It was hot. Damned hot, and the air was still and thick. It lay upon the pavement like road kill, with no promise of future animation. In fact, it seemed that the air regretted its earlier rash movement onto the freeway.
Mark felt sacrilegious, disturbing the torpor of reality with his movements. The sun drained his motivation, his will to keep putting one foot in front of the other. There was no reason he couldn't just curl up in the shade and sleep forever. No reason, except the fact that there was no shade.
It was that kind of day. He awoke at 5 from a nightmare involving a mob of bill collectors and a rickety wooden fire escape with rotten steps. Usually when he woke from a nightmare (a more and more common occurrence in recent years) he'd experience a few moments of blind, disoriented terror, and then a feeling of great relief would wash over him. This morning, though, he just wanted to slit his wrists. His reality was as oppressive as his nightmare, waking was no relief.
He'd always been a physical coward, and that saved his life many times up to this point. Usually it helped him by keeping him out of danger, off the ski slopes and out of the Army. It kept him away from life in general, too, and that suited him fine. In this case, his self-isolation allowed him to drop into a dreamless slumber for another hour, He re-awoke with no memory of his dream, and only a vague recollection of the pain.
Mark went through his day on automatic, working up the motivation for each step just in time. He tried to forget each little trial as he went through it; the spilled coffee, the ripped shirt, the 43 mismatched single socks in his drawer. The last stuck with him a little longer, since it seemed so unfair. He had only bought about 15 pairs of socks since he had moved... and surely they matched when he bought them. Where had the other socks come from?
Mark kissed his wife absently; still thinking about socks, and went to his car. As he reached for the door handle, he was struck by the sudden realization that some of the socks were green. He never bought anything but black, brown, grey, and blue socks. Mostly grey, since they tended to go with more clothes, but never green. Where the...
Not only was he struck by the thought of green socks, but by the door of the car as he jammed his fingers into the dusty green metal. "Dammit, ow!", he groused, and flung the door open with the other hand. The door, being old enough to vote, had its own ideas, and bounced off its stops and smacked Mark right on his left Achilles tendon. "Sh--!" he exclaimed and banged his head into the doorjamb. He slumped into the seat.
After a few minutes in silent contemplation of the heat death of the universe, and what a welcome change it would be, he started the car and drove off. He drifted through the trip to work, his thoughts fuzzy and muddled like the duckweed covering the sunnier parts of Lake McKenna.
Well Gentle Readers, just to give you and me, if not Mark, a break from his unrelentingly dull and dreary view of existence, we'll skip through the day filled with incomprehensible memos, obtuse management, and passive-aggressive (or just plain obnoxious) co-workers. Suffice it to say that Mark was looking forward to the trip home. If nothing else, he was allowed to sleep at home. Perhaps tonight it would be the bill collectors, and not Mark, who fell through the rickety fire escape. By this point he was too tired and frustrated to worry about socks. It didn't matter to him much if his socks matched, after all, you couldn't see them under his business casual work pants. All you could see were his shoes, and...
"Dammit! Dammit Dammit Dammit to Hell!" Yes, Mark had finally noticed that, while his socks matched to the point of both being somewhat similar shades of grey, his shoes, on the other hand...
Mark was wearing a black loafer on his left foot. Black with a small gold buckle, sole worn down at the inside of the heel and at the big toe. On his right foot... on his right foot he wore a brown loafer, with tassels. That explained his co-workers' snickering, anyway.
He stayed at his desk, the rest of the day, too embarrassed to get up for a glass of water, or to use the men's room. When 5:30 arrived, he dashed out to his car, trying to hide both his feet and his blushing face at the same time. When he sat behind the wheel of his car, he hung his head in shame. At this point, he noticed his fly was unzipped.
"Daaa-" he started to curse as he drew up the zipper. He hurried a little too much, and caught just a corner of his "wee proud flesh" in the zipper. Mark whimpered as his eyes teared up and he struggled with the fastener. Finally, he cleared himself, and at the same time succeeded in jamming the infernal device in the down and now locked position.
Nearly blind with fury, he jammed the car into reverse and squealed out of the parking spot, backing over a board left behind by the crew constructing the new offices next door. Mark sped off, just wanting to get home, and now.
He muttered imprecations at the slow pokes ahead of him at the lights "c'mon, green means go, green means go!!" and fidgeted in his seat. That third bottle of soda was probably a mistake, and that was hours ago. Mark merged onto the freeway, and sped up to about 75. He drummed on the wheel in counterpoint to his rapid pulse, weaving slightly as his sweaty hands lost and regained control of the vehicle. Then, of course, he hit the pothole. The right rear tire, abused by low air pressure and a tiny nail puncture from the board, decided that this was the ultimate insult. It blew completely off the rim.
Nothing brings you into the here and now like imminent death, and this was no exception. For a brief moment, Mark forgot all about his shoes, and his job, and his socks, and even his fly, and he focused entirely on Not Dying. The car pulled to the left drastically, and his first reaction was to swerve to the right. Time slowed to a halt as he saw the spring foliage he had not previously noticed by the side of the freeway drift slowly past his windshield, to be replaced by the rapidly receding pavement of the view back toward his origin. The car continued to drift, slowed down by the drag of the tireless rim, and finally came to a stop on the shoulder, canted at an angle to the road with the left front wheel down in the ditch. Stuck.
Mark leaped from the car, as the residual adrenaline coursed through his system. He panted, muscles tight, ready to pounce or spring or just flat out run. He stood like that for several minutes, slowly calming down
Of course, not only was the spare tire flat, there was no jack handle. The cell phone had just enough juice left in it to turn on, and tell him "Don't Forget your... TracPhone Time will expire..." last Thursday. And then go dead. There was no alternative but to walk.
Mark sighed, and started toward home. It was only about five miles, an hour and a quarter at most. He trudged, thinking only of the next step, trying not to weigh himself down with the burden of the whole trip at once. The sun started to set, and the heat abated a bit. At one point, the underside of the black loafer wore through at the front. Not only did this allow small rocks to enter his show, it also permitted the sole to fold under and catch unless he lifted that foot up high in the air. His even, though plodding, trudge had become a "shuffle-flip-plop.... shuffle-flip-plop..." and he could feel a very slight coolness on his crotch as he lifted his left leg, stretching his damaged pants and consequently flashing the oncoming motorists with a glance at his briefs. He was developing a nice blister on his left heel, still aching from the rogue car door, as well. His full bladder had actually become a comforting dull distraction to the rest of his suffering.
At last Mark arrived at home, kissed his wife with some urgency and dashed to the bathroom, removing his shoes, socks, and pants as he went. She pondered this spectacle for a few moments, and decided it would be wise to join him. If he was that aroused, she should be there. It was a fairly rare occurrence and she didn't want to miss anything. When she reached the bedroom she could hear the sound of streaming water from the bathroom, and she sat and waited.
She waited, and waited, her patience dwindling. After about three minutes of listening to the cascading waterfall, the sound stopped. She brightened, and then glowered again as it resumed full force. She gave up and returned to her video game.
A few minutes later, after a third round of urination, Mark found a pair of thick, non-matching green socks and a pair of sweatpants. He threw away the black loafer and its former mate, matching the still usable brown tasseled loafer with its counterpart. He decided to call the tow truck in the morning, and settled onto the couch with a stout beer and a book. It was time to forget this day, to lose himself in dreams of another world. It was time to seize a few golden moments between the purgatory of day and the oblivion of night.
After a while, he kissed his wife again and went to bed. He dreamed of bill collectors, and a rickety wooden fire escape. When he awoke around 5, he felt like slitting his wrists, but instead he went back to sleep for another hour. When he awoke again, he was ready to start his day.
It had to be a better day than the one before... right?