Some Other Kind of Apocalypse
Bleaker knew the office girls were visiting the site. That’s why when he cut the top of his thumb off on the circular saw he grunted instead of screamed. He grunted, guttural like, and made a throaty noise that sounded like he was disagreeing with someone. He didn’t go all high-pitched and panicky. He didn’t curse or lose his cool or call for his mother or anything that could be considered uncool or lame or childlike or babyish. He just held his hand close to his body, periodically bowed while blood gushed out of his hand.
“The owners are coming by in half-an-hour for a site visit,” I said.
“Sorry, boss.” Bleaker’s bottom lip trembled as he spoke.
“Can somebody drive this dummy to the hospital? Where’s his thumb?” I took off my work gloves and threw them to the floor of what would be the Austins’ new living room.
The office girls delivered coffee to my work crews once a week and had shown up at the right site, at the wrong time. The girls were huddled together in the framed out front doorway, horrified. I turned off the saw and walked to Bleaker. There were little splatters of blood here and there, and a few big glops pooled on floor clumping piles of sawdust together. Nothing was close to finished in the house, so even if it did stain there were still layers of flooring to install.
“Boss,” Bleaker said with a weak voice. I looked at him and retched. He held his injured hand for me to see. The blood ran down his arm like one of those buffet fountain things you could fill with melted cheese or chocolate. His thumb hadn’t been all the way loped-off, a little bit of skin and flesh kept it attached. It looked like an open Zippo. The girls screamed and did little heebie-jeebie jumps as if the floor was covered in spiders. Casey was the first to go, she started to puke and covered her mouth, which just pressurized the vomit and made it shoot out like a fire hose all over foyer. Casey caught Tara with the puke spray, and Tara’s eyes were already rolling back in her head, so she passed the fuck out, fell right over. I laughed, because holy fuck, right?
I pushed past Bleaker and got down on my knees in the puke and the blood and put my hand underneath Tara’s head and propped her up in my lap and kind of rocked her awake. I asked her if she was okay, her eyes fluttered open and she smiled at me as she came to and I got a hard-on, I don’t know why. I don’t think she knew, but if she did, she just kept smiling. Over all the pungent odors of blood and puke and the smoke of power tools in need of upkeep, I could smell the flower shampoo in Tara’s hair. It lit me up, stronger than any energy drink. I asked her if she was okay, she nodded yes. Her smile got bigger and brighter, like I was her hero and something to be amazed by.
“Pip,” I yelled. “Help me get Bleaker to the hospital.” I looked back to Tara. She was still smiling and looking up at me and blinking her giant Disney Princess eyes. “You alright, sweetie?” She nodded yes. I pushed her brown hair from her face and placed it behind her ear. “You need to head home and get some rest. OK? Take care of yourself.” She nodded yes again.
I didn’t want to leave my wife and son just because Tara was hot, or that I that I didn’t love my wife, or hated being a dad. It was because of the everyday shit. I just couldn’t take the everyday anymore. Get up, take the kid to daycare, drive to a site, fight with the crew, work at a site, go to another site, fight with that crew, try to stop at the bar for a drink, get in a fight with my wife, go straight home, eat, watch TV, put the kid to bed, drink, fight with my wife, wake up drunk on the couch at 3AM, go upstairs to bed, try not to wake my wife, wake my wife, fight, sleep. Get up, repeat. No thanks.
I was acknowledged in a grand fashion as I entered the bar. Word about Bleaker and the circular saw was already out in the world. I ordered a beer and told everyone about big dumb Bleaker and his stupid thumb. All the old regulars laughed and laughed and bought me drinks and made their own jokes. It was great, just a real fun, and funny night. The only down side is that my wife kept texting me with the same shit over and over. I told her to come out and meet me at the bar, like she used to do. Drop the kid off at her parents, I told her, come out, have few drinks. SOCIALIZE. But she wouldn’t have it. Said the kid was fussy and I needed to come home. I said I would, but stayed anyway. I knew we were going to fight, so I decided to have a few more pops before getting into it.
Tara texted and thanked me for giving her the afternoon off and I texted her back no problem and she texted me again and then we were just going back and forth for like an hour. She sent me a pic of her face and her bottom lip was rolled over and pouty. The picture was captioned and said, I hurt myself. I asked her how bad and she said want to see? And I said yes-smiley face and she sent me a pic of the bruise she got from passing out. It was just below her hip and she had to pull her shorts down to show it off. I could see the top of her shorts rolled over in the bottom pic and see how she was holding them down to expose her hip and upper thigh, and a side view of her butt, and there was a tiny blossom of purple from where her panties were rolled over in her shorts. And then she told me that she hurt her ribs too and sent me a pic with her shirt pulled up and the bottom of her bare breast, the under boob, clearly on display. The picture showed no bruise anywhere in that area of her body and she wrote captioned the pic and it said can you make me feel better?
When I got home, me and the wife got right into it. But it was late, and the kid had already gone down so we did the thing where we whisper yelled at one another and made big hand gestures. I told her I worked hard and needed to socialize, to have fun, and blow off steam. She said she loved to get shitfaced too, but our son, you know? The KID! Things had changed, she said, it was different. I started to see her side of things and felt like a shitty person, a shitty husband, and a shitty father. We made up a little, started making out, and went to the bedroom. I woke up the next morning with a killer hangover and the everyday started again.
“I don’t want to be married anymore,” I told her.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Maggie said as she picked the baby out of the crib and bopped him around. “I do know that daycare starts in an hour and I have to be at work in twenty minutes and our child needs to be washed, fed, and dressed. So I’m going to take care of that, like I always do. Why don’t you take some time to yourself and think about what the difference is between what you want to do and what your obligations are?”
After I told her my mind was made-up it felt like an elephant had been lifted off my chest. I kept the news to myself for a bit, I figured Maggie should have time to let it sink in before it became common knowledge. I’d only tell the girls anyway, and they were on vacation. I skipped the site visits and spent the day in the empty office. We had four remodels and two additions in the work rotation; that was on top of the Austins’ rebuild from a total tear down. I reviewed plans, returned emails from irate home owners who thought the work was going too slow, and smoked a bowl. I locked-up, cleaned-up, and went upstairs to the apartment over the office. Usually, we rented the place out, but it had been vacant for about three months. It was a small utilitarian apartment that smelled of mold. It was the kind of apartment you would only move into if you had to. It was your basic last chance before being totally destitute kind of place. Most of our tenants were drunkards who’d lost their driver’s license or were working just enough to cover rent and drinks. The last guy who lived there was a wash addicted. I remembered after finding the cabinets filled with neatly organized empty bottles of Scope. I texted Maggie and let her know that I would be by in the morning to pick the kid up and would leave some money, for bills or whatever, in the kitchen. She replied, fine, which seemed overly brief. After setting up the army cot, I left for the bar.
There was no relief that first day out of the house. I woke with a powerful hangover and a poor recollection of how I got back to the apartment. There were no toiletries in the bathroom and the gas to the second floor had been shut off. The water in the shower was freezing. I used the powder soap from the office bathroom as shampoo, and baking soda from the refrigerator to clean my teeth. Maggie was red faced angry when I showed up to the house a few minutes late, she handed me the kid on her way to the car.
“Leave the money in the mailbox,” Maggie said and left. It was abrupt and angry, so much so that I felt a little shot of regret right in my gut. I stood, dumbly, on the walkway bouncing my son up and down in my arms. I’d spent all the money last night. I watched Maggie leave and then took my son to day care.
Tom Wexler was at least twice as fat as I remembered him and I swear it’d only been two weeks since I last saw him. He texted me before the noon rush and asked if I wanted to meet him for a beer after work, and I agreed, even though I knew Tom through him being the husband of one of my wife’s friends, and knew he had a motive beyond a friendly, no hassle, quality hang. When he asked me where we should meet up I almost told him the salad bar, knowing he never found one in his life.
“What the fuck, man?” Wexler asked as I walked up to the bar.
“Let’s take our drinks in the back room,” I said and then ordered a pitcher. We were barley three feet from the bar when Wexler repeated himself. “Easy, big guy,” I said once we were in the empty game room. “How have you been?”
“Shitty man, real fucking shitty.” Wexler took a pull from his beer and made a bitter face. “Can we get some wings back here?”
“What’s up?” I said, ignoring his absent minded ask for fired food.
“Don’t give me that shit.” Wexler leaned in toward me. Sweat erupted from his forehead and ran down the side of his face. It was barely seventy degrees and he smelled he’d been running a marathon. “You left Maggie.”
“Well,” I said. “It’s more complicated than that.”
“You sleep next to your wife last night?”
“It’s not complicated,” Wexler said. “You’re fucking up, which is fine, but your fucking up my shit too.” He took another sip of beer and leaned back. “There’s a ripple effect, a wake, and I’m rocking in your shit.”
“Hey man,” I said. “I have nothing to do with your ripple.”
“Bullshit,” he said. “You’re fucking spooking the heard. All the wives are getting jumpy and it’s making problems for the husbands.”
“That’s not my problem.”
“Straighten your shit out, or it will be.”
“What? Are you and a bunch of other hippos in golf shirts going to beat me up?”
“Fuck you,” he said, and relaxed his posture. “Have you done anything you can’t take back?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean.”
“No,” I said and he nodded at me, got up, and left twenty bucks on the table.
“You won’t do any better,” he said as he left. I drank the rest of my pitcher and tried not to think about how he was right. Being alone, in the empty Vegas like game room, started my mind going and I didn’t like it. I couldn’t stand the idea of being in that last chance apartment with nothing to distract me. I stayed and played some songs on the juke box and drank more and thought about the kid and my wife and the office girls and then tried not to think about any of them at all. When I got to the apartment, I had no trouble getting to sleep. I woke up periodically through the night. The wood frame of the cot poked me in the side and the stuffiness of the apartment seemed suffocating, even with the windows open. In the early morning I started to have weird dreams, the kind of dreams that are brought on by discomfort and sickness. I was standing in front of the office and something bad had happened to the town, like a plague or some other kind of apocalypse. Everything just felt bleak and empty. Newspapers and trash blew through past me like tumble weeds. Cars sat in the middle of the street, engines engulfed in flames. A mob of overweight men in golf shirts wearing various types of madras shorts made their way to me. They carried leaf rakes and golf clubs like spears and moved in a close grouping, like the villagers marching on the castle in the old monster movies. Wexler was in the center riding on a pristine red driving mower. He pointed at me and sneered. I woke up covered in my own shit. I stripped in the shower and washed with frozen water, baking soda, powder soap, and a little Ajax I found under the sink. I placed my wet and shitty clothes on the cot and folded it up with all the other evidence of incontinence. Before leaving to pick up the kid, I took the load a dumpster at our closest site, and started the processes of mentally erasing the whole incident from my brain.
Back at the house, I had the door halfway open with one foot inside before it occurred to me that I should have probably knocked. Maggie was sitting at the kitchen table eating oatmeal and reading something on her phone with a breezy disinterest. She looked over to me and said, “Hey.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t knock,” I said. “I know I should, but I just thought you would be running around.”
“It’s fine,” she said. “Just don’t forget to do it from now on.”
“Sure,” I said. “Here’s the money I promised, sorry, I forgot it yesterday.”
“No problem,” she said and got up from the table and took her bowl over to the sink. “Just put it on the counter. I’ll grab Marcus from the crib and will be down in a second.” The hand-off was oddly uneventful. None of the scorn or anger of previous pick-ups seemed to emerge. Maggie even told me to have a good day. The split seemed more possible than ever. We’d divide our responsibilities regarding the kid and just kind of tag team whatever came up, maybe even act civil toward one another.
The girls were scheduled to work in the office and I was more than a little excited to break the news to them. They were both turning twenty-one in the next few months and there were going to be all these parties that I could now go to. Casey arrived first, newly bronzed from her beach vacation. She nodded to me as she entered and then sluggishly made her way to the reception desk, dragging her feet on the carpet. She pulled an energy drink out of her purse, cracked it open, and tilted it back until the drink was gone.
“Oh, shit,” she said and let out a little burp. “I don’t feel good.”
“Rough night?” I asked.
“Last night was sick,” she said. “We went up to the camp grounds with a bunch of people and stayed up all night.”
“Sick,” I said. “Listen, I need to tell you something.” I was glad that Casey was the first one in, because me and her were like good buddies. We talked and texted a lot, it wasn’t like it was with me and Tara. Casey was cool and smart and helped me figure stuff out.
“What’s up, boss?”
“I left Maggie,” I said. “I’m living in the apartment upstairs.”
“Cool, man,” she said and drank some of her drink. “Live your truth.”
“Is Tara coming in today?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Casey said. “She was super turnt last night. We may not ever hear from her again.”
“OK,” I said. “Well if you hear from her, tell her I need to talk to her.”
“Is she getting fired?” Casey asked.
“No,” I said. Casey nodded and turned on the desk PC, than got up and fired up the coffee machine. I went upstairs and started cleaning up the apartment. I felt like the moldy smell was making its way to the office, and setting up camp inside my nose. It was just about lunch time when Tare finally showed up. She stumbled in, equally as bronzed as Casey, but more hungover looking. I was sitting at my desk putting together a furniture order of the upstairs apartment.
“Tara,” I called out. “I need to speak with you , come on back.” She perked up a bit, if only because she seemed startled by being singled out and pulled aside.
“Are you firing me?” Tara asked as soon as I closed the door to my office.
“No,” I said. “I just have some news that I needed to tell you. Sit.” She took her sunglasses off and perched herself on the edge of one of my client chairs. She blinked, as if she had smoke in her eyes, and smiled coyly, with her mouth tightly closed. It was like there was an implosion of happiness on her face.
“Well, Mr. Bossman,” she teased me with her voice. “What’s your news?”
“I left Maggie,” I said with a giant exhale of breath and excitement. Tara sunk back in the chair. She seemed to let what I said sink in, her happy smile faded, and then turned sour. She folded into herself as if suddenly cold and made herself smaller and further away, just like a little kid did when they’d realized they were in trouble. I reached out to her, my mouth opened, ready to speak, and she started to cry. She shook her head no. No, no, no, no she seemed to say with every bit of her body. No.
About the writer:
Tim Waldron is the associate prose editor of The Literary Review. His fiction collection Stories for People Who Watch TV is forthcoming from New Meridian Arts in 2018.
Image: Drawing by Dave Pearson from his fourth series on the Book of Revelation, circa 1979.