exponentiation ezine
exponentiation en ezine

exponentiation ezine: issue [3.0:literature]

"Fatal Embrace"

A sunrise that would have had a more emotional person in tears rose above the treetops. For Nick, it was neatly filed in the mental folder of "things to give a shit about when I have children", a thought which inevitably trod the logical next step down that mental path: You have to find a wife first. At least, a woman who didn't recoil from his personality as though it were a rabid canine.

Interesting considerations, but Nick had to get ready for work. Usually, he was the kind of guy who liked having a morning to himself before heading off to his daily drudgery; unfortunately, a spur of the moment gathering with some work acquaintances at a bar the night previous had disintegrated that routine. He had woken late with that sandy feeling behind the eyes and the bitter aftertaste of whatever insipid brew he'd been drinking curdling his taste buds. He didn't usually suffer the next day when these events happened, but it did throw a pall on everything that chanced his way, as Nick couldn't commit his full potential to anything. It was no matter to him though. He'd lived through enough hangovers to survive this one.

By profession, Nick was the nighttime line cook at a restaurant in town whose only claim to fame was the quality of its breakfasts; it turned over some two hundred breakfasts a day, mostly commuters off the highway passing through in need of a quick bite, but when it came to the dinner shift, it was a ghost town. He usually worked them by himself, a scheduling marvel which oftentimes came back to remind him of just how insightful the bureaucratic forethought of his superiors was when a large turnout suddenly materialized, leaving him cursing and struggling to meet the demand. His chef was a short-tempered, high-strung individual who was an affable guy outside of work demands, but an insufferable tyrant whilst working his breakfasts. Nick was glad that he didn't work with him all that often, as the man set his teeth on edge with his constant, incessantly impractical orders when the pressure was on.

Nick admired the older bus he had stepped onto that was taking him downtown, as its construction dated to when the use of actual cushioning in the seats was not a costly consideration, but noted as usual the degeneration time had worn on its chassis and wondered why they didn't just upgrade the entire fleet. He wasn't about to get a second and third job to afford a car though; he was in a deep enough hole trying to get into culinary school, as that was the only way to advance in this town and in the industry, and schooling required money - money which flew out of his hands as soon as he touched it. He considered carving something into the antique seats.

The politics of a bus were fascinating to him. It was a fantastic vantage point to observe humanity; you could literally see the self-absorption of each and every person. Cackling teenage girls nattering on loudly in the back about some dreamy guy who treated them like slime, the autistic retard who couldn't grasp the concept of walking up stairs to save its life, the old woman who falls accidentally with everyone around her too busy blathering on their cell phones to notice, or the driver himself who flies through the bus route, totally disrupting the purpose of the schedule, so that he can linger at one of the major stops for ten minutes to smoke and chat on his own cell phone - all of it was complete and utter insanity to Nick. Often, he had to stop himself from noticing it all and focus on the outside world drifting by, or his own thoughts.

His thoughts often centered themselves around what he would do that evening when he got off work. Nick was mentally an outsider to the ebb and flow of civilization, and as such, he didn't really partake in the same activities that most of the crowd believed were interesting methods for killing time. He didn't do much in the mornings; he kept his time usage to simple things in order to quiet the oncoming stress of the day. The nights were frequently spent imbibing so as to bury the stupidity of the day now behind him. Because of his lack of care for finding a social niche, Nick could venture anywhere that had a decent selection of alcohol and a distinctly unannoying bartender to pour it. Occasionally, it made for some interesting viewpoints into society, its disparate scenes, and the fools who populated them.

Nick often chatted with the bartenders while there - the guys who poured the drinks were usually pretty funny individuals who could keep anyone idly engaged for a night. It was a welcome change from the sterility of his own dwindling circle of friends, albeit a very fleeting change. Sooner or later, Nick was either going to have to cut ties with those friends, although this was already happening in its own passive fashion as they themselves grew up and became more entangled within their developing lives with their new spouses, homes and children; either that, or he was going to have to find a way to renew interest in himself for catching up to them socially, find himself a nice girl, and "settle down, man."
"what the hell would I want to do that for?"
Ryan always fidgeted nervously when he brought this subject up around Nick; he was of the impression that he was the sole voice of reason left in Nick's life, and thought that with enough persuasion, he could get him to see it for himself. "I don't know man, you're always out drinking, or sunk in your books, or working too much to get away from yourself. A good woman would help you out, help you find some sort of center in your life." Nick casually rolled his eyes at the expected response. "in case you haven't noticed, I'm not really marriage material. If I don't want it, why should I go looking for it?"
"I'm not saying marriage, dumbass. Just get yourself a girl and settle down. Everyone else that you know, including myself, has married or is about to be. Why else do you think I hardly have time to hang out anymore? I'm growing up, and I have different responsibilities now, specifically to Sarah and our future plans."
"and you know that I wish you and her the best in those plans. I just don't see why that has to change or negate the person you used to be. It's that exact sort of 'settling down' that makes me question the whole thing."
"jesus, you and your goddamned individuality. It isn't hard to give of yourself and still be the same person you always were, but responsibility takes a toll, whether we like it or not. Look Nick, people talk. All I hear when I get together with the boys and their ladies is 'what's up with Nick? Why no woman in his life yet?'"
"well, be sure and give them all my fondest regards for their concern."

Settle. The word carried such frighteningly ironclad connotations when he pondered it through these remembered discussions. Maybe he enjoyed his "freedom" (such as it was) too much to shackle himself to a situation like that for the remainder of his existence, but maybe he was scared of commitment to responsibility. Maybe it was a death wish, what with all the drinking he did.

In any case, that was his life pattern outside of paying the bills and sweating over a volcanic charbroiler flipping steaks. He didn't really question much any longer, having outgrown his phase of youthful rebellion from a system that he quickly realized was too big to fight. He simply existed from each day to the next, going from one meaningless social encounter to another, worrying in the back of his mind about whether he could afford another night out tomorrow balanced against the rent cheque being due in a week, wondering whether that cute waitress who had given him a smile the other day was just doing her job or extending an offer of something more, mentally counting the months until he was able to take that week and a half off of work, infrequently making a fool of himself publicly for having had two drinks too many and acting stupidly. Suffice it to say, landing in the drunk tank had inadvertently cost him his job once before; he didn't need that to happen again, so he had taught himself to keep his drinking within sane limits.

* * * *

Service didn't end up going well for Nick - four steaks overcooked, and a burnt liver that ended up going out because he made the mistake of believing the server who told him the customer would never notice its carbonized exterior in the dim light. It was no wonder he hated servers. If they weren't of the completely air headed variety, they were ineffectual prim donnas who were "just passing through" the industry on their way to their promising careers in dental work or acting. Nick wasn't too concerned about the foul-ups; in the grand scheme of things, it didn't really matter - the customers were fine with the wait for replacements and left the restaurant happy, barring one asshole that made a big production of the affair. Maybe the chef would listen now when Nick asked for a second person on Friday nights.

As he got out of his grimy uniform, Nick reflected that it was probably the night out yesterday that had rendered him incapable of being at the top of his game today; he also had a bad problem of worrying excessively when the reservation numbers shot up unexpectedly, which in turn effected his performance. In any event, the problems weren't all external, as he was the common denominator in the equation. He couldn't help his reactions though, so he shrugged off the matter, as it was in the past now.

What to do? - this was the question plaguing Nick. He was tired, but he also wanted a drink to wind down. That was the other problem with working nights in the restaurant business: you couldn't relax after the shift for the life of you, no matter how tired you were going in and coming out. You were still so keyed up and full of adrenaline that you stayed awake for hours after. This might have played its part in Nick's and any industry worker's mutual decision to become borderline alcoholics. He also felt remarkably strange; he had in mind a weird premonition that he was going to meet his death that night, as though he were part of some old detective story, about to get caught in the crossfire of something that didn't concern him. No matter. Nick's overactive imagination often got the best of him. He was still somewhat afraid of the dark, for Christ's sake. He dismissed the feeling, and headed to a rather low-key bar down the street which didn't typically have an irritatingly high-volume turnout on the weekends. The beer was cold, and the one bartender that was usually on duty was a good sort of chap to converse with.

He swung open the door, handed over his ID to the disinterested bouncer, and pulled up a stool at the bar to the serenade of some schmaltzy Top 40 ballad. The few customers who were there quietly chewing the fat over their pitchers were people Nick had never seen before, as was the bartender who opened two frigid bottles of cheap domestic at Nick's request. The bartender tried somewhat unsuccessfully to balance idle chatter with an unresponsive Nick alongside flirting with an older woman at the other end of the scratched counter who was very deep in her cups, but still resiliently opposed to the idea of heading home either with the bartender or alone. Nick downed the two beers in short order with a soundless laugh at the two of them, and mused that he would be much better off with a double rye and water. Nick despised scotch, but adored whisky - just not straight up. This drink was one of his favorites, as it made an ideal sipper. Besides, he was in no hurry to get anywhere.

The beers soon kicked in alcoholically, and Nick started to relax; when the bartender asked him something trite, he now responded in an effort to make the conversation actually flow a bit. They chatted mainly about the trivial nothings that two strangers put into a position of forced socialization discuss, with no expectation of any lasting bond being forged. Sometimes, in situations such as this, it was all Nick could do not to scream in utter dejection at the pointlessness of it all. Tonight, he couldn't care less. In the midst of their banter, a woman sidled up to the bar three seats to the right of Nick and ordered herself a Caesar. She gave a short non-committal smile to him, which he did not return.

As the golden line of his drink slowly descended beneath the level of the ice cubes, he intermittently thought about work tomorrow, and struggled to keep the conversation with the bartender going. The fellow was a bit of a slow one, and his jokes just weren't all that funny, but he was clearly as bored as everyone else there, and just marking time until last call. Nick scanned the bar again, looking for a way out of the dead-end conversation. He didn't feel like trying his luck on the girl who was sitting by herself around the other side of the bar. She had obviously come there with intent herself - she wasn't dressed to kill, but it was rare to see a woman of her apparent young age at a bar by her lonesome without a reason.

After a few inviting glances thrown his way, Nick mustered the nerve to ask her how she was, silently cursing the fact that he hadn't the social skills to play these games.
"I'm good. Yourself?" Her voice was light, but the tone was rehearsed.
"well, I can't complain, but even if I could, I wouldn't."
It was answers like this that usually ended conversations for Nick, and this one was no different. He could see the evident confusion in the girl's eyes at his response to her advance, and she gave him that half-smile of polite dismissal that he was becoming all too familiar with. Looks like he wouldn't be settling just yet. Nick was content for now, but he would have to confront that problem at some point. Keeping up with the Joneses was a tiring task that he wanted to put off as long as he could, but the pressure kept building in his head. Sadly, he was the one putting most of the pressure on himself, despite Ryan's badgering.

He wished he could regain his youthful disregard for social convention and expectation, but having had to exist in the real world for some years now, that idealism had been molded into resignation. Remnants of it still cropped up in his thinking patterns now and then, but for the most part Nick was reconciled to his existence as it stood. He had his fun, and his stress, and his dog, and the comfort of the routine he'd carved for himself, but nothing of that existential peace with the world that he imagined the monks in Tibet possessed. Nick knew now from experience that he couldn't stop the flow of real life, regardless of the bad or good choices he had made and would make, and it was all he could do to hang on for the ride.

As he said his farewells to the bartender, he stumbled accidentally into someone carrying a pitcher who himself wasn't paying attention; not too much beer was lost, and Nick offered to pay the guy he'd bumped, but the other man realized his own part in the accident, and told Nick not to worry about it. He thanked the man, silently appreciating him for not causing a scene Nick was in no mood for, and headed out into the night.

As he said his farewells to the bartender, he stumbled accidentally into someone carrying a pitcher who himself wasn't paying attention; not too much beer was lost, and Nick offered to pay the guy he'd bumped, but the other man realized his own part in the accident, and told Nick not to worry about it. He thanked the man, silently appreciating him for not causing a scene Nick was in no mood for, and headed out into the night.

Arriving at home after a relatively painless cab ride through chaotic streets, he paid his fare, and fumbled with his keys to get his back door open. He wasn't drunk by any means, but what he had digested was enough to combine with the long day and put him out like a light when he sat on his old couch. He'd woken up there many times after a night out, and he was sure he would do so many more times in the future. Such was the life he lived. It was no longer a challenge for him to live like this, and he had accepted it into his habits unconsciously. Nick had what he needed, even though he didn't necessarily have what he wanted. That was enough. All he could hope for now was that he would wake up in time for work tomorrow, having neglected to set an alarm of any kind before passing out. - blaphbee


"Towards the end of the cycle"

A glance that pierces all
Searching for untouched flesh
Cellars of despair
Free figures find their course
I closed my eyes for this sorrow
But bitter escaped me not
The shadow of loving
Creates the spiritworld
On the door of peace there's a raging sound
Its the painful reality that rings again
Arms are coming for me
Cursed echo's dwell in the deep
At night they crawl back to their homes
Not aware of the spirit that roams
He is the chosen will
Seizing the inferior soul
The lost hope that once triumphated
Shall burn in the hearts of the dishonored
A dying gift from below
For the balance of the here and now. - ted oliekan


"An Exercise in Realizing One's Will (Growth)"

An exhausted figure leers at the biting cold, slowly
Sinter-sauntering along the dimly lit shores of misery
How retchingly despairing an existence
Whilst with only two eyes lachrymosely thee
You weep for the world? Others? Or is it your self?

Awkwardly embracing the three, though with honest effort
Nonetheless curtailed by a fatuitously limited perspective;
That each mind is an island in and of itself!
How fortunate, then, that you have washed up onto these shores
Wrought with agony—as stark contrast from my domain...

Shown the image of a churning tempest, the unconscious macrocosm
Where your two eyes go unacknowledged—but look forever outward!
"This is truth." I spoke. You struggled with those words...
That we should surface only to submerge once more!
A loss, a tear, soon enough forgotten.

Or would you rather not admit to the death of your name amidst such depravity?
Desperation upon your lips; thirsting for immortality. You who killed the gods.
You who killed your own ideals—or perhaps you'd rather have it remembered this way:
That you guided the hand which destroyed your sense of wonder and anticipation.
Never lifting your gaze from the dust in which you kneel trembling.

Forgiveness comes only from those who bear compassion for those who've erred,
And I am not inclined to do as those who recall the spirit of the men of the cloth.
The task is laid before you; heed these words of mine: there is honor to be reclaimed.
Yet in an age where such a mind is reproached from below, a greater duty still:
Remonstration through force, replace the foundations whereupon such ideals may grow... - faustian dreams

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