A short story by Rob White
Your whole life is ahead of you.
That's what I've said, every day. When I woke up, the possibilities were endless, and when I went to bed, those possibilities were postponed until that following morning, when I would wake up and feel again that the world was my oyster. I could do it all, when I felt like it. I could change the world, when I got around to it. I could be the next John Lennon or Mahatma Gandhi or Jesus Christ when I was ready to. I just had a few things I wanted to do first. A few movies I wanted to watch and girls I wanted to fuck. When I was done with that…woe be to those that stood in the way of my potential.
I still believe that tomorrow is another day, but goddamn if I know how I'm going to get there, I think to myself as I shift my shattered elbow an inch to the right, away from the drip drip dripping of some busted pipe and the steady rain of brick-dust I feel upon the one finger that still has feeling.
Truth is, I'm not even sure the other fingers are still there. They may be there, but ground to fleshy paste, or they may be laying somewhere under what used to be my bed, next to the box of porno mags I hid from my mom before she died. Heh. Forgot those were there until now.
Guy like me doesn't have to whack off. A guy like me gets laid all the time. All I have to do is pick up my guitar, walk down to the coffee shop, play a few chords, and watch that intellectual college pussy fly towards me like motherfucking moths to a bug zapper.
Guess I might have to learn to play right handed again. Nah. Docs will fix me up. This is nothing. Coulda dropped a damn shopping mall on me. I got a destiny. Can't keep me down.
I feel something wet on my jeans. Hope I didn't piss myself.
God, where the hell are those assholes? I heard the sirens about an hour ago, but they sure are taking their sweet time getting to me. When they get here, I might have to stick my foot up their asses.
Heh. What a site that would be on the 11 o'clock news. Some chiseled fireman pulling a sexy young artist out of a pile of rubble only to get his ass kicked by him. You know I'd be famous after that. I'd kick his ass, and then pick up my guitar, dust it off and then stroll off into the night like Bruce fucking Willis. I'd be getting calls from agents by morning.
Where the hell is my guitar? That thing better not be damaged. Yeah it's insured, but that thing has gotten me a lot of pussy in my day. My good luck charm. Or good fuck charm, I should say. I think it was over by the wall next to the window. Hell if I know. I came home drunk as hell last night. Probably still be passed out if this goddamn building hadn't fallen on top of me.
Heh. I really must have brought down the house last night.
I hear myself laugh out loud. The sound is surprisingly scary. First of all, the sound didn't echo or reverberate really. It just kind of landed back on my face like a lame bird. Guess that's to be expected when my ceiling and Mrs. Olroney's floor are hanging two or three inches from my face. Something else though. The laugh sounded kind of wet.
I turn my head to the right and spit. I can't see it too well, but it sure tastes like blood. Shit. And…my tooth is missing. My goddamn front tooth is missing!
I scream in anger, the sound of it falling impotently back down in my face again. How the hell am I going to get laid with only one front tooth? I roll my tongue over the rest of my mouth, tasting the blood on my gums.
My gums. Fuck. I have three more teeth missing. Two in the bottom back and the incisor next to my missing front tooth.
I scream again and pound my right fist on the floor. I can't see my right fist. My arm past my bicep is covered by something that looks like a slab of sheetrock, but at least I can feel it. Wherever the rest of that arm is, it has mobility. That's something at least.
No teeth. Great. Yeah my guitar's insured, but I'm not. What the hell would I need insurance for? I was born to be beautiful. God had to drop a building on me to fuck that up.
I chuckle a little again. Oh well. I'll just have to borrow some money from Pam. I hate that bitch, but she worships me and can't stay off my cock, so I know she'll help me out. Fix me up. Hell, I knocked her up twice and talked her into getting an abortion both times. I can make that bitch do anything.
Well…there goes my plan of making a graceful exit out of this shit pile. Or if I do, I'll have to keep my mouth shut. That might work. Be the strong silent type. I can still kick the fireman's ass.
Left hand smashed to shit. Mouth full of blood. Probably swallowed half my teeth. What else is fucked up?
All right, head to toe time. Right arm is pinned at the bicep, but otherwise seems ok. Left arm is free but I can only feel part of my hand. Rest of it seems pretty mangled. I can turn my head ok and lift it the inch or two between me and the sheet of debris above me. I can feel my legs, but something's lying on top of them. Can't lift my head enough to look down and see very well. My pants are still wet. Warm, like piss. Doesn't smell like piss though.
I wiggle my hips. I hear the scream erupt from my lips before I even realize what's going on. My right side, near my kidney is pinned in place, and damn if that didn't hurt trying to move it.
I try again to look down. It's dark down there but I can see some shapes out of the bottom corners of my eyes. Something big and dark on top of my legs, and something long and skinny sticking out of my side, half way between my rib cage and my hip bone.
Shit. Shit shit shit!
I can smell it now. Blood. It's blood all over my pants.
So Pam's going to have to pay to fix more than just my teeth. Plus I might not walk out of here quite as cool and collected-like as I planned. Fuck, I'm gonna look like an invalid.
Might even be one.
Nah, don't think like that. I got a future. I got a lot more songs to write and girls to fuck and money to make. Doesn't matter if I've got a hole in my gut and a hand that's probably too damaged to play with again and a mouth like a moonshine hillbilly.
I'm a star, baby. A star in training. Hell, this is just another highlight reel for them to show on my Behind the Music documentary. He did drugs, he had sex with girls, and at the age of twenty four he had a building fall on top of him.
Why the fuck haven't they pulled me out yet?
Ah damn it. I don't even know how the hell this happened. I pass out in a tequila haze and the next thing I know I wake up the next morning to four levels of apartment building collapsing on top of me. Four levels above. That means I'm on the bottom. That means they won't get to me first by any means. Fuck.
Back to the matter at hand. What asshole did this? Some psycho terrorist? Those guys with beards and bombs strapped to their underwear? Maybe. Or some retard in another apartment might have left the gas on and lit a cigarette. Maybe Mrs. Olroney's cunt friend in 3B.
Doesn't make sense. I remember hearing something before the sky went all Chicken Little. It wasn't a bang. It was a rumble. Then the cabinets opening and spilling the plates out in the kitchen, and then a twang sound in the corner. My guitar falling over.
After that was a sound like a tsunami crashing down over my skull. Must have been the building falling down. All this and my eyes stayed closed the whole time. Heard it like a goddamn dream. Wish it was.
So not a bomb or a gas explosion. Earthquake maybe. Shit that means Dad was right. Watch out for homos and earthquakes, he said. Fucking drunk ass shitbag.
Shouldn't have left him.
Where the fuck did that come from? I'm glad as hell I left his old ass. He was only keeping me down. Wouldn't even buy me alcohol anymore after the cops almost caught us that time. Didn't care about my music, didn't care when I dropped out of school, and he sure as shit didn't care about me.
But his face when I left. Accepting it but looking like he failed at something…
Shit I need to quit it with this crap. All that matters now is getting out of this pile.
Help! I scream. Help! Man down, here!
Don't hear anything. Maybe a faint rustling above but who knows what that is. Could be a fireman digging us out, or it could be a rat just as trapped as I am
I hear a sound escaping my lips that seems like a cross between a moan and a sob.
Get it together, asshole! You don't die here. You die in a drug haze while having sex with six underage girls when you're forty, or your brakes give out while drag racing on Sunset Strip on a cocaine high. Something glamorous like that. Not buried under a pile of rubble at the age of twenty four when not even a goddamn soul knows my name yet.
There's that sound again.
Even those girls, so eager to jump my bones, probably don't remember my name. Only Pam with her ugly pimply mug and her big ass with that stupid butterfly tattoo on it knows my name. I hate that bitch, but damn if she doesn't love the shit out of me.
Don't even know why I hate her. She's not really ugly. She's not the sharpest tool in the shed, but she does buy me shit and drive me home when I'm wasted. Hell, if she had been around last night, she might have been crushed to hell in the bed beside me. That slab of sheetrock holding my arm would also be pinning her corpse.
Glad she bailed on me.
Cause now the bitch can pay to fix me up, right? I mean, yeah she told me she was done with me yesterday morning, and yeah she didn't show up to the gig like she usually does, but I bet she just went home to cry and eat a box of doughnuts or some shit.
She didn't leave me. Nobody leaves me. I leave them.
That hole in my gut hurts like hell now that I know it's there. Or I think it does anyway. Could just be my mind fucking with me. Psychosomasticating, or whatever the hell they call it. Hope I'm not losing too much blood. I'll probably know soon enough when I start to feel like I'm huffing whippets and start seeing things.
Like my dad's face, watching me walk out the door.
Goddamn it. Why didn't I ever call that bastard after I left? Probably because he was a sorry piece of shit too drunk to pick up the phone, that's why. And I was too busy.
Always too busy. Building my career. I'm a big man now, and I don't have time for people that hold me back. Not Dad, not Pam, not anyone.
I was gonna go hit the studio and record a new demo tape next week. The one that would have made me famous and had the suits drooling.
Who the fuck am I kidding? The studio was Ben's garage and I know we would have just sat there smoking weed and talking about Floyd and Hendrix until I fell asleep and Ben kicked me out. Just like we did the last two times. Didn't record a note. There was always next time.
I don't think there's going to be a next time.
This is the end, son. My dad says that as he sits in his recliner with beer stains on his shirt, a half-eaten bag of tortilla chips on his lap and a broken heart beating in his chest. Broken because I made it that way. I made it that way by leaving and before that I made it that way by staying and surrounding him with blame, aggression, and cold endless silence.
This is the end. I had that very thought when I looked into his eyes for the last time. This is the last image of my father I will ever have.
I was right. I never saw him again.
Shit, listen to me. Acting like I can't get right the fuck up and visit his drunk ass when I get out of this. Probably won't have shit to say to him, but I can do it. Can do any damn thing I want.
I can lift this building off of me like the Incredible Fucking Hulk and throw it across the damn bay and then fly out of here with the first hot reporter bitch I see on my arm. Fuck her in the clouds and piss out jet fuel all over the sad pricks below. 'Cause that's how I roll.
I laugh again, pushing it out despite the flat sound of it and the pain rolling up from my side like a stampeding herd of mutant buffalo. I push it out, almost hoping that the sheer will erupting from my drowning lungs can push this endless hunk of rock off of me, straight into the night sky. Straight into the fucking sun. So far away that I can pretend it never existed. That I never lived here and it never hurt me and I didn't tell Pam to go fuck herself when she asked me to move in with her.
Can't do it. Couldn't leave this place behind. My guitar lives here. So does my pride.
So does the stinking pool of blood and who knows what else leaking through my shirt and pants, maybe even dripping down on some poor bastard who got caught in the laundry room in the basement below me. Drying his boxers and thinking about stocks and bonds or some shit. Maybe the last thought he ever had.
I breathe in deep, wanting to take in the pain and make it strength. Instead I discover that it hurts a bit less now.
That's a good thing, right?
Then I notice something else. The drip drip dripping from the busted pipe has stopped. Maybe they cut the water off. Good sign. Means they don't want me or Mr. Stocks and Bonds below me to drown. Good. Good. Good sign.
I want to go to sleep. Seems pretty retarded, I realize. Going to sleep might mean I could miss them if they yelled at me. Might end up lying here an extra hour or two just because my forty winks made me miss the first train out of here. Still…I'm fucking tired. Didn't get a full night's sleep because of this shit.
Might crash at Pam's tonight. Probably for the best. She's not the best lay I've had, but at least she doesn't snore and she doesn't smell like Jaeger and throw-up like that last chick.
Good old Pam. Always wants me no matter what I do to her or how many horrible things I say.
The sob is back. I don't hear it this time so much as feel it crawl out of my throat like some half-dead amphibian.
Pam doesn't want me anymore. She said that. She said, "I don't want you anymore." Last thing she said. Maybe not those exact words. Don't think I was really listening, but that's the gist of it. Told me to get the fuck out and never call her again. Yeah…like it was me that called her half the time.
But it was, wasn't it? All those nights I was too drunk to score pussy and too wasted to drive home, my fingers hit her number like an ancient rhythm programmed into them. Just like my guitar. My songs…and Pam's number. As much a part of me as the English language.
Phone's probably gone. I can get another, right? I can get another, and some new fingers. But…will those fingers remember? Will they remember like the old ones did?
The sob is more of a wail this time. Again, I don't hear it. What will I do if my fingers don't remember anymore? I can't think of the numbers in my head. 330-40...something…996….
God dammit, I scream, or I think I do. Only my fingers knew her number. I can't see them, but I think those fingers are gone now. Smashed up and ruined. Never able to dial again.
I feel the wet tears on my temples, sliding down the floor beneath me. It's good to feel something, but all I can think about right now is how much I've lost. I lost my guitar. Smashed in the corner, I think. I lost my hand. Busted to shit or worse. I lost Pam's number.
I lost Pam.
I lost my Dad.
I lost my way.
I scream again, my head violently rising up, smacking into the rock above me, leaving a welt I can feel but don't give a shit about.
This is not the way this is supposed to happen! I don't die like this! I just don't! Some nameless shit on the news does, not me!
I DON'T DIE THIS WAY!!!
I'm crying. I can feel it in my throat and in the vibrations in my face and in the blood that comes bubbling up with each one of my sobs. I cry, and I cry and I cry. I cry until something strange starts to happen.
A part of me begins to shift away. I keep crying, but I can't feel it so much anymore. My body is going numb, I think. I being to feel less like a man trapped under a building and more like a man watching a man trapped under a building. Watching him cry. Watching how fragile he is. How empty his life is. How alone he is and how…worthless he always was.
That man is still crying. I think that's all he knows how to do now. His arms and legs no longer move. His chest still rises and falls with each breathe, but that's getting slower now. Only the sobs. Only the sobs make me think he's still alive.
I can see now. I can see the truth of his body. His left hand is mangled beyond recognition. His pinky finger is there, but the rest of it…just isn't. His right arm is fine, but if he isn't rescued it won't be for long. That slab of sheetrock is cutting off his circulation. Soon he won't be able to play…or dial…with that hand either. His ribcage is more of a mess than he thought. Three of his ribs are not only broken, but basically obliterated. How he can still talk or breathe is a mystery. And of course there's the matter of the retaining bar piercing his liver. Any higher and it would have pierced his lung or his heart and none of this would matter. But…I think none of this really matters anyway. I think it never really did.
I snap back to attention like a kid who overslept for school. My head hits the rock again, and I feel it again. For a second I can hear the drip drip dripping again, but then that goes. I still feel the tears. Some more brick dust falls in my face and I think I hear another rumble close by. I have a quick feeling of dread before I push it away. What can another earthquake do, crush me some more?
That was fucking weird. I saw myself like I was watching a movie. I like movies. I fucking hated this one.
Am I really that bad off, or was I just hallucinating? No…I think it was all real. As real as hearing a ghost or seeing the future or a goddamn alien abduction. Out of body experience. My dad wouldn't have believed in that, but my mom would have. Maybe she had one before the cancer took her. Fuck if I know. I wasn't there.
I was sitting in the back of an empty school bus, letting Tina Jackson blow me while I got high. I thought about Mom, sure. I thought about her too much. So much that I had to get away. So much that I couldn't watch her die, like Dad did.
All of a sudden, I realize something. I realize I'm still crying, but I also realize that all this time I was right.
I'm not meant for this.
I was not meant to die crushed under a building, unrecognizable and uncared for and alone. I was not meant to get a girl who loved me pregnant and then ditch her...again. I was not meant to waste my weekends talking about a record deal that will never happen and chasing tail that will never even remember my name. I was not meant to end up in this town, living a life of wasted freedom, far away from a father I was never meant to leave and a mother I was not meant to abandon on her deathbed.
I was not meant to be in that school bus that day. I was meant to be with her. With Mom. I was meant to hold her hand and tell her I loved her and tell her she did good raising me and that I'm going to go on to be something that would make her proud. And I was meant to go on…and be that something.
I don't know what. It doesn't matter. But it was not meant to be this.
The crying has stopped. It may be because I don't feel it anymore, but I think it's more because my mind has finally let go of something. I've finally let go of myself. I'm finally seeing the big picture. Too little, too late.
Because it really is over now. This is not where I'm meant to be, but it is, nevertheless, where I am. There will be no record deal. There will be no women lining up to be with me. There will be no Behind the Music special and there will be no Pam.
Soon I will close my eyes, if I haven't already, and all of this will disappear. The rocks, the busted pipes, the mattress under my back and my body with it. I'll be buried in a cheap grave some distant aunt I've seen twice will pay for out of pity for my father…or my father's memory. No one will visit me. And those that walk by me will not think twice about my name. Unremarkable. Forgotten.
Something's happening, I think. My eyes are still seeing darkness, but there are shapes beyond it. There's also a…weight, hanging off my arms. No…it's my arms themselves that are hanging. It's not a mattress on my back anymore. Something harder. Like a stretcher. There are hands on my stomach, pressing where the rusty metal bar was.
Oh those hands feel so good. To be touched by someone, to have someone want to touch me…it makes me smile. I think I am smiling. I hope I am.
I let myself think then that those hands are my father's. That he's picking me up off the ground after I sprained my ankle playing baseball. He'll toss me over his shoulders and tickle me until the tears turn into laughter and my pain turns into joy at how much he loves me and how much the world does.
It's all ahead of me. All of it. I'll be someone. I'll be someone and someone will love me.
That girl over there will. The one I think I see out of eyes that only sort of work. I can see shapes. People standing over me. People carrying me. And a girl walking with them. She's crying. She's crying and she's so beautiful.
She takes my hand in hers and I feel what's left of my fingers begin to move. Typing something, I think. A number. She doesn't know what it means.
Her name is Pam. She loves me.
That really does make me smile. I can tell because she smiles back.
I think I'll sleep now. I'll sleep and when I wake up I'll tell Mom about the beautiful girl I met. I'll tell her I want a guitar and I'll tell her how I'm going to buy her a house when I'm famous.
I'll tell her…and I'll do it.
Because it's all ahead of me.
Copyright Rob White 2010