Hi there! Here’s part 1 of a longish short story I wrote about 5 or 6 years ago called On the Way to My Grave.
I never figured out what genre it belongs to (is nihilism a genre?) or what to do with it, and I’ve evolved as a writer to the point that this story no longer represents me. So I might as well post it. You are welcome to comment positively or negatively without concern for hurting my feelings. This will be the tale’s final incarnation and resting place.
I’ll post daily installments over the next 5 or 6 days. FYI, the segment breaks won’t fall as neatly as the last story I serialized. This one is less episodic, which is better compositionally but less suitable for serializing. C’est la vie.
On the Way to My Grave
By Eric John Baker (c) 2009
The following transcript is a verbatim reproduction of Anthony Bright’s handwritten confession, which investigators found on his kitchen table shortly after the shooting. Passages Mr. Bright underlined are represented with italics.
The letter came five days ago. It said (as I recall):
“Dear Mr. Bright.
By the time you read this, I’ll be dead. Before that happens, I want to tell you how much I love your song, “Done to Me.” It’s my favorite song of all time. It’s also the last song I will ever hear, because I am going to put a bullet in my head tonight when the CD ends.
Please know I’m not doing this because of you. In fact, your voice is going to comfort me in my final seconds.
I wish you peace and continued success in a world to which I do not belong.
It had been forwarded to me, still sealed, by someone at my old record label. I read it over a bowl of Cheerios, reread it, and then dumped the cereal in the sink.
I’m used to the quiet of living alone, but right then the ubiquitous silence threatened to suffocate. Was this letter a joke? I would have googled the guy, but I haven’t paid my cable bill in six months and they cut off my internet.
The microwave clock said you’re late for work anyway, so I shoved the letter into the envelope and took it with me.
~ ~ ~
You probably don’t know who I am, so here’s my two-line bio: I used to be a budding rock star. Now I’m the motor vehicle clerk at a car dealership.
Though I work in a back office and no one sees me but the office manager and the lady at the motor vehicle agency, I have to wear a tie and a white shirt. Cheap white dress shirts from a discount store look even chintzier than other colors. It’s the official uniform of lost souls.
When I got to work that morning, I checked “Brett Denson” against the online obituaries.
Sure enough. Brett Denson. Age 26. Beloved son, brother. Survived by mother, Sharon, brother, Paul. No cause of death given. He was born, raised, and died in some town I never heard of called Collingwood, 200 miles away in the next state.
The office manager, Nadine, walked in and I closed the browser. She stared at me for a long second like she caught me skimming from the cash register. Give a guy a break, Nadine. I hadn’t gotten a fan letter in years, and it was my first that doubled as a suicide note.
At 4:30, I left by the service entrance. I avoid the showroom because I don’t like being seen in my $12 dress shirt and $5 tie. Customers give me a look that says, oh, you’re just trash who doesn’t know the difference between Bloomingdales and Walmart. Whatever.
The service door hadn’t shut behind me when I heard the voice.
“Hey, Bright. Why so glum?”
Christ. Hayden Campbell, the sales manager, the number one person I try to avoid. He had a speech ready.
“Did you see that guy driving away?” he said. “That was Darnell Tubbs. He just took delivery on the fifth car he’s bought from me. That’s loyalty.”
“Yeah, I printed up his temp tag.” I can never think of anything to say to Hayden.
He put his arm across my shoulder, marking territory. Pissing on my leg is against HR policy.
“You can’t live on past glory, my man” he said. “In this world, it’s ‘what have you done for me lately?’ That’s my secret to success.”
“Good advice,” I said. He wasn’t done.
“Do you get what I’m saying to you? When I started here eighteen years ago, we were selling maybe a hundred cars a month. Now we sell a thousand cars a month. Because I instituted a culture of winning.”
“Look, I’d love to stay and chat, but-” He must have sensed he was losing his audience when I put on a show of removing my keys.
“I’m just saying you can’t make your mark working in the back office,” he said. “I know you want to earn more money. So let me know when you’re ready to come work for me, ok?”
“Ok,” I said, faking a smile and shaking his hand. The thought of Hayden Campbell as a boss makes me want to drink chlorine. “I’ll let you know.”
He patted me on the back as if I’d said yes. “This isn’t for charity. I can make a salesman out of anybody, but if you’re going to come up front, don’t make me look bad. I’ll bounce your ass without batting an eyelash. Is that clear? This is your last chance to not be a loser.”
Attacking Hayden Campbell is a bad idea. Besides being able to afford a good lawyer and having lots of cops for customers, he’s taller by a foot and built like a power hitter. He was busy admiring his automobile kingdom instead of noticing my face turning red anyway, so I nodded my appreciation and bolted.
When I got home, I smashed my guitar on the basement floor. Just like rock-and-rollers do, only full of self-pity and with tears and snot everywhere. I imagined the concrete to be Hayden’s head, but the real victim was the guitar. It’s not as monumental as it sounds. I hocked my good guitar, my Les Paul Custom, years ago to buy heroin. The one I destroyed was a 250-dollar Ibanez I hadn’t touched since whenever. I’m not a guitarist anymore.
(to be continued)