed to go right through his body. The rolling of the car, the wisps of the other drivers and the whooshes of the stagnant objects, all felt as if they were travelling through him, for his body was nothing. Invisible like. But that nothing had something. Something deep in his stomach. A kind of energy or thing that was never used, never opened, never acted on, never said.
“Hi, dad!” David yelled as he jumped into the car.
“Hey… son,” replied James, smiling and patting David on the head.
The two talked about how their day was, the usual things. David’s teacher gave back their test scores, David got an A, David played soccer at lunch and almost scored a goal, David needs some help with homework, David was scared to talk to this girl, etc… As the journey back home continued, they both fell silent. A couple of blocks from their house, David went to turn on the radio, but James grabbed his hand gently and shook his head.
They pulled into their driveway. David ran out and into the house. James took a while to get out of the car.
As James entered the house, he saw David and Amanda in the kitchen, talking away. The orange sun was subtly reflecting off of the countertop and off the faces of his favourite people. A picture perfect moment, gone all too fast, as David ran up to his room and Amanda continued making dinner, and was growing far too familiar.
James went down into the basement. What do I do now? He looked over at the couch and TV, then over at his work station filled with all sorts of pipes and tools, then at an old reclining chair in the middle of the room. With nothing to do, other than the things that needed to be done, James sat in that chair. He was neither sad nor happy. He was neither happy nor sad. All he was, was sitting in a chair and staring at the ceiling.