This is one of my earlier pieces of work, the name Jack was not in reference to me (as I was using a different name at the time). Some of the dialogue and execution is lacking but the tone is right so ultimately I find this short story to be an important stepping stone in my literary development. I wrote it for my senior year Writer's Craft class.
I stumbled out of my apartment into the street; it was cold, like the rest of the world. I said I stumbled into the street, not onto it. There's a difference. Small as it is, the difference exists. Sometimes in life, the little differences have the greatest impact. So I stumbled out the door, drowning in a daze of doubt and depression. All of those D's, they were killing me. Death; there's another one. Damn D's. Haunting me; like the rest of the world. So I stumbled out, tripped off the curve, and hit the road. "Hit the road Jack." That's what they always tell me. I finally did it, with my face. That's right, hit the road, face first. Fucking fantastic. Just what I need: another headache. Compared to the fluff that made up the rest of my life, the road was shockingly hard, like the rest of the world.
So I got up. Brushed off my shoulders. Brushed off that last bit of dignity, of self respect. I missed the chip though, can't ever seem to get it off. I'd rather have a parrot there. A parrot would be better than a chip; a nice friendly parrot. A little friend with me all the time. Well at the very least I'd have a conversation starter.
"Hey Jack where'd you get the bird?" That'd be a hell of a lot better than, "Hey Jack what's wrong?" That's all I get. "What's wrong Jack? What's the problem now? Fill me in won't you? On your latest problem. There's sure to be one, it's not like you could ever actually figure it out; life that is. So why don't you pour it out Jack? Pour out your soul to me; make me feel better about my own pathetic life. Help me block out the pressing realization that I'm a nothing, just like you. Come on Jack fill me in. What's new? How's it going with Sophie? Not good, eh? Aw, that's a shame. Have you tried calling her? Oh you did? You managed to think of that already. Well I guess you had to think about something all those nights, while you drank away your health and sanity. That's a real shame Jack. Well how's work? Any luck? No? Really? That last book had promise. I could feel it… Well no I didn't. I read the back though. It sounded interesting. But you know; I'm kind of busy. Too busy for that stuff. Reading, the arts, anything outside of the tiny bubble that makes up my life. I'd much rather spend my evenings infront of the boob. Not just the boob tube, any kind of boob really." Then a stupid laugh at his own stupid joke and back to his stupid fake concern for his stupid younger brother, or cousin, or neighbour; whatever, they're all the same.
"Jack why don't you get a real job? Stop chasing dreams man; enter the real world, the one with fake friends and false love. A few fifties at the right corner can get you all the false love you want Jack." Yeah that's what I need, more frauds in my life. As if the industry doesn't have enough already. The whole damn industry is plagued by it, blinded. So full of fraud that it can't even see what's real anymore. I'll blame my failure on that. Everyone else's inability to recognize real talent: me. It's not my fault. It's the rest of the world. I'll just keep telling myself that, mine as well, just like everyone else does, I'll finally follow the crowd. Maybe that's the secret. Degrade yourself to just another nobody. Become a nothing. It's like Buddhism. You know Nirvana means nothingness. Maybe the Chinese got it right. They seem to be pretty clever. Maybe I should go to China. No I couldn't stand the crowds. I'm crowded enough as it is. I always am. Later tonight I'll be lying alone in bed suffocating in the overbearing presence of the emptiness.
I stared into the sky. It was grey of course, bland and boring grey. No inspiration there.
"What a gloomy day, eh Polly?" No answer. "Fine. Be like that." I looked to the east, where the sun rises; well there was no sun there now, of course not, the sun knows better than to hang out in the east side of town, he left this morning. He's got some sense to him. Everyone knows the Westside is better. Always is. West is best. Anywhere you go, the west is always better. New York, L.A, Europe even. The West rules the world. Sophie lives in the west. I considered walking past her house. But Marcy lives in the east.
The next morning I woke up at Marcy's. Marcy is a four hundred pound Moldovan bartender with a limp and a senior citizen sticker on her windshield. Her car is permanently parked out back behind the bar, mounted on four cement blocks. She adorns her gypsy hands with thirteen bulky rings and ten long purple fingernails. Her fingernails are the only real thing about her. Her hair is fake, her passport, even her leg. The best thing about her is the patch over her right eye. I bought it for her. She doesn't even need it, but I always tell her how lovely it is. It really is something. It has a white skull on it. It wasn't easy to get her to put it on, took a lot of generous tips and compliments. Most of the time she leaves it on the napkin dispenser, but when I come in she always puts it on for me. Good old Marcy. That's why I come here; why I make the nightly pilgrimage all the way down to Pent and Sixth Street, to drown my miseries in the presence of a pirate. The worst thing about Marcy is the beautiful butterfly hair pin on the back of her head. It's about the prettiest thing I ever did see, shame its tied down to her ugly head. As much as I love Marcy, I'd kill her to watch that butterfly freely fly away.
"Vah zat quip I niednt, okay?" Marcy's English was as good as her cleaning, but that didn't stop her from trying. There were only two words she could properly pronounce: 'okay' and 'bucks'.
"Vife bucks okay?" I traded a bill for a beer. Drank it.
"Hey Marcy how much for the butterfly clip?" I think she told me to go forget the mouth guard. That's the best I could make of her response. I settled for another beer. The clock read 2:09 am; technically it was the next morning. I stood up, almost lost balance, regained it, and strolled over to the dart board. There were two darts and a steak knife. I threw the knife first, I missed. It hit the vent with a clang and fell to the floor. I threw the first dart, another miss. I brought the last dart back with me to my stool to poke holes in it. Marcy didn't even care. Good old Marcy.
The smell of burning toast awoke me. I rolled over into a stool, wondering where I was. I could hear a television in the background. I opened my eyes to a blinding light and closed them again. Opened them slightly, to find myself lying on Marcy's brown checkered floor, staring up into a solitary low-hanging light bulb. It bathed me in dim light. The slow turning panels of the fan above it made it resemble the sun. I sat up. A blood rush to the head reminded me of my headache so I lay back down. "What's that smell? Toast? Why is Marcy burning toast at-" I checked the clock, "4:07 in the morning?" I lay there for a short while, enjoying the imagery. I thought it'd make an excellent painting, if only an artist were here to paint it. I allowed the slow turning of the overhead fan to hypnotize me while I lay there star sprawled on the floor, perfectly parallel to Marcy's chaotic counter, perpendicular to peaceful Kent Street outside her door. Finally I sat up. Then stood. Walked to the toaster. Took out the toast. Didn't dare eat it. From behind a bead string curtain I could hear the television. Marcy was asleep on the couch. Only Marcy would sleep alone in an eastside bar all night with the doors unlocked and a customer lying on the floor. She was watching Tele-Latino. Why was she watching that? Marcy wasn't Spanish. Good old Marcy. I turned off the TV and headed back to the bar. I almost stepped on it; the butterfly, tossed carelessly to the ground lying there helplessly upside down, just like me. I pocketed it. I went back to my stool under the sun. Helped myself to another beer without paying. I didn't see him.
"Aren't we going to pay for that?"
I spun around in my stool. There was a man sitting on the far side of the room under the stain glass window. He was just a silhouette against the coloured panels of light.
"Aren't we going to pay for that?"
"The bartender is asleep."
"So it's alright to steal?"
"No. But there's nowhere to pay."
"Don't play stupid."
"The tips jar."
"Oh. I didn't think of that."
"That's a lie."
The Man was right. He walked over to me, pulled up a stool, and joined me under the sun. His white trench coat covered the stool when he sat down. He took off his matching ten gallon and took a sip of my beer before I could.
"It's good," said the Man. I expected a Texan accent but he had none.
"Well yeah, Heineken, best beer in the world"
"That's right." With that he downed it.
"Aren't we going to pay for that?" I said, somewhat mockingly.
"Yes. Put five in the jar." I did.
"Now you pay,"
"What? No you didn't."
"Yes. We both did."
"No, only I did."
"We're the same you and me."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It can't be said any clearer than that. We're the same person you and me. Same body, mind and soul." I stared, wondering who this hippie was.
"What's the problem, Boy?" asked the Man.
"We got problems."
"Well I know I do."
"We should have listened to Kenny Rogers when we were young."
"Kenny Rogers, the legendary. He sang 'The Gambler.' Great song."
"Well I still am young, maybe it's too late for you. What are you, sixty-five?"
"It's not too late."
"Well no I didn't mean that."
"Listen Boy," said the Man. Then a long pause. I tried to give Polly a peanut but he didn't take it so it fell to the floor behind me.
"We've been putting up with all this for far too long," he continued, "It's about time we fixed our problems."
"Amen to that. What do you suggest?"
"How about we try and be happy."
"Not so easy, you can't be happy unless good things happen to you."
"Good things could happen and we could still be unhappy."
"True. So what?"
"So saying we can't be happy unless good things happen to you isn't necessarily true."
"You can't be happy if you have a bad life."
"Well yes quality of life does matter. But attitude goes a long way."
"We have it, the good attitude. We just sometimes let the bad attitude take control. That's our problem. But deep down we got it."
"Not everyone can appreciate waking up on a dirty bar floor at 4:07 in the morning. Most people would be disgusted, but us, we appreciate the beauty of it. With a slight adjustment of attitude we can turn the whole tone of a situation around."
"How'd you know I woke up on the floor? You weren't here!"
"Of course, we both were."
"No I definitely would have noticed you!"
"Well obviously not. It's the beer, we drink up like this and then we can't even recognize ourselves anymore. It's pathetic really, running away from our problems with a drink. We ought to be strong enough to face them properly. Not only face them, but embrace them, and learn from them. Enjoy the challenge even. All this can be done with a simple change of attitude."
I was silent, so was the Man. The silence lasted a long time. But it wasn't the same oppressive silence of my empty bedroom, it was peaceful, comforting. I could hear myself breathing softly, as well as the Man, the two of us breathing in unison together. I felt a connection with this stranger which I've never felt in anyone else. His face, his voice, it was all so familiar. I looked into his rich brown eyes, full of passion and intensity, and saw a mirror image of myself; I could see the other half of the glass.
"Look here Boy," said the Man as he gently undid and pulled out a thin gold necklace from out of his shirt, "This here necklace was given to me many years ago by the most important man either of us ever met." He held it out before me. It ran through a simple ring at the bottom of the loop.
"But won't you miss it?" He smiled.
"No, now we both have it."
I woke up under the sun. I lay there, in the form of a star for a long time, perpendicular to Marcy's chaotic counter, perfectly parallel to the peaceful street outside her door. With toast in mouth, I crept into Marcy's bedroom, picked up the butterfly, and carefully placed it in her hand. I went back to the bar, left the beer on the counter and placed a fifty in the jar. Then I remembered the necklace; it was gone, but the lesson remained. I stepped out into the cool grey night air and looked up into the face of the moon; the sky was full of inspiration.