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Contemporary Fiction Inspirational

A thick layer of pitch-black oil shot out from the top of Nat Taylor's world and engulfed everything in sight and in mind. It oozed quickly down his peripheral and then hid everything before draining down the bottom. His world, that once held a vast array of colors from a high-speed car wreck, now contained only egregiously bright lights that blinded more efficiently than the oil itself.


As the light washed away the oily remnants, Nat's ass poked out of a hospital gown, and he could tell that decisions about him were being made around him. He couldn't see his own ass and never really had the desire to get involved. He felt the same regarding the discussion about turning off the respirator. He felt a complete lack of responsibility, like watching someone else's kids break someone else's window, or like noticing the mayoral election signs in a pass-through town.


Lying still, he could simply feel that the molecules of water in his skin had once been a part of the same waves as the water in a Japanese tea ceremony taking place at that very moment. And the water running hard through the sink nearby, and the water in the rain he couldn't hear, and the water….


"...as long as he's in a coma," someone said, "this will be your everyday routine…."


The oil suddenly released again from the top of his world, thick crude oil taking the world back from the light. Just as suddenly, the oil slid down the walls of his perception and drained from the bottom as he felt the blood drain from his head, numbing his tongue and cleansing his breath.


***


"Get out there, Taylor. What are you doing? Get out there! Left field! Hustle!"


Nat Taylor looked up at a large balding man--Coach--who wore a pinstripe jersey tucked into his jeans. Nat wore the same jersey, but he had matching pants and some cleats. He held a brown, leather, Carl Yastemski signature glove.


"Left field, Taylor!"


Nat Taylor was halfway out to left field from the dugout when he realized he had a mouth full of Big League Chew. He blew a bubble as big as his head and the breeze popped the sticky film across his face. Frank, the third baseman, ran out to left field and slung Nat's hat at him.


"Hey, Nattie! Y'spos'ta wear ya cap in the field, dude." 


Kid thinks he knows everything just because he's in fourth grade.


As he pulled the hat brim down to his brow, Nat wondered why he was in left field 'stead of right. In right field, he could see beyond the stands and down the hill to the main road where cars went by and honked, and blaring radios exploded with sound before drifting off into the distance like memories.


That's right. Jimmy's pitching. No one gets around on Jimmy, so they stick the no-goods out in left field. Nat's bubble popped as a bat clinked against a ball that was hit by a left-handed batter. The ball popped up, high but long. Nat's glove popped out in front of him as he ran back toward the chain link fence. He could hear the parents and siblings start to cheer, a swell of voices bubbled up as Nat jumped up and swung his glove at the ball. 


The ball hit the fence and, like Nat, landed with a thud at its base.


"Gititin! Gititin! Get the ball in, Nattie!" the fourth-grade kid from third base yelled.


Everyone--center field, third base, the coaches, the parents--yelled advice of what he should have done. No one's advice matched any other person's advice. 


Nat could feel everyone's eyes on him as he threw the ball back to the general direction of the infield. Nat avoided their animosity by counting the number of games and practices until he would quit playing this stupid game forever. 


When I quit, he decided, this everyday problem….


The darkness overpowered him, thick as oil covering everything. He even felt himself melt away before he re-inflated as the oil washed itself past just as easily and completely as it had entered.


***


Nat stood, wearing a suit that he recognized as the only one he'd ever had. The man lying in front of him was also wearing a suit. Nat's dad--the only one he'd ever had. 


"They did a really good job."


Nat's sister stood beside him.


"Don't you think?" she asked.


"I guess they did their best," he said, "but Dad still died."


"Not the doctors," she said. "The funeral home. They made him look just like he did in real life."


The whole room smelled like flowery oblivion, and the music supported the scents. The decorative crosses were nailed to walls that were made of the same color wood.


"Don't you think?" she asked.


"Yeah, he looks like he always did. Yeah."


"He has that same expression," his sister said, "you know, like he's really thinking hard about something. Don't you think?"


"He always looked like he was thinking about places he'd rather be, I thought."


"Well, he's in a better place now. He's gone to be with Mom."


"Is that a better place? For him?"


Nat's sister ignored the question. "There's Bill. My God! I can't believe it."


"You can't believe our brother came to Dad's funeral?"


"I can't believe he's drunk," she said. "Look at him!"


"So you wanted Dad to look the same when he's dead, but you wanted Bill to look sober when he's still alive?"


"I hope he's not expecting some kind of inheritance. Dad owes money. Lots of money. The interest is so high, it's like his ghost is still alive buying frivolous shit. I can't wait 'til you see his everyday expenses."


Oil => Darkness =>Return to Light => Eyes Open Looking Directly into a Round Highlight in the Sky


***


Wham! Like a slap in the face!


The baseball sailed over the dugout and smacked Nat Taylor directly in the right cheek. His head slung to the left, and he immediately tasted blood. The ball rattled around on the aluminum stands where some of the families and siblings sat. Children fought for the ball under the stands, giving the winner the right to throw the ball back onto the field.


Nat's nose bled a little on his shirt--a t-shirt that matched those worn by half the boys on the field. On the back, the shirt said "Parent" across the shoulder blades. Nat couldn't see his own shoulder blades, of course, but he was aware that he had a pair.


"Hey, Nattie!" a parent from the opposing bleachers yelled. "You gotta watch the ball."


In the opposing stands, the fourth grader from third base was all grown up. Nat Taylor knew it was him even though the two didn't exactly hang out. His picture was on every bench at every corner in town. His slogan was, " Frank Sammons Insurance Agency: Protect yourself while you're here and your family when you're gone!"


Nat Taylor hated insurance.


But he loved his son. Nat decided that his salvation WOULD be a result of his good works, so he took his son out, religiously, to catch fly balls. When little Ritchie Taylor was only seven years old, he could catch fly balls at the end of a field that terminated at a ditch. Ritchie could run down into the ditch and look up, catching the ball against the opposing bank with ease and without fear. Ritchie knew to refrain from sticking his glove out until he was ready to catch the ball or dive. He could dive at seven, stretching his body flat out, snagging even a line-drive, and bouncing as he held the ball in his outstretched hands.


By the time he was eleven, Ritchie Taylor played center field on paper and the entire outfield in reality. Rather than teaching the other kids to call the ball, the now totally bald coach would tell the other players that, if the ball was in the air, they should get out of Ritchie's way.


The next pitch was hit into shallow right, and Ritchie ran to the ball, making a diving catch right where the right fielder would have otherwise been.


Nat noticed that no one in the stands asked if he was OK, but then he heard Frank from the opposite stands yell, "Hey, li'l Frankie! Show 'em how it's done, yeah!" The tallest kid in either jersey stepped up to the plate. He tapped the plate and knocked the non-existent mud from his Mizuno cleats. This was his plate, everyone was on his time, and eventually, he would inherit the town.


Li'l Frankie watched a ball and, then, a strike cross the plate before pulling a ball into left field. Far left field. Almost foul. The left fielder trotted over to pick the ball up as Li'l Frankie rounded first and headed to second. The infield stood amazed at how fast Li'l Frankie could run while Ritchie ran in to cover second from center field.


"Gititin!" Ritchie yelled. "Gi' me the ball."


The left fielder slung the ball toward Ritchie. It bounced twice before Ritchie could slap it out of the air and spin, making a sweeping tag on the sliding Li'l Frankie.


"Out!"


"What!" Big Frank yelled. "You sure about that, ump?"


It was more of a threat. Big Frank knew big people, but this ump was retired. 


"Yes," the umpire yelled back to the stands. "Yes, I am, Frank."


Nat was old enough to know better, but that didn't stop him.


"Ha! F*** you, Frank Sammons!" Nat Taylor yelled across the Little League field. "I don't care if you are in the fourth grade."


Nat Taylor was no longer welcome in the Little League stands and had to watch the rest of the season from a hill just above the recreation department where he could see his son shag flies and hit dingers.


I didn't make it to The Promised Land, but mine eyes have seen the glory. My son is an everyday hero….


The same old oil slid down the same old walls of ordinary perception, but for the first time, Nat tried to keep the time from sliding away. 


No, not yet!


***


When his eyes opened, Nat wore his favorite shorts and a striped tank top--his favorite from twenty six years ago. He was a high school freshman, and he felt like one. He also felt dehydrated, and he could smell the asphalt and his shoe tread frying under his scalded feet. He knew, instinctively, that he was at Six Flags.


The girl holding his hand looked like his favorite celebrity at the time and even shared her name. Her name was Tracy; the celebrity was Traci Lords.


"They're not going to care," she said. "I know them. They don't really care."


Her parents had told the couple to check in every couple of hours. They hadn't done that because Tracy said they wouldn't care. They had strayed from the group on a church trip. They'd been told not to. Still, Tracy didn't care.


Nat wasn't exactly a good boy, but he cared what other people thought of him, and he wanted to follow the rules. He wanted people to think that he followed the rules. Truth be told, he didn't want to go through the long bus ride back where, maybe, they wouldn't be allowed to sit in the back and replay what they'd played on the way to Six Flags. 


He'd worried about following the rules all day--worried about what people thought. By extension, he'd worried Tracy all day, too.


When they found the group, Nat offered an immediate apology: "Hey sorry we didn't catch up with you for lunch. We looked, but--"


"What?" Tracy's Mom asked. "Oh, yeah. It doesn't matter. You're here now." She walked off.


"I told you she wouldn't care," Tracy said. "I deal with this every day. They just pretend to care in front of their friends."


This would be the last time Tracy went anywhere with Nat. She would find someone who pretended to care as much as Nat had really cared and would be, therefore, much more fun.


"I know my parents," she said. "It's an everyday thing."


Then, Six Flags melted into an oily tarpit that ran through the bottom of the world's strainer, leaving only a bright light that dimmed slowly. 


Nat began to run at full speed with no destination or hope of reaching it.


***


He ran right into a doorknob. His eye socket hit the knob as he ran down a hall. He couldn't open that eye, but he could see that he was wearing blue pinstripe knee-length shorts and a flashy shirt with a dirt bike spinning mud at the top of a small, muddy hill. The shirt was his favorite; the shorts were just shorts.


"I told you not to run," his dad said.


Nat tried to cry, but his eye swelled quicker and stopped the flow. Nat knew words. He had to be three--at least two. He knew words, but he couldn't get any of them out. He couldn't explain that he was running because running made his father have to chase him so that he couldn't finish ge​​tting dressed and his mom couldn't get him in the car to take him to the sitter's, so he ran so they didn't have to start their days and go places none of them wanted to go to, so without hope or destination, Nat ran every morning from his parents trying to keep time from starting so they could stay home and work in the garden like they did on the weekends, and his father would never have to wear a suit and no one would ever be in a car and nothing would engage the everyday nightmare….


Nat found the strength to cry out of one eye. He didn't even watch the oil replace his childhood and then slip out leaving only light.


***


Nat reached for his wallet in his back pocket. He'd never seen his back pocket, but he knew where to find it. He pulled out a hundred-dollar bill and wondered if his brother ever got his own car washed and detailed like this.


The guy at the register could sense that Nat had qualms about the price. He could do this without seeing Nat because the guy was blind.


"That wax job is guaranteed to last three months," by the way.


"Three months?"


"Yes sir. I mean, unless you wrap it around a telephone poll or something."


The guy laughed. Nat thought such a prediction seemed oddly specific. And the price seemed high. Nat suddenly wished he could talk to his mother.


"Just eighty-four-ninety-nine," the guy said.


"Keep the change," Nat said as he handed Franklin to the register guy. The register guy snapped the bill as if he could tell the denomination by the sound.


"Thanks, buddy! And tell your friends to stop by any time. This is our everyday low-low price!"


As the oil did its thing, Nat was really just glad he didn't have to hit that tree again.


***


Nat Taylor briefly noticed the growth of his own beard and belly and the golf shirt he'd bought at a pro shop on some vacation. Then, he noticed that his grandfather, pale and patient, was not wearing his glasses but instead wore a breathing tube, much like the breathing tube Nat's body wore while he made his odyssey.


Nat couldn't see his own breathing tube, but he could see and hear his grandfather's respirator. The noise sounded like a quick gust of violent wind had ripped through the oblivion of space. Nothing was inherently scary about the sound or the emptiness, but nothing saved you from it, either.


Then, he could tell that he was walking backwards from his grandfather--slowly but steadily. Inevitably. 


The man that Nat called "Grand" lay perfectly still, not so much accepting but acquiescing. By the look on his face, he appeared to be practicing to apologize to someone who wasn't actually right.


"I know you have to go, son," Grand wheezed, "but I want you to know that I love you."


Nat wanted to tell his grandfather that he loved him, but he'd never been able to say it before and he never would. Some failures point like prophets to the infinite.


"I…," Nat tried. "I don't even know where I'm going. I can't stop. What's more important than…than this?"


"I know," Grand says, "you have everyday things to do."


"No! No, don't say that. Wait, wait! Not yet. I…. I promise, I'll think of you every day. Every day, I promise."


Grand smiled, but he looked away. Grand seemed to harbor hope or, possibly, doubt. Either was better than the reality, the future, the memory, the moments oblivion rattles off, disguising death as stylistically infinite and our moments as fashionably ephemeral.


Nat Taylor closed his eyes by his own accord, ignoring the oil and the light and the rules and his own ass poking out of the hospital gown in the room where people thought their decisions made a difference.


***


"You can't sit up, Mr. Taylor. You have to…."


"Nurse bring the…."


"Is he really alive? We thought…."


People jumped around Nat Taylor, adjusting this and that. Nat just sat with his folded hands in his lap, the hookups draped from his body like railroad soot on a sunflower.


He recognized, eventually, members of his friends and family there in the room. Some of them he didn't really like, but he sure was glad to see…anyone. Everyone. Every one! 


And he would be glad in this way every day.


<Breathe> Every </breathe> day!

May 13, 2022 18:23

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4 comments

Mike Panasitti
23:57 May 16, 2022

This story was somber, tenebrous. Not for those squeamish about stylistic experiments. The only suggestion I have is to substitute "oil" with "murk." "The pitch black murk shot out of the top of Nat Taylor's head." "As the light washed away the murky remnants." But that's a minor detail, and you may have symbolic or material reasons you chose the word. I couldn't stop scrolling down on this one. Laudable results.

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Jon Blackstock
12:05 May 17, 2022

Thanks for reading, and thanks for the comments.

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Michał Przywara
03:29 May 16, 2022

An interesting story! The protagonist's voice is strong throughout. It's about the unbearable mundanity of being, I suppose. We picture life as these amazing, exciting grand events, but in truth the majority of life is the same regular every day stuff. Perhaps it's about a man's struggle for meaning? There was definitely the sense that the protagonist wasn't in control, that he just got swept up with the current of life regardless of what he wanted. The scene as a three year old was a great root for that. There's some great lines in this,...

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Jon Blackstock
12:47 May 16, 2022

Thanks for reading. I actually saw this as the mundane events were the ones that made memories. We should focus on the beauty we see every day rather than considering them everyday events. Still, you're right. It's still a lot of everyday stuff if we don't appreciate what we have. Again, thank you for your comments. I love it when we as readers/writers on this site give each other something to consider.

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