1024 Words

The Popsicle

Glynn Sharpe

Paul rarely took hot showers. Hot showers left his skin red and feverish. He preferred the luxury of warm water. Standing alone, incubated within the glass doors, he would close his eyes and let the warmth of the water caress him. Liquid words of encouragement whispered into his ears. His mind was freed of tangled thoughts as the water dissolved his uncertainty.

He was shaken from his trance by the telephone. There was no urgency in answering it. He knew who was calling. It was Thursday night. Eric would be phoning to discuss their plans. Their Thursday evenings together remained fixed for the past several weeks. Thursday's were dedicated to alcohol. Together they would greet Friday mornings with regret and half hearted promises to abstain from such indulgences. They were never successful.

Their weekly jaunts lately seemed to blend into one another. Nothing changed. The faces and questions remained the same. He wasn't at all interested in marginal friends inquiring about his career status. Everyone in this pathetically small town seemed to know about his job predicament. They didn't mean any harm in their attempts to make small talk, but their questions stung his fragile pride. He hid his embarrassment behind shields of wit and quick laughter. They were oblivious of his pain but shared mightily with his jokes.

The reality Paul knew was no laughing matter. He never imagined leaving the university and not being able to find a job. He wanted his freedom from his parents and their claustrophobic control of his life. He suffered the indignity of eighteen months of resumes and job applications and dead ends. His days were unbearably long and filled with wasted time. He fell into the trap of going to bed late. He had to force himself out of bed before noon. Mindless routine had a strangle hold on his life. His parents offered a torrent of job hunting tips that bordered on the ridiculous. They were infuriatingly scripted pep talks that left Paul resentful. Every morning he could hear the alarm and know his father was off again to a job that he hated so he could provide a better life for Paul. And he did. The noise was a momentary distraction from his remaining hours of sleep.

Paul would often ponder his future while at school. His daydreams were safe ones. He rarely considered anything too extravagant. He harbored a secret wish to be ordinary. A Government employee maybe. An entry level position with promise. No more. His friends at school would often boast about their inflated plans. They painted a future that was virtually unattainable. Their schemes were destined for failure. It didn't matter now though. He severed all ties with them the day he graduated.

Paul escaped the idealistic world of academia and was thrust into an economy poisoned by recession. He was forced to return home and live the humiliation of being a university graduate who still lived under his parents roof. It was disastrous.

He wondered how long the cool water had been running down his shivering body. His hand shook as he turned off the tap. As he stepped out of the shower, he could see his naked body in the full length mirror. He ran his hand down the length of his body and felt his muscled chest and stomach. He had lost twenty pounds of college flab in the past few months and was in the best shape of his life. Exercise eased the nervous tension he was drowning in. He would run late at night when the winter air was its coldest. All he cared to hear was the pounding of his pace through the snow and hidden ice. He was a lone, solitary figure penetrating the deadlock silence of winter.

Paul could hear Eric's car in the driveway. He flicked his light to let him know he was on his way. He left his parents the note he'd written on his dresser. The envelope was unsigned. His parents were very particular about details and it pleased them that he always took the time to leave them a note about where he was going and what he planned to do. He would not disappoint them. Not tonight. He licked the envelope.

Eric was a drinker and a philosophical drunk. This night would not be unlike their last Thursday or the Thursday before that. The two friends laughed together in the uncomfortably hot bar and were pleasantly inebriated by closing time. The clouds of smoke irritated Paul's eyes. He reeked of alcohol and fading cologne as they left the streaking neon lights of the bar and headed for a late night trip for greasy food. Paul had fries. They were a treat he rarely had. He didn't want to spoil his diet.

Eric dropped him off at his door. Paul caught a snowflake in his mouth as he walked through the darkness.

Paul tiptoed through the unlit house. His mother was a light sleeper and he didn't want to wake her. The note he'd left was on his dresser unopened. He signed it and placed it on the polished night stand.

He stretched out on his bed without taking off his clothes. He folded his hands under his head and fell into a light sleep. The watch his parents gave him for graduation clicked loudly in his ears. Each passing second sounded like a gong.

Eyes open. Paul could feel the warmth of the water as it dripped from his bedroom ceiling. Soon his face and hair were soaked with it. He could hear a low gush as the water bubbled up beneath his floor. Like a warm hand, it crept up his legs and immersed his entire body. His head bobbed just above the gentle current. He was alert and focused. His hands danced above his eyes. Every etched line and hair were magnified in glorious detail. The swaying hand abruptly stopped. Paul smiled. The hand reached under his bed for the shotgun he placed there earlier that evening. He slipped the cold barrel into his mouth. It stuck lightly to his lips.

Like a Popsicle.

Copyright ©1998 Glynn Sharpe. All Rights Reserved.

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March, 1998
Issue #23

1024 Words