Tabulate This – A Short Story in Two Parts
ONE: Thinking it Through
Temporary insanity is the best excuse that he could think of – temporary in the same way as we are temporary – so that actually, in certain (standard) perspectives, it is in reality, not temporary insanity. It’s a life-long, consistent, out and out insanity. But for peace’ sake, he tried to think that soon, soon, help would be found, things would change, and what had seemed permanent would become merely an unpleasant memory.
I wanted to see everything the way he saw it – he was my best friend – okay, I know you can see right through me, through my narrative. He wasn’t my best friend, he doesn’t exist. But if I talk about him enough, give him a name, which, by the way, is Robert, perhaps youll believe in him, and when the movie version comes out you can marvel at how the actor does or doesn’t look lke what you thought Bob would look like.
Bob was a sort of a sailor – he was floating through life, wandering around.
No scratch that, at least a sailor was someone. I mean, I tell you Bob was a sailor, and in a few deft strokes, you can read Bob – you know whao he is, perhaps what he wears and what kind of accent he may have. But fet those thoughts out of your head because you don’t know Bob. Not yet. He’s not the kind of guy you can understand that quickly. None of us are, really.
Do you have that fear? I do. That someone may take a look at me, a 38 year old, overweight, slack-jawed messy woman, and they’ll think they’ve read everything about me. I’m utterly dismissible, visually. Bob feels the same way about himself. He looks in the mirror as he prepares for work and he sees – what? If I describe him here, please don’t think you’ve got the whole picture. There’s more than meets the eye.
Since his mid-twenties, he’s put on several pounds a year. Over 20 years, those pounds added up – mostly around his middle. He’s taken to wearing sweatpants, the XL is rather more forgiving than the escalating numbers he’d been finding on jeans that fit him.
He doesn’t look half so bad as he thinks he does, but since he rarely looks up, women rarely look at him.
I implied just now that he doesn’t think he looks good – unless he stares deeply into his face in the mirror. He marvels that though the rest of his life has changed rapidly and continuously, his face has remained basically the same. He doesn’t really count the edges of the face – his ears are a little softer and larger, he’s grown a chin or two extra, his hair reinvents itself every few hours, but the basics of his face are recognizable from day to day and year to year and for that, he is tremendously grateful.
Bob is a tre lonely person. He is a rare man who genuinely desires a family and a wife to raise them with, and in his earnest sincere way, he actually scares away the type of women who are ironically looking for someone just like him. In an odd way, his earnestness repels women because they feel that surely he must be mocking or entrapping them through their own deepest desires.
Another debilitating element in Bob’s search for a lover is the fact that he is interminably shy. He is so awed by seeing what he wants, he us unable to reach out and grasp it. He knows, recognizes, when he is looking at someone that he could perhaps grow to love, but fails to take any sort of action. He resolves every time to change – he practices looks in the mirror. His instincts tell him to practice looks in the hopes that the long studied glances may unconsciously arrive on the surface of his face and successfully communicate what his mouth and conscious mind conspire to keep hidden.
These looks, though, as practiced and natural as they may seem in the mirror, fail him in practice, because he hasn’t found anyone who recognizes exactly what she is looking at.
At times, when he looks in the mirror, he is jarred by two images that he perceives there _ one is just a face much alike may other faces, certainly similar to his father and uncles, and even to his sisters, the other is the image of himself as an individual, it’s his own gossamer soul that he glimpses through his own brown eyes. He has a fantasy of taking a self portrait at those times when his soul is bright and brimming in his eyes,,, he just not certain that such a thing could translate to the sivler particles of the black and white film he prefers.
Most of this doubt comes from the fact that he has ample examples of himself on film, images of himself that he doesn’t recognize as his own. He know’s it’s him, he was there, he set up the video camera and pressed play – but the image of himself, seated in front of the television is a surrealistic image – made especially so by the comical size of his body. He is sure that this is not the person he sees in the mirror every morning, yet he knows that they are one and the same.
Somewhere in his mind, he knows that taping himself in front of the twenty-four hour weather channel is crazy. It’s demented. And carrying a large plastic garbabe bag full of these tapes documenting his alabi is starkly abnormal, yet, yet, he is satisfied knowing that he has proof – the date and time stamp is there, recorded for all to see, and he is there, he’s protecting himself, just in case, and he firmly believes that one can’t be too careful.
In fact he could, should, be more careful. There are holes in his alibi – there are times when he moves away from the television – he leaves the house, and at these times he feels very vulnerable to those who may be watching and he feels that at any moment, they are watching. ###
My impulse is to say, to write, that he is crazy. That nobody is watching him. But that’s not exactly true. We are. But we’re harmless – just a part of society that’s curious and wishes to know what will happen. And we ahve a sense that we could be in on the ground floor of something – Something big. This might make the news. Nowassays, with more and more people losing it, buying guns at gun shows and shooting up their coworkers or friends at school, it’s our civic duty to be curious, to watch and look for signs. Because now we all know that it can happen here. Right here.
Bob sometimes watches himself with the same morbid curiosity that we do. ###
TWO: Tabula Rasa
Well. Y2K. The big bang-up. The big nothing. Today is January 5th, 2000, and Bob is still hiding in his parents basement, stunned by what has happened. What has failed to happen.
He twitches as he sits. For several months, Bob’s life has had a single purpose: plan for it. He didn’t ever name it in his head “”Y2K” “Millennium Bug” he knew these phrases to be media plants – not the real thing. No teeny computer glitch toppling Giant Corporations.
But he had believed. There would be something. Something unforeseeable. So he’d gathered the usual end-of-civilization items, marvelling that others were in high rises or out on the street as the end neared. At mdnight, New Years Eve, he sat, shotgun in hand, extra shells within arms reach monitoring the television, radio, and short-wave. He heard shots.
It begins…he waits, heart pounding. Scans all incoming messages – fireworks. He realizes he’s hearing a celebration, a welcoming, a gathering. His finger tenses on the trigger. What sheep. Baa! He thinks, “I would never be caught dead out there.”
Bob fell asleep in his folding chair at 3:23 a.m. Shotgun cradled like a baby. But nothing. No reason to validate the gun’s existence.
Relief – very brief, now. Bob doesn’t know what to expect. But he’s pretty sure that to relax would be a distinct mistake. Never let down your guard. He feels them watching at this moment. He pivots his train of thought, it’s his advantage – they don’t know what he’ll do next, and its his serve.
As Bob thinks it over, he wonders if he has had it all wrong. Jesus, no one is watching him. No one would ever know, or care, if he breathed one last breath right now, let it out, and never took another. Not until his parents wondered what that smell was would he be found. And even then, would they be sad?
He hadn’t said a decent, loving thing to them for a decade. They’re part of the conspiracy, the founders of it,. But Christ, there’s no fucking conspiracy. He thinks a startling thought, “I was wrong.”
Bob trembles at the thought that he can now emerge, hes not sure if he’s still a person. Will they… what will they think say do? Suddenly he knows that he needs to find out. Talk to someone. Reach out to the lonely people like himself. But how? He tries out his voice, checks the mirror, face still there. He picks up his c.b. and says “Hello. Can anybody hear me?” And giggles.
Copywrite Sheila McMahon 2009