Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Flash Fiction Friday, Week 18: The Right Thing
The prompt this week was to spend New Year’s Eve in the same way we always do. When the clock strikes midnight, we make the same wish we make every New Year’s Eve, and then retire for the night. This year, however, when we wake up, we find out our wish has been granted. We were to share what happens. Sometimes, we really need to be careful what we wish for…
The Right Thing
“Are you sure you won’t go with me, Phil? We’re going to have cider, play canasta, and welcome in the new year.”
“Ethel, there’s no way I’m going to sit around with your friends so they can all look down on me. You know what it’s been like these past two years since my wife left me. I can’t find a decent job and I’m not taking just anything. You go on. You know I’d rather spend New Year’s Eve alone.”
“No one looks down on you, Phil. But, if you’re sure you’d rather stay home, I’ll be on my way, and I’ll be back after midnight. Happy New Year.”
Ethel’s my sister and lets me stay with her rent-free. She cooks me breakfast and gives me orange juice so I get my Vitamin C. She’s also the only one who understands my situation. One of her friends, Bill Jansen, who owns a market downtown, is always offering me a job stocking his shelves. He does it out of pity, so he can shove his goody-two-shoes attitude. I don’t need his charity.
What I need is for people to stop thinking they’re better than me. This world would be a better place if everyone was the same. Men and women still, of course, but everyone having the same stuff, the same job, etc. All equal. I wish I could live in a world like that. One other thing I need is another drink to help me ring in the new year. Another year. Big whoop. Well, it’s midnight; one last drink then pass out. I’ve already made my usual New Year’s Eve wish.
* * * * *
When I woke up, my room was dark, which was unusual since the morning sun shines directly through the window next to my bed. I reached out to pull the blinds up, but the cord wasn’t there. I sat up to find it and discovered the window wasn’t there either. What the Hell…
I got out of bed and flipped the light switch by the door. When the ceiling light came on and I looked around, I felt like screaming. This was not my bedroom. The walls were white, as were the sheets, pillowcase, and blanket on the small bed. There was also a white four-drawer bureau. What happened to the window that looked out on Ethel’s vegetable garden? Where was the full size bed with the walnut headboard and frame she purchased so I would have something more comfortable to sleep on than her couch? Where…
I opened the closet door and stifled another scream. All that hung there were several white sweatshirts and sweatpants. I’ve had some hangovers in my day, but this one beat them all. I decided the only way to shake myself out of this was to go along until I woke up. I hoped it would be soon. I was not amused.
I put on one of the outfits along with some white shoes I found in the closet. I opened the door, expecting to see Ethel hard at work by the stove. What I saw instead was a long hallway with men and women, dressed exactly as I was, moving zombie-like in both directions. One of the men approached me. The scream was pulling itself up my throat.
“Is the alarm in your room nonfunctional? I shall report it. Obtain your Number One Meal, then take your place on the line.”
When I didn’t move, he pointed to a doorway a short way down on the right.
“Obtain your Number One Meal in Room 12, but be on the line by 0900 hours. Are you unwell? Do you need reintegration?”
Reinte…what? I didn’t want to cause a commotion so I nodded and walked to Room 12 to get breakfast. Maybe that was the patients’ dining room. Ethel obviously had me committed on a 24 hour hold for my drinking. I never thought she’d stab me in the back like this, but maybe I acted out once too many times after a New Year’s Eve binge.
There were more of my fellow kooks in there, all with trays with bowls of mush and cups filled with a cloudy liquid. I was certain it was a cocktail comprised of anti-psychotics to keep us all quiet. There was a chute at the back and when one of them stood in front of it, a tray slid down. I got mine, sat down at one of the tables and dug in. The mush tasted like oatmeal and wasn’t too bad and the liquid tasted a bit like cherry soda. After I finished, I disposed of my tray down another chute and followed the others out into the hallway. Maybe it’s time for recreational therapy - making beaded necklaces. This place didn’t really seem that bad, but 24 hours of this would be my limit.
We ended up in a large room with several assembly lines. The others took their places on the line and I joined in. It wasn’t a very complicated task. All we had to do was take a small round piece of metal from a container in front of us and place it into the holder that went by on the conveyor. Job training, huh? I told Ethel time and again I wasn’t going to settle for some minimum wage job where everybody laughs at you and thinks you’re too stupid to get a better one. I decided to check myself out of this nightmare.
‘Where’s the checkout desk?” I tried to sound calm so no one would plunge a needle full of sedatives into my arm.
No one paid me any attention, until a man dressed in a dark suit grabbed my arm and ushered me back out to the hallway.
“Phil, my name’s Ralph. Let’s go back to your room and I’ll explain.”
We went in and Ralph shut the door.
“You wished for a world where everyone was the same, and I granted it. When I crossed over, I got some wings, but they won’t let me in. The guard, you might know him as St. Peter, told me I’d be able to grant wishes, but they wouldn’t let me through the gates until I did the right thing. I’ve been granting wishes all over the place, but the gates stay closed.”
I don’t know how or why, but I knew in my gut this was no drunken vision. This was real and I was scared.
“I thought it would be better if everyone was the same so nobody would look down on me, but this is worse.” Tears welled in my eyes. “Nobody cares about anyone else. This isn’t living.”
“Go back to bed and sleep, Phil,” Ralph advised. “Trust me. I think I figured out what I need to do.”
I couldn’t remember how to pray, so I just thought ‘Please’.
* * * * *
When I woke up, I was back in my room – my real room. I flung open the door and there was Ethel, humming, scrambling and telling me to drink my OJ. I ran to her, threw my arms around her and kissed her cheek.
“Happy New Year to you too, Phil,” she said, smiling. “You’re up early. Where were you yesterday? I made your breakfast and went to wake you up, but you weren’t here and your bed hadn’t been slept in.”
You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.
“Oh, no place special.”
Not special at all.
“I’m going to get the paper, Ethel.”
When I opened the front door, Ralph was there and handed me the paper. He was smiling from ear to ear.
“I got in, Phil,” he said. “In life, I went through a lot of the things you’re going through, and after I granted your wish, I sensed I should stick around to make sure you were okay. I never did that before. You were miserable, and realized your life with Ethel was what you really wanted, so I un-granted it to help you, and apparently, that was the right thing. I’m no angel yet, but doing the right thing sure felt good.”
“Thanks, Ralph. I’m going to be all right now.”
Ralph winked at me, spread his wings and took off. I knew he’d reach the rank of angel very soon.
“Who were you talking to, Phil?” Ethel asked. “It sounded like old Mr. Harper, but I didn’t think he was up and around yet after his operation.”
“Just thinking out loud, Sis,” I said. “By the way, is Bill Janson still looking for someone to stock the shelves in his market? If I’m going to help out around here, I need a job.”
“Yes, he is, and he’s always said the job’s yours if you want it. What changed your mind, Phil?”
“A night’s sleep and a favor from a friend, Ethel. A real friend who did right thing.”