Friday, March 24, 2006

Accident Prone pt 2

Bill is better than fine. He’s amazing. His toast is not toast, but sliced and buttered ecstasy. His co-workers fret, but his smile will not fade. He powers through the reports and writes reports about powering through. Mr. Phillips answers his production by giving him more to do, but Bill eats it all and then asks for seconds, thirds. The copier jams, the printer breaks, the company will no longer provide free bagels. His co-workers choke, but Bill swallows these everyday atrocities with the greatest of ease. Every second is prepared by God himself, and every day leaves Bill licking his lips for more.

Until a Friday five months later when Bill is chewing on a jammed fax machine. As he battles with the beige little box his life suddenly goes flat as old bubble gum. He can chew and chew, but it’s only exercise. The flavor’s all drained out.

He frets for a moment that it’s gone, but he knows how to get it back, and at the very least, there is comfort in knowing. He gnaws through the rest of the day, then sets out to rescue himself again.

For three tasteless nights he works in his front yard and his back. Death is simply a condiment, Bill says as he cuts a sheet of plywood in half. Smeared over one’s life it can make any day and any task not only palatable, but amazing. Bill’s joy is living on borrowed time, stealing days and then sucking them dry. It’s like gambling with the casino’s money, he thinks while taking a careful measurement. Days that are given, that aren’t earned, that are free to every Tom, Dick, and Harry, these days are worthless. They get scattered, get lost, fall behind the bookcase and end up not being worth going after. Bill can suffer these days no longer.

He looks at the ramp in his front yard and the ramp in his back yard and he imagines how tomorrow will taste. Knowing the ingredient that’s gone missing from his life, Bill plans to grab himself a sizeable quantity in the hopes it will last a while, if not forever. He considers the setup and tries to decide if it will do the trick. It looks dangerous to be sure, but Bill wants this to be the last time such measures are called for, so he ups the ante and loosens all the bolts on the landing ramp before retiring to bed.

The next evening, with chunks of an awful day still poking at his insides, Bill heads for home. But instead of calmly pulling into his driveway and heading in to catch his program, Bill stands on the gas and aims for the ramp.

Neighbors pause as they gather their mail and wonder what Bill could be up to.

Where you headed Bill, says Mrs. Johnson as Bill careens toward the end of the ramp.

Backyard, he says as he whizzes by.

The car whumps! against the launch ramp and then suddenly he’s airborne. Cotton candy air begins to scream through the windows and Bill drinks it in with abandon as the car drifts over the roof and toward the backyard. He realizes now how afraid he is, how much he does not want to die, and how alive that makes him feel. The car’s metal creaks a complaint about the sky, and groans with desire to rejoin the ground. It tips ever forward as the landing ramp rushes toward the windshield. Bill gulps down one more sugary breath and hopes it will not be his last. The rubber squeaks. The ramp collapses. Darkness descends.

***

Sugar, you’re getting to be a regular around here. And that’s not a good thing.

Bill stares into her impossibly blue eyes. The moment is so juicy he can feel it run down his chin.

***

Sadly, the flavor doesn’t last forever. In fact, Bill has barely gotten his latest casts removed when a mere flat tire takes all Bill’s favorite colors and turns them gray. His toast? Cardboard. Bill’s hopes for a permanent solution are dashed. The first accident tided him over for nearly half a year. His latest stunt proves tasty for barely two months. Bigger is not better, Bill sadly proclaims. Any old disaster will do. When he gets to work, he hurls himself down the stairs.

***

For a while every fall earns him a month or so of scrumptious days. Then he’s running out by the end of every week and spending Saturdays in the emergency room getting a meal ticket for the next. Then suddenly he can’t make it past Wednesday, and he’s spending almost as much time in the hospital as out.

His co-workers say he’s accident prone. They take away his scissors and bolt down his chair. They insist he avoid the stairs and use the elevator at all times, though no one dares to ride with him. Mr. Phillips doesn’t care. Whatever Bill does, he keeps coming to work with a grin, and chowing down on reports like a starving animal. Bill produces with such vigor the company awards him an Atlantic cruise to say thanks. His co-workers stare at him with disdain, unable to suffer his smile.

Eventually the office is sealed up tight, the sharp corners on everything covered over in thick foam padding. Bill can bounce from office to office like a bumper car in a rubber room and never do himself the slightest harm.

So when he’s out on his lunch break and discovers his soup no longer tastes different than his spoon, he shoots over to the zoo and hops into the lion’s den. When he recovers he feels so fantastic he goes back. But when he falls in the tiger pit, the shark tank, and the snake house all in the same week, the keepers get suspicious. Bill is banned from the zoo.

He crashes his cars, he chews his power lines, and between brushes with death feels invincibly alive. He’s dropped by all but one insurance carrier who calls to say they’re raising his rates yet again.

You realize we have no choice. You’re heading to the hospital several times a week. Frankly, your premium’s going to skyrocket.

Bill’s bruised and battered face breaks into a smile. That’s the price of fine dining.

He savors the crumbs of every day and dreams of taking bullets in his sleep. He sees himself dancing among landmines, and falling from the sky, and then he wakes up and cries as he eats his criminally fantastic toast.

Bill’s life is a heavenly buffet sprinkled with bites of searing pain and recurring lapses into darkness.

***

And after the darkness, she’s always there, the chocolate nurse to welcome him back to the world of taste and color, health and well-being. But this time she’s not alone. Another person, her eyes sweet and kiwi green, is looking into his bed reflecting his own broken jaw smile.

Sugar, I told you you couldn’t keep going on like this.

The other woman leans in. How do you feel, Bill?

Amazing.

Are you aware you’ve made hundreds of visits to the hospital in the last six months?

Yes, he smiles.

Are you trying to kill yourself?

Of course not. I’m elated to be alive.

How do you explain all the accidents?

Just throwing myself slightly painful life preservers.

It sounds like you might be depressed.

Not anymore.

There are other ways to deal with depression. Have you tried watching TV?

I’m fine. This is healthy. It’s natural. Death and danger are part of life. I just wasn’t getting my share. I’m eating a balanced diet now, and I feel great.

You’ve nearly died on numerous occasions.

I’ve broken every bone in my body in order to appreciate the incredible taste of my toast, and I’d gladly do it again.

That’s an awfully extreme view. Life isn’t sustainable at the extremes, Bill. It’s like the globe, you have to live somewhere in the middle.

Her kiwi eyes turn to the chocolate nurse and she nods. The nurse raises a syringe and adds its contents to Bill’s IV.

I warned you, sugar. Her teeth are still glowing white, but her eyes seem filled with sadness.

Blackness swallows him.

***

Bill’s scissors are returned. His chair is unbolted. He’s encouraged now to make full use of the stairs. Bill is no longer a danger to himself. He’d need to care to be dangerous, and Bill’s medication prevents him from caring in the least. Taste is not important. Color is a useless luxury. As long as Bill swallows his pill each day he can eat dirt and razor blades without mustering the energy to even dream of chocolate and steak. Bill is cured. His co-workers are glad to have him back. His insurance company is pleased to see he’s come around.

Only Mr. Phillips misses the old Bill, who despite his mental issues, displayed unparalleled zest for reports. Bill’s medicated production has declined drastically, and though it seems wrong, Mr. Phillips can’t think of a workable reason to prevent the new Bill from taking the cruise the old Bill so richly deserved. He does the only thing he can and demands Bill write, process, and file a report on the adventure.

No problem, Bill says without looking up from his desk.

***

Somewhere in Utah a delivery man decides he’s tired of Spam flavored days spent delivering packages and drives his truck full of wares down to Mexico and starts an all-percussion band. None of them can afford drums, so they start to play the boxes that will never reach their destinations.

Bill is in the middle of laying out his clothes for the cruise when he realizes his box of medication has failed to arrive. I’ll probably run out, he thinks, but I guess it’s not important. Bill’s now an expert at not caring one way or the other.

***

The ship made of plastic sails a sea of tofu waves. Bill wanders from deck to deck, consuming meals and shows and games of shuffleboard and pinochle, and he manages to do it all without caring in the least. He chews on the scenery, the water and the sky, without so much as a thought about its taste. He retires to his room, which could just as easily be a broom closet, Bill wouldn’t be able to tell.

Just as Bill begins another Styrofoam day at sea, he discovers he’s run out of pills. Oh well, he says. I guess that’s the end of that.

But as the day moves west, a haze begins to lift, and by the time the sun has faded, Bill’s memory is clear. He looks around him like he’s just remembered he has eyes. There’s color under dust, hidden flavor for those who dare to taste. He looks longingly at a heavy lifeboat that seems to be hanging by a thread, offering to crush him with pleasure. His mouth begins to water as he spots a plate glass window ready to splinter into deadly shards. He’s hungry for the moment, starved for lost time, and takes a step in the window’s direction when a painful realization stops him dead in his tracks.

The chocolate nurse is no longer his friend, and on the other side of darkness his menu will never change. He feels completely hollow. His life cannot be eaten and the only hope he’s offered is to chemically not care. She’ll only start the pills again, Bill thinks, and probably up his dose. He turns his back on the window and moves away from the dangling boat.

Defeated, he wanders to the top of the ship and stares into a darkened ocean he longs to taste. He watches the ship cut the water far beneath him and from the classroom in his mind, an idea raises its hand. Maybe I just won’t go back, he says with a hopeful breath.

He judges the distance below him. A solid seventy feet. A long trip, a few tasty seconds at the least. He steps closer to the rail and looks around to confirm he’s alone. He considers the bargain as he raises himself up, one last feast or a lifetime of flavorless gum. It takes less than a second to decide, and he’s hurtling through a candied breeze and into the delicious darkness below.

***

He expects the blackness, but not for it to move. His limbs flail in delirious confusion, pushing at the darkness all around, until his head breaks the surface and he finds himself floating on an ocean of fudge. Pillow mint stars start to twinkle in the sky and he looks left to see the boat pressing on, hundreds of whipped cream waves cresting in its wake.

This ocean is fucking amazing, he screams and he sucks it in with every pore. He floats on the fudge and smiles to the sky until the boat is just a sprinkle on the horizon. It’s quiet, and Bill’s alone, as alive as he can remember being. There’s a delectable heaviness in his arms, a tasty burn in Bill’s lungs. Minutes pass in ecstasy until Bill starts to gain weight from the feast. His head dips under the fudge in ever lengthening doses before resurfacing to drink in the night. Somewhere in his mind he knows he’s getting heavier, but it all tastes too good to stop. He melts into the fudge again and considers staying below. His heart cries out for one more slice of sky.

He breaks the surface once again and swallows all that he can see. His body is extremely heavy. Bill is getting full. Then suddenly, on the horizon, he thinks he sees an island. An island with snakes and spiders, cliffs and lava, and if he’s lucky a helping of natives with spears. It’s ten miles away. Twenty at most. Right over there. Wait. No. Over there. It seems to keep moving, jumping left then right. He can’t be sure.

It’s okay, Bill says with confident glee. I’ll find it.

He takes one last nibble of the world above the fudge, and then lowers himself beneath its chocolaty surface. With an indelible grin, he pulls his weary arms through the dark, and begins the swim for shore.

2 comments:

Heather said...

What a great story! I really liked this idea of the serial traumatic-experiences-that-change-your-life-perspectives seeker. It had a bit of a "The Awakening" ending, but I really like how you took the idea of tasting and relishing life, and described it so vividly. Bravo!

mr. kyle said...

Glad you enjoyed it.