Charlie wakened thinking; he always wakened thinking; he started thinking the tail end of the dream that the emptiness of wakening just cut off. And he never knew what the jumbling words meant. This morning the words were cryptic; fun, fun, maybe–or maybe he had been dreaming he was pissed at something; but what, it’s gone–it’s the kind of knowledge not to be had in this life. His arm thrust up; the covers were thrown back. His feet hit the cold floor. The hardwood floor creaked as he rose naked. Charlie slept naked. He did not know that later in life there would be a person who would mock him for sleeping naked. So he would start to sleep with briefs. But his Mother and Father slept naked, his whole family had always slept naked, and naked, naked made him remember—and all at once he went and grabbed a fat big brown towel and went in to jump straight in the shower; usually he would spend some time fucking around, fucking around checking out what remained of his childhood acne, or whatever; sometimes just sitting gazing in the mirror at the bags forming already around his youngish eyes. But something gripped him now and put him in the shower, nude and ready as he was, and the shower doors slapped closed and the water came down on him, too hot at first, but it could be adjusted; everything on earth can be adjusted; the water was hot, the water control lever was cold in his grip, and he adjusted it someplace in between, just right both for his hand and his body. His head tipped back, eyes closed, into the spray; and he ran a hand through the wet hair stuck to his head and ultimately he began to shampoo; it’s dark in the brain—always pitch black behind the eyes in the brain; scary to know, the thought is claustrophobic; but the water came and came and brought sounds up as he washed, words from someplace else; yesterday—a soda straw was held out; the water came; and also yesterday—a sharp knife came up with words from his Father; a man should always have a good sharp pocketknife; what does that mean, does that mean? He wet his face, turned his face, soaped up his face, and rubbed around his face’s protuberances; nose lips chin, and down his neck and as he moved his hand he drew a straw yesterday from a closed fist suddenly pushed before him–why would he draw a straw yesterday, but it’s a fact, he did and he really didn’t know what it meant if it in fact meant anything at all, in all this flowing spraying cone of unending water, except it came up over him that taking a shower is a lot easier than thinking about needing to take a shower; you sit in the chair watching TV or something and you tell yourself, God! It’s time for a shower! It’s hard to get up and hard to turn away from the TV; but, it so happened that the straw he pulled was long; he was already in the shower and the long straw must have meant you’re already in the shower—remember, think, you’re in the shower already, not thinking about it in some comfy chair, and the whole thing gets a lot easier when what you’ve drawn is long. So the straw had come to tell him to relax, you’re here, all is well. The long straw meant he didn’t have to do something. Somebody else would have to do something; and who or what it was, he didn’t care. All relaxed as he was, he rinsed his face, and hair, arms flailing, and slippery soaped his way down his body, down over all those funny looking things that are down there up front and back between the two behinds, and down all the way to his very toes; and now, the work was done. But–he could not help but feel drift up the question of what was the something the long straw meant not to do? It was the water’s turn to work now; the walls and doors of the shower whirled around him and he rinsed off, rinsed, until all the soap was circled down into the chrome plated drain his toe touched momentarily, and then came off of, because it seemed sharp, though it wasn’t, like what he might have had to do was probably not deadly or dangerous. The water wasn’t needed now; he touched the valve and it shut off, the water was gone and away and silence came up and he slid open the door dripping, and there–there it was–the reason for all this–yesterday some woman said a company picnic will come very soon now that it is sunny spring, and when it does, he must be there. Something about the long straw was connected to the picnic, but what? He stepped over the edge of the tub through the open door all wet asking himself this again and again and once he shut off the key and let go the wheel and stepped out of the car; he faced it off afar under the sun; there off afar was the picnic; far off across the parking lot full of sun and clouds, stood a big tent. Toweling off between the bed and the dresser, by his car, he faced the picnic. He had not been to a company picnic before. The hot sun was kept off him now by the bedroom ceiling and joists and roof above that but he would have to step into the sun and make his way to the picnic, naked as he was, he felt even fully dressed out the door of his car that he was facing the picnic sunlit stark naked, because everything about him outside his small cubicle in the office tower would be exposed; how he really was; how he really talked; how he really laughed, maybe even what he thought and what things he believed; everything outside of just being a drone in the cube typing and typing where he felt comfortable and where he belonged. He did not belong standing here naked like this; what if someone saw–so, at once, he shut the car door with a thump and took a step to the dresser and pulled the drawer open and moved forward slowly, and as he moved the tent came closer and so he thought it best to begin to dress because no one wants to go up to a picnic actually naked. Clothes are now needed, now that we have sinned, said Adam and Eve. Because approaching a picnic of mostly strangers for the first time is bad enough, it’s like being naked even if you’re clothed because they gaze, they look, their eyes probe, they wonder; they assume you’re a sinner; they assume the worst when someone new is showing up for the picnic. Who are they, what are they, is what the people think; do I know them; do we know them; I don’t know them; and as you get closer and they all see you more clearly, you better be dressed in clothes that say who you are you better be somebody in the end, because somebody in that crowd will yes, yes finally know you and come out loud and say hello. You better be clothed when you say hello back. To be naked would not be proper. To be naked would be rude unless everybody else was naked, which will probably not be. So naked Charlie in the mirror walking through the crowd of hot cars by his bed pulled on clean briefs, and pulled on clean socks. The cars passed by motionless because he was the one moving and the tent came closer and he felt the eyes turning to him even at this distance and he pulled on pants and an undershirt and a shirt; the wood floor parking lot approaching, the dirt before the grassy area that led to the tent was all sharp stones, hot sharp on bare skin, so he stepped into some loafers. Do I look good, he thought looking himself in the eye in the mirror full of all the eyes of the people under the tent turned around to look at him, as he knew they’d do once he hit the hot grass and headed for the tent’s cool shade which would fill with wondering glowing unblinking eyes floating in the sudden darkness that comes down on everyone when the sun is pulled away too quickly; that instant of dark blindness that goes just as fast as the eyes adjust and you can see again, he’d see then that the eyes all are in people and no one is naked, and he has made it. He is there without having made the perfect idiot of himself, that deep inside he knows he is, down deeper than thought where truth lies covered by all the colors actions things names and words that time pulls by from birth to mercifully distract you. Like the bedroom door coming at him now; like the need to go down to breakfast with his parents; like the need to begin the real day, the picnic behind him gone and forgotten for now, turned into the shadowy upstairs hall and the hall slid past him, then the stairs guided him down creaking the whole way, and into the kitchen he went and there they were all fat and happy, waiting in the smell of eggs and bacon; but what had his pulling the long straw meant?
Good morning, he said, wanting to know to ask but that would be crazy.
Good morning Charlie, said Mom, looking at him, knowing, from the cast of his eye, he is thinking something troubling. Dad simply nodded without looking at him.
Charlie sat in his chair set on the linoleum floor and in the pressure of the hard seat up into his butt it came to him, came to him; the long straw meant he would not be running the picnic. Yes, there it was; they had been deciding who would organize arrange set up and run the upcoming company picnic and they, the organizing committee, had drawn straws to see who would lead. The short straw would lead. The long straw pissed him off.
What’s wrong son? said Mom–what? Why the long face?
Nothing; it’s just early that’s all, and I’m not a morning person. You know that; but that just made Mom came up fast, saying Charlie, here’s your eggs—and come on, smile; you look much more handsome when you smile; and her smile sucked a smile onto his face from someplace somehow, and the picnic was sucked out of him by her smile, the long straw was sucked from his hand, and she swallowed the whole picnic straw tent and all down without knowing it because everything was flavorless odorless and tasteless, as mere thoughts of things usually are.
Oblivious to this, she told him That’s better, that’s my little Charlie; that’s better; and she turned away. And he felt better for a while watching the knot where her apron was tied behind, interested in it fully without knowing why—so it must be the eggs, he thought as he dug in, and chewed and his tongue moved the eggs wetly around behind his teeth taste buds throbbing, come alive. Yes, thought his mouth, forgetting the rest of him. Yes it’s definitely the eggs. So they sat there, the three of them, fully absorbed, each a mealy wet lumpy yellow mishmash of eggs, piled high and dripping in their separate chairs for the short duration of the happiness of this new day’s morning meal. And when it was over, Charlie sat there, back to wondering what he’d been thinking before starting eating, like he had wondered what he had been dreaming after wakening; what dream was that? What dream? What—and everything around him including him started up again and continued moving forward regenerating itself again like a winter-dead flower spring-reflowering at the change of one more season.
Jim Meirose‘s work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including Blueline, Ohio Edit, Bartleby Snopes, Innovate, the Fiddlehead, Witness, Alaska Quarterly review, and Xavier Review, and has been nominated for several awards. Two collections of his short work and three novels have been published. Two new novels will be released in 2015 and 2016 by Montag Press. Come see www.jimmeirose.com for more.