He takes his shoes off by the door. A solemn peek in the hotel mirror suggests pleated pants, starched shirt, taut tie, he’s running out of matching letters to describe his appearance which is always, and only, just that. To himself he appears as an apparition. Do others see him, he wonders often. The meetings today went well. He sold himself. Passed himself off as one of them. Someone they could trust. Someone they could have a beer with. At a baseball game. A hot dog too. He is not that someone. He hasn’t had a beer in some very long time. A hot dog would upset his stomach, surely. He calls his home. No one answers. Everything is being created or dying and he obsesses over which. The crow circled above his house this morning, before he left for his work trip, and that is another thing he has been considering. He steps forward toward the television then steps back. The room looks like all the other rooms. Describing it would kill it, surely. Has he used surely twice? He has. He wishes he hadn’t but it’s too late to change it, he sighs. Someone else is in the room, came in with him. It’s him the other way. There are always two, wherever he goes. He is an unwilling participant in an argument for argument’s sake which has raged on within him for 39 years. Whenever he picks up a new trick, or learns a new phrase, the other way does too. It bores him. He wishes there was another way, but he only contains enough energy to wish. He seeks nothing, he has done no serious investigation.  He avoids the television, walking further into the room, not wanting to stir up an anger. He pulls the curtain to reveal a view of the highway. What a stupid way to live, he says to no one. The phone rings. He picks it up and says something like, “hello.” It is not 1979, in case you were wondering. It is a year, but not that one. His wife is on the other end of the line. He can hear his children screaming in the background. They love him. They miss him. They say goodbye and he hangs up the phone. He wonders who they love. He considers who they miss. It is not him. It is their projection of him. He is too many things at once to miss. He is too many things at once to love, he thinks. He is listless, the other way suggests he could be lifeless, if he’d like. He doesn’t want to be listless or lifeless. His co-pay is too rich for any other state of being. He distrusts professionals of all varieties, preferring amateurs or, better yet, people and things to happen with no explanation whatsoever. Plus, what books have the therapists read? It only ever shows you, on the websites, which insurance they accept. It never digs into their relationship to literature, being the only thing that matters to him. Since he mentioned websites, he can delete the part about it not being 1979. He doesn’t want to. It is a nod to an earlier work. He is conscious of building an oeuvre, even if he still has to look up the word every time to spell it correctly. It’s the “e” after the “o” that always trips him up. His wife sends him a text. She is privy to his rhythms. Suggests he use the hotel treadmill to stave off the thing that doesn’t have to come. He’s missing cigarettes. He’s not missing beer, but he’s always missing cigarettes. He does not want to exercise. He does not know what, or how, to be. It disheartens him. It unsettles him. He will do nothing to improve his prospects of knowing, or being, or being any other way. It is the only way he knows. He is not going to leave the hotel room. He is not going to change clothes or shower or turn on the television or open his computer to write or go outside for a walk or eat any food or think about anything other than how he is feeling, which is an absence, and occurs to him to be the only thing happening in the entire world at the moment. He masturbates when it is time to masturbate. He takes a Tylenol PM when it is time to take a Tylenol PM. He lay on top of the sheets, naked, unable to sleep. He takes a second Tylenol PM when it is time to take a second Tylenol PM. The couple next door is having sex. Or the person next door is watching pornography, whatever the case may be. His wife is jealous of his work trips, his time away from home, his peace away from the kids. But she does not have to be him, he thinks. He does, he’s sure of it. He is in pain at how brief life is. And how poor of a showing he’s made thus far. His oeuvre is weak and wildly inconsistent. He would like to be different, but he does not know how. He wonders what he would write about if he could write anything at all, writing being all he’d like to do, though he’s never examined why, and he’s terribly aware that if he were to, he might find something else to dislike about himself, and so he does nothing. He tries to conjure an image but comes away, as usual, with nothing but formlessness. He is unable to imagine a red dot. Or tap into any visual. It is all, instead, a constant flow of language. He has a business degree and a loneliness he’s immediately thrust onto everyone he’s ever been intimate with, and an immediate regret. He’s lost the plot, control of the narrative, not a natural editor, too fat around the belly, bags under the eyes – the Tylenol PM never works, wondering what the crow wants with him, if anything, probably nothing, he’s made babies and has a life insurance policy and isn’t sure there’s much else left for him to do. He pulls into his driveway. It is the next day now, if that makes any kind of difference. His wife kisses him softly on the lips, she’s headed out to a yoga class. The kids are out playing with friends. He takes his shoes off by the door. A solemn peek in the bedroom mirror suggests pleated pants, starched shirt, taut tie, he’s running out of matching letters to describe his appearance which is always, and only, just that. To himself he appears as an apparition. Do others see him, he wonders often.

Derek Maine is a writer living in North Carolina. You can reach him on Twitter @mainely.Derek talks about books he likes on YouTube.

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