He took off his brown trench coat and placed it on the coat hook. It growled back at him; the hook, not the coat. He moved his coat to another hook, putting his brown leather hat with the orange striped feather in it on the previous one. The first hook snickered, apparently in the direction of the second hook because the second one began barking back in rage.
He moved into the house. There were many people there. All of them very engrossed in the game; two people were playing tic-tac-toe on the kitchen table. The woman sitting on a bar stool much too small for the table, was winning. The score board on the wall said so. He decided that this was of no interest to him. He moved into the living room. There was a comfortable amount of people here, all sitting on very lush sofas. He enjoyed these surroundings. He took a seat, and sighed with pleasure. The people were having a very involved argument over which played the more important role in a sandwich, the peanut butter or the jelly. The two sides could be outlined on the couches. They were facing one another. There was a third couch with a small gathering of people on it, apparently defending the rights of the bread. He was a member of this "team," however, like the rest of his team, he had little to say. Obviously bread is not the heart of any sandwich.
He sat up because he thought it anti-social to not be part of the discussion. He, and the rest of his "team" watched the arguments from one team, then they all turned their heads and watched the other team, and so on, as if they were watched a tennis match between two very accurate people. The entire scenario was quite silly. He couldn't help himself so he began to laugh. Suddenly his head fell off and rolled to the floor. Laughing uncontrollably, the head bounced around the room, ricocheting off of walls and beaming people in the head. The people involved in the argument appeared not to notice. The head bounced off of a peanut butter advocate and fell to the floor, continuing to laugh. Someone dressed in janitorial blues wandered in carrying a broom and dustpan. He swept the head, still laughing, into the dustpan. He toted the head throughout the house, perched on the dustpan chortling forever after. Everybody in every room he walked through would turn to look at the head, saluting it, paying deep respect to it. The janitor finally arrived in a room with no ceiling. It had four walls that were as high as any in the rest of the house, but no roof. There was a twisting staircase in the corner of the room. It stretched up farther than he could see. Next to the staircase there was a large cardboard box. "THIS SIDE UP " was written all along the side. The janitor walked towards the staircase. He began to scale it. Up he went carrying the head all the way with him. He reached the top and gazed into the box. Looking down he saw millions of chuckling heads. Every one indistinguishable from the next. The combination of the height and the dizzying array of heads gave him a sensation not unlike vertigo. He thought to himself just how much he hated this job. He tipped the dustpan and let the head roll off. The heads stopped laughing. They gasped, all of them. At the same time, one fluid gasp. The head knocked with the other ones, and laughed harder than ever. The other heads followed suit. The box began to jiggle and soon it was back to it's original roar of laughter. The janitor dawned a pair of earplugs and inserted them for the climb down. He walked across the room with the echo of his footsteps mingling with the muffled sounds of millions of heads laughing. He crossed the threshold and closed the door behind him. As he did so the laughing ceased. He pretended not to notice.
The janitor had been at this particular establishment for about forty years, as had his father and his father before him and his father before him, and so on. This janitor had no son to continue in his footsteps. This he was thankful for because he hated this job. He did not want any son of his to do it.
The janitor then did a very peculiar thing. He walked into the kitchen. That in itself was not so peculiar. The peculiar part was when he swung his broom at the scoreboard and smiled at the explosion he created (both the scoreboard and the one among the game fans.)
He received horrific looks from many of them. The woman on the bar stool smiled peacefully. The janitor turned and ran for the front door like a bat out of the house. On his way, he yanked the hat and coat from the coat rack and heard both hooks cry out painfully. The members of the kitchen were close at his heels. When they reached the front door they retreated one by one back into the house. They returned to their places in the kitchen, perched on the counter to see over others in the front. Some hanged from the light fixtures to get a good view. The great debate roared forward in the next room. Making progress, but not really. All was well, the norm continued.
And to the party, the janitor was forgotten.
He smelled the air, how sweet it smelled. He licked his lips. They were chapped from the cold winter air. It was a nice enough day out. Sunny, not too hot, right around forty-five degrees, just the way he liked it. Cold enough to feel that stinging in the nose, but not too much. He began to whistle. The notes of "Camptown Racetrack" drifted from his mouth. He looked around. He was on the highway, on foot. How he had arrived to this point in his destiny was lost upon him, that house was long gone and that was all that mattered. He glanced behind him. He saw miles of cornfield and the remnants of his breath float away. The two lane road spanned for as far as he could see. Dust clouds from the last car that passed were still settling, the car had driven by hours ago. He thought he saw some form of a town in the distance. He squinted to get a better view. It didn't help, scarcely ever does. His pace quickened.
He eventually came within about a couple of miles of the town. He could see it well now. A small shop appeared on the side of road a few hundred yards away. He hoped for a place where he could get something to eat. As he approached it he read the sign that was falling off of it's perch on the roof. It read "Pa's" in large print. He was amused by the descriptiveness of it. He reached the building and entered by a worn down glass door that jingled when he pushed it. Someone came to greet him. He saw a counter on the side wall that could have been anything from a gun display counter to a food counter. He hoped for the latter. Fortunately, it was both. He stepped up to it and ordered a burger, with all the trimmings, then decided to "make it two!"
His server brought him one burger that was quickly followed by another. When the check came he read the very small print on the bottom. It insisted that he choose his weapon, because he could have one for free at every meal. He informed his server that he would like a small pistol. His server nodded and returned in a few moments with a small box. He felt the weight of the box and opted not to glance inside as he slipped in his left coat pocket. He reached into his right pocket and pulled out a ten dollar bill. He slapped it on the counter and left, the door jingling after him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw his server on the phone, while polishing his dish.
He resumed his path, a beeline straight for the town, coincidentally, just like the road. Halfway there he paused and reached into his right-hand pocket. He pulled out a small pistol the size of his palm. He thought for a moment and reached into his left-hand pocket. He noticed it was empty. He had a vague sensation that this had happened before. He dismissed it. A voice in the back of his mind told him that he didn't have to do it again, he could use the pistol. His intelligent consciousness assumed the sub-consciousness was hysterical again and ignored it. His mind wandered, he thought about how it would play out, it had happened time and again. He knew it couldn't stop. He continued, senselessly knowing he had lost.
He reached the town. He walked down main street joyfully watching the faces pass by. One of his favorite pastimes was people-watching. He could sit for hours on a street bench, just watching people go by. Making up stories about what they might have been. He sat down on a bench. It was across the street form Herb's. A man walked by with a frown on his face. Maybe he just came from a fight with his wife, or maybe his child. Probably a teenager. He had given his own parents quite a rough time during those years of his. At one point even stabbing his own father in the neck with a butter knife when he wouldn't let him go to a friend's party. Yeah, those were the good old days. He could still remember the look on his mother's face, and smell the reminiscent smell of blood. He recalled fondly the stain, shaped like a awkward teardrop on his sleeve.
His thoughts were momentarily interrupted by the arrival of a bus. People got off, and people got on. He thought what the hell, and got on. Excited at the mystery of where he was heading. If only he had known!
He awoke to find that he had been sleeping for most of the ride. The driver said he had to get off here. It's the last stop. The driver chuckled. He looked around at his surroundings. There was a quaint little house on a hill not too far off, but nothing much else. He headed for the house. When he finally reached the door he looked behind him at the destroyed wreckage of a bus. He and the bus driver were the only ones aboard when it hit the bridge abutment. He had gone flying out of his seat and rebounded off a window. He could vaguely remember it shattering. He had taken an inventory of himself when it had happened, but he was just fine. Although, he did remember looking back and thinking that he saw himself lying in the aisle as he exited. Nah, just daydreaming. The driver was a bit hurt. He was babbling something about a doctor. He complained until he fell asleep on the floor with a painful thump.
He rang the doorbell again but no one had answered, just like the last couple of times. He
could see people inside so he walked in. He took off his brown trench coat and set it on the coat
hook. The hook growled. Out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw his reflection. No, wait, that
was just the janitor. "He looks a little bit like me," he thought. "Just not so rugged," he said to
himself and massaged his chin. He moved his coat to another hook and set his brown leather hat with
an orange striped feather on the first one.
© 1997 Brian Bittman, all rights reserved
appears here by permission
I wrote this for an assignment in English class with no idea in mind other than that the theme had to be Atticus's definition of courage from To Kill a Mockingbird: "To follow through when you know you're licked before you start." I think I missed the point, but I still like the story. I began with the first two paragraphs (describing the house) with absolutely nothing in mind. Ideas began to form and I decided to bring it around again to the beginning. If you have any comments, even negative ones, I would absolutely love to hear them. You can e-mail me at email@example.com. Thank you for taking the time to read my art.