The desert sun singes the morning air. The atmosphere is as thick as the blood that drips from his mouth. Propped against a rock, 9mm clutched tight, he hums. A tune he can’t seem to place and one he hasn’t heard since at least his fifth year of life, but one he hums anyway. His clothes are tattered. His arms burn from raw, bloody tattoos no more than ten hours old. His hair is matted and the three holes in his abdomen spit crimson from their murky depths...
He hums. He smiles.
His eyes, not finding a focal point not even the silhouette floating in front of him, just wander and skip across the horizon. He releases the clip from the gun. It’s not his gun, it never was. Up until eleven hours ago, he had gone through twenty-eight years without even touching a gun. He knows how to handle one now. How to thumb the safety, pull the slack of the two-pound trigger, and now, how to release the clip. It falls to the sand barely missing his open palm, a trick he had picked up not thirty minutes before sunrise. It falls before him. It’s empty, but he knew that. The silhouette shifts its weight momentarily shielding the whiskey colored sun, then moves again.
Thought and memory play back like a 45 at 33. He thinks about his sister and the vacation his family took to some national forest and about how he can’t remember the name and how he wishes he could. He thinks about resting his head against the window of the family car as it traveled further into a state he never cared about going to in the first place until two minutes ago. He thinks about his mother singing and how he wished she would stop so he could sleep and about how he would give anything to hear it right now. He thinks about how none of that ever mattered and about how much it does now.
The silhouette speaks, “time to go home.” The silhouette has been there. Been there since before the young man laid out before him, since before the sun came up and before the stones and before the sky and before even the notion of it all.
He had been going home. Always had been.
He drops the gun and shoves both hands in his pockets. Sometimes an act of anger or frustration had brought on such subtle movements of his hands causing them to vanish from the wrists but usually for him, simply a sub-conscious reaction to uneasy nerves. When the girl says, “hi,” when the homeless man asks for change, or when his friends ask him to go out to the bar for a drink. Done so many times, the denim above his pockets and below his belt has worn to a tone of blue he’d place somewhere between the soft hues of his baby blanket and the cold of his Father’s eyes. He thinks about how none of that ever mattered. He does it now with purpose. Both hands emerge. One wipes the sweat and blood from his cheek, the other blooms in the glaring sunlight.
A half, not a whole dollar, but a simple half. His fingers fumble for a moment from a 60/40 mix of sleep deprivation and blood loss. The coin balances on his thumbnail.
The silhouette shifts.
None of that ever mattered.
He closes his eyes, scared he won’t open them. It doesn’t matter. He hears the stranger’s voice echo deep behind his clinched eyes.
Every morning, every single morning of your life, you wake up and you face a bitter realization: Your life can go one of two ways today. Either this is the first day of the rest of your life, or this is the last. It’s as easy as that. It has nothing to do with who you are, what you do or what you’ve done. It has to do with chance. That’s it. Black or white. yes or no, true or false. Simple...live...or die.
The bell rings. 7:10am always comes too early. It’s Tuesday and it doesn’t matter, but he doesn’t know that yet. What he does know is that it’s morning and he doesn't have a lesson plan for it. The kids fall into their desks. He runs his palms over his face trying to wipe the sleep from it. It doesn’t work. His eyes fixate on a desktop three rows back, third from the right and the small fingers working to spin a half dollar on it. The coin twirls. The fluorescent light strobes from its edges and pulsates like a projector at the end of the reel. He watches it slow down. He watches the half dollar struggle to stand upright like a regular digging for his keys ten minutes after last call. He watches it dance on the edge of the desk. He watches it hit the linoleum floor.
It doesn’t matter. Not yet at least.