Two Stories

by Alexander Olson
****

THING 2.0

“But I need more hours!” I told Boss Man Dan, “Thing 2.0 comes out next week, and I must have it!”

Bossman Dan makes the usual noises when I ask for hours. Noises like: “Maybe next week,” and “Maybe someone will call in.”

Let’s get one thing straight; I hate my job. Hate it. But Thing 2.0 comes out soon, so I’m willing to bite the bullet and work extra.

Really, that extra money should go to the bills I’m behind on, to the piling credit card debt, to rent, to groceries other than soda and noodles but–

It’s Thing 2.0.

Thing 1.0 just came out last month and I’m still not done paying it off, but whatever.

Thing 2.0 has many gizmos and applications to my life. It does things and stuff. It makes me seem like I have a lot going on. Thing 2.0 is the gateway to a better life.

I make X amount of money an hour, equalling Y amount of money a week. Y is not enough for rent, food, or bills. I take out loans and borrow from friends and assure everyone that I will pay it all back. Someday.

Thing 2.0 will help.

With Thing 2.0 I will be organized, focused, a straight missile aimed at success.  I go back to work, doing the same thing over and over. I’m the guy; stacking boxes, pushing carts, hitting buttons, delivering pizzas, waiting your table, ringing up your purchases. I am the guy doing every minimum wage job you’ve ever seen, the guy no one notices. We’re all one and the same.

I’m doing my worthless job next to co-worker Kyle, who does the same job as me. He asks:

“Will you take my shift Tuesday?”

Tuesday. I would rather be doing anything else on Tuesday. Sleeping, washing my hair, shingling a roof, digging out my eyes, anything.

But Thing 2.0 is dancing in front of me. Mere hundreds of hundreds of dollars away. Mere debt and credit score deductions.

So I said: “Sure.”

And I come into work Tuesday.

And I got Thing 2.0 a few days later. It’s great. Now I’m real. Now I’m a whole person. Thing 2.0 completes me, it’s all I need. I am now on course, new horizons open.

But.

I heard Something 3.0 is coming out next week. It has even more applicability to my life. I hear it has a death clock, and I can watch my life tick away.

Maybe Kyle needs me to work another Tuesday. I am a consumer and my hunger is never sated.

sale2

*******

ETERNITY/FOREVER/INFINITY

The family gathered around my grandmother, who resembled some horrific Halloween decoration. The skin on her face had pulled back, as if her epidermis was fleeing death. It stretched over her skull like a latex glove. People would go to her and touch her hands, but I was scared to. It seemed rude. Dying was a very private thing, but we were making it a family event.

I got bored quickly, and that frightened/worried/saddened me. I was scared that I’d simply lost that little gland or muscle that lets you feel things deeply. I was worried that I’d used all my feelings up, burning them away like cigarettes. It saddened me, because I felt she deserved more. My grandmother was a kind, frail woman who’d been old since forever. She was nice/sweet/kind and all of those other good things, but mainly I remembered her cackling at college football and clanging cast iron pots when she cooked. She didn’t deserve me gazing at the floor, wondering vaguely if it was always like this. She deserved movie-quality sadness. Broadway-level grief.  It took three days. Sunday/Monday/Tuesday. We ate from vending machines. I think that is what I will remember most. One minute, I’m looking at a woman with nearly a century of experiences, gasping as she gets ready to meet God.  Ten minutes later, down in the lobby, debating Reeses/Snickers/Mounds.

Watching her confirmed my suspicious. Death was anti-climatic. It was quiet beeps of machines, the occasional sniffle of a family member as they glanced at each other, always with the same “thems the breaks” shrug. It was IV drips and no one knowing what to say. What do you say to a dying person? I figured “Good luck!” was solid, but I resisted the urge.  Outside the room, life cruised on by. It was strange to witness. A group of nurses would pass, giggling and chatting, headed to coffee/lunch/cigarette break, and one would stop and step in. A cool mask of professional solemness would wash over her face. “Can I get you anything?”

It was absurd. Here this little old woman is about to embrace eternity, and outside everyone is having the usual. People awoke, went to work, drove their cars and did their little mortal rituals, ignoring the fact that we were an accident/shooting/illness away from a swirling void of uncertainty. We were on a black ocean, floating in a paper mache boat. And no one seemed to mind.

Late on Tuesday, she sat upright, as if electrified by a final reserve of energy. She told my mother to get the jewelry/pans/pictures. She glared around the room, apparently upset that her death was not going to plan. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” she said, and I felt a surge of empathy towards her.  When she finally slipped away, everyone sort of looked at each other. I wanted to clap my hands and say: “Well that’s that, huh?” but glibness seemed out of place.  Her death became paperwork. Insurance/Will/Deeds. We paid an undertaker and a funeral home, and I heard my parents haggling with them. Like a garage sale. Like her death was a five dollar pair of jeans. They paced around my grandmother’s living room, yelling into phones like Wall Street traders.  I became aware that I was not processing things properly, and decided to leave the room before I launched a verbal meme that struck a wrong chord and got me kicked out.

I went upstairs, to her room, oddly untouched. I sat in her rocking chair and picked through her book collection.  Wedged between James Patterson and Dean Koontz was a tattered bible. I opened it, and sticky notes fell out. She’d marked passages, and most of the sticky notes had single words on them. Why/how/what. Quotes underlined like they were secret spells. Page corners folded for future reference.

She’d been getting ready.

HospitalHallway640

***

The last thing she said, according to my mother, was a question. My mother said she clawed at the air, asking: “Where is God?”

That was when I felt grief/loss/pain. A surge of empathy for the trembling creature who had once let me eat so much candy I threw up. Who had once dug an old guitar out of her closet of mysteries and let me strum whatever five-year-old nonsense I wanted.  And all she got for it was the ultimate let-down, that heaven had vending machines and the angels took smoke breaks.

Eternity/forever/infinity.

VLUU L110  / Samsung L110

*******
Alex Olson is from Port Huron, Michigan and is currently studying at Southern New Hampshire University for his BA in Creative Writing. He mainly writes science fiction and horror, mostly about things like millennials selling body parts because they work retail. His goals in life include keeping his health insurance, seeing the New York Mets win the World Series, and steering his 3 year old away from careers like fiction writing. His debut novel “Erosion” is currently contracted by Crimson Cloak Publishing.

More work available at https://squidthroatonline.com/
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