Denizens: Jim

“Look at her flirting.  She’s rubbing my face in it.”

Rob looked across the barroom at Jim’s ex, Denise.  She was talking to a customer at another table.  He turned back to Jim.  “How do you know she’s flirting?”

“I can tell.  That little smile on her face.  She’s trying to make me jealous.”

“I’d say it’s working.”

“Yeah.”  Jim took a drink of his beer.  It tasted awful.  He drank it anyway.

“Why do you still come here if seeing her makes you so miserable?”

“Why should I have to quit coming around?  I have friends here.  You, for example.  Why can’t she go somewhere else?”

Rob chuckled.  “Well, she does work here.”

Jim gave him a very unamused look.

“I’m sorry.  It’s not funny.  But she does.  Why torture yourself like this?  There are other bars you could go to.  Heck, I’ll even meet you somewhere else for a beer.  Just tell me when and where.”

“You’d actually go to another bar?”

“Ha, ha.  I don’t live here, you know.”

Another regular, Amanda, walked up to their table and put her hands on Jim’s shoulders as she looked at Rob.  “Is he still pining?”

Annoyed, Jim shook her off.  “I am not pining.  We were just talking about checking out other places.”

Amanda pulled out an empty chair and sat down, her eyes still fixed on Rob, who merely shrugged in response.

“Okay.  So you’re not pining,” she said, turning to Jim, “but you want to go somewhere else.  Where should we go?”

Her intrusion irritated Jim.  Amanda was always pushing herself into his business.  With Denise leaving him, it had gotten worse.  He wished she would just leave him alone.

“Right now, we’re not going anywhere.  We’re just talking.  Privately.”

Amanda looked hurt, but he knew it was just an act.  “Okay.  I can take a hint.”  She stood up and walked back to the bar.

“That was a little mean, Jim.”

“Ugh.  I don’t care.  She was getting on my nerves.”

“One more reason to try out somewhere new.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

Jim looked around for Denise.  She was at the bar talking to Maurice.  He was the owner of the bar as well as a bartender.  He was sort of a father figure to Denise and took her side, but he was a good guy.  He wasn’t going to stop Jim from coming in.  As long as he didn’t make a scene.

Jim took another swallow and drained his glass.  Their waitress, Wendy, came over.  “You guys doing okay?”

Rob pointed to their empty mugs.  “Looks like we need another round.  Thanks.”

Wendy nodded and began to turn away when Jim stopped her.

“Not for me.  I think I’m going to call it an early night.  What do I owe you?”

Before she could start going through her tabs, Rob spoke up.

“I got these, Jim.  You go on.  You can get me back next time.”

“I’ll go broke.  But thanks.”

Rob smiled at the jab.  “No problem.  Have a good night.”

“You too.”

Jim headed for the door, nearly bumping into someone coming in at the same time.  As he got outside, he felt a mix of relief and loneliness.  He didn’t want to see her anymore, but he didn’t want to lose touch with her either.  And being alone right now wasn’t very appealing.  But it was better than getting kicked out for doing something stupid.

The Coat

I open my eyes. I am laying on my back. I feel like I should know where I am, what has been happening to me. But I do not. Perhaps I have never known. But these thoughts do not help me, so I push them away. 

The room around me is grey and featureless. I am on a mattress on the floor. The sheets are clean, but somewhat dingy from so much use. I am dressed only in a similarly dingy gown. It seems as though I am in a hospital, but this room is unlike any hospital I can remember. And I do not feel sick or injured. Not a hospital then. But where? The past is a fog as grey as the walls of the room. 

There is a door to the room, across from the mattress, but I know, without trying it, that it won’t open for me. I don’t question that awareness. Its truth is obvious. 

There is nothing else in the room, so there is no point in moving. I have nothing to do. And moving is not enough to distract me from thinking. So I simply lay there and stare at the ceiling. 

Eventually, the door opens, and a white coat floats into the room. After it shuts the door behind it and turns to face me. It’s unnerving the way it seems to be watching me. I wish it would say something instead of just hovering there. But it torments me for a few moments longer. 

When it finally does speak, its voice comes from its neck opening. “So, how are we today?”

I remain silent, if only for a few moments, hoping to annoy the coat as much as it unnerved me. “Well, I can’t speak for you, but I’m fine.”

The coat put its arm into one of its pockets and seems to pull out a notepad and pen. The items hang in the air several inches from the end of the coat’s arm. The pencil begins writing on the notepad. 

“I wish you wouldn’t do that.” 

The coat stops writing and turns its attention back to me. “Do what?”

“Write down everything that I say. You know it bothers me.” 

The coat moves a little closer to me. “Wait. Are you saying that you remember having conversations with me before? You remember seeing me before?”

“Of course I remember. Why wouldn’t I? And you always bring out that damn pad and pen as soon as I open my mouth.” I turn my head to look at the ceiling. What an idiot. I can’t believe they send this coat to check on me. 

“Wait. Look at me.”

I wonder what it wants now. But I can think of no reason not to listen to it. As infuriating as it is, it’s more interesting than a silent, grey room. So I look at the coat once more.

“What?”

“Tell me what I look like.”

I actually sit up and throw my hands in the air. The frustration at the coat’s inane questions gets me moving. “This is really too much! What do you look like? You look like what you have always looked like. A perfectly normal, floor-length, white lab coat. What do you think you look like? A person?”

The coat truly seems disappointed at my response. But I cannot do anything for it. I haven’t the slightest idea how to console it. 

The Tree Stump

“I’ll use dynamite if I have to.”  His expression betrayed no sign of joking.

Still, she couldn’t completely stifle a chuckle.  “That seems pretty extreme.”

“I don’t care.  I want that tree stump gone.  It’s been an eyesore in the backyard for too long.”

“Well, try the chain trick the neighbor suggested before resorting to dynamite.”

“I know, I know.”

She followed him outside and helped wrap the chain around the stump before securing it to the truck.

“Remember, pull and then reverse.  Like you’re wiggling a tooth.”

He nodded as he climbed into the cab.  She moved back twenty feet or so in order to watch from a safe distance.  It took a while, but she clapped when she saw the stump shift a little.  She encouraged him to keep at it.  The stump moved more and more until it finally lurched from the ground.

It sounded like a giant cork being pulled from the world’s largest wine bottle, and a rush of air launched the stump into the sky, arcing toward the truck.  It landed just in front of the grill, the chain wrapping over the top.  He jumped out and ran back towards the hole.

“What happened?”

He had yelled, but it was still hard to hear him over the sound of air rushing up and out of the hole.  The ground beneath them was behaving oddly, suddenly unstable and sinking.  Their eyes met as they widened, and without saying anything, they both ran over to the stump.

He took the chain off of it and together they picked it up.  As heavy as it was, the two of them were able to carry it back.  The ground undulated like a water bed as they got closer, so they had to move slowly.  The final obstacle was the force of the air out of the hole itself, but they managed to maneuver the stump into place.  He stood on it while she backed the truck up to replace him.

They stood in silence for several minutes.  She broke it first.  “Really, I don’t think the stump looks that bad, do you?”

He shook his head.

“And the depression in the yard is barely noticeable.  It’s already back to being stable.”

He nodded.  “I am going to need to find a nice big heavy rock so I can get my truck back, though.”

Eclipse

His foot slipped from the stool it was resting on, and the sudden movement jolted him awake.  The goggles he wore were covered in a layer of dust, making midday appear to be dusk, and dusk seem to be night.  Of course, night also seemed to be night, so he wasn’t sure of the time right away.  He lifted one lens.  Definitely night.

Taking a rag to wipe off the goggles, he also turned a small knob on the side of his workbench.  The unmistakable hiss of gas began, and the lamp started to glow.  Checking the mechanical time piece that hung above the bench, he discovered it was still a few hours before dawn.  Enough time, but barely.  Equipment needed to be moved and then assembled.

The various gears and arms were already in the wagon, but the lenses still waited for his attention.  They were too fragile to pack ahead of time.  He wrapped them as carefully as he could and loaded them.  A few buttons pushed and levers turned, and the gears that pushed the wagon began to move.  It was loud, but smoother than the horse-drawn carriages that were so popular.  His nearest neighbors were far enough away that no one complained when he started it up.

He steered it up the hill about a mile from his house.  Here there were no trees to obscure the spectacle and inhibit his ability to collect the unique phlogiston particles.  It would be quite a feat, if he could get everything ready in time.  He had until midmorning.

As he worked to put his machine together, several children from the village gathered to watch.  Their parents had warned them to stay away from him, so their curiosity did not interfere.

The sun was well on its journey upwards when he slid the last lens into place.  It had gone much more smoothly than he could have hoped.  The moon was faintly visible as it headed towards its rendezvous.  He aligned the largest lens, the initial catcher as he thought of it.  The intermediate lenses were distributed around it, focusing elements into the smallest lenses which were attached to rather small tubes.  As the moon blocked the most powerful of the sun’s rays, the phlogiston particles from the edge of the sun should be able to get through where he could capture them.  That was the idea, anyway.  If this didn’t work, it might be years before he could try again.

As the moon’s disk slid across the sun, the machine sprang to life, focusing and refocusing lenses.  Slowly, the tubes began to fill with a brilliant yellow light.  The children gasped, and he could hear them whispering that he had made the sun disappear.  He paid them no mind.

When the eclipse ended, he quickly stored the tubes in a specially constructed box.  It had worked.  Despite his design, the heat within the tubes was evident, though they did not appear to be in danger of cracking.  He now had a power supply.  Next was building the machine it would drive.