A short fiction. This morning I took a quick break from the epicness of Tabitha’s third book to head-hop into someone else entirely, in a different universe, with a very different life. Who knows – maybe this could grow into a novel of its own. This is Shark.
Your friends ask you what it’s like to commit. To sleep with one girl for the rest of your life. I wish I could tell them. Because a few years in, you sleep with precisely no girls for the rest of your life. Me and my wife grew into fleshy home appliances. Solid. Hard-working. Reliable. But not those smart appliances that communicate with each other. The dumb kind. The ones that do the same damn jobs, over and over, and never say a word. ‘Til one day, dull and forgotten and taken for granted… they just break.
And out the door you go, and never come back. Probably replaced, with something sleek and new and expensive. It’s a free market. But when the scrapyard looks more appealing anyway, you know that something wasn’t right.
So, divorce and carving up assets, and all that shit. Thank god we never had kids. I wouldn’t put them through this. In the end I just gave her everything. She was the one who wanted all that in the first place. House; cars; brand-new triple glazing. Showroom home with a series of endless fussy textile nests. And more pristine places to take a shit than two people could ever need. That weird retro cake mixer that she wanted for months, and used once. All that other expensive shite to fill our grown-up dollhouse; our aquarium. Our display case. It was all paid up, and she kept it. I took all I needed. Clothes, steak and a bottle of beer. Hardly sensible… but things always sound better in a list of three. There was other stuff.
Now I get it, as I finally drive away. That house was big. Big enough for two people to live together and hardly see one other at all. That’s funny. And I’m smiling now, for the first time in years. Not that plastic-shit smile you cover your face with to hide the cracks, that gets you through the day without killing something. I mean an honest smile, at something that’s true, and funny, and real. The kind that shows all your wrinkles and flaws. A revelation.
You get more clarity when you live in your car. You’re a guru-hermit in a cave. Your walls are glass and metal, and duct-taped bin bags. The world isn’t a hidden horror, vast beyond your doorstep. Now, you’re in it. And, mostly, it’s fine. Nothing happens. No one cares.
The looks and glances happen more and more, when you get to work extra-early in the same damn shirt and trousers. Angry voices, dismembered through a phone line, just fade away. You used to care, so much. Everything, every facet of your buttoned-down impotent life, hung on you giving a shit about these angry bullshit clients. Then… it’s like a light switch. You realise just how much you don’t need this bloated salary. It doesn’t take all this to live in a car. The voices tune out like talk radio, and you hear the real music. You don’t need the money; you don’t need the stress. The song closes out, and fades to silence. The next song’s waiting, and for once in your life… it’s up to you.
So, I quit my job. Started hanging around the boxing gym, or whatever you’d call it. Penniless community kind of building, where everything’s gone to shit or getting there. If you want to see how a town’s doing, look at the places like that. But, once I stopped being terrified of those people, who I assumed were all somehow connected with drugs and robbery, I couldn’t keep away from the place. I hung back, lifting weights. Keep turning up, making whatever small talk’s going around, and slowly you’re in the pack. You realise just how wrong you really were.
A few weeks on, I don’t look so much like a block of flabby ham. Still in the car, but I’ve taken to moving around. One fella’s wife is a hairdresser, and she keeps me neat for nothing. She’d do anything for anyone, and she’s beautiful for it. They’re both like that, and they don’t have a penny, and it makes me ashamed of myself. I gave them what money I could, when I finally left that town. It wasn’t much. The friendship’s worth more.
I found another gym. Now I’m even learning to fight. I’m not afraid any more. I’m in a garden centre in the back of beyond, on minimum wage. You haven’t known happiness like a minimum wage. It takes all the pressure off. Everyone knows you won’t amount to anything. You know yourself that your housing options are at the bottom of the barrel. You can’t afford certain food, and the fat melts off you, and life gets pruned right back to the basics. Tough choices disappear.
Life grabs you hard, in its teeth and perfumes. You don’t need TV or internet to drown out its knocking at the door. Life’s like an ocean, and you’re free to dive in. If it only seems vast and poisoned and full of dangers, then it’s your own damn fault for being a goldfish.
You see more poverty though. You’re tuned into it. You talk to the homeless man; give him one stingy minute of your time. He’s not a junkie; he’s fucked up. He fought for your country in a pointless war, and gave up his innocence to do it. Now he’s a trained killer, with no one to kill. He’s a tiger locked in a supermarket. No point, no way, no sense. There is no metaphor, because the poor bastard doesn’t fit.
I ask him, one day, why he’s even here. Begging. If he’s trained to survive in wilderness, why he doesn’t just live in the wild. He gives his excuses, but maybe I planted a seed. Maybe he’ll sleep on it, and change. I tell him I hope I’ll see him again. I tell him, kindly, to think outside the box. To stop waiting for orders, and start fighting a war on his shitty life. He says he needs orders, these days. It’s how he’s been trained to think. So, I give him an order: change his shitty life. I say that’s his mission now. That’s his campaign. To drag himself out of the shit.
Talk to the right people for long enough, and you get to be a bit more blunt. They’re not rich clients, and you don’t need to please them. The right people appreciate it. It works.
I walked out of the garden centre after that. All my plants were rooting, and I was done.
When your life goes off the rails, you realise you’re all-terrain. There’s no track; no routine. The hours and minutes in the day just merge into awake, and asleep. There’s only hungry or full, and nothing else matters. It’s a different reality. You live in a separate dimension.
I’ve done everything I can to keep from seeming crazy. I wash; I shave. I live in hotel rooms, like a semi-normal person. I leave the tinfoil hat on the bedside table. But when I talk like this, people call me insane. They’re laughing it; they’re shouting it. Yelling it, like fanatics, from between their prison bars.
So, I work my odd jobs. More so online. I bank the cash. I keep quiet, and wander, and collect new friends. In some countries, it’s always just summer or storms. I like both. And it’s cheap.
I’ve always liked sharks. They’re vicious, and ancient, and stripped right back. Nothing extra; nothing needed.
When there’s something, they eat. When there’s nothing, they’re gone.