Normal Story For Humans
By Lewis Edward Watts
His name was Andrew. Her name was Diana. Their son's name was also Andrew, but they called him Drew. The dog's name was Scraps.
Andrew was putting on his tie, carefully looping it around, when Diana said: “I'm not sure I love you anymore.”
“This? Again?” said Andrew. He finished the tie and turned around to look at her, the morning sun glorying her through the window, sparking her eyes, the shadow of her nose casting dry upon her cheek, and she looked at him, freshly shaved, his collar not yet put down over the tie, the lust for coffee clear in the furrow of his brow.
The ceiling fan squeaked out its ancient noise, and otherwise there was no sound between them for the better part of a minute. She looked away; she looked down into her knees, as though a solution could be found there.
“Maybe I could fall in love with you again, though,” she said.
“What an effort that would be.”
He put his collar down. She got out of bed. It had been years since she'd danced, but even in the small movement of leaving the bed she displayed great grace and balance. She came close to him. She put her hand on his cheek. The two of them went downstairs for breakfast.
Drew sat at the kitchen table eating cereal, and he'd poured some cereal on the table and was smashing it with his tiny fist, smashing cereal with one hand and eating it with the other, and the table was covered in the dust of crushed cereal bits, and as he smashed he sang: “London bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down.”
“Drew, why?” said Diana.
“Why what, mom?”
“Why would you make such a mess?”
“I hate this table. I hate this cereal.”
“Son. Don't make a mess at the table,” said Andrew.
Then Scraps came in and yipped a happy yip, the first bright yip of the morning.
“Scraps!” said Diana.
“Good old Scraps!” said Andrew.
“Who's the best dog? The world's best dog!” said Diana.
Scraps yipped delightedly, for he knew that among all dogs, all the dogs of the world that ever were or would be, he was the best, the number one dog. He stood up on his hind legs and spun around in a circle.
“Such a dog! Can you believe we have such a dog?” said Andrew.
“You are the joy of my heart, Scraps,” said Diana.
“I hate this dog,” said Drew, “I hate hate hate this dog.”
“Drew! What a shameful thing to say!” said Diana.
“I'm disappointed that you would say a thing like that, son,” said Andrew.
“I hate hate hate this dog, and when he dies I will dance, I will dance in the rotten stink of him, I will revel in his destruction.”
And there arose from the parents of Drew a great weeping and wailing, and a great shedding of tears.
“Why, God? Why does our son speak so shamefully?” said Diana.
“The doctor. You must take him to the psychiatrist. The boy's got a mental sickness, but we'll cure it. One way or another, we will make him love this dog,” said Andrew.
“Yes, yes, the psychiatrist will know what to do.”
“I will never love this dog. The dog and I could both live for eternity and nothing could make me love it, and no pills you force me to take will crack light into my everdark heart. I was born to hate. I'm not sick. I was born to hate, and that's the straight truth of the matter,” said Drew.
Andrew and Diana banged their fists on the table and wept. They did not believe him, could not believe that their son must hate as such. Scraps disappeared into another room and came back with a photo album between his teeth. His set it down on the table, nosed it open to a certain page, and yipped. Diana and Andrew raised their sullen heads.
“It's... it's pictures of our honeymoon,” said Andrew.
“There we are on the jetskis. Look how happy we are. Oh, Scraps!”
“Scraps, you rascal! You good good dog!”
And then it was time for Andrew to go to work. He drove over to the train station and took the train into town. The suburbs gave way to the city around him as he went, the little white and off-white houses slowly morphing into tall grey buildings, monuments to greed and power, wealth and privilege. Andrew focused out the window and observed the evolution of society. A woman passed by him. Their eyes met in a certain way, and soon they were fucking, right there in the train car. An old woman nearby booed and hissed them, but they paid her no heed, and they made sex, and it was much unbeautiful; it was grunting and sweating, cussing and throbbing, groping and thrusting and hot blood pumping in stressed veins. He came inside her. They hadn't used protection. Whether she would bear his child, he would never know, and for that matter, he would never spare another thought for her so long as he lived.
They got up from the floor, zipped up, and dusted themselves off. The woman disappeared. Andrew looked around the train car, and saw on the far side of it a man looking at him. Their eyes met in a certain way, and soon they were fighting, right there in the train car, kicks and punches flying left and right. The man was large, but Andrew was no dainty little thing. The old woman who had hissed earlier now whooped and cheered. People in the car placed bets, middle-aged Asian men gathered round holding fistfuls of cash and yelled in whatever kind of Chinese they spoke. The man was a better fighter than Andrew, though, and soon proved it, and he knocked Andrew to the floor with two black eyes and a missing tooth, and the fight was over.
Andrew kept his eyes down for the remainder of the train ride, and soon he stood outside his building, which was one of the very tallest, downtowniest ones. Andrew and the building stared each other down. It filled him with a strange mixture of pride and dread that this was his building. Of course, he had worked hard and achieved much, and that was why he worked in such an impressive building, but then also he was a slave to money and the building itself was a symbol of that slavery. He thought of his son, young Drew, and once he was more disgusted with his son than he was with having to work another day, he walked in the building.
There was an elevator and there were people in it, and it was somehow the same people that were always in the elevator all the time; a tall redheaded woman with one of those large but attractive noses, a couple of shorter men who worked out ferociously and it showed, a fatter young man with a contractor's badge that marked him as being different, lesser than the others. There was an older woman of average height whose face bore the damage of years of sunshine, and there was a middle-aged male executive eternally thumbing around on a cell phone, yes, even the elevator ride was time on the clock, time to check emails and accept meeting invitations. This elevator group had pressed all the buttons you might guess, twenty-two, twenty-six, thirty-seven, forty-one. Andrew scanned his badge and pressed thirty-five. Nobody spoke but the two short muscle-guys, who talked in equal parts about lifting technique and a recent land-purchase their company had made.
The elevator stopped on thirty-five and Andrew got off. He went into his big, red office. Dark red carpet, red leather chairs, a redwood desk, and a red computer. A young hotshot of the company walked into the office wearing a light blue suit, and he bore with him the essence of light blueness in this very red place. He stared at Andrew and Andrew stared back.
“Seems you lost a train fight, old man,” said the young hotshot, who was a wizard at spreadsheets, so it was told.
“A good man can lose a fight now and again,” said Andrew. He took a red apple from a drawer in his desk and crunched it.
“Is that what you are? A good man?”
“I am the man that is here. I am the man that exists. God or time will determine my goodness.”
The young hotshot chuckled. “And what if I determine your goodness, here and now? What if I call upon fate to judge you?”
“You would risk such a move?”
“I may...” the young hotshot grinned, gleaming his white teeth out at Andrew.
“You can try to undesk me, boy, but tread lightly. I, too, was young once, and am not so old just yet.”
Now is as good a time as any to mention that Andrew and the young hotshot work for a hotel company, a big hotel company known far and wide for their luxury resorts. The name of the company was Edward Hotels, Inc., and “We're staying at the Edward” was a much-celebrated phrase of vacationers everywhere.
The young hotshot took a little grey rectangle with a big red button on it out of his pocket and hovered his thumb over the button.
“If you press that button, there's no going back,” said Andrew.
“I am aware of the implications of the button!” said the young hotshot.
“You could have a bright future here by keeping your head down and putting in the time.”
“I'm coming for your job, old man.”
“Don't do it.”
“I'm doing it,” said the young hotshot, and he pushed the button.
“You were warned. Whatever happens now, you brought upon yourself.”
“Glory will come to me this day.”
The boss appeared, the old, wise boss, his face aflame with friendly wrinkles. He owned the company, the whole shebang, had started it all and guided it through thick and thin. His knowledge and experience were beyond question. He took a seat in one of Andrew's red leather chairs. He took off his glasses, breathed on them, wiped them off with a handkerchief and put them back on.
“Which one of you pressed the button?” said the boss.
“It was me,” said the young hotshot.
“Then you may start.”
The young hotshot took a proud stance and said: “Helipads and helicopter services offered at every hotel.”
The boss, a kind man, nodded with enthusiasm. He turned to Andrew expectantly.
Andrew cleared his throat, then pulled down a screen behind him and clicked a button on a small remote he had at his desk. A projector shone upon the screen, and a beautiful artist's rendering of a motel appeared. “Edward Economy Suites. An Edward experience on the cheap, suitable for any traveler or prostitute. It's a completely untapped market for us. And here,” Andrew said as he clicked to the next slide, which was a map of the USA covered in little red dots, “are potential build sites, near airports, in large cities, along major highways. Here's all the math, it all checks out,” Andrew handed a dossier over to the boss, whose eyes grew wider with every page he turned. The young hotshot's jaw dropped right to the floor.
“The contest is decided,” said the boss. “Andrew is the winner. He shall be immune to all challenges for the next five years. Young man, you may clean out your desk now, or we can clean it out for you and have your things mailed to you in a week.”
“No! My helicopter idea is brilliant! I am the rightful winner.”
The boss smiled and put his hand on the young hotshot's shoulder. “A good man can lose a fight now and then,” he said, and he walked off. The young hotshot, who was a hotshot no longer, but now one of the screaming unemployed, left the office in tears.
Andrew took another bite of his apple, then threw the rest away. His work for the day was done. He thought of his wife and son, and how their visit to the psychiatrist was going.
Back at home, Diana was getting young Drew into the car. She opened a rear door to put him in the backseat, in a kiddie seat. He stared at her with eyes of stone, eyes of fire, eyes of many thousands of birds at once, and she looked in his eyes and saw herself dying in ten different ways, crushed in a collapsed building, drowned in the sea, electrocuted in the tub, and she knew each of them all at once were the way she would die, and that her life meant nothing, never had and never would. She looked away from his eyes and felt her soul return to her. She decided not to look in his eyes again if she could help it. Had it always been this way? Had there been a time when Drew was just a sweet, innocent baby? She couldn't summon a clear memory of him any way other than how he was right at that moment. She looked in his eyes again, where all her many deaths awaited her. She felt the need to cry, but also the inability to cry, and she tried to remember the last time she had cried, but had she ever cried? Who had kept score? She looked to the sky.
Who was keeping score?
“I'll be sitting in the front seat, mom. But I tell you now, it is pointless. This whole trip is pointless. But I'll go. I'll go to show you how pointless it is. No doctor can cure me. You can't cure what is not a sickness. I am not like you think I am.”
Diana looked at Drew's feet. “Honey, I'm sure the doctor will have lots of interesting things to talk with you about. Try and be positive. One way or another, you will love Scraps. You have to. He's an unbelievably good dog.”
“I see it will do no good to discuss this with you. Let's go.”
They got in the car. Drew snatched the auxiliary cable and plugged in his phone. He put on Philip Glass' album The Photographer and sat, absorbing. Diana dared not turn the music down. As she drove she was less and less sure where she was, and the city that had always seemed to familiar and welcoming to her suddenly turned hostile. She searched the sky for any clouds to block the oppressive sunlight; it was just too bright, a brightness that gave no joy to the soul; the Sun seemed not bountiful and smiling but labored and taxed. Only yesterday the sun had been so delightful, and the light it gave was a happy yellow, filled with the childish memories of dandelions in summer. Now the light seemed not yellow but white, bone white, concrete white, sizzling and ghostly, and all the world baked.
Diana noticed the car was running low and pulled into a gas station. She set the pump to fill and went inside to get a Diet Coke. The world warped as she went into the gas station. A darkness was lifted from her life. The colors were so bright. She remembered times she had cried. She remembered Drew as a baby. The sunlight outside was inviting and yellow. The clerk smiled at her. She bought her Diet Coke and went back to the car, and the sunlight turned white hot again. She looked at Drew. She shuddered. They drove on.
They reached the building and took the elevator up to the psychiatrist's office. The waiting room was full of society's most terrified and unlovable people. There were bald men with buck teeth and stained shirts, and women in their forties who had come with their mothers, there were teenagers nervously thumbing through magazines and parents busy on cell phones, there were people twitching and humming, and people crying and shaking. Diana and Drew took their seats.
“You are sadly mistaken if you think I'm one of these people, mom,” said Drew.
“Honey, be quiet, they'll hear you.”
“Oh, and what then? A bunch of sad, maladjusted freaks will hear me and what? They'll attack me? Or will it be worse than that? You will feel embarrassment? Isn't that the ultimate form of suffering, to feel embarrassed?”
A patient made eye-contact with Drew, gasped, then quickly turned away. The doctor appeared in the doorway past the waiting room.
“Drew?” he said.
Diana and Drew stood up and walked into the psychiatrist's office. It was a nice office, wooden desk and shelves made of a wood Diana couldn't identify but which looked expensive, an old-looking globe stood on the desk as well as a plentitude of papers. The shelves were full of books and the walls were covered with honors and diplomas and degrees of various kinds.
“Drew, this is Doctor Fellbrook,” said Diana.
“Drew, nice to meet you.” Fellbrook extended his hand. Drew shook his hand and looked into his eyes. Fellbrook smiled. “Sit down, sit down. Tell me, what's going on?”
“Drew has been talking a lot about hating our dog, Scraps. He says he's going to dance when Scraps dies. Only he said it in such a horrible way, he said he was going to revel, and he says he was born to hate, and he hates lots of things, and we're not sure what to do.”
Fellbrook wrote something down on a notepad and nodded. “Drew, what do you have to say about all this?”
“I was not meant to exist. I am the thing that should not be. I am a cosmic accident. I am mathematics and probability turned bad. Human blood flows through my veins, but I am no human. I was born to hate, and all the forces of Heaven and Hell working in union could not stop my hatred. I will fritter about on this planet for a time, and when I go none will speak of me, none will remember me, it will be as though I never existed, and at that time I never will have. I am of this moment. I am made of time.”
Fellbrook looked into Drew's eyes again, and this time Drew showed him all he had to show. He dropped his notepad and pen. His pupils dilated. His heartbeat increased.
“What are you?”
“There's never been a thing like me.”
“Are you an angel?”
“There's never been a thing like me.”
“Are you the devil?”
“There's never been a thing like me.”
“Are you a god? Are you a spirit? Are you a thought made flesh?”
“There's never been a thing like me.”
Fellbrook slumped in his chair and yanked at his hair a bit. He collected himself. He looked at Diana. She looked back.
“Doctor, isn't there anything you can do?”
Fellbrook's eyes returned to normal. He shook himself out a bit and put his smile back on. “300 milligrams daily of fibroxidol. 40 milligrams nightly of entethlocene. I'll write you a prescription with infinite refills. Please never come here again.”
And they left.
Back at home, Drew went silently to his room. Diana went to the kitchen and sat at the breakfast table. It had been over a decade since she'd smoked a cigarette, and she didn't know where the pack in her hand had come from, she could not remember buying it, but here it was, and she smoked one cigarette after another, right there in the kitchen, until Andrew got home.
“You're smoking again.”
“How did it go?”
“I can't remember what happened.”
“It's a blur. There was the car and the city and Drew, always Drew, and we were in a doctor's office and I got these prescriptions but I don't know what they're for, and when I think of what the doctor looked like, all I can imagine is a human body with a burning ring for a head, just a ring of fire and diamonds for teeth. I'm not even sure if we saw a doctor. Everything is getting so fuzzy. I need to get a job. You stay home from now on. You stay home and take care of him. I need to be out, I need to be away, just for a few hours a day, please, please. Let me out. Let me out.”
And then Scraps walked into the room. He gave a halfhearted yip.
“Scraps!” said Diana.
“Scraps!” said Andrew. “There's our best boy in the whole world! How we doing, champ?”
Scraps gave another halfhearted yip. He was breathing heavy. Drew came into the room.
“It is time,” said Drew.
“No!” said Diana.
“Time for what?” said Andrew. “Time for what!”
Scraps threw up on the floor, a sickly green stew of bile and brown dog food bits. Drew started dancing, a jumpy-stompy dance, and shouted out “Dead dog dance! Dead dog dance!” and Scraps collapsed onto the floor, breathing heavier and heavier each second, and blood dripped slowly from his eye-sockets onto the floor, and he whined and howled but lost his breath, and tried to whine and howl and couldn't, and wheezed pitifully, and Drew with his jumpy-stompy dance and “Dead dog dance! Dead dog dance!” and Scraps tried to pick himself up but couldn't, and kept falling back down onto the floor and blood came from his mouth, too, he coughed it up in between gasps, and he stopped breathing, and his little body wretched there on the floor and convulsed, and he threw up once more, a putrid mix of bile and blood and he died, and Drew danced his jumpy-stompy dance all around the kitchen, shouting “Dead dog dance! Dead dog dance!” and Scraps' dead body gave one last heave, and a cloud of live gnats came out from Scraps' mouth and flew all around the room, and his hair fell off almost all at once, and the clock on the wall ticked twelve times per second, a machine gun of a clock firing off seconds, and the lights flickered and dimmed and came back up brighter than ever before, and Scraps' skin started to sink, started to sink around his bones until his bones were clearly showing through the skin, and maggots tore through the skin, and Drew kept up his dance his jumpy-stompy jumpy-stompy jumpy-stompy dance dance dance and “Dead dog dance! Dead dog dance!” and Scraps' skin disintegrated before their very eyes, and the maggots ate all there was of his guts and his organs and crawled away til only bones remained, and the bones collapsed on each other and Drew crushed the bones under his feet until they were naught but powder, and though all the doors and windows were closed a breeze came through the house and dissipated the bone powder until nothing remained and “Dead dog dance! Dead dog dance!” and Andrew and Diana wailed, and begged God to tell them why, why was this happening, how could this happen to them, but God only laughed, you know, God thought these guys were one hell of a show.