His Bubble One
Two miles northeast of the…..
Two sets of fingers squeezed in between the sliding doors until there was a gap big enough to bring in the knuckles. Now the fingers pushed the gap open enough to slip both palms in. When they pushed, the gap groaned open wide enough for Buzz to step through, the candy bar in his mouth leading the way.
When he stepped out of the gas station, the sliding doors didn’t shut back, and when Buzz strolled toward the road running northeast and southwest, he wasn’t leaving anybody behind, because the store was empty and all the lights were off.
Everything around him stood very still, held down by the oppressive gray blanket overhead. Even sound had been muted. If it weren’t for the gloomy colors, Buzz could have felt justified in saying that he was looking at nothing more than a painting, a very detailed painting, but despite the artist’s attention to intricate details in objects, he or she wasn’t able to capture perspective, creating a 2-D town.
The world was a finished model, waiting for its creator to flip on the switch. Until then, everything waited, holding its breath. There was no wind, no breeze of any sort, yet there was air to breathe. Perhaps exhaustible, but at the moment there was plenty to spare. Not too many people around, and regardless of the depressing ceiling, there was plenty of room to hold a lot. That’s right. One thing about this Buzz liked was the amount of room.
The only sounds he heard were his own footsteps and the crinkling of the candy bar wrapper when he peeled it back. When he started munching, the sounds of his teeth grinding the sweetness filled his head and pounded his ears. For as long as he munched, he thought the noise was drowning out something important for him to hear, a scream for help or a car driving by, or just someone trying to get his attention. But he didn’t stop munching, so the world either shouted at him with blaring alarms or crashing cars and screaming women while all he heard to his content was, “CRUNCH! CRUNCH! CRUNCH! CRUNCH!”
Then he swallowed, the sudden loss of the crunch switching over to a swishing sound. Something external that probably started at any point during his munching, trying to get his attention but couldn’t compete with his working jaw.
He thought he had been mistaken. Was there a noise? Did he make something up? Was a breeze starting? No, that wasn’t possible due to the situation. But he was hearing…
It was silent, yet loud, the only noise in the world but at a distance yet. He held his breath and kept himself still in order to capture every bit of that sound, hearing it become everything, some sort of life that beat the full wave that was supposed to turn everything on at the same time.
Rain? No. Though the noise was a constant bombardment of some sort. Heavy, but smooth. Easy.
His ears took him to the northeast, down the empty street. He trotted over to the edge of the gas station lot and stood at the edge of the street, gazing to the left. There was a car coming.
He stared and after a moment, muttered, “Is this the one?”
The car, a dark blue color that was significant and oppressed at the same time, just like everything else by the same gray blanket overhead, was approaching in the left lane. The driver must have seen Buzz because the car swerved over in the right lane, though it didn’t speed up.
“Nah,” Buzz said, “probably not.” Then he considered, “Unless…”
But that was as far as he got with that thought. The car was slowing now, passing right through a red light that had no power, just gray lights matching the gray sky, and squeaked its breaks to an oozing stop. The passenger-side window was aligned with Buzz. The driver stared over at Buzz while the window hummed its way down, unveiling a concern in the driver’s wide eyes.
Maybe, Buzz thought, maybe not. The candy bar remained at his side.
The driver gave Buzz a slight nod for a greeting, but his eyes kept trailing over to the gas station. Finally, he nodded at the building and, while mustering a cordial smile, asked, “Are they open?”
Buzz grinned, “Nope.”
The driver straightened himself and lifted his chin enough to where he could spot the candy bar he thought he saw Buzz holding just before he drove up, “Where’d you get that?”
Buzz glanced down at the candy bar and then returned his grin to the driver, “Stole it.”
The driver’s cordial smile dropped. “Oh.” His fingers tapped on the steering wheel as he considered. Then he said, “Well, I don’t want to steal anything.”
Buzz said nothing.
“Do you know of any place that’s open right now?” the driver asked.
“Nope.” Buzz answered, and surmised this guy wasn’t it.
The driver nodded and whispered, “Okay.” Then he scanned the silent town through his windshield. “Well,” he glanced back at Buzz, “thanks.”
Buzz nodded, and the guy drove away without rolling up the window. Buzz lifted his candy bar and took another bite of it. “Oh well. Guess it won’t be so easy.” He spun on his heel and headed back to the gas station, “Gotta do some hunting then, I suppose.”
He slipped back inside the frozen glass double doors, into the darkened interior, and silence gripped the area once more.
A minute rolled by.
The gray blanket overhead jolted to the explosion, which caused everything to gasp and stiffen as something burst from the gas station’s roof in an electronic humming blur, leaving a hole five feet in diameter.
Then nothing was happening. The broken pieces of the roof splattered there on the cement slab beside the building, and nothing continued to happen for a while.
This Bubble One
The greens are grayed,
But the gray brings out the green,
In a moist blanket that blinds the sun…
Andy said, “No. No, you’ve got it all wrong. Today is Monday.”
Kathrin’s voice was fuzzy over the cell phone, “I swear it feels like yesterday.”
“Ah, well, you see?” Andy said, “You just admitted that it is indeed Monday.”
“How so?” Kathrin asked.
“By saying yesterday,” Andy began, “you are acknowledging that a day has passed, and it is now a new day. Not the same day.”
After a pause, with Andy grinning on his side of the line, Kathrin asked, “You sure it’s not Sunday?”
“Your mom went to church yesterday,” Andy said, “and she brought fried chicken home. Remember?”
Kathrin’s end of the line was silent again as she considered. Then, “Yeah, yeah, that’s right. Fried chicken.”
Andy took his cell phone away from his ear to check the time on the display, then he put it back to his ear, “It’s one thirty now. You didn’t eat fried chicken today did you?”
“Nope.” Kathrin sighed.
“There ya go.” Andy said. “That should put your mind at ease.”
“Yeah.” Kathrin said. Then her tone changed, “Wait.”
“What?” Andy asked.
“You said it was one thirty.”
“You said it like you’re checking for the first time today.”
Andy chuckled, “What?”
“Every time you wake up you check the time on your cell phone before doing anything else.” she said.
“Uh, maybe I already did.” he said.
“No you didn’t.”
“And how do you know that?” he asked.
“I know because of the way you said it.” she said.
“How did I say it?” he asked.
“Like you do when you first discover something.” she said.
“That’s…” he couldn’t think of anything to say.
“Are you still in bed?” she asked.
“I’m…” he looked down at himself. His legs were covered by the sheets. “I’m in my bed, but I’m not ‘in bed’.”
“You are just getting up, and it’s one thirty in the afternoon.”
“Have you had your second cup of coffee yet?” she asked.
“That’s not fair!”
“Not even your first.” she said. “You at least sound like you had your first cup of coffee.”
“Ha! That only proves that I’m not just waking up.” he said.
“But you haven’t even started anything.” she said. “You haven’t even made the coffee yet.”
“It’s my day off.” he said.
“You work in the evenings.” she said.
“You had yesterday off as well, but you got up earlier.” she said.
“Did I?” he asked.
“You always wake up some time between ten and twelve.” she said. “You hate it when you wake up after one.”
“But today, you don’t sound like you hate it at all.” she added.
“Just further proof that I’m not just waking up.” he said.
“But you are, aren’t you?” she asked.
“I’ve been staring out my window.” he said.
“With or without the blinds rolled up?” she asked.
A pause. Then, “Everything is gray today.”
“But everything has its own brightness.” he added. “Kind of weird.”
“Today…” she said, “it just doesn’t feel right.”
“Hey.” he said.
“Hey.” she said back, a smile in her tone.
“Meet me at the coffee shop?” he asked.
He heard her smile widen.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
“Then I’ll leave in thirteen.”
Andy wondered why it was happening this way. Why go to the coffee shop and not make his own at home? That always came first. He filled the pot up to the point between where four cups and six cups were indicated on the side, then poured the water into the brewer. He only needed two leveled scoops of coffee. Out of all that, he would get two good cups of coffee. After the second, he turned the brewer off because there wasn’t enough coffee left to have a third.
The rest of the ritual was to grab a cup from the cabinet and fill it up to a half inch from the top. He didn’t know if it was really half an inch, he just didn’t know how to describe it any other way. Never thought about it really. He just watched the cup and always knew when to stop pouring.
Used to, he put in two heaping spoons of sugar. Later, he just dipped the spoon in the sugar bowl, pulling out enough to cover half of the spoon, doing that twice, and that was enough sugar. Now, he had abandoned sugar altogether and used honey instead. Two spoons of it. As for that so-called “half-inch” of space left in the cup, he used milk to almost fill that up, stopping just as the swirling colors of the liquid’s surface started to form that curve that liquids do when they cling to the edges of their containers. He didn’t think about it like that either, but again, he just watched and stopped pouring when it got to that point.
Strange the things one pays attention to just after waking up. As opposed to being unable to focus on anything at all after waking, or keeping to a ritual like going to the bathroom and then slowly coming to awareness with the help of a warm shower, there were these random trivialities that occupied the brain.
After putting the milk away, he’d stir the coffee, pick it up slowly, and take his first sip. The first sip said it all. If it didn’t taste right, that meant the whole process was out of whack. He wouldn’t ever fix it, though. He would just shrug, pucker his bottom lip and nod a casual approval.
He didn’t do that today. One thirty was past all that. One thirty he was well into his writing. Instead, he was putting on his shorts, and undershirt, and shirt that buttoned up the front, and then his sandals.
No shower. Not even brushing his teeth.
He grabbed all his gear, cell phone first, his tiny clip-on MP3 player that he never clipped onto anything, his wallet, keys, a pen, and then the cash lying on top of the graphic novels on the fourth shelf up.
Before he turned for his bedroom door, he took another look out the window with the blinds still down. They weren’t twisted closed but were lying level to each other, giving him a striped view of the world outside. All that was outside his window was a short stretch of grass, mixed with some weeds, and then a wall of trees and shrubs.
The gray was still there. It all looked as though it would rain. The colors told him that without him ever looking up to see the clouds he understood were covering the sky. He was wondering when it would start raining as he stepped out of his bedroom, down the hall, out the front door and out to his car. When he looked up, he stared at the clouds. They weren’t moving. Of course, they wouldn’t look like they were moving to a tiny human like himself. More than likely, what he saw of them was just a portion of one gigantic blanket.
What stood out the most about them was how they acted like dampeners to the sound of the world. He heard nothing of the day. No one. No animals. Not even himself. Was this peace? He could only justify that notion by comparing it to other situations. And if he was going to do that, why not go to the extreme with it? Somewhere other than here, someone was dying by someone else’s hands. The sounds of one clinging to life were always loud and chaotic. That was happening somewhere else. Had to be. Things like that just happened, and not because one could think them up and assume. It was because he knew. Knew those things happened to someone else, right?
Anyway. His thoughts were already rambling, and he’d only been awake for…..well….he’d at least give himself an hour. A rambling mind was normal for him. Kathrin was always waking him from his daydreams.
When he opened the door to his car, got in and cranked it, he was relieved by the waking growl of the engine.