Shawn blinked the cobwebs out of his eyes. He was in that wonderful dreamlike state where he was unaware of his problems for a few seconds. Then the thoughts rushed in. This was going to be another horrible day:
Like the day before, the day before that, the day before that, ad infinitum. Stretching back until the day of his birth. To his probably drunken conception.
What does life have for me today?
Is someone going to cut me off on my drive?
Is the car going to breakdown?
Life was a cruel trickster god. Who knew what kind of shit would rain on him today:
It showed him sunshine, making him him believe it would be a good day.
Same as always.
He turned on the bathroom lights. Oh, great, skittered across his mind as they flickered. He picked up his toothpaste and brush, squeezed the tube… And the paste flowed out watery, like the liquid in an unshaken ketchup bottle. He glanced at himself in the mirror as he brushed and flinched and looked away.
The shower consisted of Shawn repeatedly forgetting if he had scrubbed a certain area of his body, dragging a quick process into a 20-minute ordeal capped with the water turning brown. He jumped from the raining sludge, and feverishly dried himself off, gagging at the rotting iron smell.
He grabbed a slice of cinnamon bread on his way out, skipping the toasting. Nothing could go wrong if you didn’t toast it. His keys were snatched up from their hook by the door and he escaped before the building decided to apathetically crush him in a self-induced demolition.
He ran down the steps, hurrying to escape the always pending collapse, one floor down, What’s the worst that could happen? He tripped over the last step and did an elaborate spin as he flailed to correct his balance.
A successful attempt... He was shocked. Taking a breath he opened the door and stepped out into the world. He watched everything. The skies were gray. His car was dirty, everything was right. There was an old receipt, crusted over with dirt and who knows what next to the accelerator. The cup holder behind the shifter was a haven of greasy coins. Shawn knew that if he checked under the seats he would find lost treasures, and most likely, unwanted treasures.
He turned the goddamn car over, reversed out of the space, and took off like someone headed to their imminent and anticipated death.
Ready get it over with.
Shawn made it to Willoughby’s Café, Or Willows as they call it here in Bleaksville. He dashed inside and made it to the pile of aprons behind the counter quickly, lest he be assaulted with mindless small talk.
How’s it going, Shawn?
Don’t ask unless you really want to know.
He was out of the obligatory "goods" and "fines" of people ignorant of reality. Go away. Go find someone who enjoys that. He glanced over the folded stack of aprons. They always seemed new as if they were ordered in bulk. Somewhere there was a giant pile of pine green aprons with "Willoughby’s Café" in Olde World calligraphy waiting to be leashed around people's necks.
Time to go deal with people, he took a deep breath and tried to put on the closest thing to a smile that he could manage.
“Hey Shawn, ready for a day of amazement?” Jennifer asked as she scooped beans into a grinder.
“Does that mean we’re not gonna work today?” Shawn quipped humorlessly.
“I really do. I kneel before the god of wishes and ask that he grant me a Tuesday without customers,” Shawn turned his apron around, and fumbled with knotted the back ties.
“Wish denied. As much as I’d like you to be Shawn the Superbarista, you should turn that around before the Molly the Maniacnager sees you”
He sighed, and the sigh became a growl only Jennifer could hear as he jerked the apron right side around
“Got it out of your system there?” said Jennifer
“Maybe about ten percent.”
“That’s more than enough to serve overpriced bean juice."
Out came Molly from her dungeon, it's floor littered with the bones of previous employees who she chewed up and spit out. Her lower jaw stuck out like a cave troll. Her eyes stuck in a permanent squint of distrust. Her face always looked like she had just smelled something awful.
She walked by, unleashed her obligatory humph that she used whenever she passed one of her workers She circled the store, searching for problems, and, finding nothing to make anyone's life hell about, she proceeded back to her dungeon. Her appearances were always short:
She materialized from the Stygian depths to leave for the day, or make sure no one was slacking off. She seemed to know when her workers were enjoying themselves. Always ready to berate them with a "If you can lean, you can clean". She seemed to know that she scared the customers away, though she never said it.
Shawn stared at Jennifer as they attempted to give each other the strength. Strength to avoid the kind of laughter that would most likely end with them passed out. Then no one would make the coffee, a complete disaster worthy of Bleaksville news.
After four repetitious hours of dealing with idiots demanding wizard-grade blendings of milk, steam, flavored sweeteners, and sometimes coffee Molly allowed him and Jennifer their daily lunch break. Jennifer gave him a knowing look as they headed to their favorite diner, Shiggy Pock. Or if you go by its real name, Trasner’s.
“Shawn, deep breaths.”
The ordered and sat, Jennifer watched as he closed his eyes, tried to physically relax and took several deep breaths.
In through the nose.
Out through the mouth.
Just as Jennifer had showed him.
“Okay, now tell me what’s going on.”
“Nothing gets by you, Jen," he sighed. "I haven’t visited my parents in a while.”
“Wow, you’re too good at this.”
“Yep, and you’re really good at hiding your feelings." She cocked her head and looked him up and down. "I think I know what’s going on: Is your mom calling you a lot?”
Why did she say that? 'Good at hiding my feelings'?
“Yeah, she’s been leaving me messages every day," he paused. He dropped his face in to his hands. "I can’t. I can’t do it, Jen. I can’t talk to her. I don’t want to talk to her. I’m better off without her.”
“Are you sure about that? I’ve told myself the same thing. You were there. You heard me say it.”
“Are you taking her side?!”
“Shawn. You know me. I don’t pick sides”
“I don’t understand how the fuck you do that. How do you walk in another person’s shoes. I can’t- I can’t do that...”
“You’ll understand it at some point. Then you’ll forget. Then you’ll understand again,” she smiled sadly. “You’ve seen me having my moments where I tear people to pieces. I’m not perfect and neither are you. No one is.”
Shawn understood what she was saying, but it didn’t make sense.
What’s the point of doing anything if you can’t do it perfectly?
Why fuck someone’s day up because you can’t make them the perfect coffee?
Why have a child if you are just going to yell at him?
Why can’t you just support someone without judging them?!
“Shawn, I know that look. Deep breaths again, please. I’m losing you.” Her face had taken on the expression of someone watching a deathbed-ridden loved one taking their final breaths... Or realizing that someone was on the brink of insanity. Somehow, someway, she always needed to be a way to rescue them.
Sorry, Jen, I'm too far gone.
“You know what. Let’s change the subject.”
“How do you do that?”
“Years of practice, meditation, and doing what feels right, instincts.”
She wore an almost completely serene smile that would have filled Buddha with envy..
“I don’t know what feels right anymore, Jen…” The look of pity on her face was too much. “I’m gonna head out.” He rushed through the crowded deli, leaving her behind. He felt guilty for leaving, but it didn’t, couldn't, wouldn't stop him.
He needed to be alone.
Why did I leave her behind?
You don’t do that to a friend.
No, fuck her.
He loathed pity But sometimes, he wanted sympathy, pity, someone to recognize how much he suffered.
Don’t say 'fuck her' about Jen. She's is my closest friend. My only friend. I can’t push her away.
Mom! It’s Mom’s fault!
It's my fault
No, it was Jen’s fault.
Can anyone take the fucking blame here?!
Shawn was brutally interrupted by the sound of a car horn. The driver glared at him ready to tell him off, but when their eyes met the man's face paled and he driver sped off. He had nearly walked into traffic. An endless fucking feed of thoughts had nearly killed him. He was a failure, a complete failure. He walked quickly back to work.
He stormed into Willoughby’s, cut across the dining area, and threw open the door to Molly’s office.
“I need. I. I need the rest of the day off."
“You mean this half day?" She sneered. "Kids, you’re all the same, no work ethic.” s
"No," he agreed, "No work ethic.”
He suddenly shoved a filing cabinet away from the wall and watched as it crashed to ground narrowly missing her. The store front buzz that had filled his head cut off.
“I quit” he said.
He barreled out of the building ignoring Jennifer's pleading and Molly's raging.
He left everything behind.
He drove for some time and, before he realized it, he was there.
At his parents’ house.
He didn't remember the drive.
He didn't remember deciding to come here.
An invisible force had pulled him across the city to the black hole of his life as it always did when failure crashed around him. It had always had power over him. Power that fed on tight-lipped, by-the-book assholes. He was surprised it wasn’t dragging people from the other side of the earth.
It was absolute in its Stepford perfection. Weeds were not allowed to grow. The grass a uniform length. Shrubs and decorative trees trimmed into absolute artificiality. Heaven forfend the paint suffer any discoloration. Everything the same shade. Nothing out of place.
"A Place for Everything, and Everything in it's Place" was the slogan over the gates of this tier of Hell. He fought the urge to destroy everything, and the urge was powerful.
The place was cursed and beyond redemption. If he could have one get out of jail free card, it would have been to burn this place to the ground, scatter the ashes, and plow salt into the land. To go beyond cleansing.
To purify and release the chained spirits bound to it.
He took several deep breaths, Thank you, Jen.
The door was miles away. Each step towards it was an uphill struggle through waist deep mud. With a broken sigh, he raised his hand to knock, and dropped it as the door slowly opened.
“Shawn? What is this? A call before a visit would be more appropriate.”
He walked in to the abyss and the door shut behind him.