Ronald Hasenfratz woke up every weekday at 5:21 A.M. After three beeps of the alarm, he would hit snooze and sleep until 5:30. Then, with only one beep, he would shut the alarm off, switch the nightstand lamp on, and swing his feet over the edge of the bed.
His closet consisted of ten neutral work shirts. There were also five of the same black pants, one pair of jeans for the weekends, two t-shirts for outdoors, and a sweatshirt for the winter. Laundry day was every Sunday so he never could run out. At 5:32, he would peruse the small ensemble, settle on a shirt for the day, and change. By 5:38 he would be settling on the toilet for the morning drop off. 5:45 was the cutoff time. 5:45 meant he was opening the door to his small townhouse, standing on the stoop to judge the weather, and picking up the daily paper. At 5:50, coffee would be brewing, and he’d have the paper’s horoscope section open. A pencil sat in his hand, at the ready, for the corresponding page’s Sudoku puzzle. Between 5:50 and 6:00, he planned his day.
If Sally’s Star Signs told him he’d have good luck that day, he might take his coffee a little more leisurely. He’d plan to leave on time from work, catch the bus, and fix himself a nice dinner before settling in for the night. If Sally told him his day was going to be real lucky, he might stop by the convenience store near his office and buy a lottery ticket. Never on Mondays, though. Sally was right most of the time, but Monday’s were never real lucky days, no matter what the stars said.
On the other hand, if the horoscope foretold misfortune, he’d hurry through his breakfast, grab an umbrella or scarf depending on the weather, and plan on getting home later than normal. He would eat leftovers to save himself time and wouldn’t leave the house, if possible. No lotto tickets. No anything.
By 6:00 his day would be scheduled and his coffee would be ready. For breakfast, he’d pour exactly forty-two grams of dry cereal and peel one pre-made hard-boiled egg from the fridge. The cereal changed depending on the week, but it was always something the proclaimed it was heart-healthy and full of fiber. The eggs never changed. Perfectly hard yolks, with just a dash of pepper. Then, at 6:20, his breakfast gone, the Sudoku done, and coffee growing cold, he would head out the door to walk the two blocks to the bus stop, briefcase in hand. At 6:30 the bus would arrive and, depending on what Sally said, he might take a cat nap or remain vigilant, counting stops. At 6:49 he would pull for his stop, exit from the back, and walk the last block to the insurance company he worked for, often dodging the woman who stood on the corner, a clipboard and cause in hand.
From 7:00 to 12:00, Ronald would work. He did not have coworkers- he ran the filing room alone, and that was how he preferred it. 12:00 began his lunch, usually consisting of a sandwich or a can of soup. At 1:00 sharp he was back at work, sorting manila envelopes alphabetically until 4:00. On a bad day, he might be stuck until 4:30 or 5:00, correcting a filing error or struggling to keep up with the inflow of files. On a good day, he would be out the door at 4:00, leaving an empty inbox and a clean filing room. On the best days, no one bothered him the whole shift.
Ronald would make it to the bus stop by 4:09 and wait six minutes for the bus. He’d arrive home at 4:45, make or heat up dinner, and settle in with a book or a documentary to pass the time until bed. He went to bed every weekday night at 8:30. He’d close his eyes and the cycle began again at 5:21.
Ronald liked the comfort of his routine. A typical thing for Taurus signs, as far as he could tell. And he didn’t like to stray too far from it. He was content with predictability, comfortable in rote behavior. It didn’t bother him that no one took notice of him, that he didn’t get many dates (too many Scorpios in his age bracket anyway). Ronald was fine with passing under the radar quietly and living his life without attention and spontaneity.
And so he did.
Except for the day he died.
The day of Ronald’s demise started like any other. The alarm went off at 5:21, he hit snooze, and promptly reawakened at 5:30. He picked a shirt and headed for the bathroom. Constipation didn’t stop him, and he was out on his stoop at 5:45 for the paper.
But the paper had already been opened.
Ronald stared for a moment at the little blue plastic sleeve, torn and discarded on his stoop. The pages of the paper flapped listlessly in the light wind. He bent to inspect it. No feces. No food. No apparent damage whatsoever. He looked around, looking for whatever derelict could have done this, but saw no one on the empty street. Ronald grunted. He’d be having a word with the paperboy about this. It was 5:46 when he went inside.
He threw the paper unceremoniously onto the kitchen table as he always did, but, as it was open, the pages scattered. Sports slid off the table. The Funnies draped over one edge of the wood like a tablecloth. Ronald hmph’d and set to brewing his coffee. The drip started, he began cleaning up the newspaper and settled in to look for the Sally’s Star Signs.
And he looked.
And he looked.
He made it to the back pages before his brow creased and a frown etched itself down his face. It wasn’t there. He must’ve missed it somewhere near the Classifieds. He flipped through the paper again.
Increasingly frustrated, Ronald took each page of the paper out, one by one, inspecting it for some sign of the Sudoku or the horoscopes. After several pages of this, he found what he was looking for: a missing page number.
Ronald sat back in his chair, befuddled. Behind him, the coffee machine’s clock read 5:54.
As much as reading the horoscope was integral to his day, Ronald would never admit to believing in astrology. A few stray comments about where Mars was that week, or the sun sign of someone he disliked was as far as his acknowledgement of the pseudoscience would go. Any true prodding into the subject would bring about his temper and a speech about “those damn hippies”. None of this stopped him from reading Sally’s Star Signs every morning or planning his days around the planets as Sally saw them.
And it didn’t stop him from being upset now.
His daily schedule depended on that page! He had no idea about his luck, his disposition, or what planet was ruling the week. How was he supposed to plan for the day? Sure, he might be able to extrapolate from what he’d read the rest of this week- he’d been having a rough week as it was, not a single good luck day in the bunch- but the planets moved every second, every hour of the day. How could he know what they were doing right now?
The coffee machine chimed and he jumped a little. 6:00. Ronald stood and prepared his coffee, muscle memory subbing in for his distracted mind. His first sip of coffee didn’t help. The day was a blank slate and the very thought of stepping off his stoop and into the unknown frightened him.
An idea occurred to him. He set his coffee down and went to grab his cellphone from the bedroom. A couple of taps and he held the screen up to his ear gingerly. Technology still didn’t quite make sense to him. Without the obvious speakers of the old house phones, he often had trouble figuring out which way to hold his phone. He heard the ringing, though, so he’d done it right on the first try.
“Marcie,” he said, his voice crackling with disuse. He cleared his throat and then started again. “Marcie. Good morning.”
“Morning, Dad. Are you okay? Why are you calling?”
Ronald paused, his train of thought derailed.
“What, am I now old enough for you to think every odd call is me breaking my hip?” he asked, lightly annoyed.
“No, Dad, that’s not what I meant,” Marcie said. Ronald heard a distant cry in the background of one of his grandchildren. “It’s just that you always call on Friday nights around seven.”
She was right, of course. It was his routine.
“Well, I don’t have long anyhow,” he grumbled, “Did you get today’s paper yet?”
“Today’s-“ Marcie’s voice trailed. He heard a voice, probably her husband’s, and then a shifting of the phone. She came back with, “Dad, I haven’t had a paper subscription in years.”
Ronald chewed on his lip, frustrated.
“Why? What’s wrong with your paper?”
“I’ve got a page missing,” he barked.
“Have you tried Mom? She still gets the paper, I think.”
Ronald grunted in reply.
“Fine, well,” Marcie said, “If you won’t call Mom, then I guess you’ll just have to call the paper. Or talk to the paperboy tomorrow. Not much else you can do.”
Ronald grunted again, this time looking at the clock. 6:06. He still hadn’t eaten breakfast.
“What page was it, anyway? You have a story cut off in the middle or something?”
Ronald blinked a moment before answering. “Uh, yeah. One of the headlines.”
“Oh, which one? Maybe I’ve heard about it-“
“Well, thanks anyway Marcie, running late, got to go.”
“Oh, alright. Love you, Dad. Talk to you tomorrow night still?”
Ronald mumbled an affirmative. “Love you too.”
He grabbed the cereal off the fridge and, for the first time in years, he poured himself a bowl using only his eye for measurement. Scooping the spoon from mouth to bowl as quickly as he could, he tapped his foot and looked angrily at the paper. It sat scattered about the table. Mocking him.
Ronald tried to remember what yesterday’s horoscope had said. It was neutral, he remembered that much, and he treated neutral days the same as bad luck days. Straight to work, brace himself for frustrations, and then back home with no stops. His whole week had been bad luck days, but yesterday’s had been neutral. Could he be on the upswing?
There was a chance, he reckoned, but based on this morning’s events he began to doubt it. He glanced over at the clock. 6:16. He set his unfinished bowl down into the sink and rushed to grab his coat, briefcase, and hat just in time for 6:20.
He nearly jumped off the last step of his stoop, quickstepping for the bus stop. He was on time, at least, regardless of the morning’s disruption. That much was still going for him.
He rounded the corner before the bus stop just in time to see the bus pulling away. Panicking, he waved frantically at the driver, but it was no use. The bus had already reintegrated with traffic. Ronald looked at his watch. 6:29. A minute early. The bus was running fast. When did that ever happen?
He weighed his options. Either he could try to walk to work and hope the crosswalks would play nice, or he could wait another fifteen minutes for the next bus. No matter what, he’d be late. A cold drop plucked at his forehead and he looked up. Cloudy skies. Dark for this time of morning. He hadn’t grabbed his umbrella.
Rain spat and Ronald resigned himself to waiting in the bus shelter for the next bus. He sat on the edge of the bench, his briefcase in his lap. The warm glow of the coffee shop behind him beckoned him, but, considering his luck, he didn’t chance it. He had a feeling that, had he been able to read the horoscope this morning, Sally would’ve told him it’d be a real shitter.
Fifteen minutes later, he was on the bus with a different bus driver than normal. She made him dig through his briefcase for his pass and, in the mess of searching for it, he realized he hadn’t packed himself a lunch in his rush out the door. Ronald fell into a seat that wasn’t his, stuck behind two chatting teenagers and a man who smelled vaguely of cheese.
He took out his cellphone and made his second, unplanned call of the day to his boss.
“Mr. Adams. It’s Ronald.”
A pause. “Who?”
Ronald sighed. “Ronald Hasenfratz. From the filing room?”
“Oh, Ron! Sorry, it’s been so long since you called in. Is everything alright? Not hurt or anything?”
“No,” Ronald said, “I’m just running a bit late. Missed my normal bus.”
“Alright then. Thank you for letting me know, Ron. When can I expect you?”
“If nothing else holds me up, about quarter after.”
“See you then.”
Ronald looked angrily at the phone as the screen went black. He hated that Adams called him Ron. He hated that everyone assumed he was hurt just because his routine was off. He hated this day.
When the bus was a block away, Ronald pulled the signal for the stop. The bus, miraculously, pulled into the stop without breaking down or exploding. It wouldn’t have surprised him if it had. That just seemed to be his day today. The bus drove away as he oriented himself and headed for the office.
As was his luck, the woman with the clipboard was recruiting signatures again today. She held her umbrella under her armpit, clipboard in one hand and pens in the other. Ronald tried to avoid her eye but, with the day as it was, he failed. He sighed and headed over. What the hell. He was already late. Maybe signing for some charitable cause would swing the planets his way again.
He didn’t even let her start talking before grabbing a pen and clipboard. He scanned the top of the petition. Something about green energy. He grunted and signed. When he handed her the clipboard back, the joy on her face made his brain stall.
“Thank you!” she said, “I really appreciate it today, sir.”
He stared for another second at her face, smile crinkling her eyes, red cheeks, dark hair. He’d never noticed she had dimples before.
Then he coughed, realizing he was gawking at the woman, and mumbled some pleasantries.
“You know, I see you pass every day and I never really thought you’d stop. I know you probably don’t care what it is, but you made my heart happy today, sir. Is there anyway I can thank you?”
Ronald pursed his lips and considered. It wasn’t like he had much to lose. He didn’t even know the woman.
“You don’t happen to have today’s paper on you, do you?” he asked.
“I don’t,” she said, but reached into her pocket, “But I do have some quarters! I bet the convenience store has a copy.”
She handed him six quarters and he smiled for the first time in what felt like weeks. A real smile. One to match hers.
“Thank you, miss,” he said, “This has helped more than you know.”
“No problem!” she said as he brushed past her and towards the cool lights of the convenience store.
Ronald burst in, quarters jingling in hand, headed for the clerk. Mere moments separated him from knowing the planet’s alignment, Sally’s interpretation, all of it! It was right there, in the six quarters-
He stopped. The clerk looked at him with wide eyes. The man in front of the register held something in his hand and a bag in the other. Ronald’s eyes saw a woman on the ground in an adjacent aisle. His mind emptied, tried to take in the scene, but all he could focus on was the paper next to the man with the bag. He reached for it and saw a flash of metal.
There was a gun in his face. It dawned on him that he’d just walked into a robbery.
“Don’t come any closer, man!” the gunman said. The gun was shaking.
Ronald opened his mouth to reply, but the clerk moved first. The clerk jumped over the counter towards the gunman and the gunman panicked. There was a bang. Ronald fell back against a display, feeling like someone had just punched his chest. The world went white.
It was too bright. Ronald squinted, trying to blink his eyes open slowly.
“Dad! You’re awake!”
His vision was still blurry, but he could just make out Marcie next to him. He tried to lift his hand but it was too heavy. He opened his mouth to talk but could only wheeze.
“Don’t try and move too much, I’ll call for the nurse.”
Ronald shook his head and did his best to speak. What he said came as a whisper.
“What happened? Oh geeze, Dad,” Marcie said, laughing. There was an edge to her voice. “You walked right into an armed robbery and got shot. You ended up dying on the operating table twice.”
He nodded. Then he whispered again. Marcie smiled.
“Yeah, I got today’s paper for you. Funny, I read your horoscope. Here, want to see it?”
She held the paper in front of his face and he blinked furiously, trying to focus.
Taurus: Today is your lucky day! After days of the planets causing frustration…
Ronald coughed out a laugh and let himself sink into the hospital bed pillows. He didn’t need to read any further. Marcie set the paper on the bedside table. He held her hand as he drifted into sleep, a smile on his face.
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Oh my goodness... this is so amazing ;D Have you heard of Stranger that Fiction? I think you'd like it lol