Tired

“I’m tired.”

“You’re always tired.” Michelle didn’t even look at me past her newspaper. I sighed, signalling that I had heard her and I could only resign myself to agree. I was always tired. Like most of the 20-somethings with dead-end jobs and a crummy apartment on the poor side of town. I was tired of working all day only to get back home and feel like I hadn’t done anything. I was tired of coming back to an apartment that was falling apart. I was tired of looking in the mirror each morning and seeing so much misery.  Most importantly, I was tired of the sad back-and-forth Michelle and I shared. It’s not that we didn’t still like each other, but we’d already grown old in each other’s presence.

“Perhaps we should go to the park tomorrow?” I asked, maybe I would feel better if I got some fresh air.

“Nah, I have to go into work early tomorrow. Shanon’s sister is getting married so I’m covering for her.” Michelle cast her newspaper into our recycling bin. “Besides, it’s allergy season.”

I turned my attention to my eggs, which were apparently burning up in the frying pan, “Well, would you like to do anything fun at all this week?”

Michelle growled, “Don’t do this. You know I want to spend time with you, it’s not like I’m dying to work extra shifts. Though we’ll need to money if you keep ruining all of our food with your terrible cooking.” She stormed from the room, presumably to go get ready for another one of her busy days without me. I stared down at my burnt breakfast, I was weirdly empathising with the egg.

“Perhaps I’ll go to the park by myself, then.” I slid the egg onto a plate, I might as well eat it.

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Happy Birthday

I licked the marshmallow fluff off my fingers. “You know this is rather unconventional.” I said, grabbing the mixing bowl from the counter. “I know, but I’d so much rather have fudge for my birthday than cake. Besides, it’ll just be us so I don’t see any problems with it.”

I rolled my eyes, “I told you we could invite people over. You insisted we just stay in and watch movies on Netflix. That was not my idea and you don’t get to pin it on me.”

She laughed, “I know that, silly. I hate cake anyway, so I’m not sure what we’re even arguing about.”

I shrugged, “I’m just making sure we all remember whose idea this was.”

“Well, next year I’ll let you throw me a huge dinner party. But this year isn’t special enough for that kind of thing.”

“What? This is so a very special year. You’ve been able to drink legally for a whole year.”

She stuck her tongue out, “Yes and it’s been horribly exciting, but hardly worth celebrating.”

I decided it was best not to argue anymore and focused on making the fudge she had requested. She was horribly infuriating, she would never let me be romantic or do anything charming for her. She was always so against me doing anything really nice for her. Some days I didn’t mind that she wasn’t a romantic, but other days I just wanted to be her prince charming.

That’s when I heard the knock at the door. Max, I told you to come tomorrow. Not today you idiot! “I’ll get it, you focus on making your fudge perfect.” She shrugged and continued working while I answered the door. “Hello birthday girl! I brought you a ton of squash.” Karen looked up in surprise, “Hey Max. I have to admit I’m a little surprised to see you here.”

“How could I miss my favorite girl’s birthday? I know, I know. You told Robbie over here not to have anyone over but I just couldn’t resist bringing you one of your favorite dishes.”

“Max, you really shouldn’t have. But I really do appreciate it.” Karen moved in for a hug and laughed, “I hope you don’t mind fudge, because we didn’t make any cake.”

Max just laughed and walked over to where our little food project was almost finished. I was furious. I cannot believe he had the audacity to come over here when I told him not to. It’s not like I wasn’t very clear with my instructions! I wasn’t mad with Max so much as I was mad that my plans were ruined. He would undoubtedly discover the pie in the back of the fridge I was saving for tomorrow’s surprise party. And he would undoubtedly eat it. Then I would be without pie and in a real bind. Not to mention I was horrified by the thought he might blurt out what we were doing tomorrow. He wasn’t very good at subtleties.

When I finally regained my composure I realized that I might not have anything to worry about. “Y’know, I always wanted to be a vet when I grew up. Now look at me, I’m twenty-two and I’m what my parents refer to as a starving artist.” Karen laughed, “Though I can’t imagine I’ll starve with all this food in the apartment.” As long as she’s the one leading the conversation maybe it will be fine. 

After an overly long evening listening to Max and Karen banter about any number of topics I mentioned that it was perhaps time for Max to go home. “Well, I can’t go home before midnight! It’s rude to duck out on a person’s birthday. I won’t have it.”

“Max, don’t be silly. You’ll be too tired to drive home at midnight.” Karen said, still laughing.

“I am not and will not. I’m sticking with you two for a while yet.” Max said, stomping his foot down with finality.

I rolled my eyes but let it drop, after all it was Karen’s birthday and I decided if she was having fun my plans didn’t need to be focused upon.

The Date

I walked up to her door and rang the doorbell. I had been rehearsing what I would say all week. I told my friends I wasn’t ready to go on a date yet but they insisted. So there I was ringing a complete stranger’s doorbell on a Friday night when all I could think about was how the cat was probably ripping up the curtains.

Then she opened the door.

She was much prettier than I expected her to be. I mean, we were already in our thirties and hardly any good women are single in their thirties. But there she was. She smiled and asked me if I intended to just stare at her all night or if I was ready to go. I laughed because I must have seemed awfully stalker-y and probably a little creepy. Just standing there. I honestly was mortified that she’d felt the need to say something.

We drove in silence. I couldn’t think of anything to say and she didn’t know how to work the radio. So there we were, in total silence. I was busy panicking thinking about all the awful things she was probably thinking about me. I thought we would never get to the parking lot. And then we were there. Suddenly I felt myself begin to do that nervous-sweating thing my mother always told me was gross. My mother had been very supportive about it. I believe she said something like, “You’ll never find a woman that will love you if you keep doing that.” That probably explains why I was tempted to shove my date out of the car and drive away.

“Aron, are you going to park the car?” She asked, her worry lines showing. “Oh-Yeah, absolutely. I was just trying to find the prime parking real-estate. Y’know. I’d hate to make a pretty girl like you walk any further than she had to.” I must’ve seemed completely unhinged because she just nodded and turned back to her cellphone. I pulled into a parking spot close to the entrance, the empty parking lot implying an empty restaurant. Crap. There won’t be enough people to be distracting. I’m going to have to talk to her. I began panicking again. “Aron, are you going to turn off the car?” I snapped back into reality and killed the engine.

~~~

He was acting really spaced out but I wasn’t terribly worried about it. In fact I was rather thrilled to have a date that wasn’t watching my every move like I was under a microscope. He was making things too easy. I glanced at my phone as we walked through the parking lot, “Are you still watching the Supernatural marathon?” I quickly shot off a reply, “Yeah, it just got to one of my favorite parts.” Emily was such a great alibi. She always felt like texting and it was easy for me to use her as my witness. I had text her earlier letting her know that I’d cancelled the date I had with this Aron guy in favor of having a night to myself. Emily didn’t argue with me over it, she was a “single woman for life” and had offered to come over and make it a girl’s night. I’d told her the dog was enough company.

We were escorted to a little table near the back of the nearly empty restaurant. It was kind of disappointing actually, that the place was almost empty. I had spent a good part of my day applying makeup and putting on the wig. Not to mention the dress I had picked out special for the occasion. It would, of course, need to be burned so it was very bothersome only a few people would ever get to see how absolutely lovely I looked in it. This night was hardly any fun at all. I was actually considering bailing when he finally started talking, “So, what is it you do for a living again?” I tried not to roll my eyes, “I work as a waitress at the diner on main street. The really old-fashioned looking place.” I was running out of professions to claim that I had which is why I resorted to saying I was a waitress. Don’t judge me.

“That sounds lovely,” -liar- “Maybe I can stop by sometime and you can show me the good stuff on the menu.”

I nodded, “Yes that sounds nice.” Then I can choke on my own vomit.

“I’ve always wondered, are people really as bad at tipping as they say?”

I shrugged, “It wouldn’t be so bad if wait staff got paid without accounting for the fact people are supposed to tip.”

“That sounds awful. Y’know, I’ve got a friend in HR in my office. I could arrange for him to interview you. You seem very smart and I bet you would like it there.” His face was contorted like he was genuinely concerned for me. I was almost regretting the disguise, clearly I was too pretty.

“That sounds very nice. I’ll have to make sure to give you my email.”

At this point the food reached our table. I was silently thanking the heavens for sending me an excuse not to talk anymore. He was making my head hurt. Calm down, he’s only making small talk. Soon this will all be over. I coached myself. This night was dragging on a lot longer than usual. Normally these middle aged guys did their best to show how much fun they could be by taking me to amusement parks and to concerts. I always got a nice token to remember them by on these adventures.  This date really sucked. There was no fun to be had in this quiet little restaurant. So I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu. He hadn’t seemed at all bothered and had even asked the waitress if she would be so kind as to get us some wine to go with our meal. I grabbed the cork. Better than nothing. 

~~~

She was acting kind of distracted and she kept checking her phone. Not that it really bothered me. I’d just left mine at home. I really should quit assuming people will want to talk to me when we go out. Everyone always has their phone anymore, dummy. Get your act together. I sighed and resigned myself to eating. The wine was wonderful, as per the usual. The waitstaff here knew me. Owning a restaurant has its perks. Cynthia, our waitress, came back over to ask if there was anything else she could get us. “No, but I have to ask – Why is the restaurant so empty tonight?” Cynthia shrugged, “There’s some big celebration being held down at Emma’s restaurant tonight. They’re doing free desserts, even if you just walk through the door. It’s ridiculous.” I nodded, at least this wouldn’t be a thing. The restaurant had experienced some hard times before but I wasn’t mentally prepared to do any firing this year. I had come to really like all of my staff. I looked across the table at Sara. She seemed to be enjoying the food. I wondered how she would feel about the dish. I had considered taking it off the menu a thousand times but people always begged me not to. It was a favorite and I respected the opinion of my diners. “How is it?” I asked.

“Fine. I would have preferred if it had a little more zing to it, but it works very well with the wine you ordered.”

“Thank you. I try to make sure the food and the drink work well together.”

“Oh, so you’re into food stuff?” She asked, looking a little incredulous.

“Well, I have familiarized myself with fine dining. I’ve tried to make it my business to know.”

She looked very unimpressed, “You must’ve traveled all over trying new dishes.”

I was a little hurt by her tone, “Yeah.”

~~~

He was so incredibly annoying. I prefer when they don’t talk too much but that’s all he seemed to want to do. He was probably a divorcee. They always want to talk. I’m convinced that after you live with a woman too long you start to act like one. All the feelings and such nonsense. I shoved the food down my throat, I hadn’t really cared to taste it. “Are you ready to leave?” I asked hastily, it was probably too pushy but I wasn’t really worried about the second date. “Yeah, let me get the check.” He said as he waved the waitress over, “Can we get the check?” She laughed, actually laughed. His face must have told her that wasn’t appropriate because she stopped, “Oh — You were being serious!” She glanced over at me and a look of recognition came over her face. Then my phone buzzed. “OMG! I need to come over to your place right away!” I sighed, This is rather inconvenient. How do I imply I don’t want guests without tipping her off? “Now really isn’t a good time. Is it an emergency?” He looked over at me, “Are you ready to go?” “Yeah, yeah. Let’s go to the park.” I said, glancing back at my phone. “Ok?” he said, striding through the restaurant like he owned the place or something. Men.

I have never been so grateful to be in my park. Turtle Park has always been very poorly lit and the turtle pond in the middle gets deep enough in the middle to easily drown Sasquatch. Or, for that matter, to hide an idiotic middle aged man. I grabbed his hand as we walked into the park, this was the easiest part. It was always the same. Guys never notice if you walk behind them, I don’t think they care as long as they’re the ones dragging you. It’s on my long list of things I hate about them. As I began to slow my steps so I could casually move behind him he slowed down too. I have never been more frustrated. “What are you looking at?” He seemed genuinely interested in why I had slowed down. I’m looking for a good place to stab you, idiot. “Oh, I thought I saw a squirrel! I guess it’s gone now.” He nodded, “Yeah, they’re wily things.” I waited for him to speed back up but he just wouldn’t. Normally I would be leading him toward the pond but things were not going as planned. I had to improvise, “Hey, what’s that up there?” I had seen some movement ahead of us. He was so excited he started moving faster to look and I quickly took the opportunity to stab him. Right in front of a freaking old lady on a park bench!

~~~

I looked up from the sweater I had been knitting for my dog, Toto. He loved his old red sweater so much I had decided to make him a new one. I’d been so busy knitting I hadn’t noticed how late it had gotten when suddenly a couple came down the walkway in front of me. The poor fellow’s face fell into a frown and tears came bursting from his eyes. It took me a moment to realize he had a knife sticking out of his back. The young lady that was with him stared at me like she was the one that had walked onto a murder scene. Before I could move she had grabbed the knife out of his back and had run away. I asked the young man if he had a phone on him. He would be the only young person without a cellphone. I told him I’d be back and I walked toward the phone booth outside the park.

The Letter

I hadn’t noticed it before I got home, the letter stuck to my shoe. Assuming that it was just a receipt I removed it unceremoniously. Then I noticed it was a folded piece of paper. Curiosity forced me to open it. The beautiful handwriting told of the precious time it had taken to pen the letter. I felt terrible – I didn’t even know where it came from. As I sat there totally lost I began to read what it said:

 

Beautiful,

I know you told me not to write, but I have to tell you this: I love you.

 

The rest of the page just said “I love you” over and over until the words were no longer legible.

 

 

The Day of the Burn

That morning started like every other. I got out of bed well before the sun came out and stumbled to the bathroom. After doing my duty for humanity, that is to say no one was going to go blind looking at me, I traipsed into my bedroom. The sunlight was gently cascading through my window and I stepped into it. I had done this a million times before, stepping into the sun as it came through my window, but today was different. Instead of a faint warmth I felt an undeniable burning sensation. The sun was hurting me. I was confused, surely this wasn’t actually happening. I stuck my foot back into the sunlight only to see the flesh begin to turn red almost immediately. It was like watching a sunburn in fastforward. I panicked. I inched around the room to the phone and dialed my sister’s house. “Hello?” My sister’s voice sounded choked. “Are you guys ok?” I asked, concerned about her tone.

“Bill went out to get the newspaper this morning.” My sister wailed into the phone as if this was the worst mistake ever made.

“Bill does that every morning, Sis.”

“This morning is different.” Her voice was soft, like she was afraid if she admitted it too loudly the whole world would explode.

“What happened?”

“When he went outside, oh my God Ellie, he just turned completely red and before I could yell at him he was covered in a rash. And then he couldn’t move and when I opened the door to go out and help him I started to turn red, too. I panicked, Ellie. I-I slammed the door and I just left him out there. I mean, I called 911 but they told me that everyone on their staff was on lockdown. He stopped moving, Ellie.” By this point my sister’s words had dissolved into a tearful memoir of her husband’s last moments on earth. I sat there, soaking in the story she had just recounted to me. How had this happened? Bill had never reacted poorly to sunlight before, but neither had Kelly or I. I offered as much comfort as I could to her and instructed her to go make sure the shades were closed on all of her windows, I was already doing just that. As I moved through the house I was incredibly grateful that my bathroom didn’t have a window in it, otherwise this morning could have been disastrous. As I hung up with Kelly, she had to go get her children and tell them what had happened, I moved toward my desk. My laptop screen lit up as I swiped my finger across the mouse pad, I flinched reflexively as the light came on. I typed in the first news website I could think of, CNN. The website was exploding with videos, from all around the freaking world, that showed people dying in the sun.

I called my friend Herschel, he worked at the University a few miles away.

“Ellie, thank God you’re ok.”

“What the hell is going on, Herschel? My sister just told me her husband was baked to death when he went outside today.”

“Well, since it was only noticed as a phenomenon today the jury is still out but the scientific community is under the impression the whole human race is suddenly allergic to sunlight. Which leads us to believe something in the atmosphere has changed.”

“What do you mean something in the atmosphere has changed? How could it have changed overnight?”

Herschel sighed into the receiver, I imagined how tired he must have felt, “Well, assuming no foul play I can’t say what could have happened, Ellie. Like I said, we’re all just as confused as everyone else. I’ll be sure to keep you updated. Can you get to your computer?”

“Yeah, I’ve got my laptop right here.”

“Good, I’ll email you with updates as I get them.”

Herschel hung up on me, leaving me to my imagination. Would we have to build tunnels under the roads? How were we going to maintain the internet?! I was definitely going to need to find a pet if I could never go outside again. This really put a kink in my plans to go for a picnic tomorrow.

As all of my thoughts of how to plan for the future swirled around in my head I began to search for a novel on my bookshelf. It would appear that my only friends for a nice long while would be my books and I wanted to make sure I had one I could focus on. I selected a book about zombies and unicorns. I figured the short stories would be able to hold my attention and between them I could monitor my email for any updates. The internet was already teeming with theories by the time I returned to my laptop. I wondered what would happen to the world, but more importantly I felt the weight of regret. I should have gone on all those wild adventures when I had the chance.