All posts by pawel kowaluk

Workouts

Ben was jogging. He was dressed well, although he was way past the “I need to look good to impress the guys” phase. He was focusing on keeping his form and breathing right. He had had a good stretch and he was planning a good stretch when he was done. All manner of modern technology was tracking his route, distance, speed, time, and heart rate. He was all set.

But somehow, he felt hollow. He passed the bench where he first saw Mark. Then he passed the two trees where they had a picnic one Sunday. Then he passed the gazebo where the had “the talk” before they broke up. Now he was with David and they were married. Love was no longer a thing he would chase after, it was no longer even important. Neither was sex.

So why did he work out? To be healthy, that was the obvious answer. But health, just like love and desire, were fleeting. His body was degenerating, he could already feel it. Despite rigorous training, his results were getting worse and mornings when he woke up without pain were scarce.

He passed the little pond and reached the open space. The sky was enormous, its blue cloak tearing into his pupils. He had to stop. The sky broke apart and he saw the universe, its inner workings like clockwork, with only one possible sequence of events, leading towards one inevitable conclusion. Then the universe broke apart to reveal endless other universes and in each he saw God fighting the Devil. Millions upon billions of Gods and Devils were fighting a pointless blood feud. Then it all started shrinking and shrinking until it became a rotting apple and a giant octopus reached out one of its tentacles to grab the apple and eat it. Ben looked into the octopus’s eyes, begging for some words of direction, begging for an answer, but there was no response there. The octopus was primordial, mindless. It devoured the fruit without a single thought having ever crossed its mind.

“Excuse me, are you okay?” somebody said.

Ben snapped out of it. A handsome young man was standing in front of him.

“Yes, I just got lost in thought,” said Ben and the man smiled with relief.

“Good, you did not look too well just a second ago. In fact, you looked like you were having a stroke. I was ready to call the ambulance.”

“No need for that,” Ben laughed.

“My name is Robert.”

“Ben,” they shook hands.

“Ben, that means ‘son’ in Hebrew.”

“Is that symbolic?” Ben asked.

Robert shrugged his muscular shoulders.

An Unquiet Mind

Jim was cooking up some franks and patties at a barbecue. He was wearing one of those KISS THE CHEF aprons and whistling along with the music on radio. Around him people were having fun and he was having fun looking at them. Unfortunately, the longer he looked at the people, the more patterns his brain began to form.

The first pattern was that most people were joined into couples. That was slightly sad, as Jim was currently single. But, he thought, some of these people were alone.

Jim focused on a girl. She was tall and beautiful, her eyes alive and full of joy. Jim knew her and she was a proud single, much like himself. However, she was good looking, sociable, and cheerful. She would not have a problem finding somebody. Which was the opposite what Jim could say about himself.

That made him sad, because the pattern forming in his mind was now the following: everyone either had somebody, or could easily have somebody. Except for Jim. He was disgusting and he would die alone.

This moment of self-loathing led him to self-destruction. Thinking “look how gross I am,” he let out a very loud burp.

Music Mush

The boy was carrying a guitar. A bunch of rednecks stopped by as he was walking on the side of the road. They got out of their pickup truck to tease him which meant they were ready to take physical action. All I could do was watch them beat him up.

A man stopped to throw a dog out. The dog howled and ran after the car. A train screamed in the distance. I know the schedule by heart.

A man and a woman stopped and the man checked the map. Then I watched them drive away. I imagined they got a room at a bed and breakfast by a river somewhere. I miss seeing a river, swimming in the summer, like we used to when I was a boy.

Years ago, right here at the crossroads, I signed a contract with the devil. He made me the greatest blues man that ever waled the Earth. When I died, he turned me into a tree. I will not know rest until somebody else signs a contract with the devil here. But people do not believe in him anymore.

Singer’s Coke

I was cleaning up the place, picking up all the beer bottles from all the tables, all the beer glasses, too. It was a good job, made the place all nice for the next day. People could come, drink, and listen to music. I wiped the tables. Then I remembered the table on stage. I climbed up. It was difficult because of my large gut. Mom says I should get in shape, and then she smiles, but I think she is sad.

The little table on stage had a half empty coke bottle on it. I picked it up, put it in the crate, making sure it does not tip over, then I wiped the table. I keep the cloth tucked under my belt so it is easy to reach. Sam taught me that as a little trick. I like tricks of the trade, they make me better at my job.

I set the crate on the bar. The bottles would all go in the trash, the glasses would all go in the dishwasher. I had to remember not to throw any glasses away. I almost always remembered about that. But now I had a more important thing to do. I picked up the half-finished coke and walked all the way to the back room.

“Trish,” I said, “Do you want to keep this coke? It was the singer’s.”

“Why would I wanna keep that, honey?”

“I dunno. For the wall of fame?”

“Now how would I put a bottle on the wall? Just chuck it in the trash, honey.”

Time Travel

“Time of death, 11:22 PM,” I heard them say.

The doctor stepped out of my wife’s room, he looked at me sympathetically and told me she was gone. The love of my life was no more. I nodded slowly and gave him a look that meant “I was ready,” because I had been preparing for this for the past two years. The past six months, really. Still, I began to cry.

When my tears ran dry, I looked at my watch, it was 11:27. Five minutes after her death I was thinking I had to be strong. Strong to carry myself across the grieving period. Time heals. I just have to make it to the other end.

How long is it going to be? I did not know. 11:28.

I went into her room, she was covered with a white sheet. They were wheeling out the machines, they needed them somewhere else. Still 11:28.

I called her sister. They were never very close, but still, the sister should know. I think I woke her up. I apologized and told her. She was sorry. 11:29.

I had nobody else to call, so I talked to the nurse asking what I should do next. She said they would take the body down to the morgue. They could contact the funeral home to take care of everything. 11:29.

I thanked her and stepped out into the hallway. It was long and painfully bright. There was a man dressed as a sad clown at the other end. He was holding red balloons. Dozens of red balloons. 11:30.

Uncertain

My girlfriend, before she even became my girlfriend, was a barista at the coffee place I used to stop by before work. We were friends on Facebook and she always said a special hi and smiled at me, but she said a special hi and smiled at everyone, at least that is what I thought. I knew she must get a lot of attention from men, she was beautiful and approachable, and there was this feeling of general good will around her. It was like she cared about everyone, and when you were with her, you felt very special.

But I figured everyone got that from her, so when we talked, I sometimes made fun of that. Especially later, when I started meeting her at parties and such. I would pretend to be coming on to her as a joke, ironically, to suggest I would never want that. And she would play along and we would make fun of it.

Other times, I was just nice to her, but then she kept me at a distance. One night at a party in the Valley, we sat together, just the two of us, and talked for a while. Somewhere in the middle of that I said:

“Listen, sometimes I am a little harsh with you.”

“That’s okay,” she said and did a cute thing with her hair. That annoyed me a little.

“I am sorry I am like that, it’s just that sometimes I feel bad around you. I feel like you treat me like one of those guys who are just trying to pick you up. We’re friends, I’m in a relationship, you know that, right? I hate it when you treat me like one of the guys who are trying to get with you.”

She just smiled. That annoyed me a little. I don’t know how we ended up together, but it seems like some kind of a ninja thing.

My Little Helper

“Most of the time,” said Jacob, “The disorder is in check because of the medicine. I take my pills and I don’t get none of the symptoms. I don’t twitch, I sleep fine, and I don’t hear voices.”

Vanessa shifted in her chair. Around them, the food court reeled with people taking a break from shopping. She nodded her head with understanding, she knew the best part was coming.

“But sometimes,” he continued, “Out of the blue, I mean, for no reason, I begin to hear voices again. And it’s not terrible, it does not get in the way. It’s just a sentence here and there.”

Vanessa bit her lip and then smiled, “Such as?”

“Like that one time, I was making myself a sandwich, and the voice said ‘You checked this butter a week ago, it’s expired,’ and I remembered that was right, I checked the date again, and it really was expired, so I said ‘Hey, thanks,’ and made no more of it.”

Vanessa nodded. Inside her brain, the germ of an unnamed syndrome slithered into a more comfortable position. It fed on stories about mental disorders and thanks to Vanessa’s symbiotic relationship with Jacob it was getting fat.

Things Men Say

Have you noticed we never run out of things to talk about? Your hair looks beautiful. You seem to be the only person who understands me. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never felt like this before. You cure my blues. A condom numbs the sensation, I can’t feel anything. I know this may sound like a line, but your voice is amazing. I will always love you. Can you come over tonight? I’m lonely. What do you mean we never talk, we’re talking right now. I’m falling in love with you all over again. This song was playing when we first kissed. I never get bored when I am with you. I could look into your eyes all night. I want to make you come. Are these pretzels for everybody? General, you cannot let them get away with the code, the lives of millions of people on the West Coast are at stake.

A Look Back

Life is a series of backward glances. We were on holiday, walking down a narrow ancient street. She was a few step ahead, talking softly about classical things, ancient Rome and Greece, and about a poet who had been dead for centuries. The light hit her hair just right, so I lifted my camera to take a photo.

She sensed I was doing it. She stopped and looked back at me. Her eyes said everything I was to learn in the years to come. She would marry me, but not because she really wanted to. She would not tolerate my infidelities.  She would have two children with me but then fight me in court to get custody. She would never look back and think warmly of me.

If I had seen it then, would I have done anything differently?

Sex Doll

“Striker, snap out of it, man,” Toad’s voice sounded distant and distorted, like a sub-band transmission gone awry.

“I’m out already,” said Striker, getting up from the ground. Reality around him was slowly moving back into focus. It was a real bad trip down the rabbit hole. A virtual reality run gone bad.

“The buyer’s out. We fucked up,” said Toad.

“We fucked up?” Striker was angry. “WE?”

“Okay, so I fucked up. But it was only five grand. We can make it up with a week of web grafting. Tops.”

“Whatever,” Striker started walking away, checking the account balance on his holospecs.

“Hey, Striker,” Toad followed him, “Wanna get a cyber drink?”

“Fuck off, Toad. I have to be places.”

“Okay, okay, cool it, Strike. You need to cool it, man. I am not your enemy.”

“You just set me 5 thousand credits back.”

“Only two and a half of that was yours, Strike.”

“Whatever, man,” Striker called his hover transport.

“Whatever, man, whatever,” Toad echoed his partner’s words. “You just dying to be with that whore again.”

“She’s not a whore, Toad,” Striker hissed without even looking at the man.

“She’s a sex doll. And she costs you money. Money what could go to your sister.”

“She’s not just a sex doll, Toad. You wouldn’t understand.”

The hover transport touched the ground. Striker thought for a second she was there, looking at him from the backseat window. But she was not. Why would she be? She had customers to service at the Pleasuredome. Why would she lose income over such a loser. Striker felt his evening depression roll in.