Nothing to It
I wake up without a thought in my head, I mean nothing. I don’t get up. I’ve got nothing to get up for since I lost my job and my wife, in that order, and stopped looking to replace either. What’s the use, the system is rigged against me, right? Everyone says so, people smarter than me, so who am I to argue?
I lie here, my head empty and echoing, the way it used to sometimes in Iraq, and it’s okay. I could get used to this, become a vegetable, put down roots, so to speak. In Fallujah, my buddy Jimbo told me to be like a plant and I said what plant and he said any fuckin’ plant you want ‘cause a plant is alive but doesn’t have a thing in its head, it’s just there, which is what he said we needed to be in Fallujah to get out of it alive. But even though I tried, I couldn’t be a plant there. Jimbo could, but it didn’t help him anyway. After he stepped on an IED, there weren’t enough plant parts to ship home.
Jeremy comes in and sits in the rickety wood chair and holds the M-16 across his knees. He stares at me with those big, bloodshot eyes like I’m supposed to do something. I’d tell him to get the hell out of my room, but it’s not my room. It’s his apartment, and if he didn’t let me crash here, I might be sleeping in a dumpster. Me and the coffee grinds, the veggies. The stuff past its use-by date.
“Come on, jarhead, let’s make history today.”
My empty head fills up with smoky thoughts, then suddenly the smoke clears, and I remember. We got all hopped up last night talking about it. It’s the idea of doing something finally, something big. Name in the papers, face on TV, all over the Internet, two lone gunmen, Jeremy said, and I said if there’re two of us we can’t be lone, but he wasn’t listening. We’ll make YouTube, thousands of hits, millions, a billion, all over the world. It’s a fuckin’ statement, Jeremy said. The rally. Fish in a barrel. We won’t survive. Shit, I’m dead anyway with the system rigged against me and all, right? Jeremy, he was born for this, he’s a volcano pissing lava, needs to erupt to relieve himself. Me, I’m nothing but a wannabe plant. That’s no way for a man to be. I got to do something.
“Get me my smokes,” I say, “dresser, bottom draw.”
He gives me a look, like I should move my lazy ass and get them myself. But he gets up, crosses the room, and bends down.
I look at his hard, skinny ass. I jump up, grab the chair and break it over his head, just like in the movies. He howls and looks at me like I’m crazy. I hit his head with the broken leg of the chair, BAMBAMBAM. Down he goes. He’s bleeding into his eyes. I sit on him, grab my phone, call 911.
Presto. I save lives. I’m a fuckin’ hero.
Paul Negri has twice won the gold medal for fiction in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Competition. His stories have appeared in The Penn Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Vestal Review, Into the Void, Gemini Magazine and more than 40 other publications. He lives and writes in Clifton, New Jersey.
A Song for Paul