Khroma Magazine – March 2016
I wake with a head full of sludge and a mouth full of bristles. My alarm clock is going ape-shit but it sounds much farther away than it should. Wait, is that my living room ceiling? But why does it look like it’s under water. What the hill-billy, I’m under the coffee table… how on…?
With an effort akin to that needed, I am sure, to scale Mt. Everest, I extract my head from below the frosted-glass table top and right myself. Scooping up an orphaned shoe lying beside my unintentional sleeping locale, I walk to the bedroom doorway and lob it at the alarm. The clock lands face down on the carpet, and although it doesn’t stop, the ‘wailing’ is muffled enough that I don’t care. I don’t notice I’m a half hour late getting into the shower until I am out of the shower and in the kitchen preparing my “Monday Morning Breakfast” – two poached eggs with a side of turkey sausage. The stove clock tells me I’m now forty minutes late. Asswipe.
Forfeiting food I leave the house not noticing that I am wearing one black shoe and one brown. By the time I’ve made it down five flights of stairs and out to the sidewalk, my stomach is making ominous gurglings. To placate it I stop at the coffee shop for a cup-o-joe – an honest-to-god, no-foofy-syrups or whipped-anything, cup of coffee. Of course, the moron behind the counter fucks up and pours me the Christmas Blend. Then has the audacity to argue about my order, and refuses to pour me the Columbian Dark I actually ordered without me coughing up more money. So, I pour his Christmas Blend all over his counter, and make my grand exit. All of this bull makes me miss the express number ten bus, meaning I have to catch the anything-but-express number four bus, which means it is now 8.30am, and I’m an hour late getting to work.
I have a ritual when I first get to my desk. A ceremony, if you will, to mark the start of a brand new work day, and I have done it six days a week for over seven years. I have a Bonsai tree that sits upon a jerry-rigged shelf at the top of my cubicle’s partition. From there the tree has a direct line-of-sight to the one window that lets any natural light into the office. As soon as I cross the threshold of my cubicle, before I even take off my coat and sling it over the back of my no-longer-swivels swivel chair, I take my tree off its perch, sit it on the desk, and inspect it for errant leaves that may need trimming. However, given how badly my day has been derailed by the three-too-many tumblers of whisky last night, should I?
No. But if I don’t, any possibility of concentrating today that the stale whisky sloshing round my system has left me, will be gone entirely. I twist my seat round so that my back is fully square to the cubicle opening, and hunch my shoulders over to shield my tree from snooping colleagues. Most importantly I have to hide what I’m doing in case Supervisor Andrew Warrick (how he insists on being addressed at all times – and I do mean at all times) decides to do one of his sneak attacks.
I don’t need a clock to tell me I take precisely fifteen minutes to inspect every conceivable angle of the tree looking for anything that needs snipped a little or teased a little. On many days my scissors don’t even touch the tree, but it always takes fifteen minutes, no more and no less, before I’m satisfied and can return the Juniper to its rightful spot in the sunshine. Next in my morning ritual is tea. I am the only tea drinker in the office – it’s a habit I picked up during a semester abroad in Birmingham, England. Truthfully, I thought tea was vile when I first arrived on the other side of the pond, but there are only so many times in a day that you can turn down the offer of a ‘cuppa’ before acquiescing just so you don’t have to keep hearing your roommate’s disapproving “tut”. After returning to the U.S., I threw myself into tea drinking with vigor since it made me cool and different – or at least that is what my twenty-year-old-self told me.
Now, I need it every morning. And I need it black, piping hot, and in my Blade Runner mug. In the small kitchenette I flick on the kettle and marvel, as I do every time, at the blue glow that emanates from the switch when it hits the on position. Why blue? Wouldn’t green make more sense, you know, “green for go”? But then the blue is very calm-inducing, I suppose. I reach up to the cupboard for my mug. My mug! Where the effing hell is my…
“Which one of you fuckers has stolen my mug?”
I storm into the main office which hosts sixteen cubicles all bunched together in the center and three small offices along one wall which house the call center’s managing staff.
“Seriously. Who has my Goddamn mug!”
Not a single one of my co-workers acknowledges me. They keep talking away into their headsets with no regard for my distress. I’m just about to start going cubicle-to-cubicle to uncover the thief when Supervisor Andrew Warrick’s office door swings open.
He creeps me out. He shouldn’t. There is nothing particular about him that is creepy, but he creeps the crap outta me none the less. I’ve thought about why a lot and yes, there is the “refer to me by my full name and title” thing, but really what it is, is his beard. It’s one of those goatees that is missing the ‘stash’ part so it just looks like a dead rodent acting as a chin warmer. Add to this that his facial hair is unusually fine and blonde, so he perpetually looks like a fifty-year-old teenager trying to grow his first beard. Crap, he just looked at me. That is my cue.
Back in my cubicle, I slouch so far down that my butt cheeks are hanging over the chair edge, and I’m in danger of slithering onto the floor. In a scramble I place my headset over my ear and adjust the arm of the microphone. Behind me I hear Supervisor Andrew Warrick’s disapproving throat clearing. I push the receive button on my phone to make the automatic switchboard direct me a call then twist my head and gesture dramatically to say “so sorry, I’m on a call, if only you’d caught me a second quicker.”
“Hello. You’ve reached the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. My name is Nathan. Would you like to tell me yours?”
“No, no. I don’t think I want to … if that’s ok?”
Shit. She is young. Twelve. Thirteen perhaps. I hate it when they are young. I turn away from Supervisor Andrew Wankjob.
“Of course it’s ok. Do you have a pet?”
“A cat perhaps, or a dog?”
“Yeah. Bella. She’s my dog. But what’s that gotta do with…”
“Could I call you Bella? Would that be ok?”
There’s always silence when I ask this. It throws everyone a little when I ask to call them by the name of their pet, but I figure it stops them focusing on whatever method of killing themselves they have been obsessing over. And now, more than likely, they’re thinking about some animal that they love dearly which can’t be a bad thing given the circumstances.
“Oh… Sure… I guess.”
“How are you doing, Bella?”
“Bad, I think I’m in trouble.”
“Are you hurt?”
“How’d you mean?”
“Have you done anything to hurt yourself?”
“Y’mean like cut maself?”
“Yeah, like that.”
“No, not yet.”
“But you want to? Right?”
“I dunno. I guess.”
“But you haven’t done anything yet?”
“Do you have a knife with you? Or scissors perhaps? Are you holding them?
“… Uh huh…”
“But you haven’t cut yourself? You aren’t bleeding?”
“I said no, didn’t I!”
“I just want to make sure you don’t need someone to come help you.”
“This was stupid. I shouldn’t ‘av…”
Fuck, I’m losing her. I’m never good with the young ones. They baffle me. What could be so fucking wrong in their lives that they want to top themselves? Did her BFF steal her Barbie? Do they even play with Barbies these days? Jesus, Nathan focus. Change the subject.
“Say, what is your favorite subject at school?”
“I don’t want to talk about school. I should go.”
“No. Wait. Please. I need you to just give me a minute.”
Wow. Did I just beg for her to stay on the line? Rule #14 in the crisis hotline guidebook: Don’t make you the focus of the call. Nice going, Nathan!
The line is still, but I can hear some distant chatter from what sounds like kids playing tag.
“Bella. Are you at the park?”
“Yeah. What of it?”
“Tell me about it.”
“It’s just a stupid park.”
“Do you have a favorite spot in the park?”
“I guess. But it’s dumb.”
“Tell me about it.”
“There’s this space rocket. You know? A bench really, red, but with a tube to make it look like a space rocket. I suppose four little kids could fit in here. Maybe six if they squeeze. It’s on these big springs and the whole thing rocks back and forth… told you it was dumb.”
“It doesn’t sound dumb. It sounds like a pretty perfect place to be alone. Are you there now?”
“Yeah. One of the springs is busted so the little kids don’t use it.”
“But, it is your favorite place in the park.”
“How come you don’t want to talk about school?”
Silence, but this time I can tell she isn’t going to hang up on me. I’m thawing her.
“Did something happen at school?”
More silence. I try again.
“Did someone do something to you at school?”
Crickets. But she is still with me. Another tack.
“It’s ok to tell me whatever it is. I won’t tell anyone.”
“Everyone already knows.”
“Knows what, Bella?”
“I was caught. With weed.”
Weed? Huh. Was not expecting that. Weed? Is weed today’s new Barbies?
“Who caught you?”
“They called the police. I’m going to jail.”
Jesus, I bet it was one of those old school bully cops who thought he would “scare her straight.”
“Are you scared?”
“Is that why you are thinking about hurting yourself.”
“Have you talked to your Mom or Dad about being scared?”
“No. They just yelled at me and sent me to my room.”
“What did they say to you this morning?”
“Nothing. They left for work. I heard Mom crying last night. It must be ’cause they are coming to take me to jail today.”
“Bella, are you sure about jail? Is that what the police told you?”
“No. Well… But, Peter said for sure I would go to jail.”
Big Brother Dickhead?
“Bella. Could you do me a favor?”
“Could you call your Mom and tell her you are scared about jail? She might not know.”
“No. I can’t.”
“Why can’t you?”
“‘Cause she’ll yell at me again and tell me I deserve to go to jail. And how much of a disappointment I am…”
“You know, I was once caught at school with weed, too.”
“You were? But, aren’t you old!”
“I am now, but this was when I was your age.”
“What did they do?”
“Called the cops. Just like they did with you.”
I’m totally lying. I did get caught at school, but I wasn’t carrying weed. Me, I had to go all out and be caught carrying a pistol. But that is a whole other story.
“Did you go to jail…”
I hear the tremble of her lips.
“Nah. They just yelled at me and told me not to do it again.”
Lies. But good lies, right?
“Bella. Do you think maybe the cops just wanted to scare you?”
“You know. I know moms. I have a mom, and although I have disappointed her a billion gazillion times, she has never stopped loving me. And I know big brothers. I have four of them, and each one of them is a jackass.”
I hear a snigger at the curse word.
“You know what else I know, Bella,?”
“There is no way your mom would have gone to work if she knew you were this scared.”
“I know. So. What’d ya think? Think you’ll be ok? Think you still want to hurt yourself?”
“I think I want to go home.”
“I think that’s a great idea. But, Bella?”
“Will you call me again if you need to?”
“I gotta go. Bye, Nathan.”
The line cuts, and I let out a grunt of relief. Ripping off my headset, I sit for a moment and let the noises of the room buzz around my ears. Then I push back my chair and stand on my desk. From a vantage point of three feet above the cubicle dividers I address the room.
“Now. Which one of you fuckers has stolen my mug?”
With a well practiced upwards and inwards shunt of the shoulder on my front door, I arrive home. Shift ended three hours ago, but I didn’t leave O’Malley’s till twenty minutes ago. O’Malley’s certainly wasn’t one of those places where ‘everyone knows your name’, but it was the place that knew my drink. Inevitably it’s waiting for me on the bar by the time I walk round the block from the call center – a whisky and ginger ale. I would drink Scotch neat if I could afford it, but the quality of whisky I can afford (in the quantities that I consume) needs to be masked with something tangy.
Something is up with my apartment. It’s too… sparkly. Mom. Of course. It’s Monday and the day she ‘pops’ round do some ‘light dusting and what not’. Her note is on the fridge: Dinner in red-lid Tupperware. Cook for 20 at 400F. Your brothers are coming around Sunday, it would be appreciated if you could be there too. Love, Mom. Not sure why she always tells me the casserole, or lasagna, or hotpot she has brought is in a red-lid Tupperware; all she owns is red-lid Tupperware, and I sure don’t have any Tupperware, be it red-lidded or otherwise.
I cross to the silverware drawer and reach into its depth. After a second of padding around, my fingers locate my switchblade. Phew. I wasn’t entirely sure I’d returned it to its hiding place last night, and if mom had found it during her ‘dusting’ she would have confiscated it. From the direction of the sofa comes Larry’s ‘welcome home, dickhead’ meow. Get a cat, people told me, they are so relaxing to have around. It will do you good, people told me, you will have a warm body that will welcome you home every night with love and affection. Sure. Perhaps some cats are that way, but mine does nothing but lie around the place and judge me. You think those eyes are following my every move ’cause he just loves me so much? No sir, those are judging eyes, and I am 100% positive that he doesn’t care to learn my name – to him I’m just the dickhead he allows to keep him in food and warmth.
I have a ritual when I first get home. A ceremony, if you will, to mark the success of getting through another day. I pour a tumbler with three (ish) fingers of whisky and take it, and my switchblade, to the coffee table. Sitting crossed legged on the floor, I drain the tumbler, then I flick open the knife and wipe it on my shirt tail – it’s rarely dirty – then I place it on the table with the tip of the knife pointed at my sternum. I then take fifteen minutes, no less and no more, and indulge in picturing myself driving the knife, millimeter by millimeter, through my chest and into my heart. I linger on the image of the knife as it undergoes its journey, relishing in the pain I assume it would cause until the very second the heart gave up beating. Or, I picture jumping out of my bedroom window to land with a stomach-churning crunch on the top of a parked car five floors below. But I wouldn’t be instantly killed. I would lie there immobile, with pain popping through my body, listening as the sirens approached and the gathering crowds gasped in horror. My heart would give its last beat as soon as the first paramedic reached my side.
This is my dirty little secret. Not so secret from some people, I guess, as I do have the scars on my wrists from when I was eighteen and tried for the first time. Tonight I picture myself sitting in Bella’s red space rocket with it’s one broken spring. It’s a gloriously bright sunshiny day, but there are no kids playing in the park. Just me and my switchblade. I lose myself to the dream, and it’s only as a prick of pain reaches my brain that I twig that the knife is resting on my wrist. The knife has left an indentation but hasn’t broken the skin. The tingling anticipation of pain, and blood, and the rest is enticing. I take the very tip of the blade and trace the indentation with just enough pressure to cause little pimples of blood to break the surface. I take a deep inhale and very nearly take the next step. Goddammit. I snap the blade shut and toss the knife clear across the room. Larry lifts his head barely an inch from the sofa cushion; his only acknowledgment of the projectile clattering off the far wall. I reach for my phone and hit speed dial #4. I listen as it rings three times before it connects. A woman answers. Her name is Maureen.
“Hi, Maureen. Let’s just call me Larry.”