It’s the little things – he thought, sitting on the floor, holding the torn end of a rope in his hand.
It’s the little things that break a man. He once read that in a book. Or was it a magazine? He couldn’t remember right now; probably because of the pain in his throat.
But what really confused him the most wasn’t the pain. It was something else. Something that he hadn’t experienced in years. Or even decades. He had tears in his eyes. Wet, salty tears. And they were clearly not the result of the pain.
They came from deeper. Much deeper. Where they had been in hibernation.
It wasn’t big tears. More of a hint of tears. But they were there. He could feel, even taste them.
And for some strange reason this discovery made him laugh. Tho, laughter is wrong. Maybe more of a smile. Or better, the result of detecting the irony of the situation. Yeah, it probably was this wry smile of a person chased by his own irony. Chased and taken down.
And that all because of such a small thing. A small thing compared to all the others things he had encountered in his life; he had survived already.
It’s the little things. It’s not a bunch of little things in a row. It’s just a little thing on an arbitrary day in an arbitrary week full of arbitrary months and years in an arbitrary life.
But never before had such a fleabite caused him to burst into tears. Not even bigger or really big things. Never ever before.
Touching his throat, he tried to recall the last time he had wept. It took him a while until he finally remembered the last time he had cried – cried like a little girl.
He was in his company car, a Mercedes, on his way back from visiting a client – it could have had something to do with a huge order of airbag parts if his memory did not fail him – when he heard about Lady Di’s death on the radio.
He had to pull over onto the side of the highway because he started crying for no reason. He had to sit there for over half an hour, only accompanied by the swooshing sound of passing cars, until he finally was capable of driving again.
Until this day he had no explanation why this happened to him and just the thought of it made him sob again.
Lady Di for God’s sake!
He did not cry the day his daughter OD’d; he did not cry the day his wife filed for divorce; he did not cry the day he lost his job because of a failure that prevented the airbags from working correctly; and he did not have to cry yesterday as his beloved dog suddenly died much to young.
But the day Lady Di died and now because of a broken rope. One piece in his hand and one still dangling from the ceiling.
It’s the little things, he thought, still wearing this hint of a crooked, ironic smile on his face while he stood up, fetching the keys to his car, starting his second trip to the hardware store on this arbitrary day in an arbitrary week.
It’s the little things…
“Bwah, do I hate that bitch!
Just look at her skinny ass. In that pantsuit. C’mon, who wears those anyway? And those shoes! And did you see how she had to swagger in them in front of everyone in today’s presentation?
Hey look at me! I’m not wearing a bra and I’ve got really nice boobs and you can stare at my little butt and sneak a glance at my pricy thong!
And what’s with that giggling all the time?
I swear, one day I’ll stuff her laughter up her so well toned ass that it will come out the other end.
She has to be used to puking anyway – she’s always gone so fast after meals and she always returns with a half full bottle of water.
Well, I guess she uses this as good practice for her swallowing anyway. If all those dicks she’s sucking only knew what had passed that way a few minutes earlier.
Did you hear? She must have fucked that new guy from the purchasing department in his first week. Is there a single guy left in our firm who she has not jumped yet?
And for that matter – could someone please tell all those idiots how ridiculously they always start to behave the moment she enters a room? Seriously, what do they all see in her – other than a quick, cheap fuck?
And you know what the worst part about her is?
She’s actually able to leave her house in the morning wearing a white dress, walk across town in a downpour, change a tire on her car in the afternoon and have spaghetti at the best Italian restaurant in town in the evening and she will come home and her dress will still be spotless. It’s fucking unbelievable!
Oh, I really hate her!”
“You know what I like most about chicks?” he asked while placing himself next to the six foot tall guy plastered with tattoos, even on his face.
Next to him, only 5 foot 1, a little too fat and a little too stale, he almost disappeared in the grayish, dirty background.
The six foot guy slightly tilted his head, closed his eyes and started to wryly smile from the corners of his surprisingly smooth mouth.
“No. And I really don’t care. I know what I like, though,” he said, opening his eyes again. “Where’s that coming from, anyway?”
“I had a dream.”
“Oh, boy! He had a dream,” the six footer said faking disinterest. But under the menacing, faded tattoos, there was a pointer of a smile again. “And I guess I have to listen to one of your wet dreams again, right?”
“Hey, my wet dreams are all there is left in your pathetically boring, and most of all, predictable life…
…It’s not my fault that you can’t get a boner on your own anymore. And by the way, here’s a quick reminder for you: You’re not the only one that hasn’t had a good fuck in quite a while! At least I’m still able to dream!”
Again, one could make out this minute smile on the six-footer’s face. Actually, it became even more apparent. And therefore his answer lost a lot of its playful edge:
“Look who’s talking, the midget here thinks he’s responsible for the leftovers of my sex life. Don’t you forget that I actually had one without having to pay for it?”
It wasn’t as attractive as the one framed in dark-greenish tribals – but now even the five-footer showed a hint of a smile on his not really handsome face.
“Hey, do you want to hear it now or do you want to cry yourself to sleep in your lonely bed tonight? Again?”
Now, almost laughing, tattoo face directly looked at the small and sallow guy next to him. Well, actually he had to look down; a lot.
“Yeah! Go ahead and tell me what you like most about chicks! But I really doubt that it is something other than her butt or box since you probably have never seen anything else from your perspective. Or did you always have to pay extra so that you could stand on a stool?”
“Ah, the giant with his mite is talking. At least the other way round the perspective is much more flattering. And by the way, it says a lot if the only things you can think off are butt and box, you giant … pervert!”
“Hey! That’s not what I said! I can think of a lot more. All I said was that I doubt you’ve ever seen anything else on a woman – but I also doubt that you want to get into semantics here. So, why don’t you finally start telling me what you like most about women before I die of boredom! Foreplay is totally overrated, anyway!”
Five-footer slid a bit closer on the bleached and splintered bench and bent forward a little:
“I really dig your sensitivity. You must have been a real Women Whisperer back in the days and no, it’s not about butts and boxes, you big ape!”
He paused and then began with “It’s about…” when suddenly the speaker started to sound:
“Line up, you pussies! Sectional cell-opening ends in five minutes! Lock up is in ten!”
He had always liked the sight of an otherwise naked woman just dressed in a man’s shirt. But now he really wasn’t able to relish it.
She, obviously wearing his shirt, obviously otherwise naked, and, if you already knew him, obviously pretty, stood red-headed in front of him and didn’t look very happy at all.
And that wasn’t because of the sex they had just had. The sex hadn’t been bad at all. And as we all – or not all – know, this isn’t always a given if you’ve just met. And with just, I mean: a couple of hours ago.
Yes, I know what some of you might think now – but here’s the thing:
If we’re honest, we all know these situations where we wish we had been just a little bit more gutsy, a little more adventurous, and not just too insecure to blow yet another chance. Don’t we?
This had been one of those moments. For both.
You meet someone and you just hit it off. It doesn’t matter what convention says or supposedly dictates. It just feels right.
And here we are, a couple of hours and some orgasms later, dressed in only a shirt, boxers, and a little bit freaked out.
One more than the other, and guess who?
“Seriously – you want me to say that you being that … well … tight …” and here he paused for a second to see how she reacted – while not really able to hide his little amused twinkle of a smile – before he continued: “… is a bad thing? No way!”
For someone who just met a guy in a club, went home with him and then did what she just did – multiple times – her blushing now was, well – it said a lot and it explained why, right in that moment, he realized that he was falling in love with her.
Since she currently had other worries, she missed it completely and just turned away and started to search again.
“It must be somewhere! And it most certainly won’t be found with you just standing there staring at me!”
“Hey, you can’t blame me. Take a look at you! I’ve got to stare! It’s genetically impossible not to stare with that splendid view! And by the way: I’ve offered to search almost a dozen times now. And regarding last night and this morning, I really don’t see the problem here. Just saying.”
Again, she blushed and again it had the same effect on him. And yes, again she missed it and again she scanned the sheets, the pillows, and afterwards the complete bed and bedroom; still without any luck.
One could almost see her panicking in slow motion while making a mess of the surprisingly nicely done up bedroom, considering that we’re talking about a bachelor’s flat here.
“Oh no, not the ER … you can look – but don’t you dare look at me and don’t you dare make any stupid comments!”
And he didn’t. He just took her hand, sat her down on the messed up bed, pulled the shirt up just a little, slightly revealing her bellybutton, demonstratively looked aside, and gently searched her warm and still wet soft spot.
She held her breath and he tried to be as casual as one can be when using one’s finger to search inside the woman one just met some hours before.
Not that this was one of those moments when you know what to do, what the protocol is, how to behave, how to look and what to say – but he was sure that: “Hey, I do this all the time, so no biggie. Just relax and let me!” wasn’t the way to go.
On the other hand, taking this as a much better judge of compatibility than dinner and a movie seemed like a smart idea, he thought right in that very moment.
Isn’t it funny what goes through one’s head at such a moment?
Well, here you are. Another of those idiotic thoughts that crossed his mind while kneeling in front of her:
“Describing offering Julia Roberts … ah … Anna Scott apricots soaked in honey as surreal … maybe I should write a story about this one day …”
Yes, he really thought about that film at that moment – but what was he supposed to think in this situation anyway?
Like hers multiple times before him, his efforts weren’t fruitful.
He, once again being very gentle, pulled out his finger, kissed her softly on her belly, moved the shirt down again, looked her in the eyes and just shook his head a little, which easily could have been translated into an “I’m sorry”.
She merely closed her eyes. Her shaking her head was barely noticeable. She finally stood up, pulled her far-flung clothes together and started to dress.
He couldn’t help himself; he had to watch first before he also grabbed his clothes. He put on the shirt she had slept in and had exchanged for her top, since it wasn’t fair that he could easily change into a clean one and she couldn’t; especially not in this situation.
He broke the silence with: “I’ll call us a cab to the nearest ER, since I drank a lot last night – if this is ok with you?”
For the first time in a while she looked up and straight into his eyes and it was also the first time she really realized how concerned he looked, even with all that amusement written all over his face. She simply nodded while slipping on her left sneaker. Then she looked at him again, this time with a surprisingly bold expression and said: “You’ll do the talking! I want to see you explain this!”
He wasn’t really sure but it seemed to him that there was a teasing flashing in her eyes that showed an underlying first glimpse of all the things he didn’t know about her.
And what great promise it revealed. Still waters – you know?
“Hey, even by their standards this might be something new,” he mockingly replied, while handing her her right sneaker.
They got lucky and caught one of those rare cabbies who didn’t need to do small talk. So they could just sit there in the back, alternately looking at the city just waking up, and briefly at each other; not making conversation either. At least not with spoken words.
But at some point she had taken his hand and he held on to it, once again thinking what he had been thinking since they had woken up next to each other, not needing to look for excuses to flee.
“12.80,” said the driver, while stopping in front of the ER entrance.
He reached into his pocket and immediately started to laugh out loud, a really healthy, liberating and somewhat contagious laughter.
“Now I remember!” he said while turning to her, looking in her startled face, still unable to suppress his laughter.
“Before I tell you that I just found my piercing in my pocket because I took it off yesterday before we drove to my place … since, you know? … I didn’t want you to get the wrong impression … and yeah, I know … I failed – I have to ask you something …”
“Would you please spend the rest of your life with me?”
“You know?” he said, while trying to hide the tears, “I just had to quit and do something completely different.”
He waited for an answer. And he waited. But she just kept blasting the crusted dishes without even looking up once. And she had already been doing it for hours.
He had had a little crush on her from day one; so for seventeen days. But she had never answered him; she just smiled from time to time. It wasn’t one of those big disarming Julia Roberts smiles but very cute in a subtle way.
As long as she is still smiling, he decided, I’ll just keep talking to her. Again trying to hide the tears, he went on: “It’s not that I didn’t like my job. I love writing and I love the internet. But I simply couldn’t stand it anymore with all that social crap – you know?”
She was still stoically blasting off dried-out potatoes, vinaigrettes and the sad remains of tortured shellfish.
But this time she smiled at him once again.
“Dammit! I really like her,” he thought, while being relieved at the same time that he had finished chopping up all twelve pounds of onions.
Moving on to the chives, and stealing a glance at her really nice butt, he continued: “Writing is much like cooking, right? You have to practice, and practice, and practice. Talent may help a little … but in the end, it’s hard work – really hard work.”
He wanted to take a look at her to see if she was still smiling but he feared that he would cut his fingers even though he had practiced cutting and slicing for weeks at home after he had quit his job as the chief editor of the online offshoot of the only newspaper left in town that actually made some money on the web, even without paywall.
“Editor my ass. All we do is deal with people who endlessly comment on the latest local banality. C’mon – seriously! I studied journalism at Washington State and ended up apologizing to morons in ugly briefs sitting all day in front of their computers and doing nothing more than waiting for a typo in an unimportant piece about an even more unimportant Lindsay Lohan! Hell, we don’t even type the information ourselves anymore. We just buy thrown-together words in bulk from Reuters, along with all the other crap they now call news.”
He paused, put the knife aside, and looked at the slip of paper with today’s desserts. Not that he was allowed to touch them yet. This would probably take him at least half a year of chopping potatoes, onions and doing all the other boring and annoying things one has to do when new in a kitchen. He was, however, already allowed to make the dressings for the salads and he was pretty proud of them.
“And the worst part about all this new social garbage on a news site is…” he started, “…that no one really cares. They just want to feel better by bitching. It doesn’t matter if you worked for over two weeks on a piece. The moment you use a picture they don’t like, you end up with a shit…” and then he saw that she had left for a quick cigarette break.
A second later he realized that his sous chef must have been standing there for quite a while now, shaking his head.
“Hey, idiot! After I’ve finished telling you that she can’t hear you, that she’s deaf, and that you don’t have a chance because she likes chicks, you have to go to table 9! They have comments for you about your dressing!”
Every bone in her old body immediately started to hurt the moment she woke up on this lovely September morning. Indeed, it was one of the loveliest mornings in decades. Not as lovely as the day she had met her first husband – but still very promising.
So promising that she decided in a heartbeat that this would be the day. She had planned it for quite a while now, she had even practiced what she would say in front of her stained mirror. Of course, she had to read it from a, by now, crumpled note Lisbeth’s son had written, because most of the words didn’t make any sense to her.
There had already been a few days she was certain that she could go through with it but then lacked the courage. Once she had even left the house before she had had to turn back after a couple of blocks because she had forgotten the note with all that gibberish. She took this as a sign to do it on another day.
As she slowly got out of the raised bed, she promised herself that she wouldn’t get cold feet today. All the other wrinklies, as they called themselves in her bridge club, had done it by now. Some had had help from their children and grandchildren, but many had accomplished it on their own.
“You’ve survived a war, two concentration camps and buried three husbands. You clearly should be able to do this!” she said to herself loudly while searching for a matching knit jacket for her favorite blouse.
Like every morning, before having her breakfast, she did her breathing exercises in front of the opened window, put on clean bed linen and fed the neighbors’ cats.
Then, sitting at her small and wobbly kitchen table, she read the note out loud for the millionth time, still shaking her head at all those weird words.
A whoseamawhatsit with lots of others whoseamawhatsits, accompanied by even more whoseamawhatsits, with even more additional nonsense.
But she had promised herself not to get cold feet again and so twenty minutes later – which is very good time for an old wrinklie like her – she was walking down the street on which she had lived for over fifty years.
She had seen them all coming and going. Many of them going. She was the only old tree left and “You’d better not transplant an old tree!” she always used to answer when a new neighbor asked her why she was still living there.
“I’ll still be living here when you’re long gone.” was what she always thought but never said out loud in those moments.
She had also said and thought this about many, many other new things and most of the time she had been right. But thinking about what she was about to do right now made her shake her head.
“Looks like one of these newfangled inventions will actually win and outlast me.” she said to herself while climbing the bus full of smelly people, all not able to afford their cars anymore.
She had never had one herself. She had never even learned how to operate one of those fancy tin cans. And she had never had to give in.
She had lived without one for almost a century and she wasn’t going to change this in her last years.
Thinking of that made her smile while staring at the mostly ugly little boxes they now call homes whizzing past her.
“You old frump! You’ve lived without an automobile just fine. A radio is enough, and if you want to be entertained, you talk to a real person. You don’t need one of those boob tubes…
…And here you are; on your way to…”
Many blocks later, after she had passed all those Wendy’s, Dunkins, Wal Marts and lots of other impersonal behemoths that all looked the same to her, she finally arrived at the only RadioShack in town.
Every fiber in her old tormented body was against it – but they had all insisted that she really go to this unfriendly, crowded and noisy location; even Old Mike from her beloved general store.
“You know, Lottie – if there’s something wrong with your orange juice, you just bring it back to me and I’ll give you a new one. If there’s something wrong with such a thing after a while, no one will just give you a new one. First, they will tell you it’s your fault. Then they’ll tell you that it’s normal. Then they’ll tell you that there’s nothing they can do about. If you get lucky, they’ll send it in and you have to wait for months and then they’ll give you a replacement with the same flaw. At least the morons at RS won’t charge you for just looking at it.” he had said to her.
And here she was, about to enter the suburban hell in red and black.
She plucked up all her courage and went strait to the next pimpled youngling and said:
“Young man, I need one of those computer thingamabobs for this inter … ah, web. You know, first my bank subsidiary closed and they told me I have to use this inter … whatsit. Then my pharmacy closed and they told me I have to use this web … thing. And last week, Mike – you know, Old Mike from the general store on Second Street – couldn’t get the only cat food I have been using for centuries now and they told him that I have to order it directly on this net … web …”
“I have all the details I don’t care about on this note. They’ve also already shown me how to use it. It wasn’t much fun, though. I kept doing things they said were impossible, that somebody actually couldn’t ever do. I guess those machines can feel that I don’t like them. And I don’t trust them either.
But I’ve got to feed the cats, you know?
…And I always deleted things they all said were impossible to destroy. That’s why I have this one question first: What if I accidentally delete this internet thing?”
He was awkward, he wasn’t very handsome, and he had only one good shirt. But the kids loved hanging out with him.
He could not read, had never been to the movies, and he had never slept with a girl. But the kids loved listening to his stories.
He owned only one goat, only half a dozen olive-trees, really hand-to-mouth trees, and he could not cook. But the kids loved eating with him.
He could not dance, he had bad taste in music, and when he sang, he sang badly. But the kids loved celebrating with him.
He could not play an instrument, he could not play cards, and he never scored a goal. But the kids loved having him on their team.
He never argued, he never raised his voice, and he never hit someone, even in defense. But the kids felt save with him.
He never complained, he never threw a stone and he always got arrested first. But the kids looked up to him.
He had no luck, all his flowers died, and he always pulled the short stick. But he gave the kids hope.
He always smiled, he always cared, and he always stood up again when the soldiers had knocked him down. And the kids loved him for that.
He only lived for nineteen years, he saw the bullet coming, and he bled to death. And the kids missed him.
“Oh c’mon! One last time!” – he shouted at his saggy wiener.
He’d been trying for hours now. Only halted for rewinding the old videocassette every 90 minutes. Beta, of course; even though the even older SL-8200 had had to be poorly fixed several times over the last decades.
Still – could be worse. He had only one 45 minute recording left on an old JVC cassette he always plays at half speed.
And from maximum there wasn’t much left, he thought, looking down at his pants … wrapped around his ankles.
“Focus, you moron! Focus!”
But it didn’t work. Like so many, many times before in the last years. And he’d tried everything. Not even staring at the TV-screen. Hell, he’d even dated a real woman for a while so that she could jerk him off.
But that didn’t work out either. Not that they did not like each other, not that they did not have fun and great conversations and Sunday morning brunches and all that other important stuff – but in the end it always comes down to this one little detail and as always, he blew it.
Or better, his wiener blew it. Again.
Much like now. He was used to it. But today more was at stake than just a self-made happy ending and a worn out wrist. Much more.
And time was running out on him. And we’re not talking about the cassette here. On the one hand – no, no lame play on words, he always uses both – it had over twenty-three minutes left before the next rewind was due. But he also wasn’t going to die. Although he might as well.
No, the calamity was about to knock on his door sometime soon. And all he wanted was to come one last time. And that’s really not much to ask for – is it?
A man deserves to come in peace, without pressure, without judgement, and most of all – in the way he likes, needs to, since it might be the only way he actually can.
And he was tired, so tired of having to be ashamed, and to be discreet, and in permanent need of having an explanation, or someone to blame.
There was no one to blame. He had loving parents, siblings, real friends and a great childhood. No, really – a great childhood; not rose-colored in retrospect and nothing buried that needed to be dug up for 170 bucks an hour.
He just needed to stare at this one test card from this particular station that went out of business over three decades ago in order to come. That’s all he ever needed and all that ever worked. Sometimes even under pressure. But not today.
“Oh c’mon! One last time!” – he shouted again. “I’m running out of time here! It can’t be that hard!”
Well – it actually was. And it wasn’t – and yes, this time it’s a lame play on words.
Fourteen minutes left. Usually that would be enough time. But today he wasn’t so much worried about having to rewind the cassette again and wearing out the only copy left of this rare test card even more.
Yeah, you smart ass of a reader! Don’t you think he tried it with a digitally enhanced copy and a DVD player already? With everything I really meant everything! It’s not the same, stupid!
Nine minutes left. Still, it could work – even though he usually doesn’t perform very well under pressure. But who really does?
But today nothing worked. Not thinking of the first time he saw that awesome test card at the age of seven. Not remembering the first time he came in his parents’ parlor at 2:54 a.m. at the age of eleven and not even trying to re-feel the wind from the one time he carried the old TV and the old Betamax player onto the roof of his building, together with a heavy car-battery.
Three minutes left and at least his dick started to get its hopes up a little and so did he. Additionally, the quality of the tape always gets better at the end of the 45 minute recording. This should do the trick. This one last time.
“No! No! Don’t think of that now. Don’t think of the last time. Don’t think of tomorrow, you idiot! Concentrate!”
Fifty-seven seconds left and he could already feel it starting, staring at the colorful lines and geometrical shapes of his beloved test card. Of course, it was just imagination – but every time he was about to come, the high noise coming from the old TV seemed to get louder and louder, seemed to root for him on his last arm-swings.
Eleven seconds before the end of the recording, showing some beads of sweat on his forehead, he was certain he’d finish in time as a ring at the door suddenly nullified all his efforts of the last hours in a blink and left him with nothing but exhausted arms and an instantly limp and very red penis.
“Good day, Sir. You’ve not reacted to our letters, our reminders or our warnings. You have not paid your bill for over seven months now and there is nothing else left for us to do than to cut off your electricity…”