Originally Published 03/28/2011 05:46:57 AM
Photo Source: Jessica Beebe
He sat alone on the left side of a king-size bed that took up most of the room. Four feet beyond the bed was the far wall, where the pre-war wood frame window was propped up with a paint stirrer. Two feet of clearance existed between the bed and the right wall, where a dresser propped up a 9” TV. A small table to the right of the bed held a cup of Maxwell House, two packs of Marlboros and a Coke can overflowing with butts and ash.
Hot in the room, a heavy, languid heat that crept up from the courtyard through the flimsy screen window and settled in like a fog. A faint breeze occasionally pushed the curtains and the cloth pull at the end of the yellowed blind, dust motes dancing in the fading light on the way to the floor. The room was silent except for the occasional snippet of street noise: a bus shifting gears, children running home, a radio somewhere. The TV was tuned to a talk show, sound off.
He left the TV on and took his coffee and a fresh smoke out to the kitchen. He spent many nights at the kitchen table, the old Formica and chrome table and chair set that belonged to his grandmother, staring out at the courtyard, drinking coffee, smoking. There wasn’t much left from his grandmother, but that table came with her from the Sears and Roebuck in Davenport to her first apartment, and finally to his apartment. A little last piece of her. Home again.
He owned the table set and the TV, which also belonged to his grandmother, and the coffee maker. Everything else came with the sublet. His roommate was a Swede who was spending the summer studying in Koln. So basically the place was his. $600 a month for the room. A steal, or so they said. Not much of a steal when he was making under $1300 a month, though. A long, uncomfortable summer lay ahead.
Jesus, what a life: 24 and no idea how to get ahead, or stay even. Depression took hold, and no words could paint the picture. The ravages, the agony, the bewildering confusion and paralyzing shyness… He was surrounded by water towers and skyscrapers and dreams and fortune and neurosis and failure and love and pain and his own loneliness. And he had no idea how to overcome it all. A functional shell, existing in a cloud of smoke and sadness, the walls returning his words unanswered.
He went back to the bed and reflected on the day, which had begun hours ago with another call to the office voicemail system. Another sick day. This part of the day was always the worst: the time when work or school was over, and the sick day became just another evening. Just…another day, like the rest. The best part was just after calling in, around 7:00 AM, when the rest of the world was off to work and he had the day to himself. But that was a long time ago.
Nothing special now, nothing left but to sit at the table and think about his grandmother and how the world was so warm once. Thoughts of fireplaces and Christmas lights and playing war in the woods with friends. Little league and Slush Puppies and trips to the city and all the possibility of the new day. Nothing like that now…nothing but another day of trying to hold it all together…another day at work tomorrow…
Evening had descended. The lights of the city formed a gauzy purple halo across the courtyard, and everywhere people were getting ready to go out and meet friends and laugh and smoke and drink together. He sat alone on the bed, TV turned to the news, sound off, and reached for a lighter…