'A Day Like Any Other' by Jason Betts.

 

It was a day like any other, except this one was different.

It was like looking at a picture, knowing something was wrong, but not being able to spot exactly what it was that was bothering you. Life's funny like that. The phone rang.
"Yes?"
"Hey, you bugger! It's Fred. Cards tonight?"
"Um.."
"Aw, come on, not again?"
John knew he wouldn't be able to make it to the game tonight.
"Sure."
"Great. Thanks John. It'll be good. See 'ya."
Click. Great. Another Ace of Spades in the dark.

The microwave oven went 'ping'. That was strange, because John thought he set the coffee machine last night. Oh well, at least the grounds would be roasted. Time to get up.

Apart from the groaning of the floorboards and a creaking of the knees, John Waterbottom was not in good health. He was in the kind of health that made his doctor feel like the captain of the Titanic. The time it took to do a situp was exactly the same amount of time it took him to eat lunch at Joe's Diner. John was also an avid sports fan and participant; wrestling with the remote, popping tins from the six pack, conquering Mt Vesuvious (his favourite pizza topping) and punching tickets at work, his track record for his running pulse was always a winner.

Getting his corporeal existance into the shower was generally an effort, except for lately, when he had the doors removed. All that steam had to be bad for the skin, and anyway, John had to admit that nudity could be fun, because his bathroom had a full length mirror that told him every day that he was fairest overweight one of all. This was fine, because John had more important things to think about, or look at, than his feet.

He reached for the soap. It slipped. Slippery stuff, that soap. It spun from his hands and fell to join the others, a virtual pastiserrie of multicoloured bars of animal fat spread around the bathroom in such a way that walking a tightrope with banana slippers might be safer than crossing the room for a crap or a look in the mirror. Life was fraught with peril. And itchy beards.
"Dammit. Bugger it."

Washing sounds of water and splashes on the linoleum echo within the bathroom. A veritable bubble bath starts to foam out of the shower and onto the floor, floats out the hole in the wall, created by John specifically for this purpose when he slipped and fell holding the 24" monkey wrench whilst trying to fix the clogged basin u-pipe, bashing a hole in the wall, to land uniquely upon the now-dead geraniums of Mrs Finchley, whose idea of intimate company was talking over the fence for six hours while flooding her garden with water and creating the Grand Canyon of surburban erosion. The soap just gave it the necessary 'rainbow effect' and helped make the dirt clean. Everyday. Except for Fridays. And Saturdays. And Sundays, if it wasn't October. He turned off the taps.

The phone rang again. Dripping from limbs, hair and places best left unmentioned, John Davis Waterbottom (the First) reached for the towel, ignoring the phone. He dried his hair.
The phone persisted. He dried his arms. The phone seemed to get louder. He dried his armpits, shoulders and started on his chest. The A. G. Bell telecommunications device persisted. John threw in the towel. Moving towards the door, he stepped, sidestepped, tiptoed and almost pireoetted accross the floor to the hallway, transgressing the cultivated clutter. Stepping into the hallway, he stopped and faced the phone. He knew it was about to stop. It didn't matter that he was ten and a half feet away, but just the fact that he wasn't within reach. He faced the phone. Arms by his sides of his wavering, dripping and curvaceous bulk, he advanced upon the phone. It rang twice, bring bring. He stepped again, twice, and twice it rang, taunting him. Six feet to go, and he dashed. It rang again, bring bring. A pause if infinite length descended as John Davis Waterbottom (the First) reached for the phone like a tennis serve in slow motion replay. It rang once. Bring. A pause. His hand touched the plastic. He waited for the second half of the ring, water dripping from his hand to the phone, local telephone book, and the old brown lace cloth his great aunt had made him thirty years ago. Waiting. The slow motion sped up to real time as his started hearing the tick tick tick of the hallway grandfather clock. Silence. The phone looked up at him, the finger holes grinning at him. Damn.

Phone 15, John Love.

Typical. Just bloody typical. Nothing ever seems to go right; even the phone was conspiring to add to his personal paranoia and general distrust of the world in general. Something was going to have to happen, he thought, but not today, which was a shame, because today was going to be the most important day of his life.

Nine, ten, eleven. He counted the bus stops on the way to work. The third bus this morning, John never tired of his journeys. Philosophically thinking, sitting down and waiting to go to work was better than working, and because the day was a write-off until 6:30 this evening when he got home, everything he did until then would be to maximise his personal pleasure, or, more specifically and pointedly, to minimise the pain and suffering. Suffering was, he thought, like going to the dentist. You always wanted it to be as short and painless and possible. John saw life like that, maximising pleasure (cards, TV, relaxing, drinking, forgetting) and minimising suffering (pain plus time). He liked that about life. It was simple. Sure, it had tricks, but, generally, it was simple. Uncomplicated. Not easy, but then, you got out what you put in. Except death. You don't really have to put anything in to get that. He wondered, "If I don't have to put anything in to get death, is there anything I can take out to stop it?" Not a bad thought. Not very realistic, either, as he'd soon know.

The bus stopped. He followed the other workers out, sheep disguised as people, and headed towards the factory. Everyone had to enter their card at the gate clock-in box. His shift didn't start for another seventeen minutes; just enough time for a fag and a coffee to take to the shed. Waving to his counterpart and fellow card player, John felt the ripples of nostaglia and familiarity, because this was exactly what he did yesterday. Sixteen minutes. He headed for the smoko room, which he thought was funny, because it now had a new company policy 'No Smoking' sign on it, and a whole heap of telltale orange butts decorating the bitumen two feet around the corner like shadows in a chest X-ray, mould on a lunch bread roll or snails in salad.

A thought - new and original - struck him.
"If I did this yesterday, and I do it again today, will I do this tomorrow? Likewise, will it enable me to do it better tomorrow, or make it easier for me to do? Even more, if I do these things every day, will every day seem the same as the next, or the previous - have I already created my destiny, or I am just acting it out?"

The universe paused momentarity for the revelation to sink in. Then it cranked up again. The same music used for the elevators at Macy's started to play over the loudspeakers, the sensitive new age Pavolvian equivalent for 'time to work in five minutes'. John looked at the loudspeaker - grey, weathered, paint splotched and tinny. It was like listening to an opera through a telephone. But everyone got the idea.

Coffee. He moved to the coffee bar and clicked the knob twice. It was still morning. Sugars, three clicks. Milk powder, four. It contained lactose and energy, as well as whitener and dehydrated cream. A nice brew. And hot, too, which was important, as he'd be there for one and a half hours.
Moving over to the shed, Fred waved, well, acknowledged, a sluggishly lazy semiphore 'hi'.

"Hi", said Fred.
"Hi", said John.
"Whatsup?", said Fred.
"The usual", said John, grimacing. "Somebody tried to call me this morning, but they hung up."
"The bastard."
"Yeah."
Changing positions, John moved towards the seat that he had occupied for almost one fifth of the waking hours of his life. He knew it was uncomfortable. It was also familiar, and there was comfort in that. Life's like that, he thought again, looking at the seat. Almost like a tolerable suffering which was okay because you knew it was there, and you'd be expecing it; like the devil you know is better than the devil
you don't. Well, do we need devils? Are they necessary, or are they just a word that means 'doing evils'?
John sat down at it anyway. To work. If devils were in the mind, he didn't have time. Not now, anyway.

The masses of workers kept flowing in in waves, moving towards the shed and clock-punch, John ensuring that the firm rule of 'one man, one card' applied. And the truth set them free. And into slavery again. Well, at least for the next nine hours, anyway. The cards were punched, John watched, and the sheeple moved into the yard, knowingly moving into their designated work areas, making money for the boss and selling their time for the pittance they were offered for it. John felt sad today; his people, as he liked to call them, didn't seem as happy today as they usually do. For some reason, things seemed different. Maybe it was the way they walked in, not smiling, but with the grim determination of another day at work. The same old faces, the same old sheeple. Days, minutes, hours, all the same time; whereever would it end? Whenever could the people that walk before him wake up? Couldever? Maybe.

The sun shone down, and the sounds of the industrial suburb rang like the metallic birds of the concrete jungle, falling upon the deaf and accostomed ears of the slaves of the twenty-first century. The visual scenery displayed the same picture of reality as yesterday, and the day before; the steel vines of manufacturing heaven piping into the sky, the bleak warehouses of shipping magnates omnious in the groundscape. Nothing seems to move much except for the occasional movement of sheeple on the whistleblowing and forklifts carrying cargo like ants before a storm. John watched. It was a job for watching. Other people, other places. Not his place to, or his person, except, maybe, today. Today he watched himself looking into the sun, watching other people. Today, he watched himself. Watching other people. Watching.

The people weren't happy, he could see that. Was it that their lives were like his? Not happy? Steady? Monotonous? Boring? Did they do the same things as himself, or were they better at it? Did this make them happier? Who knows? Their walk. They walked into work, and they walked out. Straight out. Did this make them accomplished, having finished a task, or did it make them failures, not having improved their lives in this day? He pondered. Upon change. And then just upon.

The yard was empty. Nothing moved. Everything was as it was. Even the air was still. The boxes stood their ground, and the spaces between the buildings and the fences seemed vast and empty. Nothing filled them, save the hot air moving upwards from the black bitumen, rippling against the backdrop of more of the same. John watched. He saw the nothingness.

It wasn't the substance of life, he thought, but rather, the bits inbetween that make the difference. Space leads to contemplations, assesment, options, the optimal outcome, and the making of the result by conscious choice. His eyes wavered in the glare of the light now blinding him, the parabolic window of an approaching car perfectly catching and reflecting the sun's direct rays into his eyes, as well they all do. Movement in space leads to change, he thought. See the change, feel it; a car moves and the space around changes. Gotta get myself some glasses.

Bright red. That was the colour. The soup packet stared him right in the face. Torn and disshevelled, the empty foil packet seemed to have completed its quest in life, faithfully serving its purpose and delivering its contents into an environment of gastronomic appreciation and satisfaction, except for the fact that this piece of Fleming's bread that was to be eaten with it was stale, and would later cause gastritis and an acute case of vomiting. His bread roll, he was was sure, was a least two days old. He knew this from the blue felt tipped pen price of $1 that was written on the plastic wrap that they used in the canteen. He bought it anyway, trusting in the belief that they wouldn't sell it if it wasn't fit for consumption. Unfortunate. John ate it, was satisfied. Later, regretted it. Such is life.

If lunch was red, what colour was life? The basic principle of perception was twofold: how would you describe it, and would this correlate with how others would describe it? Red seemed a safe bet for lunch, but what about life? Life seemed to John to be a perpetual brown, of varying shades, from the dark brown of breakfast (coffee made from highly electrified roasted grounds), the mid-brown of morning tea (coffee with
triple milk/quadruple whitener), and the light brown of the bread roll served with the hot water of his packet soup. The packet, being red, was obviously red, but still seemed to be brown in the way that life seemed to be continuous, and not up of different segments of time and change. Brown also described the general feeling of his life. And probably that of others. Time would tell. Life could be full of shit, too.

Time seemed to roll on by, and the curls of excitment straightened without him noticing it. The sun got hotter, and the year seemed more vast. Dry, and empty. What a great time to go. Noone watching, noone to criticise, to condemn. The sheeple were in their docks, and the watchers of him were not. Life had to be better than emptyness, than re-creating the same old same old, day after day. Recreate thyself, daily, he thought. Recreate thyself, today, he thought. Recreate now, he thought, and so he did. Life changed, and
suddenly, the brown turned alchemically to gold…

The patterns of yesterday folded away, and the illusion of what he thought was dissolved as quickly as the hot sword of truth cut through the buttery curtain of illusion. Today was today, and nothing was going to change that. What he did now, was forever, and would continute to create forever likewise so. Winning was now a possibility, and success was already achieved. The Universe was beckoning and the future was on hold, waiting for further instructions. He felt like riding a tidal wave on the surfboard of his life, riding
towards the inevitable death of his life at the beach, but knowning that he had the power to change his course and postpose that ultimate consequence of birth, life and the big thereafter and all that it contained.

Sitting in his uncomfortable chair, John Davis Waterbottom (the First), arose, and stood. This was the moment he had been waiting for all day, for such a long time, and yet, there was no rush, as if he had all the time of the world in his hand, letting it run between his fingers, grain by grain, as he wished it; but the sands of time are fine, and his fat, knobbly lax carpels, so unused to clenching anything that wasn't a container of food or portable electronics, suddenly realised that one could grab hold of time, hold it, love it, seize it, but no matter how hard you tried, you couldn't hold on forever.

A moment passed, and he relinquished his desparate momentary grab for zen, stepping off his block, card in hand for the clock, the clock of his life, and others', the governing vessel of authority and reward, all rolled into one. John questioned himself, foolishly pondering if he didn't clock-off, what would happen, if he broke the rules, thought for himself, took charge, and was fired, lost his only source of income, and made himself poor, and hungry? He sighed. Another day, another dollar. Click-chunk.

It was October. A time inbetwixt Summer and Winter, a time of wind and crispness, a freshness of life and renewal. And Oktoberfest. Steinbergs for everyone, as long as he could use his credit card. It was five and a half years since Cindy had left him, and he still couldn't work out why. She always complained about everything, never left him alone. Bitch, she was; the hell with her. Life was now always so peaceful, free, relaxed, routined, repetitive, boring... lonely. Okay, he missed her. No, not her. Company. The right sort of
company. Why was it that life sucked so much?

The bowl of potato crisps rested on his paunch, balancing between his naval crease and the much unused love handle of his floating rib, eyeing him in his slothlike existance, grimacing with the foreboding turbulent nausea of gastritis beneath.
"So here we are, nothing to do. Nothing to do. Again." he said to himself.
"It's your own fault", his conscience repremanded.
"No, it's not", he responded, mentally returning the ball to its proper court of jurisprudence.
"Oh yes it is", his personal angel, no, make that devil, responded.
"If you hadn't have done that, this wouldn't have happened; likewise, the converse is true, that if you had've done this, that wouldn't have happened", it logically pointed out, as clear as day in a solar eclipse and as bright as night in an endless summer of days at Santa's place, an solstice notwithstanding between friends, or Saros cycles, for that matter.

"Action. Action's what we need" a hasty angel of conscience piped.
"No it's not" the other angel replied, or what was now the devil, as this was the one that John was the most
comfortable with, it had to be the nicer. Thus, with an awakening of consciousness, one's familiar angel
transforms into a personal devil of fiendish proportion. Similarity, and likewise, his personal devil - the one that makes the stupidiest suggestions - the one that always blames him - is slowing masquerading itself as his
personal moral angel. Tricky.

If God wanted to play silly buggers with him, that was fine. God's got to keep his day busy somehow. It's just that it'd be nice if God played by the rules. Well, any rules'd do, so long as they're fair. Yep, a fair God'd just about fit John's life nicely, even if it always rained on his birthdays and stayed dry whenever he had to work in the shed. Then he could ask for stuff. John had actually given up asking, because everything he'd asked for always came in reverse, like the promotion he asked for came to be a posting at the shed, rather than the docking and unloading bay. That one was in the shade. No glare. No blinding nothingness of light, just the occasional headlights at night. Oh, that and the beep beeping of trucks' monophonic unsympathetic
self-important reversing alarm. But it was worth it, not being in the scorching heat and reflections of the sun's punishing rays of, well, the stuff that makes things hot.

Thinking it was time to get get of here, and take some positive action, walking towards his next destination of the late night diner, John turned angrily to confront the person who had stabbed him in the arm. The person who was supposed to be there wasn't, or rather, was, but was on this side of his skin. The pain became an intense throbbing, stabbing ache, similar to the one now in his chest. John realised this wasn't his day.

The pavement, now supporting him on a much closer and more intimate basis, told him that Bini Constructions were the best in town. The background noise and hubub of the city night became louder and yet distant at the same time; faces and places loomed in front of him, memory and fantasy melting into vision with the warped movie screen of visual reality. Oh, and his back really hurt, too. The world spun around him, the wooden stake in his heart the steadying reference centre in his personal twister of pain. Then, something happened. He knew this day was different. And why.

Time stopped. Or rather, everything else did. His mind raced free. A white light shone down upon him, its glorious splendor radiating eternal majesty and commanding every mortal attention, seeking to define the boundaries of time, space and transcendant joy. The hidden secrets and mysteries of nature and science revealed themselves to John Davis Waterbottom (the First), raising his consciousness and understanding to that of the Perfect Man. His pale human intellect, atypical of humanity, strived to grasp the details of the encompassment of the meaning of life, and managed to see it as a monkey realised the physical form and colour of 'banana' as 'food'. John mentally struggled in enlightened contemplation of the hightest order of simplicity, trying to see the virtually-invisable unseeable. Seeing it.

"Of course", he gasped.
And then, he, John Davis Winterbottom (the Only), was dead.