L’AMORE

28 Jul

           

 

          He kissed the wife and hugged the kids, same thing he did every morning however, this particular morning with a little more emphasis than usual. He was scheduled to leave on business. He hated these trips. Precious time away from home and family, living in some shitty hotel, sleeping under a duvet soaked in the bodily fluids off the multitudes who’d come before him. Monotonous hum-drum days, where one week rolled into the next – his time filled with warm showers, busy commutes, lonely restaurant dinners and solitary masturbation. 

            He’d undoubtedly missed years of his children’s lives. He’d kept in contact of course via the telephone, made up for his absence with gifts, but it wasn’t the same. The consequence of having to leave for even a couple of months had resulted in huge changes and unshared experiences with his children. Whether it was a lost tooth, a found puppy or a school recital there was so much non-recoupable time. Fifty children playing their recorders badly or singing raucously out of tune with American Idol gusto. It wasn’t the quality of the event that mattered, rather the quality of time missed. 

*

            Over the years his job had become more and more demanding, to the point he was discovering that his life wasn’t his own. Corporate America was banging its greedy fist on the table and what Pharaoh wanted Pharaoh got. Resigned to his position as a perennial pyramid builder he accepted the call and did as he was told. 

            He scoffed at the carrot of career, the very thought sticking in his craw, choking him. 

            Career his arse! 

            Call him what you liked, any title you preferred to give him – group leader, manager, engineer, technician – the unofficial or official capacity of whatever the title du jour was. It really didn’t mean shit. He was well aware that he was no more than a number, a company asset. A mere cipher among a million ciphers who’d about as much say in their lives as flying to the moon. He wasn’t the only one, they were all the same. The dower, ashen-faced, over-worked, over-weight employees, that shuffled in and out of the great money-making-machine on a quotidian rote. All of them adrift in paychecks, company policy, periodic reviews, and corporate expectation. 

            He remembered when he’ given a damn, used his experience and hire-purchase education to conquer every obstacle they’d set before him – climbed the ladders, rattled the chains, gone the extra mile to appease his masters. Of course the dollar amount at the bottom of his check had increased but what had he really achieved? If he left tomorrow would they miss him? Would the machines come to a grinding, oil-less screech? Would the building implode? How many of his colleagues would attend his funeral? He’d thought about that a couple of times. Although he spent more time with them than he did his family, what did they really know about him, or he them? He saw what they wanted him to see, showed them the mask he wished to reveal, but come the witching hour when they left work for dusty suburbs, everybody was simply just another stranger. 

            “When you coming back Daddy,” asked his daughter. 

            “Oh, in a couple of weeks. I won’t be gone for very long,” he replied. 

            “You’re going to miss my birthday,” she said. 

            “Don’t worry honey, I’ll call you.” He heard his own voice, didn’t believe himself, realized how pathetic he was as he watched the tears well in the little girl’s eyes. Her face was enough to make him unpack his suitcase there and then, but this was one trip he had to complete. After all he was doing it for them – all for them. His wife had berated him on his selfishness, how work always seemed to come first, how she and the children had to take second place. Didn’t she understand that he did what he did because of them? That he gave his life to the corporation for the reciprocated family life-style that his servitude generated? Of course she did, she just didn’t want to see him go, didn’t want to lose more of the irreplaceable time they shared together. 

            He picked up the tickets, put the keys in this pocket, and made ready to leave. 

            China, bloody China

             What on earth was so urgent that he had to fly half way around the world? Didn’t they have a billion people? Surely they had somebody who could do the job? Two weeks of rice and stilted conversation. The miscommunication of knee-trembling social intercourse more than lost its shine after a daily struggle with the complexities of the English language. Although, given the positive, it was a travel assignment on his terms. His wife didn’t know it yet, and he hadn’t wanted to break the news. She’d find out soon enough, he’d made sure of that. 

            Things were tough right now what with the economy, the job market and housing values in the toilet. His financial burden had continued to increase – in fact it was the extra that he got from travelling that kept the good-ship-family-Smith afloat. Sure it was leaking like a sieve but they weren’t drowning just yet. He’d consolidated loans, made extra payments, cut the credit cards, and the cable. If there was one thing the crisis had taught him it was to live within his means – a simple lesson in economics that was knocking on ninety percent of America’s front doors. The little bit of money he’d managed to squirrel away went into savings plans and insurance policies, that would hopefully tide them over and keep his family in the manner they were accustomed should the fateful day arrive when they had to fend for themselves. He took one last look around the kitchen, his eyes drawn to the peeling wall paper in the corner that he still hadn’t found time to fix, before picking up his suitcase. 

            They walked him to the door. The kids were excited and jumped up and down, his wife was in tears. It was always the same and it tore shreds from his soul every time he had to do it. His boss had commented on it at his performance reviews, how his colleagues weren’t finding him as affable as he once was, how the sense of humor he’d had always been known for had started to dry up. He could have laughed out loud, what the hell did they expect? If there’s one thing that the job did to you, it was to scour any feelings of concern or empathy. The corporate profit god was voracious – it’s never ending lust for cash insatiable. The pound of flesh it demanded would be extracted no matter what, with no gristle or bone attached. 

            He knew where he was going to do it – he’d been planning it for months. A decision like his wasn’t made lightly. It had to be instantaneous, there was no way he was going to endure the agony of rehabilitation. It was going to be a one shot deal – a definite case of do or die. Down by the airport, where the road curved into the bridge, the huge concrete stanchions that hid the traffic in darkness before excreting them out the other side back into the light. It would be painless, he wouldn’t feel a thing. He’d left the envelope with the details in the bathroom propped behind a gift wrapped bottle of perfume that he’d bought for her. She’d find it soon enough. 

            Final waves – mouthed I-love-yous – then he was gone. 

*

            The speed-limit signs flashed by the window, cars faded into his rear view mirror as he pushed the accelerator ever harder. He saw the needle rise on the speedometer, saw the bridge ahead of him, pulled his hands hard on the steering wheel and ploughed into the unmoving, unfeeling, steel-braced, concrete superstructure. The car folded like a tin can, the windscreen exploding, the fire-flashed brilliance of igniting petrol engulfing the vehicle. The air bag inflated, the radio churned out the usual shite, as man and machine expired together. Problem resolved, no more pain, no more worry, no more bloody travelling. 

            His wife found the gift. 

            She’d finished getting the kids ready and seen them off to school. Sandwiches and projects sorted, the little bundles of joy had been pushed out of the door to a waiting school bus. Waved goodbyes and wind-blown kisses – happy smiling faces, and see you later Moms screamed from behind finger-smeared windows. 

            She’d gone upstairs – time for a shower, a little alone time. She’d miss him, she always did. It was always the first couple of days that were the hardest. She opened the box, undid the ribbon and folded the paper – she could use that for another day.        She saw the bottle, recognizing the brand as her favorite. He was a good man. Sure they had there ups-and-downs, but she’d never loved a man the way she loved him. They were a family in every sense of the word, their relationship cemented – their affection firmly sedimentied over the years. She pressed the copper colored top of the vaporizer, sniffing greedily as a fine mist of perfume burst above her face. 

            She saw the envelope. 

            Putting the bottle back on the counter top she reached for a towel and turned on the radio. She’d shower first and read his letter afterwards – probably one of his soppy goodbyes. 

            Steam filled the bathroom, condensing on the mirror. He was too much. She reached for the soap, she missed him already.

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4 Responses to “L’AMORE”

  1. Helen July 28, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    Oh poor man that he felt he needed to take his life. Poor wife! you captured the tiredness he felt of the life he felt he had to live and obviously could not live any more.

    I enjoyed reading this although its length felt more like a short story rather than a flash fiction to me.

    • Colin James I-10 Blog July 28, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

      Helen thanks for your comment. Your right of course, it was a short story however the flash-fiction vehicle is a way of getting my work out there. Thanks for reading.

  2. Chuck Allen August 2, 2011 at 6:51 am #

    A sad tale, nicely told. His fatigue and resignation carried through very well and the ending was a nice touch.

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