Smiling With the Lights Out
Story by Brian K. Jones
Photography by Adam Chapman
It started 21 days before the Mayan prophesied end of the world. I wasn’t too concerned about that, it struck me that the end of the world was unlikely to be forewarned; more likely that it would come unheralded. The breadth of everything you once knew obliterated into a scream of abstract nothingness in a quick spasm as you sat to take a restful shit or stepped in to kiss your wife after a long day of work. Yet still, civilization’s death loomed inevitability like the long shadow of work on an early Tuesday morn.
The radio DJ prattled on about the weather, his fake charm nestled in every phonetic uttering. Deliverance of the streaming rot into the hollow shell of my skull; I braced for a turn felt a booger in my right nostril and picked at it lightly. Driving to work on slow country roads was like a long slow dance with a slovenly captor. One who was so confident in your captivity that he allowed you to stray just far enough that you might pretend you enjoyed the spoils of freedom. In many ways it was worse than true cell block captivity.
Arriving at work felt a little like being the last greasy potato chip being stuffed in a bag by some well lubricated automaton. Just in time to be the last of many uniformed consumable items sealed shut in a foiled receptacle that would last ions longer than that which it carried. Swiping a key card into a kronos machine I looked into the maze of cubicles and quickly realized all of the bathrooms had been wrecked by the morning shit brigade. Every cuckolded, sit-down pissing, domesticated man monster had been hit by the attack of the brown army and the deliverance of mine would be carried out in the precarious and anxiety ridden hover position.
I sighed and walked to the cafeteria where I procured hot water for some tea. I dropped a bag of earl grey in and focused on the cloud of brown seeping through the pristine and clear water; slowly snuffing out the opaque tranquility with its suffocating essence. I tried to think of a relevant metaphor to the mutable nature of existence but was interrupted by my boss Mr. Anderson.
“Tea again Smith? God you’re a faggot.” He transitioned from a relaxed posture into a dominant pose so that he could exert his authority over me. “Listen, have you finished the Quarterly analysis and the T-3000 reports yet? I need those on my desk by noon.”
I sipped from my now fully brown tea and thought about kicking Mr. Anderson in the balls and kneeing him in the nose before urinating on his face while he groaned and pleaded for me to stop. “Uh sure Mr. Anderson, they’ll be on your desk.”
“Good, go kick that pig in the asshole Smith. Time waits for no man, not even me.”
I sat down in my cubicle and stared at pictures of my ex wife and my daughter for a few minutes and thought about if what Anderson had said even made any sense. Time probably did wait for him, the insufferable prick.
My fellow coworker and slack happy friend Johnny poked his head in my office and threw a sandwich bag full of Percocets that hit me in the head. “This week’s supply shit clown.” He smiled and winked at me and moved on his way.
I popped a pill and sucked down some more tea. I fired up the quarterly analysis reports and started mowing down T-3000 reports with fervor reminiscent of Patton’s army in North Africa. By 10:30 I had all of my shit done and set down on Anderson’s desk. He gave me the dreaded pat on the back and we bullshitted about things I didn’t care about for a good quarter of an hour. Nothing like a little bit of numbness to promote the vile tendencies it requires to succeed in a corporate hierarchy.
I went outside to smoke and watched as a thunderstorm rolled in from the west; a sullen gray turned my shadow into a slowly dissipating outline. By the time I flicked my cigarette into the parking lot, rain had begun to drop in random singularities around me. I opened the door and a drop hit me on the nose.
Consecutive series of right angles and the white hot hue of fluorescence brought upon an anxiety filled panic. The ring of phones, clickety clack of typing fingers, and combined murmurs of a hundred simultaneous conversations about logistics, business strategy, and streamlined filing systems roared like an organized hurricane. I decided that my work there was done for the day.
Driving the rolling hills from the office to the nearest chain restaurant, I thought more about the end of the world and popped another Percocet. 6,000 years of civilization up in a flash and all I’ll have to show for it was a meandering confusion about why I existed at all. Surely there must have been a point to all of this; perhaps not, most likely that order and consequence were figments of our collective imaginations.
Some segment of me wanted it to end, a part of me would smile as the grotesque circus finally collapsed in on itself as humanity spun in a sad rain dance praying that theoretical internationalist gods would save us from ourselves; it was that thought that made me certain that the apocalypse was far from nigh. It’d be when we had achieved a true utopia that we could only be received into the bliss of extinction.
I sat down at the bar of an Applebees and looked over the shit beer selection on tap.
“What’ll you have hon?” The cold disdainful opening salvo of a seasoned bartender.
“I’ll take a Sam Adams.”
She looked at me somewhat suspect, “You know they’re 4 bucks a pint? Miller lite is 2.”
“Nothing’s too good for me,” I said with a smile.
She rolled her eyes and grabbed a glass and began pouring from the handle. I sat with anticipation as I stared at the mid day news. War, death, and a sprinkle of humanity; even muted the sound of the choreographed sales pitch of ratings driven sensationalism disguised as news seeped through the room playing off of our learned mores and arbitrary values.
I sipped at my pint and struggled with the sound of my mind. A young girl sat at the bar next to me. Her eyes were a bright bluish green that made her brown hair sparkle. I tried to hide my enthusiasm for her by staring at the TV but I couldn’t help but share a few nervous glances with her. She caught me in an awkward stare as she sipped from a Coors light.
Smiling as she swallowed down the drink; I interrupted and she coughed but quickly regained her composure, “Hi, I’m Anna.”
I stared into the almost coral green of her eyes, slowly muttering the word, “Hi” in an almost surprised fashion.
She giggled again rolled her eyes and turned towards me, “Why hello sir. How are you?”
I was taken aback but tried to keep cool. “I’m good, I mean miserable but good I guess.”
She giggled again, “What’s your name?”
“I’m Paul…Smith. You?” I looked down at my beer as to avoid eye contact with her captivating eyes, hoping that I could forget the beauty and hopeful light that I suddenly seemed to be basking in.
Her hand extended for a shake and I obliged, “Anna Wells, A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
For the next three hours we talked about life and the dimmed obfuscated lens that I view the world through seemed to crystallize and clear even if only for that moment in time. Somehow the warring factions of anxiety in my brain; one frightened by the end of the world and one paralyzed by the notion of it continuing, laid down their arms and embraced a tenuous peace accord. Bayonets no longer drawn on the opposition or trained on themselves, they gazed solemnly at one another, blankly.
I put my hand on Anna’s and she received it warmly, I rested my head on her shoulder and watched some muted pundit on the TV spew vitriol about a subject he had formed an opinion about in the last 15 minutes. Anna’s hair smelled of lavender and cigarette smoke; I closed my eyes and everything went away save for that of Anna’s sturdy shoulder and the smell of her hair.
Anna pulled her shoulder out from under me, “Hey, are you ok?”
I looked up slowly, “No. I’m definitely not.”
She smiled again, “Do you want to talk about it?”
I thought about that for a second, “No. I’d just like to forget.”