“Bizarrely morose…” Amazon Review
An excerpt from the short story
By Patrick C. Greene
Bill Travers looked with bitter eyes at his reflection. Since puberty, that time when humans learn to care about such things, Bill had been painfully aware that he was ugly.
His oft-inspected reflection offered no differing opinion, ever. Even in the soft light of the lamp on the bathroom counter, there was little reason for hope.
His face, like his physique, was pear shaped, with jowls that drooped around his neck. His brow was thick and pronounced, hooding his beady, unremarkable eyes and forming a trifurcated, bulgy wrinkle over the bridge of his flat nose. His short, thick neck dropped straight to narrow shoulders. His thick-jointed legs appeared too short for his oval torso. Now that he was hitting his mid-thirties, a potbelly was starting to take shape, and his dark brown and oily hair was beginning to thin and recede.
Over the years, Bill had made many attempts to offset the shortcomings with which nature had blighted him. Regular visits to the gym, a stricter-than-average diet, attention to posture, expensive haircuts by that swishy fella that owned the style shop, good hygiene and skin maintenance had been part of this plan, a plan that ultimately must be considered a failure.
Bill had talked to plastic surgeons, hair transplant experts, personal trainers, dieticians, all of whom were eager to accept his money, but less eager to make concrete promises about what could be done for him. Even then, his job as a forklift driver at the warehouse didn’t provide the cushion to make it viable. If only he didn’t have the house payments.
With no self-esteem and little reason to hope for a good life, Bill hadn’t had the tenacity, the temerity to dare dream of a great life, only an adequate one. No college for Bill, only an unceremonious entry into the blue collar world at the age of fifteen, and no looking back.
Bill had scrimped and saved and used the best elements of his less-than-persuasive personality to establish at least a nice home for himself, one that would help lure a practical wife who could then decorate and furnish it as she pleased.
“I don’t deserve Connie.” he said softly in his meek voice.
Nonetheless, Bill had a detailed plan to ask Connie out on a date, charm her beyond anything she had ever experienced, and be on his way to living a life of considerably less solitude. That plan was well into action.
Bill had been kind, but not overt in his dealings with her. Being that she worked up in the office, largely isolated from the activity in the warehouse, Bill had only a few brief moments a day when he could say hello and ask about her day or make some other innocuous inquiry. Today would be different. Today, Bill would make his move.
He added another spray of designer cologne to the heavy layer he had already applied, hoping it would cover the gas fumes he would accumulate while driving the forklift. Bill tried on his smile at its brightest and most sincere, then toned it down, disappointed as always that he was stuck with stubby teeth that were too far apart. Bill smoothed down the front of his new T-shirt and left for work.
As the morning progressed, Connie walked by several times en route to discussing deliveries with Randy the warehouse supervisor, always returning Bill’s smile and wave. From his perch on the forklift, Bill watched her go, admiring her form, swept up in her graceful movement. At 10:30, Randy signaled a break.
In the breakroom, Bill sat with Randy and senior loader Todd. He broke out an expensive energy bar and went to work on it, washing the tasteless paste down with apple juice.
“When you gonna give up that crap, Bill?” Randy asked.
“Them health bars. They just give you high-dollar shit, ya know.”
“Maybe I like ’em.”
“Nobody likes ’em.” Randy sneered.
The three of them discussed the work to be done for a few minutes, then Randy excused himself to return to his duties, leaving Bill an opportunity to seek Todd’s advice.
“You know Connie, up in the office?”
“What do you think?”
“I was thinking about asking her out. Think I should?”
“Hell…why not? You know, Dave went out with her.”
“Didn’t get nowhere, he said.”
“Well, I just want to ask her out, that’s all. I don’t expect nothin’.”
Todd shrugged. “There you go.”
“So if she went out with Dave, she’ll probably go out with me, right?”
Todd seemed to be studying this for a moment, staring into space. A moment later, it became apparent his eyes were following another of the facility’s female staff members, Jolene, as she ambled past their table. Bill hoped he never seemed this obvious. Jolene certainly didn’t seem impressed.
“Connie, huh? Ask her. Who knows?” Todd finally answered. “Her face aint much, but she’s got a nice rack.”
Bill got up and left without another word. He was bothered that Todd thought of women in this way, yet seemed to have no trouble getting dates. Further, he saw Connie as nothing less than beauty queen material. Certainly, he would be proud to have her on his arm.
The hours between break and lunch passed quickly, thanks in part to the huge shipment that needed organizing, but mostly because Bill thought only of Connie, and their date. The conversation with Todd had been encouraging in an odd way.
Dave, one of the sales reps in the office, was no Brad Pitt himself, though he stood a few rungs above Bill in the looks department. There was reason to believe Connie valued personality over aesthetics.
The bell sounded. Bill hopped down from his lift, and checked his deodorant. Good working order. If he timed it right…
Bill caught Connie coming out of the office and essayed the practiced smile, despite his misgivings about it.
“Hey Connie. Going to lunch?”
“Yeah. Meeting some of the other girls.”
“That’s nice. Say, listen. I was wondering if you were doing anything this weekend?”
Connie took on a mildly panicked expression, darting her eyes away and back very quickly.
“I don’t know, I might be busy. Let me get back to you, okay?”
“Sure. We can go to the steakhouse, or anything you like.”
“Can I call you?”
“Well, I live with my Mom, and she’s not too well. Maybe you better not.”
“Okay, well, that’s fine. Just let me know something tomorrow or the next day.”
“I will. See you later.” With this, Connie made quick strides to the door and was gone.
Being a realist, Bill knew that it hadn’t gone ideally, yet he was hopeful. Somehow Dave had convinced her. Why couldn’t Bill? The rest of the day, he re-lived the encounter, picking out morsels of hope to sustain him until she gave her answer.
The next day, Wednesday, Bill waved and smiled to Connie as always, noticing less enthusiasm than before in her reciprocation. Bill knew the old brush-off when he saw it, yet somehow managed to remain optimistic. When she left early both for lunch and for day’s end, Bill started to get the picture.
On Thursday during break, Bill sat down to be by himself with his energy bar and apple juice, but was joined by Todd, despite his best efforts to be less than sociable.
“Hey man. Heard you asked Connie out.” said Todd while chewing a distressingly gummy-looking ham sandwich.
“Yeah,” responded Bill, turning away from the sight of Todd’s sloppy mastication.
“What’d she say?” asked Todd.
“She just said she’d let me know.”
“Did you say something bad to her?”
Bill searched his memory. “No, I think I was pretty nice”.
“Well, she sure was insulted when I asked her about it.”
“You asked her about it? Why?”
“I just wondered how it went. She practically spit at me.”
As Bill considered this, Todd continued.
“Dave said she was pissed about it on the phone last night, like you was bothering her.”
“On the phone? Dave calls her?” Bill heard his voice rising.
“I think she calls him sometimes.”
“Are they dating?” Bill asked.
“Nope. Dave says just friends.” Todd explained.
“And she was pissed…that I asked her out?”
“Yeah. I figured you musta said something rude, about her tits or something. But that aint like you. Just curious, that’s all.”
Todd went back to the floor, leaving Bill stunned and simmering in a cold soup of humiliation. His worst image of Connie’s feelings for him were exceeded. Connie didn’t just dislike him, she was disgusted by him. Because he was repulsive.
Bill drove home at the pace of a geriatric Floridian, too distracted, too hurt for a quicker clip. Every niggling doubt he ever harbored about himself stampeded to the surface to stake its claim on the rightful territory he had tried to rob.
The formula fell together with wicked ease. Dave was in sales, a suit and tie guy, so that made up for his lack of good looks. Bill had never made it to sales, because his appearance and reserved personality held him back. Connie was appalled that Bill asked her out, probably because that made her feel like she was as unattractive as Bill himself. And God forbid, Bill had made it known to others in the warehouse that he was interested, embarrassing Connie among her peers.
Poor Connie, Bill thought. I’m so sorry I put you through that.
In the safety and privacy of his home, Bill’s reflection scowled miserably at him, enhancing his ugliness, mocking him with its earnestness. Bill gave himself to the pain he felt, the worthlessness he knew was his lot. To end it, to be finished with this shell that was his prison.
Not an option. He cursed his own cowardice in being unable to end his life.
He had heard from some smartass that if you stare at your own reflection long enough, you could go mad. That was damn sure preferable to the reality that tormented him. So Bill leaned forward and stared hard, though he was offended and nauseated by what he saw. He had an urge to smash the mirror, but realized that action was a trite cliche’ perpetuated by bad television.
There really was no option, but to be miserable, or to accept a life of loneliness, gauzy romantic fantasies and masturbation. Better yet, total freedom from emotion or desire. Wasn’t that Hinduism or some shit?
Bill hadn’t the guts to kill himself, nor the patience to drive himself mad. He simply submitted then and there, ready and willing to be fate’s blowing leaf.
The alarm clock scolded Bill for his dreams. He got up and went to the bathroom, avoiding the mirror. He considered skipping the shaving process this morning, as he no longer felt any need to be presentable for Connie.
Habit overruled self pity, and Bill soon found himself at the mirror with his razor, trying to avert his eyes from the big picture of his revolting features. Bill scraped the razor across his lathered cheek, his mind drifting to the events and the pain of the past week.
That pain demanded companionship. Bill felt pent-up frustration rise to the surface, taking over his razor hand. Gritting his teeth, grimacing at his grimace, Bill pressed the razor viciously into his cheekbone. A deep and alien sound arose from him as he felt the steel sliver penetrate.
Widening his eyes to behold the damage he was doing, he watched a thin rivulet of blood draw a line down his cheek to round his jowl. Bill was surprised there wasn’t more pain and blood, and withdrew the razor to assess the damage.
The tiny flap he had cut lay open just a centimeter or so, revealing the next layer, as Bill expected it would. But that layer was not a bloodier version of his epidermis, as his knowledge of the human body dictated it would be.
Instead, there was a slick blackness there, like eel-skin. Bill stared in wonder at this, picking it gingerly with his fingers. Alarmingly, the flap gave way rather easily, without the pain and pliability of flesh as he knew it. He began to peel the flap, revealing more of the shiny, smooth-textured…growth?
Suddenly alarmed by the ease with which his initial efforts had succeeded, Bill stopped and gazed at the anomaly for several seconds. In this time, he grew to admire it. Not only curious, he felt a kind of pride in its uniqueness. Bill took a long look at his features as they were, saying a less than tearful goodbye. He then dug in with his fingers and began pulling away the useless husk that had trapped him for so long.
Bill’s story continues and can be found alone as BILL’s BECOMING or in the collection DARK DESTINIES.
BUY BILL’s BECOMING for Kindle HERE www.tinyurl.com/pcgbillsbecoming
BUY DARK DESTINIES for Kindle HERE www.tinyurl.com/darkdestinies
BUY DARK DESTINIES Special Edition paperback HERE http://tinyurl.com/DDpaperback
Please visit the publisher Sekhmet Press LLC