This is a short story.
This is quite possibly the darkest thing I've ever written.
It came to me, fully formed, in a dream last night, and as harsh as it was, I had to write it.
I won't say that I hope you enjoy it; I certainly didn't. But I do hope you'll take a moment and hold someone close to you.
For to love, loveless, is a bitter pill:
But to be loved, unloving, bitterer still.
- Jan Struther, The Choice
You fill out Form A, which gives you the information you need to complete for B, which is a rider of Form C, which will ultimately require you to fill out dozens of Form A.
My hands and eyes are on automatic pilot; if you put a gun to my head, I'd never be able to tell you what I was writing.
My eyes strayed to the framed picture on my desk of my wife and two sons, smiling happily at me. I'd taken the picture while they'd been horsing around on the carpet of our living room. The sun shined brightly into the room, illuminating my wife's hair, and the boys eyes. I could still feel that moment in time, could still smell the room, feel the carpet beneath my knees and the camera in my hands. If I tried hard enough, I could make that image move, hear and see that moment as if I were there. If only..
As it was, drudgery mode.
I looked up at the clock. The hands moved altogether too slowly, keeping me here with their ponderous refusal to advance. I sighed and reached for my water bottle, taking a slug to ease my dry throat.
My throat caught, just slightly, as I drank, feeling as if something had caught sideways for a brief moment. I swallowed another gulp of water, and the feeling passed. Strange, the sense of deja vu that brought about, but I ignored it.
Time passed; the words on the pages ran together, and my eyes felt tired. I looked up at the clock.
The hands were gone.
I rubbed my eyes, and looked again. The clock was handless, its face a moronic expression of uncertainty with it's tiny center post useless. It seemed to be a long oval rather than the round circle I was used to staring at.
I thought perhaps my glasses were blurry, but I wasn't wearing them.
Odd, since filling out these forms was difficult for me without them, but I had no memory of difficulty. I began scanning about the desk, looking for the glasses.
The desk was empty, but for the framed photo.
Without the glasses, I shouldn't have been able to see that the light behind them had gone out; that they were no longer smiling, and that they reached out for me, desperate.
The frame began to deform, running like Dali, like candy in the Sahara. I felt afraid, clutching my pen, as the walls began to shift and fade.
The room in which I sat was an office, but it wasn't mine.
My office never had a large mahogany desk, nor had I ever seen the man leaning on it. My office never had a couch.
I sat on the floor, cross legged, pen still in hand. I looked down and saw sheets of paper; the forms. I picked them up and tried to hold them out so that I could read them, but they were covered with senseless loops and whorls, ending in jagged lines like lightening.
The man started speaking to me, saying things. Soft things, at first, pleasantries. Then, harsh things, sounds I didn't, couldn't hear.
Again, I am sitting.
The pill bottle sits before me, on the kitchen table. I'm staring at it, waiting. Waiting for the room to change.
The room is my dining room, which adjoins the living room. Both are dark, filthy. The living room is filled with soiled laundry and disposable food containers; the mess forming something that looks like an ape's sleeping nest. Somehow I think the allegory isn't far off.
The kitchen is a horror I couldn't contemplate for very long. I can't imagine how my wife would react to the incredible mess; she never would have stood for such a thing.
The bedrooms, other than a layer of dust, are pristine. I couldn't look at those either, for similar reasons.
I sat and waited.
I awoke to the feeling of small hands, tugging at my shoulder. I sit up, and see my oldest son, smiling at me, asking me to come and play with him.
I can't smile back, but I try.
I call out to her, and she comes, holding the little one, looking at me with concern.
I ask her to sit, and seat my son beside me.
"I hoped you would come," I say, "because there was something I never got to do. I never had the chance to do it after the.." My throat closes, strangling for a moment, like something had caught sideways for a brief moment, but I force the word out: "..accident. I left for work that day without so much as a touch of your hand, I was so caught up with.." Images of loops and whorls, handless clocks rush through my mind.
"Anyway," I say, standing, coming around to her side of the table, "I never had a chance to.." I lean down, enfolding her into my arms. "To.. say goodbye"
I smell her hair, feel the warmth of her cheek against mine. I rise, looking at her. I have no idea what she would say, how she would respond. So of course, neither does she.
I take the little one from her and hug him tightly, then return him to her and cross to my oldest, and for a moment, I hold him tightly. I can feel the raw energy of his youth radiating from him like a power transformer on a pole. I return to my seat.
"I have to leave now," I say, opening the bottle and taking a pill from it. I dry swallow it, forcing it down despite it's size and the dryness of my throat. It hurts, but they say you can't really feel one pain if you have another, stronger pain to distract you. They say a lot of things that aren't true.
The room fades. I hold her eyes with mine, trying to keep them for as long as I can. I stare into them until they become reflected light from the glass door of her china cabinet, the china long gone.
There's a bitter taste in my mouth. I've had to start chewing them to get them down, and they taste awful, but the bottle is nearly empty. Once it's finished, I'll keep sitting here, keep waiting for the room to change.
There is a chance they'll be here.