Today Malcolm Steadman is a consummate professional. Tomorrow he will be a consummate professional. In 35 days he will buy a gun. Isn’t growth fun?
Malcolm was sitting at his work desk trying his best not to lick the microphone attached to his headset which was currently dangling in front of his mouth. It was a compulsion that he would never admit having to others (but was somehow perfectly okay with expressing the portents of doom he once foresaw from toast), and was completely embarrassed by. Yet, it was a compulsion that he had all the same. The microphone was just far away enough from his mouth that he could touch it with the tip of his tongue with ease. It was this very ease of action that tempted him so badly to do it, but he restrained.
While his coworkers had a palaver about time spent shopping, barbecuing, and binge watching shows, Malcolm kept quiet about his own “adventures”. Malcolm’s past week included long walks to find his former roommate heroin addict, a rumination on Dr. Walter Freeman, and failed attempts at trying to self justify his new hobby of spying on his neighbors. Though he wanted Karen’s opinion on Dr. Freeman, she was busy small talking with her other neighbor. It would have to wait. He was jealous of the banana she was eating for breakfast, as he had none to eat himself.
Once eight o’clock struck the clock, Malcolm’s headset vomited out the “waiting” music, some sour ‘90s pop song …And so, the workday began.
Malcolm was nothing but professional that day, even as he secretly held back an urge to lick his microphone.
The first hour went by quick. He assisted two people with their modems and scheduled a repair for another. Nothing of value or worth happened in that time.
…And then she called.
There was nothing immediate about the call to warn Malcolm of his impending Existential Terror. There were no signs or omens that would have helped him steer clear of the paralyzing self-doubt and paranoia that would grip him by the throat. There were none, of course, except for one, which he totally failed to notice.
Weeks ago Malcolm’s phone service was shut off. This is something that happens when you are homeless. Though he still carried it around with him for its other gimmicks (like being a very expensive alarm clock) it now failed at servicing calls or texts. Thus, his phone number was recycled to another customer.
This was not, in of itself, a bad thing. This happened all of the time. But then the new owner called with a problem.
As the woman on the other side of the phone recited her phone number, Malcolm punched it into the number pad on his keyboard absent-mindedly. It was not until he had entered the last digit, and had hit enter by habit that he realized that the number used to be his own. Two accounts popped up, one this woman’s, the other his.
Her’s was a simple question, one that could easily be solved by asking her to unplug her modem and plug it back in. This was the majority of problems that he vetted. He talked without thinking, he was on auto pilot from learned behavior and habit from his repetitive job. He opened his old account.
This had the same effect as opening an old coffin: intellectually you know what you are going to find, but the reality is always far worse. Malcolm was presented with a wall of dense text. The first date made about eight months back. While he droned on to the customer at the other end of the line, he read his account.
Entropy. No free will. Depression. Anxiety. Loneliness. Toast.
“Yes ma’m the lights should be flashing back on in just a moment” he said as he read on.
Lovesick. Unfulfilled. Causation. Mortality. End in themselves. Pancakes.
“I can hold as you do that” he said.
This was a list of all of his woes, all of his insecurities and indisputable proof that he was toys in the attic, truly gone fishing, must have taken his marbles away crazy. The time he had embarrassed himself on a “date”. The time he had called in because of the obvious correlation of chocolate usage and giraffe mortality rate that had sent his head spinning. The time that he ate 7-11 hot dog chili crammed into a bag of Fritos and slept under a tree. This was his testament.
And there, near the end of the notes, was Karen’s name.
Insert laugh track. Audience applause. Commence schadenfreude.
His only friend, the only person he was truly excited to talk to? Well, she knew that he was Muppets on ketamine insane the whole time.
Malcolm’s world suddenly became claustrophobic. Details around him lessened as he felt reality converge around him like a noose. For a solid, solitary minute, there was nothing but his own breathing and the labored sounds of a woman fumbling around with a LAN cable in his ear. Then, there was just the sound of his own mind sputtering as it drowned in itself.
How had this happened? When did this go so wrong? This had felt like an eternity, yet, not even a year ago Malcolm sat in his apartment, his only concern watching the jigsaw puzzle on his table gathering dust. How had he fallen this far?
He was so much weirder than he used to be. He was so normal. Now? Now he was broken, and no one was around to see where the pieces went. Except for Karen.
Something happened then that should have happened long ago. Something that Malcolm was always capable of, but lacked the confidence to let it happen without question. Malcolm Steadman thought positively.
He was strange in more ways than he could count. Was emotionally unstable, chemically unstable, and dealt with his problems not at all. He was all of this, and he still had a friend.
This was not something that Karen had learned about gradually. This was not a skeleton in the closet that was revealed with ghastly effect down the line. No, he was somehow accepted and liked despite his lunacy.
This was worth knowing. This was needed. Maybe he should drop his plan. Maybe, despite everything that he believed, there was hope.
“Sir?” the woman on the line queried, snapping Malcolm back into reality.
“Ah, yes?” he responded.
“I thought I lost you, thought that the call was dropped.”
“No, uh, my headset just got unplugged” he lied.
“Is my blue light supposed to be blinking?”
He hung up.
You are caught up. There is no more to read. Don’t panic! Because I lied there is more…
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