I realize now as I stare at my face in the mirror, that I’ve never thought about who I really am on this earth. I’ve never begun to take into account all my actions—the actions of what I’ve truly done. Of what has happened around me for reasons that in my own sorry mind before now, this morning, this instant—have been censored as an array of unfortunate “accidents” which have all occurred, strangely enough, in my presence.
When I was only twelve years old, I watched Greg Bartley, the Boy Scout second to the last in line, in front of me, as he “slipped” on the trail and fell into a long and horrifying, howling death, down into the billowing depths of the massive Grand Canyon.
I remember the features of that morning quite clearly now, whereas before, they had been nothing but vague tufts of gray outlined by a weird sense of nostalgia.
Jenny Forsythe shared a similar fate as that of Greg. She used to take dance lessons near the “Y” where I used to hang out as a young teenager. I watched her show up every Thursday afternoon, walk into the building next door, do whatever one does when taking dance lessons, then come out again and wait at the corner for her dad to pick her up. Sometimes he would be late, and my stare would always linger on Jenny on those days. I would memorize silly things, like what she wore, how her hair was done up, what color her backpack was…
There was always a lot of traffic on that avenue where Jenny stood, waiting. Big traffic. City-bus and garbage truck kind of traffic. And one day, when Jenny’s dad didn’t show up on time, and I had all but memorized every color of thread on that girl, and because I felt the urge to take a walk over by her…
Jenny fell into traffic on that day, dancing one of her routines right off the curb in front of a passing steamroller.
Sam Mallory was the night janitor at the office I worked at. Religiously, the man showed up each night carrying a 7-11 Super Big Gulp concoction of Mountain Dew, Sprite, and Iced Tea. His wife learned how to make tamales from their neighbor Gloria Estevez, and Sam always brought those tamales for his lunch on Mondays and Fridays.
How is it that my mind introduces me to all of these subtle details about people with such lewd clarity? Such, raw talent, without me having to think much about them. And why is it that, when I look at people, and stare them in the face, like I am presently staring at mine through this mirror, I see things which no person in their right mind would ever want to see?
Sam always brought those tamales for his lunch on Mondays and Fridays.
I’d been working late on a project, wanted to get it done before the weekend. And in the evening, like clockwork, Sam came bumbling into our office with his vacuum cleaner, and pushcart of all-things-janitor-related when, sure enough, we got to talking. He and I always got to talking. Sam sat in the cubicle next to me, as he was often wont to do. He offered me one of those cold tamales, which I admit, tasted wonderful, then began a long ramble of how him and his wife were on the back of his Harley last weekend, cruising down 101 near Malibu, when they had seen what looked like a pod of killer whales out in the water. Sam was in the middle of telling me this story, and I was truthfully interested in it, but then suddenly…he began to choke on his tamale.
He had a big piece in there, I could tell. Stuck in his gullet, a mouthful of dense cornbread and chicken. Spices and lard. A whole bundle of each of those delicious components found in Gloria’s recipe all jammed up in Sam’s trachea, while he sat there in that chair gasping for air, staring at me with those desperate eyes, pleading, waving his hands, holding his throat, running purple and…fading fast.
Slowly, I reached over to the desk he sat at and retrieved his Super Big Gulp, my eyes locked onto his the whole time. Sam was frantic; his face had turned purple, and his body was hopping in the chair like a fish out of water. Taking possession of his drink, I sat back and put my feet up on the desk, cold tamale in one hand and 7-11 concoction in the other, and I quietly consumed those items as I watched Sam Mallory die.
Old Sam wasn’t the last, though. Not nearly the last.
I see myself now. I see myself in this mirror, and finally, after all this time, I know who I am, and why I am here. The answer we all seek within this meager lifetime afforded to us, has arrived at the forefront of my perception with such…lewd clarity.
But can I believe it? Can I truly believe this revelation I am having?
Chris Riley lives near Sacramento, California, vowing one day to move back to the Pacific Northwest. In the meantime, he teaches special education, writes cool stories, and hides from the blasting heat for six months of the year. He has had over 100 short stories published in various magazines and anthologies, and across various genres. His debut novel, one of literary suspense, titled The Sinking of the Angie Piper, was published in 2017; and his debut short story collection is forthcoming, with Mount Abraxas Press. For more information, go to www.chrisrileyauthor.com.