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American Contemporary Sad

Life, at its very core, can be broken into two categories: the tangible, things seen and felt and heard, and the intangible—intuition, instinct, feeling. His list of the tangible things read like the plot of a Hallmark movie, dream wife, dream house, dream job. Everything a man could ever want. 

So why did he wake up in the morning with his heart racing and with cold sweat drenching his pillow? Why then, in his soul, in the area of his spirit known only to him, did he feel a sense of malevolence? Why did his gut tell him to run?

He watched her get up, stretching like a cat. Her flexibility and lithe body still attracted him, even after six years of marriage.

“You’re going to be late,” she purred. “I have some errands I’d like you to run after work.” 

She turned her head and gave him that smile that usually melted him, rendering him into whatever she wanted him to be. 

But not today. Today her presence set him on edge. And he felt sick about it.

How had he not seen it before? The warmth of her smile was no more real than the light in her eyes. They were perfectly crafted to look authentic, but then again so was the wax fruit on their oversized island in the kitchen. It sat there on a cold slab of granite, offering an invitation it could never fulfill. 

What was even more shocking and terrifying, however, was the realization that his feelings were just as absent as hers. Was any of it real? He had no answer, but right now answers were less important than the need to separate from her. 

“Ok, babe. Text me the list. I’ll see what I can do,” he said as he hurried for the door.

As he attempted to leave, the front door’s knob came off in his hand. He looked at it, puzzled at first. He noticed the faux walnut finish on the knob was already chipping off, revealing cheap pinewood underneath.  

“Did you call the builder?” he yelled at his wife. There were a half dozen pending problems with their 3000 square foot home. He knew they’d never need the three other bedrooms since his wife had expressed her preference for not having children.

How can we bring a child into this world? she had cried to him when he pressed her on the issue. Environmental catastrophes. Increasing crime. The degradation of society. It would be inhumane to bring another human to life.

At the time, he felt she was sincere. Now, he realized her flat stomach and desire to travel the world unencumbered were more pressing concerns. Certainly burdened with a child, she would have less money and less time to pamper herself. His wife might even have to give up her luxurious face cream. 

“I didn’t get a . . .” 

He didn’t stay long enough to hear the end of her excuse. She had a list of at least a thousand ready excuses and just used the next one in line every time she tended to herself instead of to her responsibilities. 

His leased car was covered in snow, a byproduct of a garage filled with unsold Amway products. The overstock never bothered him before, but it was as if he had been released from a hypnotic trance. Now the useless piles of soap and shampoo and deodorant added to his morning of discontent. He could send all that shit to Africa. The starving children would still be starving, but they would smell fresh as a daisy before they died.

His dark mood worsened when he remembered talking to his father about leasing the Lexus instead of buying something more affordable.

Why pay all that money and not own anything? 

He tried to tell his father that he preferred driving the latest model car with all the newest gadgets. He didn’t want to look like a man who couldn’t afford the very best. So every month he stroked a check he could scarcely afford to ensure both he and his wife drove around town sitting on calfskin leather seats with a stereo system that linked with their new iPhones. 

He remembered picking his father up from the retirement home to show off the car. His father had spilled the Coke he’d wanted from the McDonald’s drive-thru, splashing the passenger seat. He’d yelled at him, shaming his father like a child. Now, instead of feeling regret at the memory, he became more upset, unsettled, restless. 

On the way to the office, he cut off a school bus and passed slower drivers in the right lane. He muttered curses under his breath until he arrived in the parking lot, oddly empty for that time of day. Usually, he’d have been greeted by bustling secretaries and sycophantic assistants. For a moment, he wondered if he’d come in on the weekend.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he heard a voice say. Mr. Franklin strode briskly to the front door, carrying his briefcase. Mr. Franklin had hired him five years earlier, giving him the chance of a lifetime, introducing him to clients that completely changed the trajectory of his career. “I was hoping to speak to you later this morning, but now is as good a time as any.”

Until that morning, he didn’t believe doom had a feeling. Now, that was all he felt.

“What’s up, Ben?” Ben wasn’t Mr. Franklin’s real first name, but it was an inside joke between the pair. He had made Mr. Franklin rich and, after all, it’s all about the Benjamins. 

“There’s no way to soft peddle this one, my friend. I sold controlling interest to the Fukaham group.” The words hung in the air like the scent of a stale beer. “I know I promised you retirement-worthy stock options, but they would have been a deal breaker.”

“You sold me out?” he asked incredulously.

“I freed you up, buddy. Now you can give your full attention to your Avon business.”

“Avon? It’s Amway, you ass.”

“Whatever. Bottom line, I need your key card and company Amex. Your desk is already cleared out and your possessions should arrive at your house by FedEx this afternoon.”

“You can’t do this to me!” he shouted as he ran towards the door. “I built this company!” He continued yelling as he pulled the locked door so violently that it swung wide open, setting off a loud alarm.

The alarm had its intended effect, waking him from an unrestful night sleep. He swung his legs off the bed, feet hitting the floor. Why do I have this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach?

“You’re going to be late,” his wife purred. “I have some errands I’d like you to run after work.”

She turned her head and gave him that smile that usually melted him, rendering him into whatever she wanted him to be. 


January 07, 2022 23:04

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3 comments

Deidra Lovegren
23:22 Jan 07, 2022

“Now is the winter of our discontent…” Christina, you say the quiet part out loud. 👏 The MC’s emptiness echoes throughout the entire piece, his life a soulless pursuit of emptiness, as one vapid day bleeds into the next. To quote from The Police’s “Synchronicity II" — “Daddy only stares into the distance There's only so much more that he can take. Many miles away something crawls from the slime At the bottom of a dark Scottish lake.” Seamlessly well done!

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Mister X
23:13 Jan 07, 2022

Damn this one stings. You should have chosen non-fiction as a catagory.

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14:48 Jun 14, 2022

So, it was a dream AND an “awful feeling in the pit of his stomach.” Two well rounded characters (well, as rounded as they can be in a short story), a stale marriage - fake as the wax fruit on the cold marble countertop - two people obsessed with themselves and physical things that would lend them the status and social recognition they desire. The ending he fears is quite suitable for the story. I can’t say that I feel sorry for this couple. On the contrary. Him losing his job could be the wake up call they both needed. Good take on the ...

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