by Akiya Shirk
“I want doughnuts. I can smell them, and I wanna
doughnut so badly, B.”
“I don’t care if you want doughnuts. The cash register
needs to be tended, and if I could, I would turn off my
olfactory sense so that I don’t have to listen to your whining
anymore. Please shut up.”
Will sighed and made a point to push the desire to look at
the doughnut rack, and B involuntarily shifted the eyes towards
the glorious stand five feet and two lanes over and up.
“That’s not helping, Will.”
“But can’t I just get one doughnut?”
“We have one hour left of work and then we can le-”
“Oh look! It’s that handsome fellow! Can we go talk
to him? What’s his name?”
B held back the zings of aggravation, tugging at
his frontal lobe, even as he felt her speed up a little down
below. Will was always so flighty, it was like dealing with
a hummingbird — his movement was dizzyingly fast. Keeping
in tight control was a challenge, and B failed sometimes,
much to his discontent; failure chiseled away at the already
receding self-confidence. Those were the times he couldn’t
remember who she was down there, that lovely drummer,
even if he could feel her working at his command.
Will continued to babble away while B attempted to
help push the correct buttons on the cash register. He was
all but unneeded for such a simple task, but he tried anyway.
Only 45 minutes left. Will was still babbling as she silently
hummed below. ~
I snagged the strings to my apron and yanked it off,
chucking it in my bag. The automatic doors swished gently
shut, but it would have been more satisfying to hear them
slam. Eight hours of scanning wilting vegetables and mindlessly
pushing cash register buttons make it hard not to
hate a supermarket job. The desert sky probably glittered
with unseen stars, but the smog, parking lot lamps, and
every bloody TV under the moon were blocking them out. I
stopped looking for them years ago.
The drive home wasn’t really satisfying either, but
that’s not really news. Neither was the fact that every light
in the house was off when I got home except for that eerie
flickering glow from the TV that contributed to the starless
sky. Even the suburbs lived in a light dome. I shuffled up
the concrete steps and opened the door, which gave a loud,
uncooperative squeak, announcing my arrival. The enormous
lump on the couch shifted in the shuddering light, and a
beer bottle nearly fell out of a fleshy hand. I couldn’t hold the
grimace off my face when I quietly padded past and the stench of
booze snuck up my nostrils.
Sometimes I was grateful for the late shift at the supermarket.
It meant he was already asleep by the time I got home, and I could go to
my room without having to explain, yet again, that I get paid bi-weekly
and that I didn’t have money for him. My arms and sides were also
starting to go back to their normal pale color, thanks to the new schedule.
As long as I wasn’t around, his hatred for life only aimed at himself.
I snuck past the kitchen, not bothering with dinner.
There probably wouldn’t be any food there worth speaking
of anyway. Once in my room, I breathed a sigh of relief and
flopped — quietly — face down on to my bed without changing
out of my jeans and t-shirt. I knew I should set my alarm
before I zonked out but my arms felt like lead, as did my
chest and shoulders. I breathed in my own scent through
my pillow and held it for as long as I could before exhaling,
flipping onto my back and staring at the cracked plaster
ceiling. My eyes drifted shut without my noticing. What
wouldn’t I give for a chance to change this? ~
B felt the shift in perspectives. He felt the body set
its rhythm at his command when he sensed the darkness
from the eyes. He pensively allowed the images to spark
through his lines, keeping himself at a bit of a distance
to ensure everything ran according to…well, the way he
knew it should. Will did nothing to help, as usual, except
keep up his banter. He was as random as always; the only
difference was in the speed at which Will desired things.
It was a slow wave, like a deep sound through the air, with
peaks and dips at regular intervals: much more tolerable.
Will and the drummer from below were very close
like this, and she liked to follow his suggestions a lot of
the time. B was not very fond of this close relationship. It
created more chaos for him to fail at controlling, but he tried
not to let it get to him for the moment. When the body
caved into his rhythm, he controlled everything. Will was
encouraging her to pump pseudo-adrenaline through the
veins with an image of a secret escape through a window,
the sharp feeling of keys in a pocket, cold midnight air unnoticed
by cautious, tensed-up shoulders.
That gentle beating vibrated down below. ~
Morning came all too quickly, in my opinion, but that’s
been my opinion since Mom died suddenly of stroke three years
ago. Life has been steadily becoming unbearable since then.
The bathroom was grimy as I painted a face on for
work, following the familiar motions without a thought. Last
night had not provided a very restful sleep, causing me to
wake up early without the help of my alarm, and I would feel
it later today. My boss would probably notice it too, and that
was never good. That tiger-lady didn’t have the patience to
breathe at a normal rate and always seemed to huff her way
around the employees, badgering them about efficiency.
It was going to be a very long day at work later. Too bad I
couldn’t fully hate the idea of not having to be at home.
I smelled the burning pancakes before I entered the
kitchen. It made my eyes water a bit, and I started wishing I
had woken up even earlier and fled to the library before work
like usual so I wouldn’t have to deal with him. I don’t know
how he had gotten up so early from last night’s booze fest,
but there he was, standing at the stove burning some pancake
batter into submission. He looked up when I entered
the room and gave a rather disfigured grin, bloodshot eyes all
puffy from lack of sleep. Skirting edgily around him, I made
for the tiny table and sat down.
“Daddy made pancakes!” he said. I stared at him.
“I don’t like pancakes.”
“Well you better eat some goddamn pancakes and get
your fucking ass to your job.”
He slammed a plate of blackish slabs on the table
in front me and I tried so hard not to flinch away from his
proximity, though my insides were immediately turned to
stone. I could still smell the alcohol layering his unshowered
skin. There was no way I could eat anything this morning.
“I’m really…not all that hungry. I think I’ll just go to work.”
Two steps away, he stopped, spatula in one hand,
gritty nails on the other. He scratched his scraggly chin
without turning around to look at me. I froze.
He whirled around, and a clenched fist nearly broke my jaw.
I fell out of my seat to the floor. ~
Will was silent. Or at least, that’s what B thought at
first. He had been chattering away about something like going
to work, if a little nervously, but with no less speed than normal
when he simply stopped talking, and B was left alone.
Before he realized what Will was actually doing, there
were sparks radiating from everywhere. Real adrenaline
coursed through every vein, and all nerve endings were
making it hard to control anything. He simply couldn’t move
any of the muscles, even the eyes. There was a stillness that
created so much chaos, he got stuck in one spot.
B tried to find Will, searching every axon, but specific
spots yielded nothing until he broadened his focus and
realized…Will was everywhere. In fact, he had never shut
up in the first place; he had simply started screaming at the
top of his ability, long and without stopping. It was so highpitched,
it could hardly be heard, but B was pretty sure even
the outside ears were picking it up. It wasn’t even a word,
but the very essence of something B didn’t like. It was the
one thing that always made him lose control of something
or another: Fear. Will didn’t know it, but when he felt
fear, he could do whatever he wanted without B to hinder
him. And so he did. The high keen of flight was getting
louder and sharper.
“Will! Hey, it’s okay, buddy. Relax - just try to calm
down. Maybe we can talk through this situation, and we
won’t have to be afraid or get hurt,” B said, but the keening
got dramatically louder.
B winced. All control snapped: Will took over. ~
I bolted. My anger, fear, and pain screamed in my
ears as I crashed through the screen door and flew down
the concrete steps, digging the car key out of my jeans
pocket while my legs pumped as hard as my heart. I could
feel him yelling at my back, and suddenly my heart was
racing my legs. I’ve never been able to start that clunky
heap of metal we call an SUV on the first try, but by some
merciful grant from above, the key cranked the engine
into life and I threw it in gear, burning rubber on my way
down the road. I didn’t look back. My arms were aching,
my jaw was throbbing, and my chest was heaving so badly
it took me a minute of weaving through busy street lights to
notice the tears streaming down my face. I must have driven
for hours, but I don’t remember stopping at any gas stations,
nor do I remember actually leaving the city. I drove
until I could see the columns of dusty red rock rising out of
the dusty Utah earth, and I kept driving until I was passing
the desert’s giant gravestones. I didn’t look back even once. ~
B was worried beyond normal. It was like something
was missing, but he couldn’t figure out what. Was it the
chatter? Was it the constant, annoying desire? That was
certainly gone, but B still couldn’t figure out why it was
missing, or if it was supposed to be missing. Will’s terrible
scream had finally started dying away when the eyes saw
a vast, empty purity of blue and ruddy brown, but B could
not quite place when Will had disappeared exactly. He had
been a little busy trying to manipulate far too much at once.
Nerves had been firing at a rapid pace, the muscles fighting
his every command with a truly worrisome tenseness, and
the eyes would not stop leaking. He was trying in vain to
restore everything to homeostasis, but his attempts hadn’t
started working until Will calmed down. Now all he had to
do was give off the necessary sparks that kept everything
The drum below was exceedingly audible now. It
wasn’t distracting, but in fact, familiar. She was much more
relaxed now than she was before. When Will had let out that
shriek, she had beat so hard, B had to work specifically on
not letting it get out of control, even if everything else was
running rampant, like those damn legs. It’s like they had
a mind of their own or something. Now, however, she was
humming along as usual, but with a strange likeness to…Will!
B finally had found him: he was hiding in the humming, and
singing the same tune. In fact, B couldn’t tell the difference
between the two anymore.
He made the face twitch into the tiniest of smiles, and
he hadn’t a single clue as to why he did it. ~
The car needed gas, presumably again, and I pulled
over at a gas station the color of the arid earth. I had enough
to fill the tank, purchase a small map of Utah and a bottle of
cold soda, and still have some left over. The minimart was
pleasantly chilled, but I rather liked the feel of hot wind on
my neck as I rolled down the car windows, stacked my feet
on the dashboard and gingerly pressed the soda bottle to my
sore jaw bone. I breathed in deeply for what felt like the first
time in years. I breathed freedom. Anxious freedom, but a
freedom nonetheless, and it made me smile just a little. The
lead was off my chest and shoulders, and I felt a peaceful
little jump inside. I had finally had enough, and now that the
dry land stretched before me, I wondered why it had taken
so long to do what I wanted. I opened the map and traced a
road to a new life with my fingertip.