Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Vernal Eternal

The vernal equinox was a couple of weeks back, marking the end of winter and beginning of spring. You can imagine what a big fan of the season I am, from the content of my latest little monthly story here. But it is what it is - much like everything else I write. A goofy slice of seasonal change - or seasonal lack of change.

Yes, I do in fact need to write here more often. I know.

Vernal Eternal

Upon the changing of the seasons, a particularly grating subset of people enjoy announcing to the world that "Spring has sprung!" as though they're being clever. Why do we imagine spring as though it were a piece of clockwork tightly wound to near-breaking? Or do we not even think it through that much? Either way, it's not funny. We don't have cute little aphorisms for the other seasons. We don't talk about fall falling, nor do we talk about summer being the summation of something - maybe that's a bit of a stretch - or even openly discuss the discontent of our winters. At least, not in those exact terms.

If spring must coil up and strike, I'd prefer to see it as a viper lashing out with its pollen fangs and coiling around us to choke away the last of our oxygen - its body is also made of pollen.

It was in this spirit that I set out to the pharmacy in search of a tissue box or twenty to get me through the next week and a half. It wasn't raining, but the next time it did, the streets would run yellow with the flowers' seasonal toxins. Still, I considered wearing a poncho. If I owned one, I probably would've given a gas mask some serious consideration as well. Maybe an old timey deep sea diver's helmet. You know, just to be safe.

Regrettably, I ended up venturing outside in a t-shirt of all things. The sun was warm. People without allergies would call this weather 'nice.' I can't exactly disagree - which makes me a begrudger. No different from anybody else. When looking to identify yourself on a base level, nothing's more frustrating than tripping over a bit of symmetry. I'd be more unique if I'd worn that gas mask - or in the least, I'd look the part.

Raymond, the stock broker who lived next door, gave me a casual wave as I went to unlock my car. He was washing his car in a pair of Bermuda shorts. We had a kind of mutual disapproval situation going on - he didn't think much of me because I was a renter, not an owner; I don't care for Raymond personally or anything he stands for. He's the type who'd make a 'jumbo shrimp' joke at a cocktail party without batting an eye. He's the type who'd actually go to a cocktail party. The suburbs are a hellhole and I need to get out.

The surface of my car was coated in a thin layer of yellowcake. That's how it looked to me. I needed a haz-mat suit. I hesitated before opening my door, not particularly wanting to get any of the allergens on my hands. There was no avoiding it. Raymond was trying to get my attention gain. I wanted to blast "Springtime for Hitler" at him. It would have only been appropriate, but no, I had bigger things to worry about. Raymond didn't even exist in my sphere. He was an embarrassing spirochaete for the rest of the world to contend with. Let them. Raymonds are factory produced.

Before you think I'm getting all high and mighty, let me remind you that I was the product of a manufacturing error. I haven't forgotten this. Now go soak your head. "Go soak your head" - has anybody even said that since the 1950s?

Once I'd safely left the neighborhood, I cranked up the AC and sighed into the filtered air. Relief.

Traffic moved at a snail's pace. Every light I hit on the way to the pharmacy was red. I had more than enough time to reevaluate my decision to get up today. Some Saturdays just aren't worth waking up for. I still had an article deadline to make on Monday.

I arrived at the pharmacy twenty minutes later - sixteen more than the drive should have taken - with a bout of congestion. Now everybody would think I was making fun of them when I spoke.

Six Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" played on the radio inside the pharmacy. Not exactly the nondescript silence you tend to expect in such an environment - rap and pharmaceuticals aren't typically thought of as going together. (With the exception of MC Rx, MD, the only underground rapper with a med school doctorate.) I couldn't think of a single person who still listened to "Baby Got Back" unironically.

No sooner had I located the tissue boxes than my girlfriend, Stacey, called my cell phone.

"Heddo?" I picked up.

"Are you okay?" Immediate concern. Not an unfamiliar tone.

"I'b figh. Allergheez."

"You should take some antihistamine," she said. "I did earlier." Stacey had allergies, too - less severe than my own, but she felt my pain.

"I'b ad da pharmacy," I explained. The more I spoke, the more I hated the sound of my own voice.

"Where's your spray?" she asked.

"Ad hobe. I'll use it wid I ged bagh."

 "Good. Anyway, I'm just calling to let you know I'm going out with a few people after work, so just worry about yourself for dinner, okay?" Stacey interned at a neurochemistry lab on the outskirts of downtown. She ate with her coworkers anywhere from two to four nights a week. I was used to getting takeout or nuking something in the microwave and popping in a DVD. It reminded me of college, except I didn't have a girlfriend back then.

Some nights, I imagined it was only a matter of time until she left me for one of her coworkers. Brilliant young people bonding over shared laboratory experience, working together to prove and falsify hypotheses. It's not hard to imagine that turning into something romantic - or even just physical. Everybody has to deal with sexual tension, regardless of how cerebral or intellectual they might be.

She hasn't left me yet, obviously. Maybe I've got something those guys don't. Maybe she's actually into me. We've lived together for almost two years now - renting the house was her idea. It's hard to tell these days. I'm not happy with the situation, and I don't think she is either. It's an impossible subject to bring up at this point, though. It'd turn into a meaningless fight, and we're good at avoiding those. Her hours are non-negotiable and it's important that she develops good relationships with her colleagues. I'm doing my part to keep the bills paid, but I arguably still have too much time to think.

"I'll see you tonight," I said, finally semi-coherent.

"Yeah, love you," she said and hung up.

 I returned my attention to the tissue situation and grabbed an armload of boxes. The ones with moisturizer were the best when your nose felt like it was going to fall off, but there were never enough individual tissues in those boxes. A dire problem facing us spoiled first-worlders.

Today was shaping up to be a pretty bad day, but there was no point in complaining. My problems were trivial.

The cashier had a vacant look in his eyes when I dumped my pile of tissue boxes onto the counter in front of him. I had to wave my hand in front of his face to get his attention.

"Sorry, hay fever," he said.

"You too, huh?"

"I barely slept last night," he said as he rang up my tissues. "We're reorganizing the stockroom, too. Spring cleaning. I've got another five hours left on my shift."


"I kinda wish I were dead right now."

"Good luck," I said, picking up my bags.

Outside, the pollen haze had only worsened. The laundromat across the street was barely visible. The physical world seemed almost illusory. Clearly I was undermedicated.

I tossed my bags into the back seat and put the car in reverse. The oppressive yellow thickened until I couldn't see anything else. Lost in the color field, I drove relentlessly onward.


Tina said...

I really like your writing Benjamin. Will we see more of this story?

The Clean White Page

Benjamin Fennell said...

Thanks! I always appreciate feedback on my short works. I consider myself a stronger long fiction/novel writer, and I kind of worry that a lot of my short fiction might be a bit too formulaic, so I was hoping to try something different from my usual "young people meet, awkward situations occur between them" stories that largely end up being more short-form comedy dialogue exercises than anything else. I tend to feel pretty stagnant in the spring myself, so I felt like stagnation would be an interesting theme to write about - balancing the humor with a different sort of tone and using the pollen as an obvious visual metaphor for the stagnation and internally building pressure the protagonist's living with.

That said, I'm not actually sure. I've never done sequels to any of these little stories I've written on here before. When I wrote it, I was kind of figuring his disappearing into the consuming pollen haze would be the perfect place to leave him, but I could consider doing another part to this story.

Something I've actually felt like I've struggled with some with this blog in its years so far is writing regular fiction and building more of a readerbase specifically for my fiction - seeing as that's something I naturally want and need as I work on going professional. Most of the stories I post on here are more rough exercise than serious writing (I pour my best into my novels, which I'm really hoping to get on bookstore shelves in the coming years.), but all things considered, it could be interesting - and perhaps get some more people interested in sticking around here - if I tried writing more serial short fiction, building on stories like this.

In short, I'd have to say I can't commit to a second part to this just yet, but I won't rule it out. I could see possibly doing another part for each seasonal change this year for an interesting project across the year. It might be good to give this guy a name and show more of how what he's dealing with plays out, his interactions with his girlfriend, and perhaps some other people in their lives. I definitely enjoyed writing these characters and I liked working within a more complex tone than the simpler absurdity I usually write with here for the sake of comedy.

Yes, it only takes two sentences to get me thinking and rambling, haha.