SHORT STORIES

The Crazy Man

by Howell Hurst


howell hurst

The milk is sour. I only bought it yesterday, but it is definitely sour. I pour it into the kitchen sink, drop the carton to the floor, stamp it flat as an anemic pancake, and toss it into the waste basket. There is a hole in the wastebasket through which the last ounce of leftover milk gurgles onto the floor. Dropping to my knees, I sop it up and a straggly string from the rag I am using wiggles off and sticks to the floor, consummating its relationship with some previously positioned, rancid marmalade of the long defined past.

I bend again to my knees and scrape it all up with a case knife, which, in the process, breaks. I poke the two pieces of the knife into the wastebasket and open the fridge to get another carton of milk. The refrigerator light flashes and burns out, leaving the insides entirely dark.

The next carton I retrieve is chocolate milk. I want a bowl of cereal. I do not like chocolate milk on my cereal, so I return it to the fridge and close the door. Almost. The hinges stick and the door will not close completely. I push and hear a grating, push harder, and the upper hinge cracks, leaving the door hanging from the bottom hinge only.

The upper portion falls to the cabinet top where it chips the porcelain of the sink. Pulling the fridge from the wall in order to face it against the cabinet, and thereby temporarily holding the door shut, I pull a muscle in my back. As I wait for the pain to subside, somehow the fridge’s electric cord short-circuits, flashing sparks which scatter into the wastebasket and ignite the paper nestled therein.

As I attempt to draw water from the tap with which to quench the flames, the faucet handle breaks loose and water squirts into my eyes, temporarily blinding me. Unable to see, I step accidentally on the tail of the cat, which has slipped unseen into the kitchen, drawn I must assume, by the smell of the sour milk.

It screams, frightening me. I jump again, hit my head on the low hanging lamp that my wife has told me endless times to raise, and I fall to the floor.

The flames leap from the wastebasket to the curtains, which, being light cotton, catch immediately and ignite the wallpaper, which I only last night repaired with fresh, and apparently highly flammable, glue.

It is a scant five seconds before the wood framing of the wall is ablaze. The cat scratches my leg and I scream, attracting the dog, who grabs the cat over eagerly in its jaws and breaks its neck. My three year old daughter enters, sees the dying cat, and breaks into wilder screams, attracting my son dragging his panda bear behind him. The bear’s leg catches in the wastebasket and the boy immediately bolts from the flaming room, pulling behind him into the dining room, both basket and flames, spreading yet further the fire.

We all get out of the burning house in time to save ourselves, but outside I remember . . . I have left $25,000 cash in the cookie jar. A postman restrains me from entering the house, but I break his arm to get away from him, and he sues me successfully in civil court for $100,000 and eventually I am convicted in criminal court for assault and battery.

My wife divorces me, and the judge, due to my violent nature he says, refuses to grant me visiting privileges with my children. My Facebook Friends start passing around nasty notes about me on the Internet before the whole world; seems they had a grudge against me for some reason back in high school, and Monday morning my boss told me he’d read them and was firing me in a general downsizing of his small business as a large multinational corporation started knocking him out of the market by price fixing. I am three days short of retirement funding.

Remorseful, I buy a .357 magnum and shoot him squarely between his eyes, for which I am – rightly so - convicted and sentenced to twenty years, with parole possible at seven with good behavior. However, as fate will have it, after two years of doing time the prison is destroyed by an earthquake, and in the hubbub I get away to hide in the giant national forest nearby. For twenty years I live off nuts and berries until I am an old man, then return to civilization disguised by a long, gray beard and a bushy head of hair.

I am determined this time to make a go of it.

However, as I am crossing the street one morning, a terrorist kidnapping a school bus sideswipes me, careening into a lamp, knocking the driver unconscious, whereupon the bus overturns, trapping the children inside. Just as I get the door open, freeing the little tykes, a passing elephant recently escaped from the city zoo when a street gang busted the gates down, tramples upon and crushes one of my legs.

My new crutches collapse on me and a splinter of it catapults into the air, entering the eye of a passing grandmother out on a stroll through the park. In anguish, she beats me into submission with her pink umbrella. Retreating from her onslaught, I pray for deliverance. Heaven opens up, the entire scene is drenched in a torrential rain, which turns to hail, causing the temperature to drop to twenty-five below zero accompanied by gale-like winds, bringing it all down to a wind chill factor of fifty below.

Public transportation and communication are halted by the elements, all business terminates, the Governor calls out the National Guard, and I, according to the judge having frightened the elephant, am cited this time for cruelty to animals. The jury decides I am criminally insane and they put me away in one of those places where every one is far, far over the edge. I am aghast at first, horror struck, panic stricken, and petrified. I am determined to escape.

Except . . . soon I notice that the fridge works and the milk is always sweet. There are no small children, no terrorists, no street gangs, and no estranged wives or vicious old ladies. The place is totally peaceful. We talk a lot of nonsense all day, sleep long nights, eat well, have no work to do and don’t have to pay taxes.

I have yet to note a single rampaging elephant on the place. Matches are forbidden, it’s all in a valley and therefore has no lightning bolts, the temperature is mild, providing moderate weather, making us all frisky as goats. They let us range freely over twenty acres of land. There is a dark, tall, stone wall to keep us from escaping. But why should we want to? The other day they gave me a Ballolamy or Bollotomy, something like that, and I have developed amnesia. I can’t remember my name, where I am, where I came from, or how this story even started. Since it’s being written on an old computer I found that is broken and won’t let me back up, I guess I must simply just watch where all this leads, creativity, in my case, being a totally positive experience, which fully enhances my already bucolic days.

They’ve put me in a private room where, for some technical reason I cannot fathom, the wiring in the computer now causes it to obliterate every word as I write, so that not even the last word behind me is available for reference. I’m sleeping a lot between writings and can imagine that the sense of the thing must be slightly obtuse by now. It doesn’t, however, seem to me that it would be fortuitous, or courageous, not to complete the work, it having got this far.

You know, I’ve heard, say, that a million monkeys with a million computers would finally create the Bible, maybe even the Koran. And with this technology at my beck and call, who knows what achievement I may attain?

I’m guessing God must be helping me, or I would certainly no longer be here mesmerizing myself with these words, one by one, to the point that the entire known universe has become for me the blank space after the last word, waiting for the next word, the sound after the last sound waiting for the next sound, the void after the last thought waiting for the next thought - the in between of it all as it mysteriously unfolds.

I’ve just discovered another person inside my head and we talk together. He asks, isn’t everything similarly so for every one if we get right down to it? Isn’t this existence, this being here at all, a dreamlike attempt to capture life as it drives on its independent way? Isn’t the sour milk the norm rather than the exception?

The burnt house, the upset wife, the accidents, the pain, the gangs, the mayhem, the frustration, the anger and the fear? How much of it truly makes any sense? Is it as we thought it would be when we, as children, first heard we were headed toward some darkly predicted death out there After an intermediately unpredictable future? Is it not entirely different from where we imagined it would be? Have not all our ideas of where we thought we would be, and what we thought we would become, have they not altered as the years have progressed, digressed, regressed, Whatever?

“Is it not so?” my friend asks.

And I ask, have I not been blessed? Have I not been rewarded to be here where my new friend and I are so happy? I wonder is it not possible that everyone else is missing the joy? Do others ever fear to fetch a carton of milk from the fridge? Is it a strain for them to look into their child’s eye? Was their job and marrying their wife, their husband, the best they could do? Or was there a better possibility? And did they try? Have they attained their enlightenment?

Although it appears that so many variations inhabit life, and despite all the anticipation and hope we attach to them, I believe there are really very few conclusions we may expect to discover. My new friend says, “how much touching, tasting, seeing, smelling, hearing, thinking, feeling, loving, hating, sensing, and simply being – all ostensibly, for naught?”

I suspect he may be right. And then, I could be wrong. He could be wrong. I’ll have to think about it some more. It needs careful examination. But not now. No. Tomorrow. That’s what tomorrow is for. There’s where the answer lies. That’s when I’ll do it. I’ll do it tomorrow. For, tomorrow . . . is another day. . .

. . . I think.



Return to home page