Ed Wilson drives down Tampa boulevard, old food wrappers strewn across his dash, radio playing that constricted play list of classic rock in the era of streaming audio on smart phones, turn signal broken again, headlight held on with duct tape again, that new bird dropping pretty darn Jackson Pollock this time around on the windshield from lunch under those trees by the aging burger stand. The sky is full of those high thick shards and odd U.F.O shapes near the mountains in a dry Santa Ana wind; hulks and ruins not of sun or rain, to Ed a kin of newspapers blown along fences. It is 1 p.m
John Simpson is stuck in traffic on the 101 again. His work uniform is itchy. The sky is chaotic and there are those odd U.F.O looking clouds over the eastern hills again. It is another Wednesday early afternoon, the hours like those shards of clouds high above, dull, stillborn and yet some purpose. He is getting older now like the cracked steering wheel he clutches as the speedometer slows to little burps just above zero. It is 1p.m
Ed is heading to the next destination on the list for today. He has it on a primitive dot matrix print out not by choice. Ed is 40 on the dot, this dull day is in fact his birthday. He hates this kind of weather more than anyone he knows. Ed once was Edward, a boy that flew kites and shot off model rockets, a teen who raced bicycles where the park used to be, the young husband and father who once planned to be the inventor of the next thing in -,-,- or maybe – (this was the hope that one unemployed summer anyway). Ed is still a dad and still married but his kids moved out a while back and he and his wife have agreed that they are full circle back to friends again, a 4th of July spot again with no fireworks but that cozy grass, a moon somewhere…comfort and such.
John is 34. He is right in the middle between birthdays. He has a good paying job in an economy not fully recovered from a crash. He has a partner on the job that he gets along with. He sometimes wonders why it feels so bad to feel like there must be more to life, the nagging itch surely something to remove like a boil of ego, a zit of navel gazing when so many others have it hard right now. A car almost swerves, an old rusty corpse of a van seems to maybe be a driver on a flip phone but it is not. John snaps out of his thoughts, almost out of the tedium here, almost.
There was a storm once. It was to be named by the big cable weather channel “Prometheus”, it was expected to bring winds and floods and then morph into a new low and rip tornadoes out of season across the midwest and south . “It” died a day ago unexpectedly as it crashed against a dry sinking dome of hot air, a forever un-named high pressure dull with no clouds but some wreckage of another storm and smoke from 3 fires. It will never have a name, will never be in all those precious photos on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Ed arrives at his destination. His car clunks a bit as he parks. It is old now. He prepares himself for the routine. This is his job. He locks his car and sees the sun go behind a jagged broken tooth of a mid-level cloud. He heads up the walk to a house that looks like thousands, an older smaller house, 60’s origin for sure, humble little driveway to attached garage, probably a little back yard with a wooden fence.
John arrives at his destination. His police car sputters for a second as he turns it off. He is without his partner today due to a mix up. He walks up the drive to the grass and approaches the door. There has been a complaint. He has been doing this for years now. He stares up as the sun goes behind a cloud just like a broken molar as he heads to the porch and door. Many things may happen in these next few seconds. He tenses up and approaches the door.
Both Ed and John have recently un-followed nearly all of their relatives. Ed is sick of their ignoring his interests outside whatever job he has like it is all some obtuse farce and social leprosy at once. He has published poems and had his art in a museum but to them it is all a tumor amongst photos of birthdays and new cars and celebrity gossip. He is greeted at family gatherings with “Are you still working? Or “no major health issues for us to worry about? Then nothing. He wishes locust on birthday parties sometimes, others he sobs in his car in traffic over them never trying to understand him. John just decided he was sick of hearing about things he was not invited to.
Ed opens the door and the room looks oddly familiar and alien at once. The man looks at him and has his exact body and face but is a random stranger, part of a day day at work. The man senses it too, hesitates..
“Uhm how can I help you, uh today?” the man asks slightly stammering.
“Well. I uh,…hey” Ed is supposed to do the handshake now but he does not.
Ed is supposed to serve the man now. This is his job, his Wednesday at 1 something in the jagged tooth cloud afternoon.
He even has the same couch cushion with a stain shaped like Elvis over there. The guy even has the chip on his front tooth I have. His back yard has a bbq by a patch of dead grass just like mine. He has that scar from chicken pox on his cheek. This can’t be. He has a different address. He has a totally different name. He is data to me. He is #324, a divorce to be served. He is…me.
John approaches the door now and knocks. The door slowly opens to a man in short hair getting ready for work. He has an energy drink in his hand, a scar on his thumb like a sad,sliver moon. He has a crooked eyebrow with a scar from clearly long ago. The man has a bookshelf full of books on eastern philosophy and police training. The man has a lamp broken exactly where John’s is back at home.
“Hello sir..i uhm…we...” John chokes on the usual words so rote, now an odd tide rising.
“So..how can I…what did I do?” The man asks , obviously staring at his mirror odd eyebrow twin.
“Well..Sir….we uhm…received..” John pauses and gulps air in the dry afternoon.
I am here on a noise complaint but also here as he is a suspect in a burglary. He has the same chair as me. His coffee mug by the chair is the same old crappy hand me down grandma left me when she died. He lives across town. He has a name I have never seen before. Am I about to arrest…me? Do I ask questions to some other me somehow sprouted out in the valley like some mutant mushroom? Jesus..what the fuck do I do here? John pauses, suddenly uneasy in his own skin.
Ed taught community college for a while. His family just asked if he was still employed. He one summer was in a band that almost got a major label deal. His family’s eyes glazed over when he tried discussing it but Joe got a new truck, Timmy had another kid. These conversations burned on for hours like forest fires lit and fanned. Ed got a Master’s degree in Computer Science and his thesis got into a book used for a while in courses overseas. His family upon any mention made sure to point blankly at the nearest potato salad and bolt for the apparent safety of mayonnaise. Once these dreams died in him he seemed for a time to get a bit more conversation pointed his way at holidays and funerals. This faded once he wanted to write novels.
John has no kids. He has no boat. He has no vacation photos to piss all over instagram with sun held in rectangles. He is a police officer. He works weekends and nights quite often. He wants to work his way up to captain and teach other lost kids like he was to be good and helpful and risk death to help and never trip up and be crooked in any way. He was gradually deemed too busy to be in the social media circles. He loves his family, he sometimes has time. He un-followed them all last night after dinner and it felt like a colon cleanse. He can only disappoint himself now, he will no only be let down by himself as well.
Do I do my job and not lose it, not get fired but have to serve divorce papers to me? Do I rip his heart out to do what is normal like clock clicks and grass growing? What if some other me came and handed me my ruin? Ed hesitates awkward as the universe has somehow oddly and cruelly ripped open its surface postule and bled out weirdness and his mirror.
My god. He even hesitates like me John thinks as time seems to shudder and cease. He is looking at another life that has somehow in the manic calculus of details and possibilities come to be almost his and he knew this in seconds, found him by a crappy print out and the need to possibly arrest this man.
The ugly broken cloud moves past the sun. The odd awkward moments across town for four men glow oddly bright Now as though molten with some sweet cliché of summer and normalcy, hope even, but this is not to be. The dead storm’s entrails are shredded across miles to come from the west, A few scraps of undead cloud will drop a single drop of rain in an absurd parody of sun and storms.
John gives himself a quick gentle warning and drives off. The guy had the same scar from a bully fist. He had that same old coffee mug surely from another Grandmother who died in a grandson’s arms.
Ed gives the man the papers. He sees the man break a bit inside in seconds. It feels good in a way he cannot explain. A practice dummy suicide of sorts and he still has a job, the thing to talk to people about like it is his every atom as the sun gleams on his old car. He had the usual masochistic self pitying impulse so ingrained by family gossip and disdain for decades but for once with their sadistic result.
I just punched myself and hit someone else hard for once Ed thinks as he drives to his next appointment, #325, another dull errand, another arrow of slight doom for a stranger out there.