“Are you coming tonight?”
Such a simple question.
Such an impossible array of considerations.
Johnny read the question again. And again. He put his phone down and picked it up again. He put his phone down.
He lay on his bed, his hands cradling the back of his head, and stared at the ceiling. The problem was the perfect answer. Always the same problem.
Did he want to go out tonight?
Johnny tried to reason through it. If he decided to go out tonight, would that be the right choice?
What was the difference between right and wrong anyway?
Maybe that was the point.
He decided to give it some time. It was still early. He could let the possibility gestate for a while and see how he felt later. That would work. It made sense.
He switched the TV on and flicked through channels. He switched it off again. He felt restless but tired. Agitated. He pushed aside his chair and opened the window. Looked out. Watched the world. What there was of it.
Johnny felt there should be something more. He’d often find himself mumbling in the shower, and though he didn’t always entirely agree with the sentiments he expressed at these times, he was beginning to increasingly frequently.
There weren’t many people about that he could see. A few cars went past. A group of boys on bikes. Four of them. Birdsong somewhere. Twittering. The breeze.
The phone shrilled.
Another message came through.
The same sentiment worded differently.
He didn’t answer because he couldn’t answer.
Time wore on.
Time did that.
Time was one of the things Johnny mumbled about in the shower.
He wished that he could control things.
Johnny decided it was time for a list. He took out a notebook, then realised it was the wrong one, put it back and took out his red notebook. He drew a line down the middle and wrote at the top on either side in capital letters:
REASONS TO GO OUT
I’ll see my friends
I might make new friends
I can get out of my head for a while
Fun is good
A change of scenery
If I don’t, I might miss out on something
It’s an excuse to get dressed up
It’s what everyone else is doing
REASONS NOT TO GO OUT
It will be busy
I don’t know who’ll be there
Friday night has the worst people
It will be loud
It will be expensive and I’m trying to save money
I’d have to get dressed up
It’s what everyone else is doing
It’s what everyone else is doing.
He knew what would happen if he decided to go out. He knew that as he started to get ready, as he watched the time drain away, he’d begin to wish he didn’t have to go out. He’d begin to imagine all of the worst possible case scenarios.
He’d imagined it all at various times preparing for nights out or day trips or whatever. From the tiny embarrassments to the life altering mishaps and beyond. There was always a new horror waiting to unfold.
The things he could imagine.
Then there was the wait to get picked up always lasted for ever. Did he put his shoes on early to be ready as soon as the car pulled up, or wait for it? He wanted to sit by the window and watch, but that made him look desperate and sad.
He often thought he should get a sand timer. It seemed to him the perfect expression of time.
A shelf full of them, each holding a different amount of time. He could make such patterns, such rhythms.
On the other hand, of course, he knew the power of regret. He could easily see the possibility of sitting in his bedroom with his phone blank and silent, flicking through a book or a comic without really reading anything, lying on his back and looking at the ceiling. Wondering what was happening. What his friends were doing. What he was missing out on.
He’d never been able to pinpoint precisely what he could be missing out on. But that didn’t stop it hanging over him like Damocles own sword. The idea of not being there for… something.
There was a saying about it being better to regret something you’ve done than something you haven’t.
That made sense to him in principle. Putting it into practice, though, was another matter entirely.
He took out his notebook and looked over the list again. Tried to eliminate the minor points. Focus on what really mattered. But this wasn’t easy. A minor point could become major if you let it.
He thought maybe he could transfer it all into a bar graph. Or a pie chart. He imagined himself as the centre of a Venn diagram. To the left, going out. To the right, not going out. The words of the issue spiraled around and around out of his back. He thought of Fibonnaci, but it wasn’t that. It circled more and larger somehow. Around and around. The two sides of the Venn diagram spread from his spine like wings. They began to flap and he felt himself lifting. Air beneath his heels. He stayed on his tip toes as long as he could, as they scrabbled for purchase and gradually lifted him up towards the light fitting. He hung there, in the very centre of the room, the axis of all existence, watching with wonder as his fingers twitched and curled and uncurled. He had no idea what to do with them. With his drifting feet. With the beating indecision around him. He heard it moving. Wu-wu. Wu-wu.
Johnny tipped his head backwards and found that his whole body moved with the motion. His legs began to kick slowly, as if swimming. No. Not swimming. Riding a bike. That’s what they felt like. His arms were spread at his sides. The ceiling was above him and then receding slowly as he spun. As he turned. Like a wheel.
Like a cog.
Johnny was a cog and he had to turn.
Everything clicked into place. It worked.
It made so much sense that he laughed. The laughter rocked him and he thought he would lose control, but his arms came upwards and in, hands forming fists. He had ballast. He had control. Johnny had control.
On the desk, he heard his phone. It sang a song. A song that used to matter. Like everything used to matter.
To his left and to his right, reasons continued to beat. To carry him. He saw the floor below him. That was receding now too. It would come back. He knew what came next.