“Live for moments. There is no future, there is no past, there is only now.” JSM

 

Chapter Nineteen

Merlin

 

 

Merlin joined me on the park bench as the last of the fires burned out. The one remaining building at the end of the nearest street fell into a pile of rubble and dust.

“Fancy meeting you here,” he smiled and withdrew a pouch of rolling tobacco from an inside jacket pocket as my mind watched a husband and wife running for their lives away from us.

Merlin packed the dried herbs into the thin paper and glanced at the destruction I created. “Beautiful day to be outside.”

Knowing where he was going with the conversation I snapped back, “It’s freezing out here.” I leaned my head back on the bench and looked to the gray smoke filled sky directly overhead. The screams of the population around us finally dwindled and vanished on the passing wind.

“Nah. I love the chill. Cools us down. You look like you could use someone to talk to.”

“What are you doing here, Merlin?”

“Sitting with you obviously.”

“That’s not what I meant. Why are you here?”

“Just passing through on my way to the store. Saw you sitting here by yourself in the cold. Thought I’d join you.”

“I appreciate that but I’ll probably be sour company. Besides, you’re wearing shorts. Not the best day to be sitting around outside in shorts.”

Merlin shot his eyes around the leveled city and snickered, “Well, perhaps we can just sit and not speak. Sound good?”

“Sure.  I don’t feel like talking.”

We sat in silence. Two grown men planted firm on a crumbling bench at the outskirts of an obliterated public park. One pouting and the other taking long pulls off his rolled smoke.

After a few minutes of quiet and half a cigarette, he asks, “What are you doing tonight? Want to go down to the watering hole and grab a drink?”

The last thing I should be doing. Especially today.

I caught his stare from the corner of my eye, “No thanks. I’ll probably be sitting around the table at home, planning the future, trying to fix what’s broken.”

Seeing his opportunity to get through my wall, Merlin pivots to face me, “What needs to be fixed?”

“What doesn’t need fixing is the question.”

“OK then. Spill it.”

I whipped around to face him. “Let me ask you a question. When I came to you asking if you wanted to join me in BizarroTech, why didn’t you?”

He scrunched up his face and tilted his head to the side. The question was obviously unexpected. “It’s not for me. That’s why.”

“Do you think it’s for me? I could call Bill anytime and get reinstated.  It seems like the easy way out.”

“You didn’t take the offer… so I’m assuming it’s not for you. What does me, not drinking BizarroTech’s Kool-Aid, have anything to do with why you’re sitting out here alone, pissed off, in the cold.”

“Then you think it’s a scam. A pyramid scheme.”

He snuffed out the cigarette on the bottom of his shoe and thought it over. “No. Not a scheme.  It obviously works, but it didn’t feel right.”

“That’s where I am, Merlin. Nothing feels right.  It’s like being on the brunt end of a colossal joke.”

“How so?” He leaned back, nestled his frame into the wooden seat and draped both arms across the backing.

“If I said, three steps forward, three steps back, would that make sense?”

“Sure it does. No matter what you do, you can’t get ahead.”

“Exactly. Can’t seem to catch a break.”

He pondered his reply before looking away, “and all because of a car.”

“I can’t tell if you’re being sincere or sarcastic.”

Merlin stood and stretched. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked down at me.  “Of course I was being sarcastic.  But I was doing it sincerely. Are you defeated? Is your life over now? It’s just a car.”

“Just a car?! Dude.  My life revolves around a car.  Without wheels, I can’t do much.”

“Horseshit. Work is a fifteen minute walk, and it seems like the family is helping out with everything else. Hell… I’ve given you rides to the store and back…”

“OK… I get it Merlin. But if you’re not experiencing it… you can’t possibly relate.  I hate asking for help.  I don’t want to feel like a charity case.”  It was my turn to look away.

“Listen. We all go through stuff.  What’s important is how we react to the crap that’s happening. Everything will be fine, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now.”

“Merlin. They may be laying off at the mill. You’re the only one I’ve told. I’m low man on their totem pole”

“Do you have a plan?” He sat down on the edge of the bench and opened his pouch again.

I laughed out loud, “Why do you think I’ll be home planning instead of hitting the bar? I could be in some serious trouble here.  Decent money, great bennies… gone.  Without a car, if I do get hit with a layoff, I may be back to retail.  Not cool. I can’t take a cut…”

“But if it happens… you’ll have to.” He lit a second smoke and smiled.

“That’s what pushes me towards Bill and the gang. They gave me this concrete plan and instructed me to stay on it, and the money will come. And apparently it will come quick. Look. Bill gave me this paper. I haven’t read it yet.  He told me to save it till the time was right. I keep yanking it out, but I have yet to read it.  Bill said to read it when the first big check comes in.  Now I’m more curious than anything.”

Merlin clamped his hand over mine and scrunched the paper up into a little ball. He locked eyes with me and shook his head.  “No.  You’re done with them.  Stop living in the past and standing in their shadow.  You made the decision. You have no need to read this.”

I chuckled through my response, “OK, OK. Damn.  All right.  Throw it away. I’m all done.  It’s not for me.”

“Nope, you throw it away.”

I peeled my backside from the bench and tossed the crumpled paper into a nearby trash can. I looked back to Merlin, he smiled and rose from the bench. “See? That wasn’t so bad. Now we move on. You want a ride home?”

I waved him off, “Nah. Not that far.  I’ll hoof it.  Thanks anyway.” I turned my back and waved again over my shoulder. My friend opened the car door, beeped his horn twice and left for the store.

Once out of sight and around the corner I hurried back to the trash, reached half way down and retrieved the crumpled ball. Watching over my shoulder I folded it back up, smoothing out the creases, forcing myself to ignore its contents, and crammed it back in my wallet.

The moment I reentered the home, I pulled a black box from my closet and placed the BizarroTech letter inside. A safe place for my personal items I hold dear. The one thing I can say has never left my side and this box has been with me since my youth.

There it sat. BizarroTech’s mystery letter. Under a lavender velvet material, accompanied with four additional Knick knacks, completely ignored.

In one week I’d receive a notification from the boss man saying that my job was secure and all is well. Life was back to normal.

Two weeks later I’d receive a pink slip. “We’ll call you if we need you.”

I don’t open the box for thirteen years.

 

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