Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Carver And The Nothing Canvas

James parked his rusty Ford Festiva behind the mall where he worked. He cursed as the automatic shoulder-belt arm scraped his shoulder when he opened the door. The latch had put a small tear in his shirt. James cursed again, went behind his car and opened the trunk. He rummaged in the clutter and came out with a slightly rumpled sport coat. Thinking it would be better to look a little disheveled then come in with torn apparel, he put the coat on. James straightened his tie. He would be doing this most of the day since he never got the knot quite right. The knot in his tie always turned a bit inward making the two strands of his tie splay sideways. The effect didn’t add to his neatness one bit. James closed his eyes and rubbed his face. It was going to be a long day.

James got to look forward to another day spent as a customer service representative at the Northrange Savings Bank. Customer service representative was a fancy name for teller. He was basically a clerk. His job was to do the basic functions that a machine could probably do more accurately. James thought that his main function was as a sounding board for customer complaints. His face sometimes being the only one a customer would see when doing business. Customer service is a rough enough job, let alone when a person dealt with another’s money. James tried to rub a wrinkle out of his sport coat. Thinking about the irony of how they expected their workers to dress when they were paid slightly more than minimum wage.

James closed the trunk and went to work.

After work James walked back to his car. The lot behind the mall was empty for this part of the evening. Tonight it was not. There were three men standing in the lot, leaning against one of the parked cars. James thought about going back into work but he kept walking. He cursed himself for being afraid when there was nothing to be afraid of. He became lost in his thoughts as he got to his car and unlocked it. He jumped when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around to see he was surrounded by the men. James didn’t look the men. He looked at the gun on of them had pointed at his chest.

“Give me you money, bitch,” The man with the gun said. “Do anything else and I’ll fucking kill you.”

James’ hands trembled as he pleaded and took out his wallet. He opened it up and saw nothing. The wallet was empty.

“I don’t have any money,” James said. It was at that moment when he remembered a conversation he had with his father years ago. He was smoking a pipe with his dad on the front porch when somehow the topic of debit cards came up.

“Soon you won’t have to use paper money anymore,” James said, letting a long stream of smoke float into the night sky. “Money will be nothing but numbers changing into other numbers. Nothing tangible.”

“I can see that,” His father said, “But you should always have some money on you. I try and carry twenty bucks at all times.”


“In case you’re mugged,” His father said, “Then you have something to give the mugger. It’s either that or they take their money another way.”

“Twenty bucks, huh?” James said.

“It’s sound advice,” His father said.

James looked at his empty wallet, surrounded by three men, and began a pitiful litany of “I don’t have any money” and “Please don’t hurt me.” He thought of his father’s words. It was then that he felt the smack of metal against his nose as the revolver cracked him across the bridge. The pain blinded him. He almost blacked out but was pulled to his feet by two of the men. His shirt tore. James tried to struggle but stopped when the third man pressed the gun to his face.

“Move and I’ll kill you,” the man said.

James didn’t move.

He was hit from behind by one of the men that held him. James landed on the concrete and covered up as best he could when the kicking started. The beating seemed to go on for a long time. The stop was sudden. James lay on the floor for a long time, curled up into himself. Waiting. After what seemed like a long time had passed his opened his eyes. He felt his nose. He sat up and took off his sport coat and rubbed the blood off his face. He got in his Ford and drove home.

When James got home he walked past his roommates and grabbed a bottle of cheap whiskey from the kitchen. They asked what happened to him. He began to cry when he told them. His roommates didn’t know what to say and seemed embarrassed with his tears. So James stopped talking. He went to his room. His roommates went back to their video game. James finished the bottle.

Later James took a shower.

James let the water from the shower run searing hot. He was sobbing quietly. His head was pressed against the wall under the shower faucet. The water hit him between the shoulder blades. He turned the water hotter still. He wanted to burn right through his skin. He wanted to melt. He wanted to die. In his hand there was a knife. There was nothing James felt he could do in this world but fail. He failed as a son to his parents. He failed in school. He failed in life. James notched each day off with nothing to show for it. Nothing that would last beyond the moment. There was just nothing there.

James carved the F in his inner forearm. His blood, thinned by alcohol and flushed with hot water, flowed freely. The knife was only partially sharpened requiring him to slice and slice again to create the letter. He cut the A thinking only about his pain. There was nothing else. He cut the I-L-U thinking about the beating those men gave him behind the mall that evening. They were going to kill him for nothing. They must have known. James had been beaten down by so many people in so many different ways all his life that he knew he was marked. There must have been something everyone else could see about him that he couldn’t see himself. They knew they could beat him. They knew they could hurt him. They knew he was nothing.

James stopped cutting himself and looked at his work. He was tired. He was so tired and lost. He cut the R-E into his arm, not as deeply as the rest. The lines were almost faint for the last two letters. More of a scratch than a cut. James dropped the knife. He sat down in the shower and put his head in his hands. He sobbed. He was nothing. A failure. He tried over and over again to find himself but there was just nothing there.

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