All the way across Paul's front yard a silver light crept through the sky touching everything
with a waxy tint that mimicked the stoned days of his past. Paul hardly
shared it with anyone, but he secretly enjoyed these midday twilights that sat
over his city for weeks at a time. The Monday morning crowd always complained
about another week of missing sun whereas Paul drew an uneasy giddiness from
the shadowy weather.
The fat, curling clouds sealed the world in a bubble where the
rules of regular climate no longer applied, and Paul often found himself
staring up at the sky silently praying for something horrible and surreal to
happen, possibly a black wispy funnel to come down and exterminate him from his mild and boring existence. As visible from the tornadoes on the local news, these dreams weren’t far
from a reality, but Paul hardly ever truly felt at risk in his home. He’d need
to be out in the country, much further north, and carrying a giant metal spigot if he wanted to know the god supposedly on the other side of the gnashing wall of wind he watched dumbly on his television.
The screen showed an
entire trailer park turned meager snack by the grey, blazing force.
“We’re looking at a Tornado RED alert. Not to be confused
with a Tornado BLUE alert,” the weatherman in a zoot suit explained, “what we
don’t want is the RED alert to develop to a Code 2 RED alert. Worse than say a
Code 3 BLUE alert.” He waved manically to a porridge of orange and green clouds
hovering over a shimmering LCD backdrop.
Had Paul smoked today? The news was certainly making him
A teenage girl walked by Paul’s front window, seemingly unbeknownst
of the lingering storm, her neon headphones bobbing happily with her step. Paul
had started to notice the girl regularly, and without ever getting the chance
to meet her (as he expected he never would), she remained as some prophetic,
ghost child—an avatar for something he’d never learn, although it wasn’t
exactly outside of Paul’s purview to try and guess. Three days ago he’d turned
down his street to catch her crossing when she went awkwardly dashing across
the road (the youthful assumption being that Paul would have gunned her down on
the street at his earliest convenience), like an oddly cute, stray cat.
Paul stood with his front entry curtains fully drawn, lights
off, watching the girl pass. The television echoed off the walls behind him,
reminding him to return to his proper chambers to survey the much more urgent
apocalypse on the news screen. Somehow though, the lithe, lizardly movements of
the young girl walking by his overgrown front yard served a much greater
harbinger of Paul’s doom. What if it wasn’t a tornado that ended up consuming
Paul’s soul but some petulant brat with an I-Pod. Paul briefly thought of falling
in love with the girl, then stopped and returned to his living room to watch
“Miller, Morrison, and Fokalt counties will be losing
electricity soon. So please leave your television sets and go huddle in a
bathtub until the warning alert is reduced. May god have mercy on your souls.”
Paul changed the channel impatiently. An amber pill bottle
on his dresser started to shake and wobble toward the edge, another barometer of his unsteady fate.
As if on cue, when Paul left his house for the poker game the
night let loose its full force.
He could barely see out of his windshield in the rain since
he’d recently had it replaced at a shoddy auto glass shop after the violent
incident with his ex-girlfriend. As he clicked his windshield wipers to the
highest notch possible, he made a mental note to call her again about paying
him back. She’d said she’d write him a check, but he knew that was only going
to happen after at least the tenth reminder.
Driving down Ditmar, he could see a flashing red railroad
light in the dark mist ahead.
“God damnit,” Paul muttered as he pulled up to the crossing.
The train sat motionless in his path like a dried up whale with zero hint of life. It was the third time this week he’d been blocked by
the eerily still train. Paul imagined going to look for the train's conductor and only finding a hooded phantom, something that cared absolutely nothing about its core responsibility. A truck slowly pulled up behind Paul boxing him in from
“Fuck it,” Paul kicked his car into reverse then wrenched
the steering wheel to the far inside, romping the curb and then driving across
the grass to the opposite side of the road.
The truck behind him continued to sit at the crossing,
unmotivated by Paul’s lack of faith.
“Enjoy the show buddy."
He wondered how long the truck would wait there, perhaps all
night in an effort to prove itself determined.
On the way to his friend’s house, Paul stopped at the store
to buy some smokes and a six pack despite the heavy downpour. He’d made a
mental pact with himself to quit the smoking (and to stick to only a few
drinks), but tonight the weather beckoned knowingly toward his habit for the finer
things in life.
Paul’s friend Mike hosted a weekly poker game on most
Wednesday nights, and tonight was no exception, even with the storm. Sometimes
the group of hustlers and degenerates (Paul considered himself a bit of both)
would gather over at Danny’s place on an arbitrary night, but Paul much
preferred Mike’s because it didn’t smell
like dog piss and trash. In fact, Mike was usually always making some type of
upgrade or another to his place—last week it had been a fish tank, the week
before a karaoke machine. Paul wasn’t exactly sure where Mike’s influx of cash came
from (Mike’s one job was running a local daycare), but he was starting to
wonder if Mike was selling drugs. He certainly seemed to be doing more of them
In less than forty five minutes at the table, Paul’s chip
stack ballooned to eighty dollars past his original investment. He sat back in
his chair resigned and guzzled the rest of his beer can. After Paul took down
three to four large pots, his ADD typically kicked in and his motivation
dwindled. It didn’t help Paul’s patience that as the night drew on, the games
only grew larger and more unruly, thanks especially to the assistance of
somebody’s pipe circling the table. Paul then became the surrogate dealer,
reminding each individual when it was his turn and what the current bet was. In
the past, Paul’s extra occupation at the table had made him increasingly irritable,
but after months of growing accustomed to the pattern, Paul now accepted it as
a regular fact of life.
The game was after all intended as a friendly gathering—the blinds
were a low fee (a quarter and two quarters), and most everybody was on a first
name basis with each other, but at times Paul couldn’t help but feel out of
place when the conversation stagnated between sports and surreptitious photos of a naked girl on someone’s phone (not that Paul ever objected to looking at
the pictures). For a good period Paul
went missing from the game when his relationship with his girl was still in full gear,
but now that that was over, Paul was
back to being one of the regular johns.
The transition back to his old ways was not lost on Paul however. Recently, he watched a sports documentary on a football
player who overcame the adversity of his tattered hometown to become a superstar. The part that stuck out in Paul’s mind was a shot of the player’s burnout
ex-friends tossing dice in a 7/11 parking lot, since this was all that could be offered for entertainment in the desolate town. Paul looked around at the faces
across from him at Mike’s house and wondered if he was watching the same movie over again,
the same people. Most unnerving, Paul
wasn’t sure which side of the camera he was on.
“You want to hit this?” Will, one of the more solid players, nudged his shoulder.
Paul passed the pipe to the next person without thinking. Weed only made him foggy and uncomfortable these days. Yes, he decided, he was watching the same story but with just a newer setting.
Paul rarely had any good answers in his mind for his overly active thoughts. The nature of the poker game didn’t seem too sinister
anyways; there was always a benevolent camaraderie to the guys playing cards,
but the real question still remained—what better did Paul have to do on a
Wednesday night than to sit in a circle and occasionally toss money at a lottery hole disguised as an intelligent man's game. The poker game was a much larger symbol
than evidenced from the struggling men in the parking lot of that film. More
and more, Paul began to view the weekly get together as he viewed his entire social life,
as some mortal enemy in the pathway of his true aspirations. Unfortunately, Paul
had no idea where his blind ambition wanted to take him, so long as it was far
away from stoned conversations about absolutely nothing. Even in a room full of people, Paul had an amazing talent for seeking out the loneliness that
waited patiently at his center.
Scarier still, it
seemed his only answer was something akin to a total vacuum—how someone might
feel in the eye of a storm.