Thomas Packman sats in his room, making a new list. This was a list which he would pin next to all the others, on the cork board, next to his computer desk. He would (probably) use a red or a blue pin to put the list up – these two seem to be the dominant colours in the most recently purchased pin bag. This new list would probably go under the weeks shopping list, and beside the long unaltered Girls I Have Had Sex With list. Lists mean order, and we need order, thought Thomas, putting the final touches (having decided to turn the -'s into +'s) on his new To Do list. On final inspection, everything seemed to be in order:
+ Buy groceries
+ Pay phone bill
+ Letter of Resignation
Thomas, with the sense of satisfaction that comes from having truly achieved something for the morning shining in his mind, decided that he could take the rest of the morning off, and get started on the list in the PM. 'Might as well spend the morning jerking off to porno thumbnails on Google Images. Why not. Treat myself. I have earned a break'. Etc.
As 1pm rolled around, Thomas is feeling increasingly nauseous. Could be the result of three hours over-stimulous and relentless self-abuse, but is more likely a side effect of the new sleeping pills his doctor has him on. Big, obnoxious looking red pills, but christ, they lay out out flat. The entire ordeal would be better titled temporary coma, rather than 'sleep'. Closing his eyes, fluorescent colours swam like spilled oil in rainwater.
“Those fuckers” he thought.
“Oh Christ” he thought.
“I should go to the store” he thought.
Walking to the supermarket, he feltnothing but anger towards everyone he saw. Fucking kids in their weird baggy clothes. Old people and their sense of entitlement, their free bus rides. Middle aged mid-day drunks picking up cigarette butts out of the gutter to re-roll. Obese teen mums sweating over their children.
“There is something wrong with me. We should love our neighbours, or something”.
Bearded women. Handicapped me choking themselves at bus stops and screaming 'let me out'.
Thomas can at least empathise with the last group.
The supermarket was crowded, but seemed like a bastion of calm civility compared to the manic, overpowering streets surrounding, where humanity overflowed.
There are rules to supermarket shopping, and rules mean order. You line up, and you're polite. Because otherwise, the whole god damn thing falls apart, and everyone has to go back to hunting our own potato chips and juice boxes. This is the kind of regression we need rules to avoid, thinks Thomas, standing in line.
The checkout girl smiled at Thomas. She was kind of cute, and Thomas smiled back, wondering if smiling was in their contracts, as some sort of explanation, before realising that even if it is, who cares.
“Have a nice day”
Walking home, Thomas ignored almost everything, staring fixedly at the pavement. Even the broken glass and asphalt cracks provided minimal distraction, as he went about mentally composing his letter of resignation. By the time he was kicking his stuck front door, the letter had arrived at its final form.
Dear Sir / Madam,
Please take this letter as notice of my intention to cease employment, effective two weeks from the date of this letter. I thank you for the employment opportunity you have provided, and feel that things have gone well. It has been a pleasure working for your company. This is an “it's not you, it's me” kind of resignation. By way of explanation – I am simply no longer in need of employment. I would appreciate it if my accrued holiday pay could be included in my next pay cheque, if this is possible.
'This is a good letter', he thought.
'Maybe my best effort yet. Saves me having to talk to them, too, which is a bonus'.
Carefully reaching over the humming computer, Thomas unpinned his to-do list and black lines through two of the items. Letter and shopping. Done. Five minutes later, another black line. The phone line would stay connected for the next month, at least.
Thomas stared for a few minutes at the list's final item. Just four letters – R.S.V.P. These four letters had made it through the last three Saturday's to do lists. His head hurt just thinking about it, but he knew what was required. He had to get it in the post tomorrow, or it would be too late. He could feel his brain pounding at his skill as he pulled the invitation from the desk's drawer. The familiar crest at the top meant more headache.
“These cowards”, thought Thomas.
Class of '99. Ten year reunion!
His vision narrowed as he tore the perforated bottom off the letter. His glasses slid down his nose as he ticked the form's “Attending” box.
It is important that you R.S.V.P BY WEDNESDAY 16 MAY to ensure we can book for the correct numbers.
For weeks, the invitation had been pinned to the cork board. Sitting right under the “List of People Who Fucked Me Over”. This was the longest list, amongst a large collection. It was a list dominated by high school class mates, and so this this seemed like the natural place for this sort of invitation.
“These cowards”, thought Thomas. He had, after two weeks, put the invitation away in the drawer. It had become painful to look at, especially right next to the List. A single glance its way could meant being hit with memories which felt like a sack of hammers, falling from a great height.
“These fucking cowards. As if the ever present sour-milk taste from expired milk enjoyed across the table from this week's New Dad wasn't enough. As if being legally fucking blind wasn't enough. The petrol-drunk mind fuck weekends trying to escape it all had been in vain. The electro-radiance of flashing screens and 10c space invaders to get away from it all really didn't mean shit when Monday mornings kick in the teeth rolled around. There was no escape. No escape, and no sleep”.
Thomas knew he would go, and he would set things right. Looking at the completed R.S.V.P form, he wanted to scream at it.
“My blood is thick now! My eyes are clear! I will prove you wrong. You bastards. I could break all the glass in the world with these eyes now, and I will break their windows. They will shatter”.
There was two weeks left at work until the reunion, and the days passed like clockwork. Thomas was methodical in his job – processes were established, and followed to the letter. He found the cleaning work relaxing, and enjoyed the fact it meant avoiding ever having to talk to the public.
Later, his boss would describe him as a 'conscientious worker', who 'kept mostly to himself'.
Thomas had worked nights before the sleeping pills. They let him go in whenever, as long as it was after 6pm. Might as well work later, rather than thrash around in bed at home, fighting the hallucinations and restless ghosts that circled in his bedroom. Might as well go mop some floors and watch the walls melt, listing to his own brain sing sing singing out in deserted office blocks. This had been his logic for night work, but after the pills, he started going in earlier. The walls now blurred, rather than melted. His brain hummed, rather than sang. It was a reduction of all things, and he felt Better. Still not good, but Better.
Every night after coming home from work, Thomas would take the small grey shoebox out from under his bed, lifting the lid off.
“You're the only one I ever loved”, Thomas would say to the box. This wasn't necessarily true – he thought he loved his mother, too. He knew he would have cried, had she died before him. It was just that Thomas liked to dwell in the affect of his shining, heartfelt love for the box. To explore the tragic fate they now shared, and cherish it.
On the Thursday before the Saturday of the Big Event, Thomas found his bank account flush, with five weeks worth of holiday pay. $2,000.00.
“This is my life, in totality”.
On the Saturday, the day of the Big Event, Thomas walked to the shopping centre. Today, there was no need to write a lift – two weeks of mental planning had etched the day's progress all over his brain. He was focus and purpose, for the first time in countless years.
Buy a suit for the evening - $1,189.00.
Buy new shoes - $109,99.
Get a haircut - $30.00
Post a letter to Mum in Auckland – 50c.
He didn't care about the money. He spent freely, cherishing the experience. Wanting to look his very best. Tonight is a special occasion, after all! Hours wound past, and his nerves built up. At home he was in a pacing, shivering kind of mood. The internet bored him. The television was a disappointment, like usual, and in his time killing mood his hatred towards it was only affirmed.
“God damn Dr. Phil telling people how to live their lives. Fucking movies about girls and their horses. Stupid music videos. Endless loops of soldiers with legs blown off. I don't need you, television. Goodbye, television”, Thomas shouted at no one in particular. He felt like punching the wall, just for something to do. He checked, and re-checked the box, and finally decided to take a walk around the block, fists clenching and unclenching as he walked.
“Houses”, he thought.
“Trees”, he thought.
“People”, he thought.
“Animals”, he thought.
“Fences”, he thought.
“Shops”, he thought.
“Insects”, he thought.
“Cars”, he thought, the meditative rhythm of simple thought dulling the jagged edge he felt he'd spent the last ten years walking on. The sun was setting behind an abandoned house.
At 6.34pm, Thomas ordered a taxi. The invitation had said 7.00pm, but he hadn't wanted to be early. There's usually no rush, at these things. No point in seeming desperate, and all that.
When he heard the taxi's tyres at the start of the long gravel driveway, Thomas opened the box, glancing towards the Glock 17 which lay on inside on a bed of folded napkins.
“You're all I've got” he whispered, before slipping the pistol into the inner pocket of his suit jacket. It felt right, there. When he had purchased the pistol, years earlier, Thomas had been made to swear a declaration to only use it for sport, or in self defense. He found himself still smiling at the absurdity of this as he got into the front seat of the taxi.
The taxi ride was pleasant. The driver, a Samoan man with a wide smile, talked religion with Thomas.
“There is something for all of us after we die, you know, this is what the bible says. We find salvation, then. We are with God.”
“I don't know about religion. All I know is that no priest ever did shit to help me out, excuse the language. But maybe you're right. That's a god thing, though, and maybe a soul thing. Right now, we're stuck on people things. I'm stuck on people things, anyway”.
This was the final exchange, as the taxi pulled into the hotel's fore-court.
“$26.80. We'll call it $25.00 though, eh?” smiled the taxi driver.
“I have around $800.00 here. I don't need it any more. I want you to have it. Please, take it. I promise you, I don't need it. So take it! I am just going to leave it here. You'll never see me again, probably. Just do me one favour. Don't let it touch the hands of a priest. Spend it on yourself, or your family. Do something nice. Live life, or something”.
And Thomas was unburdened. No more job. No more money, just him, a heavy pocket and a high school reunion.
This is people stuff.
Inside, Thomas took his seat at the assigned table. The pleasantries were already in full swing.
“St Pauls High School – Class of '89 – The Best Time of Our Lives!” hung on a banner, in the school colours. Thomas felt sick again. Saw the oily colours floating again. The conversations circling around him were all “You look fantastic” and “Haven't you done well for yourself!”. He was himself subjected to the same set of questions and declarations. Oh, they were all so nice to him now. So damned polite and grown-up, everyone looking their best. Any failure was made invisible, at things like this. These cowards, acting like nothing had happened. Flashing their teeth at him like it wasn't these same mouths that had meant ten years sleepless and fucking terrified and alone. Thomas felt his heart thump against the gun's cold metal, and knew what was necessary.
As he reached into his pocket, Ashely King appeared by his side.
“Hi, Tom! It's been a while, huh?”
“It sure has. Being here... it really takes you back.”
“It does. And that's why I wanted to talk to you. Look, I know I was an asshole to you Back Then. We all were. And to be honest, I sometimes still feel bad for it. I wanted to apologise. I know it doesn't mean much now, but anyway”.
This was unexpected. They were meant to deserve what was coming, not be fucking apologising to him. Ashley was never the worst of it, though. Relatively, he was a fucking saint. It was those other bastards. Chris Jordan. Kyle Smith, those types of guys. Ash didn't need to be here for this. Just the rest of them.
“It's okay, man. I try not to think about it, to be honest”. This was the truth.
“Do you think you could do me a favour, though? I left my camera in the car. My leg's still kinda busted. Don't walk so good. Maybe you could go and grab it, for me? I'm so sorry to even ask, but y'know”. This was untrue.
“Of course, no problem. Promise to send me the photos, thought?”
“It's a deal. Mine's the red Toyota, off to the left. The valet should have the keys. Camera should be under the seat, up front”. More untruth. Thomas had no idea if such a car existed.
Ashley King walked at pace out of the main room. Thomas, watching him depart, realised that he had limited time until Ashley would return.
“We could have been friends, maybe”, he thought.
Thomas checked his watch, as he climbed steadily up the stairs to the stage. 7.46pm. “Goodbye, time”. From the stage, he had a better view of the crowd of suited men, and women in bright dresses. There were no speeches planned until later, and Thomas felt conspicuous up on the stage. Usually, he hated people looking at him. Hated being the centre of attention. Right now, though, it was necessary. He screamed, at the top of his lungs.
“St Paul's High School fucking rules!”. He was met with cheers, and applause. Conversations came to a halt, with expectation. Slowly, Thomas reached into the pocket of his brand new jacket. He removed the pistol. It's smooth grip was reassuring in his hand. It gave him a new confidence. The women in the crowd screamed. The men shouted. People dove under tables, ducked behind doorways.
“These fucking cowards”, thought Thomas.
“This ones for all of you. Sleep well, you fuckers”
Thomas felt the cool metallic weight of the pistol pressed against his temple. He blinked twice, and tasted the static in the air, one last time. And finally, he let go.