A Shot (and a Song) for Bravery

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

A Shot (and a Song) for Bravery

Hannah stepped on the stage, her legs quivering.  Her three-inch heels weren’t helping matters, but they were the only shoes she felt had enough attitude to go with her new leather pants.  She rubbed her biceps wishing that the tank top she was wearing would provide her with more warmth.  Or confidence; she felt a little dose of courage would be pretty helpful right about now.

Taking a swig of her third beer for the night, Hannah felt a little more relaxed.  She knew this wasn’t the greatest plan in the world, but she had always wanted to sing karaoke.  She had gone with her friends to several bars and they all went up on stage.  Alice would sing her favorite song (which changed weekly); her voice powerfully blasting over the crowds and wowing all those in attendance.  Grace had a more captivating style of singing.  She would start off slow.  Sometimes they crowds in the bar wouldn’t even know she was singing.  Eventually, the same thing would always happen.  Grace’s voice would slowly and subtly take over the room.  She would project her soul through her voice.  Ballads were her style and every tine, without fail, all the party-goers had fallen silent under her spell.  Hannah didn’t sing like either of her gal pals.

Hannah was the quiet one of their partying trio.  She always had something to say, she always was up for hitting the clubs on the weekends, and she always had a good time with her two friends.  But she was not the performer.  A born introvert, Hannah had spent most of her high school years wondering what it would like to be in drama club while preferring the safety of her swimming and volleyball teams.  No one expected her to talk or show off in sports; she could just blend into the team and help out the other athletes.  Performing required putting herself out there, letting people see what she was capable of.  Hannah usually just leaned on the bar, nursed her beer (real beer; no diet for her), and clapped along while Alice and Grace had their fun.  Still, Hannah had always wanted to try it.  Everybody else was having so much fun that she kept wishing she had the guts to try it.

Tonight was the night.  She was turning thirty in a few months and she wanted to cross a few things off her list before she left her twenties behind her.  Hannah had clocked out of work a bit early so that she could have time to go to the gym before her big stage debut.  She hoped that the water and exercise would calm her down, maybe get some of the nervousness out of her system.  By the time she had walked home, Hannah could feel the urge to talk herself out of it.  She didn’t completely succeed and she ate a light dinner just in case her nerves took over her stomach.  I’m going to do this, she told herself.

She kept her mouth shut the whole night.  She hugged Grace and Alice who both teased and whistled at the tight pants that were a far cry from her normal skirt or jeans attire.  Grace, normally the tallest by an inch or two, stood on tip-toe and looked Hannah in the eye.

“What are you up to?”

“I’m feelin’ a little frisky tonight, okay?”

“Well, it’s about time”, Alice replied.  “C’mon, Brett’s here.”

Brett and the three women often ended up at the same bar.  At first it had been a surprise occasion, but more and more often he had somehow known where to find them.  Hannah suspected that Alice had some hand in that.  She seemed a little too attached to her phone until Brett showed up and then she turned it off for the night.  Each night that they saw him, Grace, in her own quiet way, would comment to Brett on how nice Hannah looked, or how interesting Hannah had been at their last outing.  Brett always smiled, took up his cue, and stood as close to Hannah as he could without standing too close.  Hannah was flattered by the attention, but brushed it off whenever possible.  She liked Brett; from his strong chin to his easy-going nature.  He was a pretty solid dancer too.  Hannah liked to think there was something between them, yet she wasn’t one to force it.  She was looking pretty good tonight, she thought.  Her shoulder-length blonde hair that she normally brushed straight had been crimped to give her a touch of edge.  She had thought about leaving her glasses at home and sporting contacts, but she felt her small frames provided a nice contrast to the rest of her wild-child attire.  Also, she took comfort in having some accessory that was familiar to her.

As the night wore on, Hannah tried to drown her trepidation.  Events were occurring just as they typically did.  Alice teased and flirted, then hopped up on stage.  She had gotten a rather poor work review earlier that day and so she responded by belting out “Mr. Know It All.”  The club, as usual, ate it up.  Women cheered and men made waving gestures in the air.  By the end, half the crowd had sung along with the chorus.  Alice hopped off the stage, gave a few strangers high-fives, and went back to her friends.  Hannah was always intimated by Alice’s “take it or leave it” style and she finished off her first beer a little quicker than normal.

It was Grace’s turn.  She took the side route to the stage, weaving through the crowd and hugging the wall just enough to make her stroll easier.  As soon as a few drunken fraternity guys fell off the stage after sloshing their way through, “We’re Bringing Sexy Back”, Grace walked quietly up the three steps.  She leaned over to the karaoke emcee, conversed for a bit and stepped up confidently to the microphone.  As usual, no one really noticed anyone was signing for a bit.  The first few notes of “City” came cooing quietly over the noisy crowd.  Eventually, the entire group found themselves hanging on every note.  Grace had a capacity for strong singing, but unlike Alice, she saved it.  Hers was not a competition of who could rev the audience up most.  She simply wanted to tell a story and have people respond to it in some way.  That is exactly what happened.  For the four or five minutes she took to sing her sorrow, the club was right there with her.  She finished, offer a simple, “thanks” for their attention, and walked contentedly back to the bar.

Hannah, wanting to be jealous of Grace’s talent but knowing that she never could be, finished up the last bit of her second beer.  Whatever drops that had been trying to hold on to the bottom of the glass container soon found their way sliding down her throat.  Hannah’s thirst was taken care of, but her nerves will still talking enough to block out what little braveness she had.  Hannah pushed the empty bottle aside and patted Grace on the back.  Her friend smiled and started hugging Alice.  Hannah, not wanting to get off her bar stool, turned to the right and saw Brett sitting there with his grin beaming.

“You doin’ okay there, Hannah?  He laughed with a twinge of curiosity in his voice.

“Oh, I’ll be alright”, she responded.  “I think I need more social lubricant, though.”

“Trying to drink your courage for the night?”

“Yeah, I’m preparing myself for something stupid.”

“’Stupid’ as in dangerous, or ‘stupid’ as in embarrassing?”

“Oh, don’t worry.  It’s definitely embarrassing.  I’m not nearly drunk enough to do anything dangerous.”

“Fair enough”, Brett commented.  He grin slowly removed itself from his expression and Hannah felt like he was trying to read her.  She could almost see the gears in his head turning.

“What?”

“I’ll make you a deal”, Brett offered.  “I’ll buy you a third beer, I’ll root for you in whatever scheme you’re up to, and I’ll be here if you fall flat on your face.”

“But…” she prompted, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“But I’ll only do it if this is the last drink you have tonight.  You’re tossing ‘em back rather capriciously tonight.  I just want you to be careful.”

“Capricious”, she said, impressed.  “Good word usage for a guy buying beer.”

“I have a thesaurus and I’m not afraid to use it”, he said as his grin returned.  “Also, you said that word without slurring, so maybe you deserve one last drink.  Do we have a deal?  Three will suffice?”

“I appreciate you caring, Brett.  You’re a nice guy”, Hannah said while leaning towards him.  She put her fingers on his bicep and immediately became overly aware of what she was doing.  As Brett reached to put his hand on top of hers, she pulled away and sat up straight.  “One last drink.  Then I’ll go do what I’ve got to do and you can decide if you still want to chat with me.”

Brett laughed and gestured to the bartender.  Hannah took a few swings from her beer, took a deep breath, and marched to the front of the club.

So there she was; standing before a crowd of people.  Alice had seen her friend and guessed what she was up to.  She ran ahead, looked Hannah in the eyes, and gave her an “are you doing what I think you’re doing?” look.   Hannah smiled, shrugged, and closed the last few feet between her and her goal.  Alice squealed, jumped up onto the stage, and caught the eye of the emcee.

“Tonight”, Alice shouted.  “For the very first time on this or any other stage, we give you Hannah Fontane!”  The crowd, excited to be in on whatever their favorite singer liked, cheered back enthusiastically.  “And”, Alice continued.  “For her first performance she’ll be singing…”, Alice winked at Hannah and then turned to the emcee, “I Want You to Want Me!”

Subtle, Hannah thought as she caught Brett’s eye.  He could barely contain his grin and shook his head in disbelief.  He raised his beer bottle in salute to her and she held her bottle up in return.  The rest of the crowd mistook the gesture as being for them, and the whole bar cheered as they hoisted their glasses and bottles into the air.  They were, to put it lightly, a crowd that was feeling no pain.

The familiar tune blared from the speakers, starting with a drum beat and then followed by guitars.  Hannah took one final drink from her bottle and handed it to Alice.  Her friend grabbed it like it was an award and hurried off stage to watch.  Hannah grabbed the microphone, pulled the mic stand close, and let loose.

Afterwards, and in the retellings of the event over the years, many different descriptive words would be used to describe Hannah’s foray into musical performing.  Some of the phrases that told of the night were positive, just not the ones that pertained to Hannah’s singing.  Everyone agreed that Hannah gave it her all.  Physically, she was rocking the roof off.  She was enjoying herself and liked the way the leather pants felt.  She felt desirable, fun, and maybe even a little sexy.  She clung to the mic and never let it go.  She sang with all her gusto.  She even gyrated during the chorus.  (She figured if there were not words to sing to, she’d have to let her hips do the talking)  However, in their own polite way, no one would claim that they wanted to hear this woman sing ever again.  If anyone was to ask the people assembled that no who would be a terrific back-up dancer, Hannah’s name would have quickly come up.  The singing was a much different matter.

The biggest problem was that Hannah simply didn’t know how to sing.  She had always suspected that to be the truth.  One look on the folks around her only confirmed that fact.  However she was determined to finish what she had started.  She had hoped to sing well.  She had wanted to please the audience.  Even if she didn’t, she was still going to accomplish this long put-off goal that she had.  She didn’t stop when she fumbled a few words in the second verse.  She was not deterred when she forgot the words to three lines of the song.  The crowd, being the kind folks that they were, helped her out by singing along.  Taking up the cue, she jumped back into singing with them.  By the end of the song, the whole adventure had turned into one massive sing-a-long.  One would have had to concentrate to hear Hannah’s voice over the multitude and everyone was having too much fun to work that hard.  The song played its last notes, the crowd clapped voraciously, and Hannah took a long slow bow.  Then she took another one.  Alice ran up to her, hugged her, and she forced Hannah to take one final bow with her.  The club had enjoyed the performance and they continued “woo”-ing and applauding.  Grace met them in the middle of the room and the three friends hugged and laughed over Hannah’s adventure.  They walked back to their spot, the crowd parting for them after they patted Hannah on the back.  Hannah, exhausted, sat next to Brett.  For once, her smile was bigger than his was.

“That was quite the performance”, Brett commented.

“It must have been that third beer.”

“I doubt that”, he said with a wink.  “I think you had it in you this whole time.”

“Well now it’s all taken care of.”

“What?  Don’t tell me you’re not going to sing and dance anymore?”

“Well, I do love to dance”, she admitted.

“And I’m quite a fan of watching you dance”, Brett offered.

“Ha!  I’ll bet you are.  But I think we all know singing isn’t for me.”

“Not even a duet?  I mean, we could go up there and…”

“No!”

“You sure?”  Brett motioned to the dozens of folks around them.  “The crowd seemed to like you just fine.”

“The ‘crowd’ was being kind.  I just wanted to try it.  And now I have.”

“So no more singing?  Not even for me?”

“Sorry Brett”, she said with a shrug.  “There isn’t enough alcohol in this place to get me singing again.”

“We could always test that theory”, he teased.

“Ha.  Cute, but no.  Three beers are plenty for me.”

“A guy could try.”

“A guy could”, she admitted.  “However we both know you’re not that kind of guy.”

“True.”  Brett paused.  “Am I allowed to be the guy that asks you to dance?”

Hannah smiled.  “I’d be mad if you didn’t.”

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Gettin’ Sucked In

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Gettin’ Sucked In

Stewart was tired of hearing about his messed-up priorities.  He turned the radio dial in his truck to talk radio and hope that the broadcaster’s rambling would drone out the voice in his head.  She just doesn’t understand, Stewart thought to himself.  Stewart and Marge had been married for seven years and he really thought he understood her better than she believed.  In his mind, a big screen television was the perfect birthday gift for her.  She could watch her favorite movies on the new screen and the surround sound stereo he had gotten her for Christmas would really bring out the melodic backgrounds in the sappy soundtracks.  What wasn’t there to like?

Somehow his gift had come across as “really for you” and “unbelievable”.  Stewart couldn’t see why Marge didn’t appreciate the effort he had put into her gift.  It wasn’t just any husband that would buy his wife such an expensive present.  He even skipped the online route; he took it upon himself to visit no less than four different electronic stores until he found the television that was just right for them.  Oh, he might allow himself to watch the Super Bowl with a few friends or break out some DVDs he hadn’t seen for a while.  But Stewart wasn’t selfish.  It was Marge’s birthday; she could hold the remote.  And yet, Stewart found himself driving on the road, ten o’clock at night, hoping to find a respite from the skirmish he and the missus had tumbled into back home.  Normally he would retired to the den after an argument, but the gift brought shame upon his small television that he kept by his leather chair.  Stewart felt the need for a screen on the scale that only a sports bar could provide.

Rain started landing and plopping on Stewart’s windshield.  He rolled down the window to let a drop or two pay a visit.  Soon he was experiencing full-on rain.  The windshield wipers hastened their movements when Stewart flicked the switch up a notch, but they still had difficulty keeping up.  As Stewart considered pulling over and trying to wait out the storm, the familiar glow of neon lights reflected and bounced off his windshield.  Acting as countless magnifiers, the raindrops seemed to focus on the word, “bar” and send it to Stewart.

Delighted by his good fortune, Stewart ran his hands over his chin, the stubble of the night winning out over the hasty shave he had gone through in the morning.  He started to consider what kind of drink was perfect for a “my wife doesn’t understand me and all I was trying to do was treat her right” evening.  The parking lot was about half full, and Stewart expertly parked his four by four in between a mini-van and a
coupe.  He slammed the heavy metal door of his truck and watched as the rain drops shuttered and fell off from the force of the blow.  No way in sam hill I’ll ever try out one of these silly contraptions, he smirked.  Give me my ol’ truck any day of the week.

Letting his boots splash through the numerous puddles in the parking lot, Stewart came up to the door and threw it open.  The rain kept pouring behind him as he took of his plain baseball cap and shook the wetness off of it.  He dried it a bit more as he wiped the hat on the thigh of his jeans and surveyed the unfamiliar watering hole.  It seemed like most bars that he had been in.  All the windows were covered in neon signs advertising different drinks and brands that they offered.  The “no minors” sign sat right by the “no smoking” sign, and the wood floors looked like they had seen cleaner, drier days.  The planks creaked and moaned underneath Stewart’s boots.  The smell in the air was pungent with alcohol, with just a touch of vomit hanging around in the background.  It wasn’t a strong aroma, but it was there for folks like Stewart that knew to sniff for it.

He seating choices were not much to Stewart’s liking.  The bar was cluttered half with glasses and half guys whose butts were sagging off the edges of the stools.  To the right were two or three tables.  One of them was taken by college-aged boys who were whooping and hollering for all to hear.  Next to them were a table of folks in suits and ties; their grey faces and thick glasses proving them to be computer nerds.  Stewart sneered at these sorry individuals and looked to the left side of the bar.  There were about four tables, but only one occupant.  One man sitting all alone, all in black, sipped from a shot glass while a whiskey bottle stood nearby.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”  Stewart looked to the attractive bartender who had offered the warning.  Different bars had different reasons for drawing in clientele.  Some places had dart boards and pool tables.   Some had pull tabs and jukeboxes.  Then there were bars like this one that had bartenders like her.  In a better place and better light she’d be darn pretty, Stewart thought to himself.  Even in the dim light, her short frame and blonde hair stood out pleasantly in the room full of men.  Her tank top was obviously a size or two too small and the discontented look on her face showed that she knew exactly what the men were thinking.  She looked at Stewart, cocked her head off to the left side again, and shook her head.

“Something wrong with the chairs over there?” Stewart asked.  Taking another look, he noticed a piece of decoration that he couldn’t imagine turning down; a five-foot television sat with its screen turned off.  With no one to fight with, Stewart could watch whatever he wanted.  The light was dim, the chairs were free; it all seemed too perfect to pass up.

“Let’s just say there’s a reason Tyson drinks alone”, the woman offered.

“’s there something the matter with him?” Stewart asked, feeling pretty sure that the man could hear their entire conversation.”

“Well, ya notice how there are less and less people the closer you get to Tyson?  How the lights look dimmer and dimmer?  That television’s on, but with Tyson sitting that close you can’t go no picture.”

“Why not?”

The bartender shook her head, not sure how to explain her work’s resident oddity.  “Tyson, well, Tyson’s what some folks call a black hole.”

“Huh?”  Stewart was confused.  “You mean, he’s one of the depressing people that tells how he lost his job and his wife when his dog died?”

“No, I mean he is a black hole.”

“What?”

“Aren’t you listening?” she asked as she put down a shot glass harder than was required.  “The man has the same traits as a black hole.  Those big things up in the sky?  They are all black?  No light?  Well that’s Tyson.  You get too close to him, you never come back.”

“Hold on”, Stewart replied.  He was starting to understand.  But it seemed impossible…  “You mean those things that are basically big toilets; they suck in light, they suck in spaceships, nobody gets away from them?”

“So you aren’t entirely stupid.  Yes.  That’s what I mean and that’s what Tyson is.  Well”, she said pausing, “he isn’t exactly like a black hole.  If he was then we’d all be frozen in time or something like that.  But he’s a mini-version.  Sort of a toy car version of a monster truck.  You can see the similarities, but odds are Tyson won’t hurt you.  Well, not exactly.  You get the idea.”

“You’re pulling my leg”, Steward replied.

“Nope.  You want to drink over there, you’re gonna pay in advance.”

“Oh c’mon”, Steward said laughing.  “Is this some sort of heckling for newcomers?”

“You see how he has that bottle all to himself?” the woman gestured.  “I ain’t walkin’ over there.  I’d never get home.  He leaves the money when he comes in and I leave a bottle and a glass on the counter.  But I never get too close to that event horizon of his.”

“What?”

The woman sighed.  “Look, I don’t get time for this.  How ‘bout I just give you a bottle of house brew and you just give me $3.  That work for you, Hoss?”

Stewart was annoyed.  He didn’t appreciate this prank being pulled on him when all he wanted to do was relax.  He did want a beer.  His eyes kept moving between the odd man and the big screen television over to the reckless kids and the sad-looking white collars.  His urge to drown his sorrows won out, and he tossed some singles on the bar.  The woman grabbed a bottle from under the table, popped it off, and walked it over to Stewart.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you”, she said with a resigned “good bye” underneath her tone.

Stewart walked over to the television and sure enough, sound was emitting from it.  He could hear the game just fine; he could even recognize the background of a commercial that he had seen many times before.  Through it all the picture sat, unblinking, only blackness greeting him.  Stewart tried hitting the screen, but to no avail.  He noticed a remote control chained to the center of a table and Stewart walked towards it.

As he held the remote control in his hand, he could feel it trying to pull away.  He had to strain, not much, but a noticeable amount, in order to keep the device aimed at the television.  Pressing buttons did nothing to help the picture, so Stewart tossed it back towards the table.  Yet, despite how fast the remote should have dropped, Stewart noticed that it was tugging on its chain and taking its time landing on the table.  It’s almost like another force is pulling on it.  Like a gravitational pull… nah.  Stewart brushed off the idea and tried to think of a reason why it would behave in a way that most remotes didn’t.  Maybe they put a little pocket of helium in there.  Yeah, that’s it.  They take out the batteries and fill the thing with helium.  That’d work.  Wouldn’t it?  Stewart took a swig of his beer and felt the anxiousness subside, but not as much as he’d like.  He heard a jingling of metal and looked down to see that his keys were trying to pull free of the chain that kept them attached to his jeans.  Even his hat seemed like it was trying to lift off of his head and towards this Tyson guy.  Stewart had had more than enough of his share of grief for the day.  He walked up to the man and glared.

“Hey Mac, what’s the gag?  What kind of joke are you folks trying to pull?”

The man looked up very slowly and lazily.  A lifeless gaze came across the large mass of a man and his eyes and he began to open his mouth to speak.

“It’s like she said.  All of it.”

When he did talk, the words came out like an old record player on the wrong speed.  Stewart was reminded of how his grandfather would read him tortoise and the hair stories.  This guy could give his grandpappy a lesson on how to talk like that tortoise.

“Come on, what’s going on here?  And knock off that crazy talk, would ya?  How drunk are you that you’re slurring your words that badly?”  Unconsciously, Stewart was being pulled closer and closer to Tyson’s table.  Before he knew it, he found himself sitting in a chair right next to Tyson.  As he sat his beer on the table, it began to pull itself towards the other man and Stewart cried out in frustration.  “Stop that!  I paid for that beer!”

“Sorry”, was the slothful response from the man.  “I’ll try to control it better.”

The idea started to come to Stewart that if this was a gag, it was a very well executed one.  Either somebody had put a lot of time and effort into setting this joke up, or…

“Yeah”, the man said, recognizing the look in Stewart’s eyes.  “It’s for real.”

“What’s for real?” Stewart yelled.  “I don’t know what’s going on here but somebody better explain it to me right now.”

“I was born with some of the characteristics of a Kerr black hole.  That means I rotate and keep slowly spiraling around, drawing things like light, people, and other objects closer to me.  I have some control over it.  You know, since the chairs aren’t being compressed into themselves and all that.  But I can’t control it entirely.  That’s why there’s that reddish tinge about me.”

“You sure you aren’t just really drunk?” Stewart retorted.  “Because I’d blame red cheeks on whiskey before I started making up stories about some science-y stuff.”

“No, that’s the redshift.  See, when you’re around a black hole, the time dilation causes waves to bend so that a reddish blur starts to appear…”

“Oh come on.”

“I’m serious.  The closer you get to me, the more time slows down.  Matter starts to veer off of the spacetime course and starts careening towards me.  So things don’t occur at the speed they’re supposed to.”

“Bull.”

“If you don’t believe me, look at the others.  Don’t they seem to be moving a bit fast?”

Stewart’s eyes had been locked on Tyson.  Apparently even Stewart’s eyes were drawn to this curiosity.  But when Stewart did turn away, he saw the life that was speeding along without him.  Drinks were being poured astonishingly fast and the clock on the wall was ticking faster than it should have.  Stewart was becoming convinced.

“How am I going to get out of this?” he cried out in a panic.

“Relax”, Tyson said.  “I have some control over my event horizon.  It’ll take some work on your part, but you can bust free.  Let me tell ya, if I was a Schwarzshild black hole, you’d be stuck like you wouldn’t believe.  Man, that would suck.”  The man laughed at his own joke.  “Get it?  Suck?  A little black hole humor there.  Truth is, nothing sucks; it’s only a difference in pressure.  But I sure do exert some pressures.  I remember this one group of frat guys that sat next to me, and they were some big guys, well they just…”

“I don’t care!  How does this sort of thing happen?”

“What percentage of the earth is made out of dark matter?  You think we have all the mysteries of the universe figured out?  My motto is; just slow down and let the answers come to you.”

“Fitting motto”, Stewart grumbled.

“What can I say?  This whole situation I’m in has given me quite the perspective.  I think it’s useful.”

“How do you figure?” Stewart asked as he took another swig from his beer.  He was beginning to regret not buying a second bottle when he had still been mobile and free to wander.

“Look at the world we live in.  Everybody’s rush rush rush, but they’re never actually going anywhere.  Oh sure, they scurry about like they have some place to go.  Really though, they just keep on going and going and going.  Here, folks can take their time.  I do my thing at my table and the rest of the world can keep their frantic schedules.”  Tyson turned to the man and pointed at him.  “Take you, for example.  Where are you in such a hurry to go?”

“What does that matter?”

“Humor me.  You want to escape so badly, you must have some destination in mind.  So where are you in such a fired up hurry to get to?”

“Maybe I’m already tired of this conversation.  Maybe I’d like to use the john.  Or maybe I’d like to one day get home to…”  Stewart felt his voice trail off as the realization hit him.

“Get home to whom?  Judging by the look on your face it isn’t a pet hamster.”

“No”, Stewart said quietly.  He felt his resistance slip away.  “My wife”, he admitted.

“I suspected as much”, Tyson replied.  “Quite the woman?  You two got this whole happily ever after thing all worked out?”

“Yeah, right”, Stewart said as he knocked his beer bottle aside.  He tried to ignore the fact that the brown glass container was now sliding; creeping towards Tyson inch by inch.  “She’s a pain in my butt.”

“Oh.  How so?”

“She doesn’t appreciate all I do for her!  I work a good forty hours when she only works twenty.  I pay for our house and she only covers the food bills.  So what’s she doing those extra twenty hours she has each week?”

“Cooking?” Tyson offered.

“I suppose.”  Stewart shrugged.  “But how long can that kinda thing really take?  She doesn’t understand how hard I work for her.  You think I’d log all these hours and come home to her if I didn’t care?  She doesn’t get it.”

“You explain it to her, right?”

“What’s there to explain?  I wouldn’t be sharing a house with any random person.  Why would I slave so hard if I didn’t love her?  What kind of fool would do a thing like that?”

“Does she know that?”

“Know what?  What’s there to know?”  Stewart couldn’t see the point of this conversation.  He was about to ask what it took for him to leave when Tyson responded.

“Does she know that you love her?”

“Why wouldn’t she?” he grunted.

“When’s the last time you told her?”

“I got her a television tonight.”

“One that you’ll never use?”

“I might use it here or there, but I told her it was for her.”

“Uh huh”, Tyson said as he slowly shook his head.  “You didn’t answer my question though.”

“Which one?  You’re full of questions.”

“When’s the last time you told your wife that you love her?  I’m not talking about some grand gesture that you assume she’ll understand.  I’m talking about words.  You know, being face to face and actually telling her how much you care.”

“Who’s got time for that kind of thing.  She should just know.”

“If you’ve forgotten to tell her, maybe she’s forgotten to remember.”

“You’re off your rocker.”

“Am I?  Look, I know more than anybody how easy it is to get caught up in the clutter.  All these things start revolving around you.  You can’t see in front of your face from all the garbage that keeps cluttering your world.  You tell yourself you can see clearly, but how can you when there’s all this stuff in the way?  Eventually it becomes a part of you.  A guy can either let the little things in life be a part of him, or he can toss ‘em aside and focus on what really matters.”

“I don’t buy it.”

“You don’t have to.  But take a look at yourself.  You’re weighed down by all this baggage of work and fairness and keeping score.  Wouldn’t it just be easier to just kiss your wife and tell her you love her?”

Stewart offered no reply.  He looked around at the bar and wondered how he had ended up in this dive.  His home was much warmer than this; the lights at least worked.  He had to admit that he was missing Marge.  She’d probably be sitting there in her flannel pajamas pacing.  She’d probably be tugging on her earlobes.  Marge couldn’t help but tug on her earlobes when she was frustrated.  It was one of those things that no one else noticed, but Stewart had always found it pretty cute.  Then there was that smile of hers.  It wasn’t the biggest smile; she didn’t part her lips and show off her teeth like most people did.  No, Marge only let the corners of her mouth rise.  Even then, it was her eyes that lit up the most.  Stewart had long held the opinion that real smiles come through in the twinkle of a person’s eyes.  And Stewart had fallen for Marge the second he saw those brown eyes dance when he first saw her.  How could he settle for anyone else?

“Well what if you’re right”, Stewart finally said.  “How’m I supposed to get away from you and back to my wife?”

“Starting to figure out that the fridge your wife stocks with beer is better than running out of drinks and sitting with a philosopher?”

“So you’re saying I’m stuck here.”

“Nope”, Tyson said as he swung his large head back and forth.  Matter of fact, all you have to do is tackle me.”

“Giganto, you’re at least three hundred pounds.  How am I supposed to knock you down?”

“I didn’t say knock me down”, Tyson corrected.  “I said tackle me.”

“What’s the difference?”

“The theory is that if you come at me with enough velocity, you’ll be sucked into the black hole and transported out the other side.  Even a simple guy like you has heard of time travel.”

“Time travel?”  Stewart wanted to throw insults at Tyson, but his mind was too overwhelmed to properly respond.

“Is it any stranger than what you’ve already seen here tonight?  Besides, worst case scenario you try to pummel a big guy out of frustration.  Either way, you’ll feel better.”

“That’s your answer.  I should run at you and hope that I’m taken back to my house.”

“Pretty much”, Tyson replied.  “You haven’t been here that long; I’m not a very potent black hole.  If I were any other black hole I would have wiped out after a few seconds.  I think I can control it enough to send you back an hour or two.”

“This is… this is stupid.”

“See, now you want to hit me.”

“I’ve wanted to hit you for a while now”, Stewart remarked.  “I’d like to sock you right in the jaw.”

“Instead of that, try to tackle me.”

“Will you stop saying that!”

“What’s it going to hurt?  It won’t cost you anything?  I’m not going to fight you or anything; I’m trying to help.”

“There’s gotta be some catch.”

“Consider this”, Tyson offered.  “You can stay here and argue with me, or you can take a shot at something that sounds ridiculous.  But it might get you back to that wife of yours.  Isn’t that worth looking a little foolish?  Especially if you’re looking pretty silly anyways?  Take a gander, that world out there is ticking away.  I like the slow pace, but I’ve got nothing to go back to.  You do.  You’ve had your quiet time to think, you’ve had an escape from reality.  What now?”

Stewart stood up and glared at Tyson.  He did miss Marge; that much was true.  If assaulting this guy was going to get Stewart back home, then he was all for it.  Unable to keep his eyes open at the silliness of his feat, he slammed his eyes shut as he lowered his right shoulder.  Blindly, he pushed chairs aside and charged into Tyson.  Stewart hoped he’d connect with Tyson’s jaw and wipe that smug smirk off the leviathan’s face.  Stewart thought he felt some sort of force pulling on him…

“Did you want that gift wrapped?”

Stewart blinked and averted his eyes at the screens that shone in his face.  A wall of televisions clamored for his attention while a man in a polo shirt and plastic name tag looked on with a smile.

“Sir?”

“Sorry, what?”

“I asked if you wanted your new television gift wrapped?  It’d take a few rolls of paper, but maybe your life would like it better that way?  Of course, we can always have someone drive over and install it for the low cost of $49.95 since you’ve met our minimum purchase today.”

Stewart couldn’t believe his luck, but decided not to waste it.  “Actually, I think I’ve changed my mind.  Do you folks carry massage chairs?  I think my wife would like that a little more.”

“Well, yes”, the man said as the commission-drive smile fell off his face.  “But, I mean, are you sure?”

“I’m not really sure of anything right now”, Stewart said mostly to himself.  “If you’d also give me directions to a flower shop, that’d be great.”

“Giving up on a television like that, you must really love your wife”, the salesman joked.

“Yeah, but I gotta make sure I tell her that”, Stewart replied.  “Otherwise who knows what kind of trouble I’ll get sucked into.”

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