by Travis Moore
part 1 of 2
Clark just woke up. He rolled off his mattress and onto the sticky brown carpet. He must have recently spilled a drink where he landed. It was thin and hard. It was one of those carpets that shed mysterious fur balls all the time.
One time, he stood in front of the bathroom mirror covered in them; he looked like a bad Halloween costume that hadn’t quite made it to the stores.
A puddle of sweat sat inside his large white tee shirt like trapped dew in the folded edges of an early morning tent. His apartment was silent. All four walls looked like they wanted to compact him like a piece of human scrap. Then he remembered that the lease did say: Tiny apartment on the ninth floor with great view.
As far as views went, he had one, all right, but it was just a higher position on the traffic, a little less noisy due to his height advantage, but he would have preferred a lawn chair in front of a red brick wall to the traffic below. He remembered coming here as a young boy to visit one of his friends but the building was much nicer then and the people all knew each other.
A set of bulky power lines sat right above his balcony. They crackled and hissed all the time. They sounded mad, and Clark always thought that one of them would break free and rattle the skin loose from every bone in his body in one cracking lash, like an electric bull whip from hell.
He once saw a pigeon fry to death up there. It was left clutching the line with one calloused foot. It must have been soldered to the cable when the spark exploded through its small body, charred from foot to beak like a piece of charcoal with wings. It had been dangling upside down there for the past month.
So the lease was technically correct but as far as what a “great” view could mean, you had to read the fine print with a microscope and a team of lawyers, otherwise you could be sitting above a sea of angry cars in a claustrophobic box, surrounded by power lines and dangling corpses.
He had an old black umbrella out there to fight off the bird bombs that rained down like globs of yellowish glue. A lot had changed since he’d been here as a kid — a whole lot. When he was really bored, he would sit out there in his crow’s nest of a balcony, crack open a beer and imagine musical notes jumping on those power lines; or sometimes, when the wind picked up, he would picture a giant hand plucking them like a bass guitar.
His girlfriend was working late that night at a nearby diner where she had been clocking in for the past six months. He had the place all to himself. Whoop-de-freakin-do-dah he thought as he peeled himself off the ground and stumbled to his feet like one of those plastic punching toys that pop back up when you hit it.
His bed had recently collapsed on him. He came home exhausted one night with only one thing on his mind — SLEEP. He dropped his tools all over the floor and left his boots in the hallway, falling backwards towards his bed like a weary person collapsing into the arms of a charismatic preacher. His bed must have been made out of false wood, because it decided not to catch him. It gave way instead and blew out at all four corners.
Clark hit the mattress like a bowling ball through a paper towel and then bounced off the floor. He almost fell through the carpet and landed on that annoying neighbor on the eighth floor right below him. His whole body stung the way his hand does sometimes at work when he misses the nail and strikes an iron beam.
So he’s been sleeping on this mattress until he overcomes his fear of working off-the-clock and actually goes to the store, cracks open his dusty wallet and buys a new bed frame.
Between school and work, his girl is as rare in his little apartment as a Loch Ness monster sighting. He works construction and hardly ever crosses paths with her anymore. He sleeps; she’s at work or school. She sleeps; he’s off sweating somewhere, surrounded by hot tools and impatient people.
The talk at work never interests Clark, but he does his best to get the job done and get the hell out of there each day at five. He kind of got used to the job the way a man gets used to prison or some strange illness. He didn’t question it anymore — to derail at this point would leave him in unfamiliar territory, stranded and penniless, or so he thought — or so he feared. It was similar to the way a train car attaches to a large train: although it can’t quite see where its going, it just knows that it’s part of some larger machine that is moving ahead with or without it.
He just worked faster than the rest of them to keep his thoughts in a cocoon of sorts. If they were to escape and leak down into the conscious, they would smear the walls of his mind with a greenish contempt. He didn’t see himself on the construction cookie-cutter sheet. He felt less rigid and mass-produced. Maybe he’d just been in the oven too long and hardened into a boring shape.
The hook on the back of the front door always had either his faded leather tool belt hanging from it or his girl’s work apron. His dirty work tools peeked out from his belt in a row of curious heads of yellow-handle screwdrivers and corroded blue-gripped pliers. On nights when he wasn’t feeling great, he would swear that they were mocking him while he lay on the couch facing the front door, silently taunting him with the reality that they would be back in his calloused hands in just a matter of hours.
Clark was still in his twenties, but a rare breed of boredom had found a way into his head, using his mind like a cursed hideout. He felt like he was standing in line with a stale bag of popcorn, buying a ticket to the same damn movie every night.
It was his day off and he had already slept through most of it. The sun was long gone. A giant yellow moon now hung low in the sky. Clark opened the blinds and felt the night overtake the room.
The darkness filled the open space the way a shadow jumps at the first chance it has to be seen on some sunny portion of the sidewalk. It made him feel that he had missed out on something. Waking up in the dark always made him feel like that.
The traffic was winding down; the ambulance and police sirens had trailed off, intermittent curiosities of the nearby freeway now — less disturbing and a little more forgettable due to their distance. The sirens lost their respect at this distance like a substitute teacher in a giant classroom on a Friday. People no longer leaned forward on their car horns (the sound of protesting elephants being driven out of their homes). The frustration and tension was trimmed off the surface of the streets. Things had calmed down.
He waddled through the narrow hallway towards the bathroom, bumping into the walls a few times. Clark filled the sink with ice-cold water and then submerged his whole head in it. He blew occasional bubbles to the surface and must have held his breath for a full minute. When he pulled his face out of the water he couldn’t believe how tired he still looked. Red lines zigzagged throughout his face and dark raccoon circles sat right below his two bloodshot eyes.
Clark reached for his toothbrush and began scrubbing his teeth while a vacant expression moved into his tired, ice-cold face. It rippled across his visage the way a weak wave barely makes it to shore. A white stream of toothpaste slid down his chest, past his moth-eaten undershirt, but he didn’t even notice it. The sound of the stiff bristles on his teeth became increasingly loud in his ears. The act of brushing was overly audible to him because there was nothing else going on in his head yet.
Clark was on the verge of forming a thought, but then a terrible smell swirled directly into his nostrils, singeing his nose hairs in one direct uppercut.
Something rotten was in the air. He started to walk towards it but then realized, halfway through the living room, that it was that rotting sack of trash that he had neglected all week. He got upset and didn’t feel like lugging it down into the alley, but the smell might kill him if he waited one more day. He had finally met his match — the trash had won and he would have to give it a proper burial in the dumpster out back.
The guy right below him was a real son of a bitch. He would always hit the ceiling with the end of his broom if Clark wanted to have a few people over on a Friday or Saturday night. That rotten bastard despised fun. Clark thought about lowering the sack down to his balcony as a little joke, although for some reason he thought that he might be the only one laughing.
He could picture his neighbor’s face when he came home, trying to figure where such a god-awful smell was coming from and then finally stumbling out onto the balcony to be baffled even further by the stench of a steaming, mysterious sack of crap left there by a dirty Santa. He wasn’t going to do it, but the thought of it was exciting.
Clark was suddenly hit with the fact that he was an adult and his life had become serious, very serious. There was no place in such a serious life for pranks like that anymore. It was all about work now and paying bills — a revolving door that led unto itself like a dog chasing its own tail.
Clark walked into the kitchen and opened the little closet where the trash bag was. He was taken aback and stumbled a bit. An army of tiny flies quickly blew into his face, choking him as though they were trying to fly down his throat and hide from the stench.
The smell was life-changing. Even the laziest person in the world would have to drop everything they weren’t doing and take care of this crap right away. Clark looked puzzled at how those innocent cartons and colorful containers that once held tasty food and shiny white eggs were now rivaling the breath of Satan himself.
He yanked the bag out of the trashcan and flew back into the wall. The bag tore on a nail and exploded all over him. An egg carton was dripping moldy yolks on top of his head and a soggy coffee filter was stuck to his neck like a web; the old coffee grinds were itching his neck the way fiberglass shavings creep under the skin and torment.
Clark shot up like a firecracker and flung his arms all around him as though he were being attacked by a swarm of killer bees. He yelled out in frustration but nobody could hear him. Well, almost nobody. That rotten grouch below him started jabbing the ceiling with his broom handle.
Clark paced back and forth, picking coffee grinds off his neck, one by one. He blasted some music and started dancing in the kitchen, stomping the floor as hard as he could to get back at that bozo below him who would not stand for any breach in the “acceptable noise level” that he was more interested in enforcing instead of pursuing a real life.
Maybe it was the soggy coffee filter stuck to his neck or possibly the green muffin clamped onto his knee, but he was struck, right then and there, with the idea that things would be better with a cup of coffee.
He inserted a clean, white filter into the machine and started brewing a batch. It was the one thing that made him feel good and seemed to stop time. The old “poker” below him finally gave up thrusting his broom into the ceiling. He’d probably resorted to a pair of earmuffs and a crossword puzzle by now.
Copyright © 2008 by Travis Moore