Friday, September 24, 2021

Unfinished story, “The News”

I probably started this story a few months after 9/11, back when I’d turn on the news the first thing in the morning just in case something had happened in the night.  I started the story, thought it was interesting, but didn’t finish it for one reason or another.  A few years later, I came across it and added in some new details, but I think it was becoming dated, so I didn’t put much work into it because I didn’t think I could do anything with it.  And that’s how things have stood for the past ten-plus years.  But with the recent 9/11 anniversary, I was thinking about this story so I dug it out.  It has become even more dated and I was about to move it to my Dead Story folder, when I realized that was a bit of a waste for a story that’s 90% done.  I could update it, but that would basically be rewriting the whole thing.  So I took five minutes and cut out all the “Add more details here” bits, and ended up with a story that would have been interesting fifteen years ago.

“The News”

Jason Cole stood on the end of a pier watching his coworker Susan Black swimming naked in the ocean.  She had not seen him and he smiled thinking what everyone at the office would say when he told them of her tattoo of a four-leaf clover on her right buttocks.  Then his alarm went off.

With a groan he rolled onto his side while his right arm flopped around until he hit the snooze button.  He stayed on his side and fell back asleep.  When the alarm went off again his right arm shot straight out and hit the snooze.  This time he sat up, and held his head in his hands.  He was still like that when his alarm went off for the third time.  He turned the alarm off and continued to sit on the side of the bed for another minute, yawning, stretching, and scratching his side.  What finally got him to his feet was not the fact that he had to be at work in an hour, but that he had to piss.

Once his bladder was empty, he walked through his living room to the kitchen and filled his stomach with a bowl of corn flakes and a large cup of coffee.  As he ate he mentally reviewed his presentation on the Tanaka account he was to give before the board that afternoon.  It did not require much thought; it was just a rehashing of the last three presentations he had given.  The information boiled down to the statement, “Things are going well, and they will continue going well as long as the board dosen’t screw things up.” It had taken him three days before his first presentation to stretch that to ten minutes and turn it into something that would let him keep his job.  Since then it only took an hour or two to freshen it up a bit. 

He rinsed his bowl out and set it in the sink.  As he was going to the bathroom for his shower, the image of Susan swimming in the ocean brought him to a stop in front of his TV.  His brow furled as he tried to remember the entire dream.  He was walking along the beach, something had happened, and then he saw her swimming.  And she had a tattoo.

This thought had him laughing throughout his shower.  Susan was the most up-tight woman he had ever met.  She would turn red if anyone used a curse worse than ‘heck.’ Once Mike had dropped ‘the F-Bomb’ in front of her and everyone thought she would faint.  But she had taken a deep breath, stood up, said, “Excuse me,” and walked out the door.  She did not come back for ten minutes.  Of course Joyce and Todd thought it was all just an act.  They figured that on weekends Susan dressed up in leather and hung out in biker bars.  He would have to tell them about his dream.  They would get a kick out of the tattoo.

Once dressed in a dark blue Appignani with a lighter blue tie, he grabbed his briefcase and went outside.  When he started his car, Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” blared out of the speakers.  He needed music as he drove, something that had driven Carol insane.  He never listened to the radio because there were too many commercials, too many annoying DJs, and too many crappy songs.  He needed to get into his car, and hear nothing but great music as he drove. 

The streets seemed rather empty for a Thursday.  When he got on the freeway there was very little traffic.  He checked his watch and saw that he was running a few minutes early.  He had noticed that if he left home five minutes late he hit the rush and ended up being twenty minutes late to work.

Not far from the office was a huge church.  As he drove by he noticed the parking lot was packed.  It seemed odd to have a wedding or a funeral that early. 

He didn’t have much time to think of it because he soon pulled into the parking lot at work: it was empty.  He looked at his watch, 7:52.  He had never been this early, but surely someone else should be here. 

Then he heard Carol’s voice in his head, “Someday something big is going to happen, and you’re going to be the last one to know about it.” That conversation had taken place a few weeks after 9/11.  Like everyone, he watched the news constantly those first few days.  He had never been much of a news watcher before, but the weeks after 9/11 burned him out.  Carol would stay up until midnight watching the news, and then wake up around three to watch for another half hour, just in case something happened, then go back to sleep and get up at six to watch for an hour before going to work.

When they drove, she made him turn off his CDs and play the radio, just in case some breaking news happened.  The last time Jason had thought of her was when Pope John Paul II had died.  He had been flipping through the channels when he came to CNN which had a banner saying, “Breaking News: Pope near death.” Jason wasn’t Catholic, he wasn’t religious, but he thought the Pope was a good guy, and felt sorry.  But that did not stop him from watching a movie, going to bed, and not turning on his TV for almost twelve hours.  When he did, and turned to CNN just to see what had happened, their banner still reading, “Breaking News: Pope near death.” The thought hit him, Carol would have watched TV for those twelve hours, waiting for the Pope to die. 

Jason got back into his car and started the engine.  Then he ejected the CD, and searched for a radio station.

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