by: M. R. Vega
I could see you now, I can see your plump youthful ‘cheeks the ones that complement the mother of you, and your smile is nearly matching. Your happiness is nearly intoxicating as we run up the face of the cliffs to see the sunset and I keep calling to you to slow down while I strain to breathe in the oxygen that I swear is thinning. You finally slow down to aid in me catching up but it’s like playing cat and mouse with you. Your energy is so sweeping and jubilated I can’t help but smile at your beautiful laughter while we chase the sun in hopes we’ll see it set with the purple clouds and ashen blue hues draped in plumes of orange and burning red. I slowly inhale and gasp while I look around…but the sunset is gone, the ground is gray and you’re nowhere to be seen. I call out your name, my eyes straining to find your moving and laughing body running up to the top but the hollering of your name meets silence…
Joel wakes with a hollowness, his eyes wet and he looks at the bed seeing it empty as it usually is. Celeste can be heard in the kitchen, likely making more coffee, her usual stimulant that she recently has been mixing with rum, but Joel ignores that reality and shakes away the hollowness that eats at him and forces a smile while stretching up and immediately throws on jeans. He grabs at the t-shirt from last night and dismisses the smell wafting from it and quickly patters through the upstairs hallway and finds Cel’s clothes in a pile at the top of the staircase. He tilts his head, looking at it quizzically, and can’t help but wonder what she’s done to herself now. Ashamed of the thought he skirts down the staircase with an agile swiftness that goes unheard and finds her dropping in half a fist of pills and swigging at her coffee. Her face is riddled with pain, a known and shared pain but he looks away as he hears the large gulp of what he hopes was ibuprofen.
‘Morning love.’ He coos to her quietly so as not to spook her sensitive demeanor and rubs an open palm on the small of her back before grabbing the largest mug he could find in the cupboard and starts up a long pour of cold coffee over ice neglecting cream or flavor of any sort.
‘What time did you wake Cel?’
‘Not too long ago, maybe an hour. I thought I heard a bang outside, maybe a holler but it was that racist neighbour of ours and his stupid dogs I guess. you…Your eyes are puffy B, did you wake crying again?’ with her question she points at the open bottle of Sailor Jerry’s and shrugs with a sheepish smile, and states ‘It helps.’ ‘Least it does for me anyhow.’
He tries to smile at her attempt to segway to something avoidant but fails miserably and her scoff lets him know the rest of the day would be best served in the basement working on the project and he emptily stares at his stirring at the iced coffee. He watches her briskly walk to the living room couch, her eyes avoiding his inquiring ones and turns on the t.v. She flips through the endless channels and raises the volume enough that anything he says will go missed and he waves a quick hand and points at himself, signs work, and throws a thumb in the direction of the basement and she does nothing but shoos him away with a flittering wave using the back of her knuckles. He smugly smiles in her direction while he grabs the oversized coffee mug and lazily steps to the basement door, disappears into the darkness that has become a hellish escape while letting the door near slam behind him.
He’s taken to the steps so often in the last year that it’s become second nature and going to his workspace through darkness was effortless. He reaches out to the wall and flicks the switch under his hand issuing the filaments above. Then the buzz and echo slowly fill the silence of Joel’s space. He tosses down half of the cold brew swiping at the liquid at the corner of his mouth and with anguish steps over cords, tubes, eclectic panels, schematics, and crumpled blueprints that swarm the concrete slabs of the basement floor. He glares at the glass desk, plops his ass on the barstool, and glares with a behooving that no one can recognize as anything other than hate.
Atop the glass desk, wrapped in oil-ridden burlap sits an item that only tortures Joel. no matter the connections, no matter the ionic bonds, the magnet components, and lithium-ion nodes, no matter how they’re stacked and connected what sits within that wrapped burlap mocks Joel. His failings with it bring nothing but a deepening hollow. One similar to the feelings he woke to that morning, the hollow drills into the lacking light that he tries so hard to keep grasp of, but within that burlap is dread, dampening darkness that brings nothing but anguish and clenched teeth. He grunts at the environment, the dust grips the filaments above, stinks of soil and mildew and he can’t help but wish he had more than a window well to gain some freshness. Knowing that opening the door above would just anger Cel, he hoists himself up with a groan and scuttles over to the wall that shares the window well, unlocks and slides the window open to a brisk and cooling air that raises his hair and brings clarity to him. Joel throws a weary eye to the burlap bulge and goes back, plopping down with coffee in hand and fiddling with the burlap sheet. He slowly unwraps the item from the burlap and takes a quick swig of the coffee before turning full focus to what was inside the shrouds of burlap. Joel stares at the gleaming metal and strokes the top panel of what is an innocuous and simple box.
He grasps the metallic object and nearly cradles the box as though it was malleable and more fragile than expected. With a quick burst, he raises it above his head and aims at the wall intending on throwing it to the wall to smash away the last eleven or twelve months but halts. Celeste above, sipping at her likely boozed coffee can be heard sobbing, sniffing, and continuing to sip away at her tame poison, and Joel reels in the box and cradles it again. Before setting it atop the desk her places it to his ear, rattles it with both hands, and waits for any sound. Silence aside from the bright light filaments above and his wife sobbing, the box in his hands lay docile and mute. After setting the box back atop the burlap he grimaced, and grabbed at his pliers and the magnets designated for the locking mechanism, after sliding the magnets over unseen latch mechanisms, the box bloomed open. Within was a myriad of tubes, a LiSOCL²; a lithium battery adequately tampered and wired through a gelatinous and tenuous threading of what Joel thought looked too much like snot. He grabbed his gloves and went to tamper through the innards of the box. His box.
The sobbing stopped and turned into what was a faint snoring, nearly muffled but endearing, and he sighed heavily while listening to Celeste. Looking back at the box, he fiddled here, twiddled there, and moved an N52 magnet, almost touching the LiSOCL² but leaving it off a hair or two away. Just shy from the LiSOCL², just shy from an imminent reaction and what he assumed would be an implosion of grand demolition but sighed with grace as he set it down, and placed it confidently on the malleable gleaming metal. He went to closing the shining metallic contraption and moved the locking mechanisms magnets appropriately and what caught Joel’s ears was something new. It brought a standing to his hair across the body and he couldn’t help but peer quizzically with a shit-eating grin. It couldn’t be, the one time he didn’t take to a complete rework, shredding the writing and starting anew, not taking notes, not painstakingly jotting down every move and adjustment as he had in every project, for every company, providence met him. A soft and euphonious trembling came to his ears and he couldn’t contain the joy that swept over him.
Its humming brought not only a jubilation to his reality but the ability to what he had strived in making possible from an impossible idea. What was once a futile juxtaposition to the chaos that had consumed his life and that of Cels was now looking to be able to be righted, rewritten and the quirkiness of a Vonnecgut short came to mind while he cried at the possibilities he was seeing with the assumptions of what was humming so mellifluously. He cradled the box, what he jokingly called the ‘Forget-me-Naught’ as a fastidious hampering to what he let lead his every waking moment since the tragic happenings of a recent past he so effortlessly wished to be removed from himself. It was final. The box set down now atop the burlap humming exquisitely and Joel chose to wrap it back up in the burlap and call to the only opinion he knew would be needed and likely the only one he thought would endorse his decision to come. He placed the box in the safe under the desk, punched in the three-digit combo, latched it with a key, and patted at the safe, pleased he could still hear the humming faintly emitting from the safe, and turned off the lights.