By the time he heard its buzz, the smart phone vibrated off a stack of management books, which together cascaded off the nightstand, landing onto several day-old dishes lying within arms’ reach of the bed.
Harris Stewart bolted upright in bed, only to be impaled by the deep pain of one too-many chocolate martinis at the fundraiser last night.
The smart phone buzzed again. He hadn’t learned to resist the urgency to look at the screen. Leaning over to get the phone, he nearly teetered over. Looking at the tiny screen, blurred by too little sleep and too much booze, he thought he was seeing double; there wasn’t just one missed text, but a whole screen, and some to spare.
Glancing at the swaying red alarm clock numbers with what would be equally red eyes, it was still technically night time since his alarm hadn’t beeped-beeped him awake, right? Except it’s Sunday he remembered. He hadn’t set the clock last night anyway.
“Ok, who’s so important that they can’t give me the decency of a couple hours to myself?” He said to himself. Cracking his right thumb first, he tapped on the first message:
“Millions could suffer starvation without your help. Give now to the Human Mission’s famine relief effort. Dial 876543 to give any amount”
Over and over. He counted at least 16 messages.
Clearly something had gone amiss with the donor messaging service; how many others had been harrassed with messages all night?
He discovered he was wearing one shoe, but no pants. He stopped to run his hand over the other side of the bed—did I come home alone or with someone from the party? But the other side of the bed was still flat and relatively untouched. He kicked off the shoe and put on some sweats hanging on a nearby chair.
He struggled to sit up. Swinging his feet over the bedside, he steadied himself, then launched forward to stand up, but over launched into a bookcase, which withstood the blunt body force. He pushed off a shelf filled with mystery novels to achieve a full upright position and stood for several minutes to judge his equilibrium. Once steadied, he aimed for the bathroom.
Not yet fully awake and still feeling the martinis, he left the lights off as he entered the bathroom, relieved himself and turned on the shower. Despite his hangover, he soaped, shampooed, rinsed in his usual three minutes, stepped out and dried off.
He stood at the right sink with three vanity drawers to his left but kept the light off to avoid the demons in the mirror. Reaching into the second drawer, his razor, hair brush, toothpaste, prescriptions were exactly where he put them and could find in the dark. The top held some over-the-counter drugs, two boxes of bandaids and some tufts of dark red hair. The bottom drawer held a well used hair dryer he had never used.
As he shaved, he ran his hand over his face to find the stubble; if he couldn’t feel it, it wasn’t there. He parked the razor back into its spot in the drawer.
He fussied with the toothpaste roll, squeezing and flatening the tube several times to get the last bead of toothpaste. He placed it back into drawer, figuring it would be replaced in a day or two.
He pulled back on the sweats, shut the middle drawer, opened the top drawer and poured out three generic pain relievers. He held onto these and walked into the kitchen to get some water, turned on the light, then started some coffee. He was as picky about his Hawaiian coffee as he was with the Oregon wine, the international spices, the Italian canned tomatoes, the Italian olive oil, the flavored salts, the Italian pasta, the ground sirloin, and on and on. No point in investing in the time to make a good meal using piss-poor ingredients he had told guests many times at the dinner parties he and his wife put together. Friends often asked when they might be invited over for one of Harris’ extravagant dinner productions.
With the coffee freshly ground and in the coffee maker, he knew he had eight minutes before it brewed to toast a bagel. With a few extra minutes, he walked back to the bedroom to pick up the dishes on the floor: a pasta bowl with leftover cacio e pepe and a plate with a few noodles from a beef stroganoff.
He stopped in the bathroom. Finally turning on the light, he stopped to stare at the reflection in the mirror. His 41-year-old, six foot frame looked a bit soft around the middle. His once cropped but stylish hairstyle that made his mostly gray hair look elegant was now a somewhat shaggy mop with ducktails in back due to his propensity for curly hair. He looked more hippie-like than business executive, but then lately he felt a lot less executive anyway. He needed a haircut for sure, but he had pissed off his stylist who he had known for 30 years. He pissed everyone off that week, including a circuit court judge who sentenced him to community service out of spite.
The smell and ding-ding sound from the toaster oven caught his attention, so he turned and headed back to the kitchen to retrieve his bagel. As he evenly spread the cream cheese, it reminded him of one of the nibbles last night, a strawberry with feta cheese in the middle (well, it looked like cream cheese.) They came around on a tray held by a server from the catering company.
At that moment in time he had still been sober. Last night had been the big fundraising event for Human Mission, which, as the texts repeated, was collecting donations for a famine relief overseas. The Mission was where he was serving his 150 hours of community service as well. The judge had given him a few choices; this was the least menial and also indoors.
The director of the Mission realized Harris wasn’t a typical volunteer; he made it clear he wasn’t volunteering either. Harris’ past roles in corporations plus his education would be useful to the Mission’s fundraising event. Harris had been assigned in the two weeks leading up to making phone calls to previous high income donors, explaining the conditions overseas and making the ask or at least inviting him or her to the event.
Sitting at the counter in the kitchen eating his bagel, a rush of melancholy swept over him.
He could control some of his life, but not everything. Not the people in his relationships, clearly not his bad attitude. He looked around the kitchen, the dining room and beyond toward the living room. There was plenty of stuff, most of it his, but some things that had been picked out together with Justine, his wife. When she left several months ago, she told him she didn’t want any baggage from their relationship clouding her life, including the stuff that they had bought together to start their life 12 years ago.
It was a Friday night that she told him she was moving out, that she signed a lease for a condo downtown where she said she would enjoy the sounds of the city and the excitement of the nightlife. He didn’t understand: they went out at least once a month to dinner, sometimes to a new play, or to a club to hear some live music.
She took a few things, but she explained the condo was fully furnished. She took some art, her clothes and a few momentos, but she left everything else, severing any connection with the life she had spent with him.
This wasn’t exactly a surprise. Their relationship had been filled with terse words about a diverging lifestyle. She had always said that law school was her ticket out of the dreary life with her godparents after her parents’ death in a car crash when she was a young girl.
“You can’t begin to understand what it was like when Ellen tried to make dinner, or take me shopping for school clothes, or, or buy a birthday gift,” yelled Justine one evening. “It was always cheap. They could afford going to Macy’s, but not for me. It was always some bargain store with fashion leftovers from years ago. Do you know what it’s like to go to school wearing that shit?”
“I can’t remember all the ways she used canned tomato soup. Soup and greasy meatballs over spaghetti was about the worst, but somehow it got shoveled onto my plate every other week. Ever heard of shit on a shingle? Pretty sure she invented it: a milky attempt at holandes with a hard boiled egg and thin lunchmeat over Wonder. What a bunch of crap!”
“I HATED ALL THAT! I couldn’t wait to get out of the house and go away to college. Hell, dorm food was a real treat! I’ve worked hard and deserve better, and I’M GOING TO GET IT!”
On this occasion, he had asked if she could get the cucumber for the salad at the 24-hour supermarket instead of the deli-store she liked. It was as if a volcano had erupted. Harris had heard all of this since they first met. He thought she understood that a childless couple instantly becoming parents to a grief stricken nine-year-old would not go well at first, or in Justine’s case ever. It would be the same as if they suddenly were charged with taking care of his brother’s ten-year-old. What a dumpster fire that would be.
It wasn’t that Harris was a slouch or didn’t have his only familial baggage. He had moved up the ladder in a family-owned company, becoming more and more valuable in marketing, sales and operations. The company’s founder and CEO had made him vice president of operations, rewarding him handsomely with a six-figure salary and other perks.
Harris had been raised by his mother Judy after his dad left her for a younger model at his law firm. Judy had been a sous chef for a downtown hotel restaurant. The pay was OK, the tips helped, but there was an immediate lowering of their economic standard, even after the meager child support, which only arrived about every other month, after Judy called over and over to demand the payment. She started bringing home leftover food when she could to help make ends meet; at least they ate well on those nights.
But the downward slope from happiness, success and love in Harris’ own life had been a landslide of events. First, Justine moved out. Then, there was the disorderly conduct citation following a knock-down-drag-out argument, which led to a court appearance. His attitude before the judge was anything but conciliatory. Harris’ appearance coincided with a bad day for the judge, who sentenced Harris to the community service. When he went to talk to the CEO about taking a leave, word had already leaked to the company by way of a spouse who worked at the courthouse. The CEO suggested Harris think long and hard while on leave about what he wanted for his future. Harris wasn’t sure if that meant he was fired.
As he sat down to chew on his bagel, he reached into the pocket of the sweats, but couldn’t find his phone. He paused, still in a bit of a stupor, to think where he had left it. After a very long pause, he thought it was still in the bedroom, albeit rescued from the dishes. He might as well pick those up. Sure enough, the phone was still there. He reached down for the phone, grimacing as he stood up, then putting his hand on the side of the bed to steady himself after becoming slightly light headed.
With the blood back behind his eyes, he shuffled back to the bathroom where he left dishes, then into the kitchen and put the dishes directly into the dishwasher, hoping it could get the glued noodles to come off.
He grabbed a mug and the coffee pot and headed to the counter where his remaining half bagel was waiting. Now the phone was in the familiar left pocket. No more Mission alerts waited for him, instead there were a couple of messages from the sports leagues he followed. One was for the men’s soccer team that he followed. There would be a pre-game interview at 11:00 AM with the new coach. There was another message about an upcoming draft, two for various news items, and one with a summary of the above coach interview. That stopped him. “I already missed it?” He said out loud. He looked at the time on the phone to see it was already 11:45. “What’s going on,” he mumbled before looking up at the oven clock, which now read 11:46.
Then it dawned on him. The 11:00 check in.
“OHHHHH SHIT! I’m going to miss my check in!” He was already out of his chair. “I can’t miss that, I can’t miss that!” He ran down the hall to find a presentable polo shirt, sat to pull on some chinos, socks and his loafers, pocketed his keys, phone and wallet and ran down the hallway, crossed himself in front of the crucifix above the door, and ran out the door, slamming it behind him.
Comments? Click here to send me yours.
Is Harris an interesting character?
Is there too much or too little detail?
Is the chapter too long or too short?
Any other suggestions?
If you haven’t already, read the lead-in to this chapter. Click here.
About Dare Package: A down-and-out corporate executive doing court-ordered community service investigates the reasons behind a toxic famine relief shipment. He looks for relief from the poisons in his own life, including the undoing of his career and marriage, but his estranged wife becomes the only person he can trust!
© Scott Wolff. No part of this may be copied or reproduced.