The man swept the floor, being especially sure not to leave anything on the ground in the hallway. His hunched posture and reserved personality suggested he was an older man, bordering on 60. He
swept the floor day in, day out without complaint. The other janitors always thought something was strange about the man. “Look at him!” Remarked the first janitor. “It ain’t natural!” He said from
behind the closed staff room, as he and the other janitor observed the man working away at the floor in the hallway. “Leave him alone,” said the other janitor. “I heard his wife killed herself in
front of the poor bastard.” This was pure speculation. No one knew what had happened to the man, or any facts about him, nor did they even know his name. The janitors referred to him simply as “the
man,” as did most people. The man bent over to replace the liner in the garbage can. The bones in his back cracked loudly, and he groaned, nearly inaudibly, but loud enough to be heard by the
principal, Mr. Penn, who happened to be standing outside of his office. “Why don’t you take the rest of the day off?” He half offered, half demanded. Mr. Penn was a tall man with a forgettable
face, his eyes were light blue, and were almost non-existent, while his hair was wispy and light gold. “W-what?” Said the man. “Take the rest of the day off. The students have a half day today
anyway. Really. I insist.”
“Well, I just taking care of this here-”
“No really, I insist.”
“I suppose I could then, Mr. Penn.”
“Good. I’ll see you tomorrow at 8 A.M.”
“Sounds good to me, sir.”
The man picked up his belongings. His lunch was uneaten. It was only 10:45. “Today will be the day,” he thought, as he exited the building and proceeded to the post office. The man walked slowly, but in a very distinguished manner that almost suggested royalty. The man wasn’t royal though, far from it. He felt in his pocket. There was the letter he had meant to send to his son. The man set off to the post office. He knew it wasn’t far away from his home, so he could do it relatively quickly. The man thought of his son. He wasn’t going anywhere fast in his life, and was working a dead end job at a local pizza parlor. The man had saved a great deal of money for his son to be put through college, and now he stagnated in a backwater town. But there was nothing he could do. Nor did he intend to do anything. He thought of what he had said to his son on the phone last Tuesday. “You’re a man now! You are in control of your life! Not me!” He almost regretted raising his voice, but he figured it was time to get serious with his son. The man passed by the giant oak tree in the center of the town, and ventured into the post office. “Today is the day,” he thought, as he walked through the door. The post office was more crowded than usual, which wasn’t abnormal considering that it was getting close to Christmas, and gifts were being sent every which way. The slid into the line that had formed, zig-zagging around the building. The man looked around the building, and saw many different characters: a lady chatting away on her phone about what was to be for dinner that night. A man with a sour look on his face that reminded the man of a cat. There was a little boy there with his mother. He kept on tugging at her skirt, and was sternly reprimanded with every tug. The man chuckled a bit. Or, at least, it seemed like a chuckle. It was more of a grunt that escaped his chest with a high pitched intonation. The numbers were being called. “33!” Called the woman behind the counter. That was the man’s number. He looked down at his slip that he grabbed for confirmation. He stepped right up to the counter.
“Hello, sir. How are you doing today?”
“Fine, and yourself?”
“Just wonderful. What can I do for you today?”
“I’d like to send this parcel to Cold Springs. How much will that be?”
“Certainly. The total comes to $2.10”
The man fished out $2.10 in quarters. He could see the lady’s smile quickly evaporate as he counted the change. A collective groan echoed through the post office. The man didn’t seem to notice as he took his time counting the change. He set down eight quarters and one dime.
“Thank you sir, will that be all today?”
“Yes ma’am. Thank you.”
“Ok, a merry Christmas to you.”
The man strode out of the post office. He set off back to his house. He did some mental calculations. He figured he could get home in about five minutes. Not that it mattered. The man’s thoughts jumped back to his old high school. He deeply regretted dropping out.
“God knows I wouldn’t be here” he said to his friend. He found himself suddenly at his acquaintance’s house. “I could be making 50 grand a year. But no. I toil away in a school filled with little monsters and sarcastic teachers.”
“Yeah, but then you wouldn’t have met me,” said his friend.
“Why would that matter?” He said, with a stinging indifference.
The man blinked twice. He was walking along the road again. By his estimation he was now 4 minutes away from his house. He wondered why all the cars were going through the intersection even though the light was clearly red.
“It doesn’t make any sense. It really doesn’t.”
He was in a car with his wife.
“I know, I know.”
“We do everything in the world for him, and this is how he repays us?”
They were having a conversation about their son.
“He’s just a boy. He clearly doesn’t know any better.”
“He’s 15 years old. He damn well should know better.”
The man knew what would happen next. He was powerless to prevent it. His wife screamed. A sedan crossed the median and smashed head-on into their tiny subcompact. The man lost consciousness. He opened his eyes. A single tear streamed down his cheek. Three minutes, by his estimation. The man intended to get good and drunk that night. He had a few bottles of the harder alcohol left from the last time. The last time he got disgustingly drunk. A boy bounced his basketball and shot at the hoop. It rolled around the rim once, twice, thrice, and the man’s head followed its progress. It fell out. The boy looked dejected, but picked the ball right back up and shot it again. It went in. The man had arrived at his house. He walked in the door, set his things down, and muttered, “today is the day.”
The man walked over to his refrigerator and took out a bottle of vodka. He haphazardly opened it, and took a long draught, and then started softly weeping. He went to flick on the light switch, but nothing happened when he repeatedly hit the switch up and down. The man sat down on his couch, his whimpers turned into piercing, plaintive wails. He was taking periodic gulps from the bottle, recoiling each time. After he was good and drunk, the man stumbled up the stairs. He walked into his room, and knelt over the safe that was beside his bed. After much difficulty, he managed to unlock the safe. “34.…..19.……..22,” he said out loud, in between drawn out wails. He was shaking now, and reached into the safe. His hand touched it. It was unmistakable. He grabbed the revolver and pulled it out. He clutched it with both hands, moaning terribly. He propped his back against his bed, and breathed giant breaths. “Today will be the day,” he predicted. The man stumbled back down the stairs and went over to his kitchen table. He took another swig out of the vodka bottle. It was empty. He didn’t notice, nor did he care. The man sat himself down at the table. He was at his wife’s funeral. Her sister was describing “what a wonderful, caring, kind, considerate, nice, lovely, beautiful--” and then she broke down in tears. The man sat in the second row, his stone-faced demeanor not changing once. The coffin was now being lowered. The man wailed, his pent-up emotions leaking, and then finally gushing out. He was in the car with his sister-in-law. He held her and cried all the way back to his home. The man snapped his head back. He was at his house, at his kitchen table. He pressed the muzzle of the gun against his head. Without hesitation, the man fired one shot. He slumped over in his chair, and onto the table.
Later that day, the mailman delivered a letter to the man’s house. It was the one he had sent to his son earlier, only now it was stamped in red ink that read “return to sender.” And all the while as this was happening, the man sat in his kitchen, in a pool of his own blood.
© Copyright 2016 Burnest Hemingway. All rights reserved.