It was the first week of March when Jack’s vitamin C gummies started to stick together and he couldn’t get them out unless he tried really hard. This seemed like a sign to stop trying. He liked to project meaning onto things that couldn’t object. He stopped trying. He didn’t feel much different at first. He tried to laugh and another sound came out of his mouth. The vitamin gummies were a gift. When he looked at them on his kitchen counter, he felt sad – like he had given up too soon.
I would like to give up too late, Jack thought. The gummies had coagulated into one big Gummy.
Weeks, vitaminless, went by. Other things happened, like working and sleeping and answering and asking questions. But after that first week of March, everyday activities just felt different. His brain told him that he was dying or that he should die. Which is it? he asked.
He tried to remember his prescription in case he were to lose the glasses on his face or they broke somehow. 2.50 left, 1.50 right, he thought. Or is it 2.50 right, 1.50 left? He closed his left eye and then his right, like a really slow blink. It confused him even more. He laughed and another sound came out.
“What if my mother was someone who said ‘ciao!’ to end arguments? Would I be a really bad person?” he thought suddenly. It was a funny thought.
His mother was someone who didn’t end arguments. The words she wanted to say to end the argument drenched her gut and never came out of her mouth.
His father was a man of momentum through and through. He liked to jog to take breaks from the never-ending argument that was his life.
Because of these things, and possibly other things, Jack sneezes like he’s not supposed to. It’s a very nervous and quiet sneeze. No one even says Bless you because they can’t hear it.
One day Jack sees his neighbor. He knows it’s his neighbor because she always wears an expensive tiny black backpack. They live on the third floor together. They share a wall. They bang on the wall when the other is too loud. They’re connected in this way. Sometimes the neighbor screams in Russian.
“Hi,” the neighbor says in the hallway.
“Hi,” Jack says back.
“That construction is insane,” the neighbor says.
It is insane. It makes the whole apartment building shake. They can hear drilling and metal instruments slamming against other materials.
“Yes,” he agrees. “What are they building?”
“A playground,” the neighbor says, and leaves the conversation to live on her side of the wall.
Jack has never seen the construction or the playground. He thinks about this and then goes about his day, poking his phone and ignoring the Gummy on the kitchen counter. When he touches his bedroom window in the morning it vibrates. For the kids, Jack thinks.
He gets headaches now. The kind of headaches where you get really angry. It’s hard to direct his anger. He gets angry at the tv. He gets angry at his dead plants. He gets angry at a painting of a boat. He puts his head in the freezer. It feels okay. This is how parents must feel, he thinks. He pretends that he’s a father and his kid just yelled at him. It all feels justified.
The next day Jack knocks on his neighbor’s door. She looks distracted.
“Hi,” he says.
“Hey,” she says.
“Have you ever seen any actual construction?” he asks. “I just hear it all the time. I’ve never seen any playground or even a place to put a playground.”
“You don’t believe me?” she asks. She looks annoyed now.
“I’m just asking if you’ve seen it.”
“I don’t need to see it to know it,” she says. “That’s science.”
Jack couldn’t argue with that, mostly because he never learned how to argue.
“I just feel like I’ve been reading a long sentence in a book and two pages got stuck together and the latter half of the sentence doesn’t make sense,” was all he could say. “It’s, like, funny but concerning at the same time.”
“That is funny,” she says. She looks kind of uncomfortable.
“That’s my exact expression when I find something funny,” he says. They bond. They go on dates without a physical wall separating them. They practice arguing. They practice apologizing. She forces him to throw away the Gummy. She calls him “Gummy” as an affectionate term. She tells him facts. Gummy, did you know that an exit door on an airplane weighs roughly forty-one pounds? Gummy, it’s hard enough to say no, let alone yes. They agree that the playground should have large climbing structures because there’s nothing better than feeling like you never have to come down. They dream of monkey bars and slides as their feet twitch in their sleep. The drilling never stops, even when it does.
Ashton Carlile is a writer living in NYC. Previous/forthcoming work can be found in SmokeLong Quarterly, Maudlin House, and Gravel Magazine.
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