The Fall of Jonas Freimann

At the age of 38, Jonas Freimann, scientist, philanthropist and philosopher, had discovered a way to abolish world hunger.

As a young man, Jonas had wanted to become a zoologist, but upon entering his studies as an undergraduate, realized that saving the lives of his fellow humans was a far nobler cause. The process was simple: Simple carbohydrates, such as potatoes, grains and rice, were saturated with nutrients. These nutrient rich foods were then replicated exponentially.

These foods were then sent to the far reaches of the world, where more replication stations were established, and more food produced. All that was needed for sustenance was contained within these simple products. The plan certainly left something to be desired for the taste buds, but in lieu of death by starvation, the blandness of the food certainly seemed more bearable. In time, Jonas hoped to further improve the process.

It was on this day, the 30th of May 2015, when Jonas announced that his process had been perfected, and the whole world rejoiced at its completion. A press conference was held that would be transmitted and translated in real time all over the world. Most of all, Jonas wished to communicate to the world that a new age of technology had begun; one that put human needs above profit, philanthropy above apathy and love above greed.

Jonas was ushered backstage early on that day where he was fitted with a microphone and had his hair was flattened by a stylist before being pushed out on stage along with a panel of other experts. A flurry of questions from the media ensued as soon as he appeared. The camera flashes and the buzz of noise were almost more than he could take. Yet, this was his cause, so he pressed on, sat down and took a deep breath.

The first, a shallow question indeed: “How much do you expect to profit from this discovery?” Clearly a tabloid magazine looking to discredit him by twisting his response. “Nothing,” he replied flatly, “All the money that would have come to me personally is being rerouted into the fund, in order to create more food for the less fortunate. I wouldn’t feel right profiting from giving people what they have a natural right to.”

The next, a better one, but rather simple: “How long did it take you to develop this process?” “I’ve had the idea since I was in University. Food was never an issue among me or my ivy league compatriots” (laughs from the crowd) “but when I walked along the street on the coldest of nights, and saw the homeless clinging to life on the air vents of office buildings, I knew something had to be done to solve this problem. I started volunteering at homeless shelters, dolling out stew to those who were quick enough to get it, but it never felt like enough. I knew I could get the education and the materials to make this dream not just a dream, but a realization of a dream.” The crowd beamed. It was clear the media was very pleased with his answer, despite the fact that he was speaking truthfully and from the heart.

As the conference was coming to a close, the head of the National Science Commission stood up. “Dr. Jonas Freimann is an outstanding individual with unequivocal intelligence and drive. Not just any drive, but the type of drive that makes the world a better place to live in; a drive that improves the lives of others. I am happy to declare today “International Hunger Abolition Day” in honour of Jonas Freimann and all of his accomplishments in the interest of people everywhere.”

A roar of applause burst out in the crowd, and for a moment Jonas couldn’t believe if he had just heard correctly. Being recognized by his colleagues and those that he helped was thanks enough, but it was hard to accept that the whole world would celebrate every May 30th in his honour. “Since the sphere is the most perfect of shapes, equal all around in every right, I would like to present Dr. Freimann with this silver sphere as a reminder that people all over this sphere we call home are now as equal in privilege as the dimensions of this shape.” The head of the NSC presented Jonas with a small royal blue box. Inside he found a small, silver ball, composed of a lustrous metal, no bigger than a golfball. He thanked the head of the NSC heartily and smiled at the cameras as they clicked and flashed. The whole day had been a blur, but nothing could overshadow his sense of pride in knowing that very night, people around the world were eating what they deserved.

In the dark of the unlit room, smelling of smoke and vermouth from a celebration after the conference, Jonas walked over to the mantelpiece, reached into his pocket and pulled out the royal blue box with its sentimental gift inside. Before setting it there, he admired the ball for a moment, watched the light from the lamps in the street play off its highly polished surface. He smiled at the gift, aware of the symbolism of the thing. Such a small gesture, but so appropriate, he thought. He left the lid open, displaying the ball on the mantel and slunk off to peel his suit from his body and fall into bed.

By June, the madness of the response to his discovery had subsided slightly, and Jonas was free to relax and enter into more research. He wanted to discover a way of improving the taste of the foods being produced. He knew this development would never be as lauded as his first discovery, yet he found something comforting and humbling in knowing he would never make as great a discovery again.

It was around the middle of May the next year that Jonas started seeing references to “International Hunger Abolition Day”. He was walking down the street one afternoon, past a department store, when he noticed a sign: “Get your Hunger Abolition Day spheres here!” The notion pleased him, as he didn’t want people to forget about the importance of abolishing hunger worldwide. He went into the store, and merely out of amusement, purchased the same type of ball he had received the year before. This one would sit beside the other on the mantel, as a personal reminder that the world’s people had not forgotten to continue caring about one another. The ball cost him $15.99, a small investment. Throughout the day, he saw other signs in shop windows, each bringing a smile to his lips. He was truly in awe of the common philanthropic attitudes of his fellow man. When he arrived home later that night, the ball went straight to the mantel, beside the original.

The day of May 30th approached and a parade honouring the cultures of the world who had been helped by Jonas’ discovery marched through the city. The parade was a huge success, if a little kitschy, and people rejoiced with their brothers and sisters from around the globe. The feeling of human goodness and fellowship was liquid in the air, and was being drunk by all.

That night, Jonas had been invited to a party honouring the one year anniversary of his discovery. There was a lot of back-patting and congratulating in addition to excessive amounts of expensive liquor and opulent gourmet delicacies (the untouched portions of which would later be tossed in an alley dumpster).

Later that night, Jonas found himself in the same position he had been a year before, standing in front of the mantel, contemplating humanity and common human efforts, staring at the shiny balls that refracted the street light into his eyes. And again, with a sigh of goodwill, Jonas undiscovered his clothes and discovered his bed.

    ***

It was the end of April the next year when Jonas began noticing the signs in shop windows. He thought it was a bit early to start advertising for Hunger Abolition Day, but he surmised that the shop owners simply wanted to gain a little footing over each other. Surely, this was all in the interest of humanity. A week or so later, the signs became more looming, the number of shops selling the spheres was rising, and the overall frantic need to purchase these shiny balls was growing among people as a whole. One sign in particular caught Jonas’ attention: “44% larger Hunger Abolition Day spheres”, this came as a surprise, so naturally, he went into the establishment to see for himself. Sure enough, in a display in the centre of the floor there were the spheres. And indeed, they did look at least 44% bigger, perhaps only 40% in some cases. Regardless, Jonas was baffled. May 30th was about quality of life, not quantity of sphere. Something made Jonas sick in the depths of his abdomen, but he could not place it. Perhaps it was that tuna sandwich he’d had for lunch.

    ***

The next year, the same sick feeling returned, but this time even earlier. It was mid-March and the sphere sales were in full swing. Not only had the trend for bigger spheres taken over, but also the need for shinier and more lustrous balls had grown. Signs all over were ejaculating comments like, “Shiniest Spheres in the City!”, “Bigger and Better Balls, we sell them here”, “Sick of low quality spheres? Look no further”, and “Spheres, Spheres and more Spheres!”. It was rare to even find the meaning behind the spheres advertised anywhere. Only one sign that Jonas could find said, “You want spheres, we got ’em” in bold capital letters, followed by “in honour of Hunger Abolition Day” in tiny lettering off to one side.

    ***

By the time Jonas was 45, Hunger Abolition Day, or Sphere Day as it was more commonly referred to, had run rampant. Advertising for the event had now begun just after Ground Hog Day urging people to “Get your spheres early and save 25%”. And now, the spheres had become so large, people had to rent special wagons to attach to their cars in order to get them home. The poorer consumers simply rolled them from the store, but this practice was uncommon, as it scratched the highly prized shiny surface of the balls. The richer even began building additions onto their houses to accommodate these large purchases. Most simply left them outside on the front lawn, although, this was risky as sphere theft was on the rise. Jonas had an inkling that Hunger Abolition Day had lost some of its influence over the people of the world.

    ***

When he was 48, ten years after his discovery, spheres were as big as houses and only those of the highest status, with the most space and money could afford them. The city dumps looked like inverted cloudscapes with ready-made silver linings. The true meaning of the day was essentially gone. Jonas, feeling particularly low, wandered the streets, searching for anything—a gesture, an expression, a word—to prove to him that his beloved humanity had not gone completely blind.

Overwhelmed with grief, Jonas sat down on a bench to reflect, when he saw a child of about eight walking down the street toward him. The child was engrossed in an object that he was holding in his hand. As he got closer, Jonas could see he was holding a silver sphere, not bigger than a golfball. “Dearest child,” said Jonas, as the child got ever nearer, “what have you got there?” “It’s a sphere, for Sphere Day”. Well isn’t that precious, thought Jonas, a child with a tiny sphere, much like his own. This child, truly, cannot be lost to the clutches of humanity’s disillusions. “And do you know why people buy spheres?” prodded Jonas. “Some old guy discovered spheres today, I think. My mom says the biggest and shiniest spheres mean you’re better than anyone else so I got this to show my friends who’s boss.”

Jonas, incensed, jumped up from his bench and stormed downtown, leaving the child to stare gormlessly after him. As he hurried, Jonas hoped he had not already missed the parade. At the end was going to be the unveiling of the biggest, shiniest sphere ever created at the City Square.

When he arrived at the square, a massive group of people was standing in front of a massive shrouded ball, which was at least a story tall. The mayor stood at the ready to unveil it on an enormous scaffolding arch. Without wasting any time, Jonas dodged a few security guards and began to mount the scaffolding, climbing ever higher and faster. Once he reached the top he jumped down onto the sphere, kicking and tearing at the shroud until it loosened and fell in a giant ring all around the base of the sphere. The glint from the shiny ball was blinding and people had to shield their eyes momentarily.

“YOU HAVE LOST YOUR WAY!” Jonas shouted at the crowd, “YOU HAVE ALL LOST YOUR WAY!” Some gasped, others cried out, most just stared in open-mouthed awe at the man on the ball. “Does anyone even remember why we celebrate on this day? It’s because I, Jonas Freimann, solved world hunger ten years ago today. Today is not about making your neighbours envious. It is not a day to blind each other with the glint from these abominations. This day is a reminder of the goodness of humanity. A reminder of what we can accomplish when the happiness and health of others comes first. You have all lost your way and should be ashamed of what you have become!”

There was general confusion and muttering from the crowd below. It was clear they were trying to come to some conclusion on their own. “He’s right!” shouted one man. “We have lost our way”, shouted someone else. The crowd burst into a frenzy of language, as people apologized to each other and to themselves. “Tell us,” shouted one woman, and the crowd hushed, “how can we reverse the damage we have done?” “Remember to always care for your fellow humans in the future, and never let pettiness get in the way of human love,” Jonas shouted down.

Jonas had not felt this good since the first night of his discovery. The sickness in his stomach floated away and he was glad, once more, to be one among his beloved species. Unfortunately, this feeling of elation couldn’t contend with the condensation that had gathered on the sphere. The cool metal and the warm sun had produced a dangerous combination of slippery wetness. Before he had time to react, Jonas’ right foot flew out from under him, followed by the left. It was only moments later that he was lying sprawled and broken on the pavement. Horror spread among the crowd as the shadow of the sphere was made darker still by the pool of blood seeping from Jonas’ skull.

The papers said things like “Scientist killed by own commemorative sphere”, “Triumph to tragedy: One man’s descent”, “Our greed is what killed the greatest man of our time”. Jonas was a legend as well as a martyr.

Due to the guilt felt by most people, it was decided that the May 30th would no longer celebrate the abolition of world hunger, but instead honour the life and death of a man so concerned with the well being of humanity. The goal of the day would be to reflect on humanity and greed and to work toward preventing another such tragedy. People everywhere were to wear small silver ribbons, as a way of remembering the past and changing the future. Yet, it’s arguable to say that the very next year, those same ribbons were perceivably larger and more elaborate than they had been the year before.

On loss

When someone you love dies is when being non-religious gets tough. How can you possibly comfort yourself in the face of overwhelming grief without the certainty that the person you cared about your entire life isn’t sitting on a cloud somewhere smiling down? How can you drag yourself out of a trench of sadness when the alluring possibility of seeing the person you cherished someday when your breath escapes you does not exist? What is the sense of this accursed consciousness if it just stops someday as unceremoniously as an unwound watch? How can life just be tragically, finitely over.

When someone you love dies is when you make spiritual concessions. Although you have never been an adherent to any religion, or even given religion, god, the afterlife, heaven or the soul too much thought at all, you find your mind tweaking your previous convictions (or lack thereof). You begin to believe that if the person you valued believed themselves in a wonderful afterlife, then that must be where they have ended up. If you believe in something enough, who is to say that what you stand behind isn’t also true, at least to you? You begin talking to the sky, wishing the clouds good morning and hoping that they are soft under the gentle feet of the one you love.

When someone you love dies is when you realize that you are not immortal. You will age, your time on this planet will fade and one day, you will be gone just like everyone before and everyone after. You are the center of your own universe, but you do not possess that gift of eternal life. You are not the exception, you are the rule. And the rule dictates that no matter how much it hurts, no matter how much you bargain with your own mind, you will never be able to change this fact. The only thing you can do is be the best daughter, wife, mother, sister, son, husband, father, brother, relative or friend you can be. When you show people how much you love them when you’re alive, they will never allow your memory to die.

When someone you love dies is when you discover the depths of your own sorrow. The worst heartache, betrayal, injustice or pain cannot possibly compare to the loss of someone you truly love. When you were dumped by your boyfriend, you thought you knew heartbreak. Now you know that true heartbreak has nothing to do with teenage romance and everything to do with true love. Not romantic love, but true love—the kind that is absolutely irreplaceable and leaves a jagged personalized hole in your heart when it’s gone forever. Nothing and no one could ever fill that shape. That is sorrow. The good news about sorrow, however, is that it’s simply too arduous to maintain forever. It will ease, scar-tissue will fill the hole and your heart will stop leaking eventually.

When someone you love dies is when you can change for the better. You can take those regrets and turn them into change. All those times you wished you had just spoken to her for just a few more minutes, despite 30 years of love and memories, can be transformed into quality time with the ones you love who are still around. All those lost moments when you could have been telling her “I love you so much”, can be turned into “I love you”’s still. “I love you”’s are transferable, bottomless and no one ever tires of receiving them. You can turn your love for someone who is gone into yet more love for those who are still by your side. Don’t let that love dissipate.

When someone you love dies is when you realize how resilient you can be. You feared that you would die yourself of sadness, but look, you’re still here. Someday—maybe not today, tomorrow or even next year—you will be OK again. You will smile genuinely again. You will laugh heartily again. You will love life again. You will feel their love without sorrow. You will honour them without tragedy. Laugh lines will take the place of tears at the corners of your eyes. Your heart will be light again. Which is exactly what they would have wanted.

Bouquet

30 is the new 30

Tomorrow, I turn 30. If you really put it into perspective, it is absolutely ridiculous or maybe even offensive that someone might have confused feelings about this. Many people never make it this far and would probably have given anything they could to experience the tingling promise of a new decade.

And, boy, was the last decade a blast. Maybe that is why my heart is heavy today. The same way I feel when I think about the pastoral childhood I was privileged enough to have and sense the pang of loss at never having another sweet day as an eight year old swinging from a tree in the sunshine. I guess now an hour before I am 30, I am beginning to understand why people have kids. So they can watch them swing and soak up the joy their children radiate. As a way of remembering in the present.

I know where I was exactly ten years ago, which feels peculiar. I usually have trouble remembering the details of the past, so it is strange to reflect with this level of certainty and clarity. It seems like that was a lifetime—a person—ago. Like a movie I saw once and have since forgotten the title. And when I examine the last ten years from a distance like this, I see now that I was an entirely different person. I read once that all the cells in the human body completely regenerate every seven years, so who knows, maybe I was a completely different person back then. I think I have improved at least a little, despite my own stubborn efforts to remain the same. Change is sometimes slow, sometimes fast, and sometimes not at all. I hope I changed.

19 years and 364 days, I had just moved to Berlin. I had just started an exchange in a faraway land. I was always a Mommy and Daddy’s girl (still am a decade later), but somehow my parents managed to make me feel close to them no matter how far away I went. I live far away now, too, but I still feel like my parents could be down the street since that is how intensely I can sense their love. Berlin was huge, exciting, terrifying and thrilling, all at the same time. And I remember sitting in a bar and thinking “My god, this is my last night as a teenager. I need to say goodbye”, much as I am doing so tonight.

21, I returned to Canada to finish my BA in English and German studies. 22, back to Berlin to teach English. 23, Toronto again working as a German Medical Market Researcher where I met my dear friend, Claudia (who will play a huge roll again at 26). 24, started my Masters in Screenwriting at York University and began my mid-twenties crisis. As a result (or possibly as a prerequisite) I started working at my beloved Sneaky Dee’s. 25 is pretty much a write-off, although I can thank my best friends for such a high level of fun and hilarity that it really is just a blissful blur in retrospect. 26, things started slowing down around me, inside me, and I finally opened my mind to the possibility of real love. Love like I had never permitted myself to have before. And that is precisely when I met my husband while visiting Claudia on vacation in Munich. 27, I dropped everything and moved across the ocean to be with my now-husband. A few months later, he waited patiently at the top of a mountain until the clouds parted to ask me to be his wife. 28, I cultivated my relationships and a calmness crept into my soul as I allowed myself to reflect on the internal for the first time in my life. 29. In June, I married the love of my life in a sun shower surrounded by our incredible families and friends. Even my Oma made it to the wedding after we were all convinced she wasn’t going to see Christmas (she is a constant source of strength and inspiration, no matter my age). It is true when they say it is really the best day of your life. A cliché is just that for a reason. And now I am here, snuggling under an orange blanket that we “borrowed” from my mother-in-law, wondering if I should be sad or happy or maybe equal shares of both.

Some of the best friends I have I can thank the last decade for (although, to my good fortune, many of them predate even the day I mourned and celebrated the passing of my teenage years). I have laughed so hard I got killer abs (securely hidden under a layer of life-loving, decadent chub). I have cried so hard I have actually hyperventilated on numerous occasions and my tear ducts got irritated and took a two hour lunch to spite my sobs. I learned love like I had never known. I have had friendships reach seemingly bottomless depths of respect and love. I have had to sacrifice very little and have gained probably more than I think I deserve. I have worked hard, quit too soon, struggled, given up, cared too little and too much, ached, rejoiced, fought and laid down my arms. After these ten years, I am both deeply disappointed in and profoundly proud of myself.

Tomorrow is just another today. Objectively, I will only be one day older, but suddenly, I will be a full blown adult, the kind I feared the night before my 20th birthday ten years ago. And so, with sorrow and optimism, I must embrace tomorrow as another new day. I hope it turns out as well as the last 3650 and I hope everyone I love is by my side to share them with me.

Here is to the big three oh.

No Past, No Future

No past no future

There once were two cities, close in proximity, but very distant in experience.

The one city was full of people who had no past; the other, people with no future.

This isn’t to say that the people with no future had nothing coming and their counterparts had nothing behind them, just that neither had foresight nor recollection, respectively.

In the city with no past, everyone was very reckless, having no memory of the horrors of the day, week, year or century before. Children were constantly burning their tongues on a hot cup of cocoa, not being able to remember the pain of last winter’s scald. People would jump out third story windows, simply because they couldn’t remember their cousins falling into comas after doing the same. There was a great need for emergency medical care, and hospitals were as common as corner stores. The death rate was very high. When it came to the heart, they fell in love quickly, only to immediately forget. The future was the only focus, and the people of this city were reckless dreamers.

In the city with no future, everyone was very cautious, having only memories of the horrors of the past and not being able to envision a better world for tomorrow. Everyone was very bitter, very angry and confused. Coats were made of bubble wrap. Sharp corners, slippery tiles, open fires and anything remotely dangerous were outlawed completely. Since there was no future to anticipate, events of the past were the only focus. Everyone walked very slowly and carefully, the memory of a fall a decade before as acute as if it happened only moments before. No one tried anything new, since every new thing had been so terrifying in the past. No one ever loved again after a reckless teenage romance crushed their very beings.

War was not a problem between the two cities, since the people with no past couldn’t remember past conflicts, and the people with no future could only remember the agony of previous clashes. The two cities functioned separately, yet equally as doomed.

One day a beautiful young woman who’s dreams were as big as the endless possibilities of the future decided to take a long walk. Unknowingly, the girl trickled like a bead of water toward the City With No Future.

Eventually, as the sun was setting, she came across the outskirts of the City With No Future. Since, as she dressed that morning, she forgot that it gets cold at night, she found herself shivering as her breath appeared in front of her like a spirit escaping her lips.

Teeth chattering, she encountered a lone house, all rounded and padlocked, and peered into the window. There she saw a handsome young man, wrapped in a blanket, weeping. Not being able to remember that entering the homes of strangers was a dangerous business, she knocked on the door with a naive confidence, despite her shivers.

The man looked up in terror, making eye contact with the woman through the glass. He picked up a board that lay beside him and approached the door with cat-like grace. The door, thick chain preventing its opening fully, slid open, its silent hinges defied only by the slight rattling of the ever-tensing links.

“Go away” he commanded with a quaver. “I’m cold,” she replied, “Can I please come in?” The man thought about this for a moment. “I’ve let people in before and it ended badly”. “What’s before?” she asked with true blissful ignorance and a smile.

Somehow, for a moment—be it the oddness of her sudden appearance on his stoop or perhaps a slight burp in his lowest cortex—the man saw the future for a split second. It involved his lips pressed gently against hers.

The door opened, and the girl rushed in, shaking the cold from her summer dress. “Thanks,” she replied as she flopped down on the couch and pulled a blanket around her. “It’s just as cold in here”, she said. “We don’t light fires anymore. There was once a fire that leaped right out of a fireplace and killed everyone in the house while they slept!” “Wow! That is terrible. Is that going to happen tomorrow?” “Tomorrow? It happened 53 years ago!” The girl’s brow furrowed for a moment, “Ago…” And for a split nanosecond she remembered that she had once lost her baby brother to an enormous blaze.

She shook her head, smiling once more. She patted the couch beside her and lifted the blanket like a great quilted wing, inviting him to join her under the warmth.

“The last time I got under a blanket with a girl, she broke my heart”.

“But I haven’t broken your heart yet, so what is there to be afraid of?”

Against all better judgment, and perhaps because her seeming naivety only made her more beautiful in the darkened room, he moved forward. A nicer thing to consider is that perhaps the glimmer of a future with their lips intermingling acted like a gust of hopeful wind at his back, thrusting him toward her. He sat beside her and she put her arm around him with the gentleness known only to a lucky flower whose petals are caressed by the cheek of a lover.

They sat this way all night, explaining the past and the future. It was similar to a blind person attempting to tell a deaf person what it is to hear in whispered soliloquy, or a deaf person teaching a blind person to see by painting them a two dimensional picture.

As the sun rose, they knew they were in love.

“Will we be together tomorrow?” she asked. “How can we be when tomorrow doesn’t exist and I still hurt from yesterday?”

The girl got up, unable to comprehend the boy’s agony. He stayed on the couch, remembering that people mean pain.

Before she walked out the door, smiling at the possibilities laid out in front of her and unable to experience loss, she turned to him. To take a photograph of her in that second would be to spit in the face of the moment—the memory, the possibility.

She bent over him and grazed his lips with hers. Then she was gone.

Sometimes in the City With No Future, there sits a boy who imagines—if only for a split second—a vague flash of a future with a girl who sits in the City With No Past; and sometimes—if only for a split second—that same girl remembers the feeling of the boys lips pressed against her own.

©Lauren Greenwood 2013

Bark

bark

She lay in bed, eyes focusing on the darkest corners of the room as if the key to sleep was somehow tucked away in their blackness.

The dog continued to bark.

For the last seven months the dog had barked. Every morning. From 1:30am until six.

Every break in its belling provoked the vain hope that perhaps it had choked on a sharp piece of bone (placed strategically by her under the back veranda on more than one occasion). Every moment of silence was not a relief from the insufferable yapping, but rather an invitation to await to next disturbance of the night air.

She sat up in bed, staring out the window at the beast. It looked up mockingly at her window and she almost fancied the creature winked at her, although she wasn’t sure if dogs even had the ability to wink (be it malicious or accidental).

The dog’s barking seemed to her to be directly focused on her bedroom window. She could see the disruptive waves of sound emitting from the dogs throat, creating an almost mirage-like haze around the animal. Something had to be done.

She had been planning the dog’s murder for quite some time, although wasn’t yet decided on the appropriate method.

Shooting the thing with the air rifle she borrowed from her brother-in-law would prove the most satisfying, but of course, the neighbors– its owners– would begin to ask questions.

Poisoning was a good option, but somehow the passive nature of the act didn’t fit the violence of the barks.

Drowning would be fun, but the chance of suffering some injury in the process seemed too imminent.

She couldn’t think. Every thought she had was punctuated by an infernal woof.

Almost without realizing her legs lifted her out of bed and she was at the stairs. Step, yap. Step, yap. Step, yap. She made a subconscious game of descending the stairs.

In the garage her fingers danced over the handle of the shovel. The backdoor seemed to open itself.

Here boy, she called softly before reaching her neighbors gate. The barking stopped as if the dog was in on some sick joke. The latch lifted. Inside, the barking had turned to a barely audible growl.

Here boy, she whispered. The dog approached slowly, comforted perhaps by familiar scents or sounds.

It walked up to her and sat with an arrogance that irked her more than the barking.

Before the beast could wag its tail thrice she had almost decapitated it with a swooping swing of the shovel.

It’s last noise, to her joy, was a weak whimper– not a bark.

She suddenly grew very tired and realized she didn’t have the energy nor the desire to dispose of the corpse.

Finally I can get some sleep, she thought, and yawned as she shuffled back to bed.

Shrill screams were her alarm clock the next morning. She had a good day.

 

©Lauren Greenwood 2013

Watch Sarah Smoke

watch sarah smoke

“It takes me five minutes to smoke a cigarette”.

This comment reverberated inside Sarah’s head for a good five minutes before she fully realized the implications of this comment. “Exactly five?”, she asked Tina. “To the second”, was the reply.

That was the only assurance Sarah needed. It was decided: she would take up smoking.

Sarah’s problem with time had been acute for many years prior. Clocks mislead her, watches were bulky and inconvenient, even the sun sometimes alluded her when it disappeared behind a mass of cloud. Yet, at this moment, after so many years of being late, she had figured out that smoking would be her answer.

After a little thought, Sarah had come to the conclusion that the time it takes to smoke a cigarette was a more accurate measure of five minutes than any quartz watch on the market. Her new way to measure time was not in minutes, but in cigarettes. One cigarette equals five minutes. A seemingly seamless plan, in her eyes. Later that afternoon Sarah headed to the convenience store and bought her first pack of cigarettes.

The next morning, Sarah awoke at eight. Her life as a smoker was about to begin. She had her first cigarette already waiting for her with a lighter close at hand. She had to be at work at nine: twelve cigarettes’ worth. Without hesitation she flicked the lighter and inhaled.

It was much more difficult than she had anticipated. Smoking in the shower proved difficult, and smoking while preparing her breakfast left her with an ashy taste in her mouth. Yet, her desire for punctuality prevailed, and she continued to puff away. Time was easy to tell now, it was only a matter of counting the number of cigarettes she had smoked and multiplying that by five. By 8:59 there were only a few millimetres of cigarette left, so she knew she was on time. She headed up to the office, albeit huffing a little on the way up the last flight of stairs.

During her lunch break she smoked nine cigarettes and was perfectly punctual upon returning to her office. At this point Sarah was confident that her plan was flawless.

Yet this new way of telling the time had many other implications. Whenever she needed to measure time, no one wanted to be around her for fear of the cloud of smoke that constantly surrounded her, choking out all life in the vicinity. Her nieces and nephews refused to come near her, as they gagged and coughed when she was within twenty feet. At work, if she had a meeting to attend, she had to go out on the fire escape, as the building was smoke-free. This presented a problem, as she couldn’t get anything done all day until her meeting took place. If her meeting was at three she would merely sit on the rail and smoke for the whole morning and early afternoon. Her job was threatened many times because of this habit, but every time her managers came out to chide her, they always ended up partaking in the habit and five minutes later they would walk away clicking their tongues.

After many years of this method of time keeping, people were still remarking on Sarah’s amazing punctuality, although they also noted her sallow complexion, hacking cough, and general sickly appearance. Not to mention the almost unbearable stench that emanated from here mouth, clothes, and hair. Even her eyelashes carried the smell of smoke with them, and with every blink a wafting of stale cigarette odour could be detected.

It wasn’t long before Sarah went to the doctor because she was feeling a little unwell (of course before her appointment she had to smoke 27 cigarettes to make sure she was on time). When she finally sat down in the examination room, the doctor took one look at her and said, “My God woman, I’m surprised you’re still living and breathing”. Although, what she was doing couldn’t really be described as breathing. It was more of a shallow rattling. After doing some tests and diagnostics and prognostics he found that Sarah was, indeed, quite ill. “Sarah, your smoking has taken a severe toll on your health. As it stands, you have at least 135 diseases, some of which haven’t even been discovered yet. The reality is, medically, you shouldn’t be alive at all anymore. You have two weeks to live.”

Sarah was taken aback by this news. Could her foolproof plan for being on time have a drawback she hadn’t foreseen? Yes, it could and it did. Sarah was dying and had been for some time. Now time, that which she strove to befriend, was her ultimate enemy.

Yet Sarah felt she couldn’t stop her time keeping, on the contrary, this would be the ultimate test of the accuracy of smoking as a time keeper. If it truly was as accurate as she thought, perhaps in death she would receive some sort of recognition for her efforts. After walking out of the doctors, she lit up again frantically. She rushed to her car, clutching for a calculator. She needed to figure out how many five minutes were in two weeks.

It was a huge undertaking. Sarah would smoke for two weeks straight to put her system to the test. She enlisted the help of family and friends, who’s primary task was to ensure she smoked the entire time (sometimes deep brown drool would attempt to carry the lit cigarette with it onto Sarah’s shirt front). Each night she stayed up as long as she could, smoking all the while. When she collapsed from disease and exhaustion, she instructed her loved ones to place a cigarette in one nostril while she slept, taking care to plug the other one. And of course, she demanded that they keep track of the number of cigarettes. They were also to keep the butts from her nightly smoking so she could verify the number in the morning. With each day, Sarah would wake feeling closer to death, which only helped to reinforce her confidence in the system. One week, twenty three hours and fifty minutes after her first cigarettes when she left the doctors, Sarah was wheezing heavily, sprawled out on her bed. There were only two cigarettes left. She smoked the first. She lit the second, bringing it shakily to her mouth with a skeletal hand. Her family came in closer, waiting for signs of the life to escape her. Her last puff of the second cigarette was drawn in. The tobacco crackled menacingly as the last millimetres were burned by Sarah’s inhalation. Everyone around her also took in a breath and held it. She exhaled. She looked around. She took in a breath of oxygen, as everyone else let theirs out.

Six minutes and thirty seven seconds after her last cigarette, Sarah was dead with the knowledge that all along her system had been flawed, and that her wasted life was for naught.

 

©Lauren Greenwood 2013