Friday, August 6, 2021
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Short Story of the Week: Absque Numero

By Dylan Sepulveda

ABSQUE NUMERO

“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” (Psalm. 90:12 KJV)

Graphic by Jolie Shave

SUNRISE

“Did you raise your prices again?”

“It’s ‘cause of the rent. The rent keeps going up.”

The deli’s signboard was unfamiliar to her. Still legible, but in an almost disorienting way. Not the menu items. The prices of the items. The deli was cramped and warm. Not a direct heat warmth, but a warmth that emanated from the kitchen and proceeded to bob and weave through the idle customers like a bacon scented slalom skier. While there were only a handful of people inside currently, the walls of Coca-Cola fridges took up so much space in a way that made it feel like the entire right wall was a gleaming billboard. A single fan overhead spun listlessly. A boy stood behind the woman with an Arizona iced tea in his right hand, switching off occasionally to his left hand to wipe the condensation on his shorts.

“Doesn’t mean the bacon and eggs get more expensive though huh? It was less yesterday…I think? Did you change all of your prices?”

“The property taxes were less yesterday too, so yes I did.”

The woman licked her wounds and took out her wallet. That undulating leatherbound heart that holds all that fashions a person. Measurable wealth, identification, and an Autozone loyalty card.

“It’s a few more than before right Frank?”

“Yes. More than a few.”

The woman placed the bills on the counter and the deli worker took them with only a partial glance before opening the cash drawer. The brassy clash of the coins in the drawer was like a tin can full of pebbles being kicked down a cul de sac. The sound cut through the Springsteen song that was on the radio. The deli worker handed over the woman’s change with a sympathetic gaze. She appreciated the swiftness of this transaction, something about staring at the money for too long gave her a headache. 

“I appreciate your business.”

“Yeah.”

“It means a lot to me that you come by here almost every day.”

“You’re just on the way during my commute.”

“The commute to your old job, sure. I’m sure I’m a little more out of your way now though huh?”

“Make sure to put extra pepper on it.”

“Have I ever forgotten?”

“No. You haven’t.”

The woman drops her change into the tip jar.

Down in the shadow of the penitentiary. Out by the gas fires of the refinery. I’m *clink cla-chunk* burning down the road. Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go. Born in the U.S.A. I was born in the U.S.A.”

***

COMPUTER

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***

AFTER WORK

“I’m sorry to hear that you had a tough week at work darling.”

“It’s fine. I guess I’m just nervous about meeting your parents maybe. How long have we been together?”

“A while”

“Yes but how long precisely.”

“A while!”

“Feels like less than that.”

The radio, currently playing Tiny Dancer, was desperately trying to hold on to a New Jersey local station while the car sped off towards Delaware. A state for potential in-laws. The sky was a color fit for one of Elton John’s costumes.

*Bzshhzz* me closer, tiny dancer. *Kshhzszzz*-the headlights on the highway”

“You know it’s Tiny Dancer right?”

 “I’m aware.”

Elton John is good music for driving to Delaware. They were both once so bold: the extravagant costumes, the opening state to ratify the Constitution. Now both are more akin to grocery store background music. Delaware is the grocery store background music of the United States.  

“You keep singing, ‘hold me closer Tony Danza’”

“I thought you thought it was funny.”

“It is funny.”

They continue in silence for a little while. Great swaths of interstate highway disappearing under the wheels of the oldish Honda Odyssey. The asphalt gives way to a concrete bridge, soft beige, like an old computer monitor in an underfunded school in a midwestern ghost town. She looked at the highway markers, trying her best to read them as they passed by, puzzled by how they managed to be seemingly the same distance apart from each other…maybe?

“If it’s funny why didn’t you laugh?”

“I’ve heard it before.”

Driving over the concrete makes a high pitched whistling sound. A sound associated with being young and sleeping in the backseat during a long car ride. Young eyes occasionally opening to catch glimpses of radio towers with softly blinking red aviation lights. The glow idly matching your breathing.

“I guess I have made the joke before.”

“You didn’t make it.”

The woman spoke the words quickly, like sandpaper sliding across a plank. The GPS alerts them that their exit is approaching in a couple miles.

“Yeah I did remember? On that date? Tiny Dancer was playing and I made that joke and you laughed. Right before we went to The Olive Garden.”

“You can just say Olive Garden. You don’t need the ‘the.’”

The exit approaches.

“The restaurant is called The Olive Garden.”

“It’s not, it’s so not. It’s just Olive Garden. That’s it. And the joke is from ‘Friends.’”

They miss their exit. The GPS recalibrates. The whistling stops. The song changes to Sweet Jane by The Velvet Underground.

“Well, I didn’t get it from ‘Friends.’ I hate ‘Friends,’ you know I hate ‘Friends.’ It’s a garbage show, not even a good sitcom.”

“I know you hate ‘Friends.’ But the joke is still from ‘Friends.’ A joke you like is from ‘Friends’…do we have to listen to the Velvet Underground?”

He grips the steering wheel a little tighter, cursing to himself as he notices they missed their exit. She decides to not rub salt in his wound although she would probably enjoy taking a salt lick, damp from deer spit, and grinding it into his torn skin.

“It’s probably not originally from ‘Friends,’ they probably got it from somewhere else. You can skip it if you want, but I like this song, don’t you?”

“I haven’t heard it in anything else, it’s definitely from ‘Friends.’ You don’t have to like the show to just enjoy one joke from it. And no, we’ve been over this, you know I hate Lou Reed’s voice.”

“It’s not supposed to sound polished or anything like the shit on the radio, that’s part of the appeal. It’s the combination of—”

“I knew about Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground before you. I’ve known about them for a good amount of time. As much as you like to pretend they’re an underground band you can sit there and be smug about, they’re not okay they’re not, everyone knows about The Velvet Underground okay? I didn’t like them then and I don’t like them now and I especially don’t like them when you try and make me feel like me not liking them is due to some sort of un-refinement when it comes to my ears. Christ, you can’t base your whole personality on liking The Velvet Underground and hating ‘Friends,’ it’s not as cut and dry as oh this thing is mainstream therefore it’s bad. Can you just tell me how long this song is?”

Their new exit approaches. An exit that will lead to Delaware. Lou Reed fills the empty space between them, both of them too scared to shut him off.

***

THERAPY

She kept saying everything was wrong. That she awoke one day and upon gazing at her clock was immediately perplexed. Seeing the hands pointing to descriptors such as “noon,” “evening,” and “a little later,” was distressing to her. When she got in her car and saw that the speedometer said simply slow and fast she was puzzled. When she got to her favorite bagel place she was even more confused and had a creeping feeling of nausea. She taught math at FDR middle school and was on the verge of a full blown mental breakdown when she looked over her class’s textbook. Seeing problems that used terms like “few,” “some,” or “a lot” caused her to go home and call in sick. No one could figure out what prompted this breakdown. She kept talking about how things were missing, how everything was all wrong. 

She called them “numbers,” and she swore they existed. Little symbols, like a letter, that could be used to demarcate an amount of something. Absurd. If numbers were like letters then why not just use letters? How much does each symbol represent? Who gets to decide that? If I have a giant bag of sand is there a number for just the bag itself or does every grain of sand factor in here? Are different objects measured in different fashions? Everyone agreed that the numbers sounded ridiculous and that words worked just fine. Why fix it if it isn’t broken? 

“I remember them…I can’t remember what they looked like or what they were called but I remember numbers. I remember how they felt. Some were common and some had weird superstitions associated with them and some were so large and incomprehensible that they had to make abstract symbols to represent those numbers.There was even a number that was used to signify nothing!”

“How long have I been your therapist?”

“I…don’t know. Only a little bit.”

“It’s been longer than that. I’d say a healthy amount of time. I think that clearly CBT isn’t working for you as it stands now. I think that maybe we need some sort of way to loosen up those barriers so that the therapy can be more effective. I’m going to recommend you to a psychiatrist and they should get you started on a medication regimen as soon as possible. Probably a smidge of Prolixin to open and then gradually bumping up to a sizable amount, but I’ll leave that decision between you and the psychiatrist.”

The therapist had a calm and pleasant demeanor, like a can of coke on a hot spring day gently fizzing, a bee stopping by on the tab to see if she is a flower or not.

“I just think if I could get some kind of grant some kind of research going on this. I definitely remember I definitely remember. This could change the world!”

“I’m sure if everything we thought up could become a reality then yes that would change the world. It just seems superfluous. A way to measure things when we already have words and comparisons. That’s all, and it’s been working just fine for now, I don’t see a reason to change it. Do you?”

*** 

SUNSET

“Darling?”

“Yes?”

“Do you remember my proposal?”

“Remember?”

“I insisted on doing it in July.”

“I…don’t think I can remember it.”

“It was in July.”

“July.”

“Yes, I did it on the beach. A seagull almost swooped in and took the ring.”

“Yes.”

“Do you remember?”

“It was in July. I remember. July seventh.”

“Seventh?”

“Yes.”

“I’ve never heard such a word.”

“No, I suppose not. I’m not sure if I have either. I think it was the seventh.”

“More like, a little bit into July?”

“Yes. Yes I suppose.”

 

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