Mr. Johnson had been coming to our restaurant for years. Every time he came in, he would order the same meal: grilled chicken with a side of broccoli, a baked potato (butter only) and a coffee. After he finished eating and the plates were cleared away, he would take out his domino set. Occasionally he would come in to eat with someone else and they would play with him. Sometimes one of us would sit down to play a round or two. Often, he simply played by himself. Whatever the case, he frequently stayed for at least an hour after he was done eating, and sometimes even longer. He would sip his coffee, politely asking for refills when necessary.
Newer employees were sometimes annoyed by him. “Why is that guy just sitting there playing dominoes?” they fumed. “He’s already eaten and paid for his meal, he’s just taking up a table that some other paying customer could use.”
“That’s Mr. Johnson,” we’d tell them. “Who the hell are you? He’s been a part of this restaraunt longer than you have.”
The restaraunt closed at 10 P.M. Mr Johnson knew that we were trying to go home. Although nobody had ever asked him to leave, he always packed up his dominoes and left as soon as the clock struck 10 if he happened to still be around at that time. Not to mention, he always tipped well.
Nobody knew anything about him. He knew several of us by name, and we would often sit and talk to him, but he never talked about himself or his life. Most people thought he was a lonely widower, his children (if any) grown and long gone. There were, of course, much more wild rumors as well. Some claimed that he was a former Nazi, or a former spy, or even a current spy. One wild-eyed fry cook floated the hypothesis that Mr. Johnson was a highly advanced domino-playing robot.
A busboy tailed Mr. Johnson home one day to see where he lived. The next day a crowd gathered around him to hear the details of Mr. Johnson’s home life.
“Where did he live? What was it like?” they asked him.
“It was just a regular house,” he said, shrugging.
Mr. Johnson didn’t come in every day, so it took a few weeks before we realized he hadn’t been in for quite some time. There was a sense of quiet panic as we all tried to figure out what had happened to our favorite customer.
“It had to happen eventually,” the conspiracy theorists said, “His cover got blown, the CIA’s taken him in for questioning.”
Henrietta Simmons discovered the answer as she was paging through the newspaper on her break. Henrietta was the type of person who always read the obituaries. She said it made her feel better about herself.
“Come quick!” she called, “Mr. Johnson is dead!”
Stuart Johnson died Tuesday. He was 89.
He died at the Angel of Mercy Hospital of respiratory failure.
Mr. Johnson served in the Army during World War II, and entered the paper industry after returning. Mr. Jonhson was an avid domino player (several of us chuckled as we read that) and dog breeder.
He is survived by three children and five grandchildren. Services will be held privately.
We passed around the newspaper in silence. After all these years, we finally had gotten a glimpse into the life of Mr. Johnson, and now it was too late. Many were secretly disappointed, as it turned out that his life was not nearly as exciting as they had imagined. Mr. Johnson was just a regular person.
We cut out the obituary, had it framed, and hung it up on the wall. It’s still there to this day.
I went to high school with Sandra Perlmann. She was one of those people who had it all. She was hot, popular, and managed to get good enough grades, but she was a total bitch.
One time at a party, there was this girl who was there through a friend of a friend or something like that. She wasn’t the type to be there at all. I’m sure she had debated about whether or not to come right up until the last moment, finally just deciding to go just to see what it was like.
For some reason, Sandra picked her out as the target of her latest pointless cruelty.
“Oh my God,” she shouted after engaging the girl in conversation for about a minute, “You’re a drug addict?”
First of all, this was obviously untrue. Second of all, it was a completely random thing to say, and third of all nobody even cared. Hell, quite a few people at the party were easily on their way to drug addiction themselves. We went to a pretty rich school, it wasn’t uncommon for people to do blow at parties.
But none of that mattered to the poor girl, of course. She had come hoping to just blend in and try to have a good time, but instead Sandra had picked her out and shamed her in front of everyone. She ran out of the party crying.
I didn’t say anything, of course. I never did. I was good-looking enough and had decent enough social skills that I was never a target. Why rock the boat?
Since graduation, Sandra has moved to New York, become the editor of a fashion magazine, and gotten engaged to a successful lawyer.
One day I was sitting in a bar after work. A group of three very loud women were in the corner, apparently celebrating the fact that one of them had gotten pregnant. Although, of course, it the other two were doing most the celebrating. The proud mother-to-be just sat quietly, smiling, drinking a coke. Suddenly, she lurched out of her chair, her face a mask of panic. She tried to open her mouth to speak, but it was stuck shut.
“Oh my God!” one of the other women shouted, “Someone put rubber cement in her drink!”
Something snapped inside me. I don’t know if I was drunk off of the half a beer I’d had, or if I’d just had a really bad day at work. All I knew was, I was sick of assholes. I’d been sitting quietly for too long, letting them get away with their bullshit, but I wasn’t going to let them get away with it this time.
“Who the hell did that?” I shouted.
An old man sitting next to me pointed towards the door. I caught a glimpse of a very large man walking out with a woman on his arm.
“Why didn’t you do anything?” I growled at him.
He just glared at me.
Tossing some money on the counter, ran towards the door and stepped outside. “Hey!” I called after the hulking mass, “You’re an asshole.”
He stopped, turned around and looked at me. “What’d you say to me?”
My body immediately told me to run, I’d just made a terrible mistake.
“You the one put rubber cement in that pregnant woman’s drink? You’re an asshole.”
He slowly walked up to me and stood just inches away. We’d have been face-to-face if he wasn’t two inches taller than me. My heart was pounding out of my chest, my mouth was dry but my skin was wetter than it’d ever been. I knew what I was doing was stupid, but I was fed up. I wasn’t going to run, I wasn’t going to let them win this time.
“I’m not gonna hit you,” I said, “I weigh a hundred and forty pounds. But go ahead and hit me if it’ll make you feel better.”
I was on the ground with the first punch.
I stood back up and grinned. That’s about all I remember until the emergency room.
Two days later I walked into work, my face a mass of swollen bruises and my teeth loose.
My boss took one look at me and asked, “What the hell happened to you?”
“Some guy put rubber cement in a pregnant lady’s drink. I called him an asshole, he did this to me.”
“Jesus Christ,” he said, shaking his head, “I expected better of you. Go home, take some time off.”
“I didn’t hit him,” I said, “I’m not stupid.”
“Go home,” he said, still shaking his head.
“I didn’t hit him,” I repeated. “I’m not violent. I’ve never even been in a fight before.”
“Go home,” he said.
I turned around and headed out the door.
Did he think I was less of a man for not fighting back? Did he even believe me? I didn’t know. Was he going to fire me? I didn’t know that, either, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. They say the meek will inherit the Earth, but it seems to me like God’s helping out the assholes.
“All I want out of life,” she said, “is to kick the world’s ass.”
I watched her out of the corner of my eye. Her bright pink hair stuck out at angles that shouldn’t even be possible. Every word that she said was one of the most unexpected and obscene things I could imagine. She was the most amazing person I’d ever met.
When we got to her door, she turned and kissed me full on the mouth. I was so surprised, I didn’t even think to shut my eyes.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, laughing, “Never kissed a girl before?” Without waiting for an answer, she turned and skipped up the stairs, still laughing.
Her parents hated me. When she brought me home to meet them, her mother cried as her father screamed. They called me names, blamed me for “corrupting” their daughter.
“But she corrupted me,” is what I wanted to say. But of course I didn’t.
“Don’t worry,” she told me that night after she’d snuck out of the house, “I wouldn’t like you if they didn’t hate you.” We’d just made love for the first time.
We were in the park. I had packed a picnic basket and a bottle of wine. She laughed and called me a walking cliché, but I could tell that she enjoyed it.
After we ate, she lit up a joint. “You want a hit?” she asked.
“No thanks,” I said, “I don’t really…”
“Come on,” she laughed, holding it up to my lips, “Live a little.”
What the hell, I thought, and took a drag.
“How will I know when it hits me?” I asked, five minutes later after I’d stopped coughing.
“You’ll know,” she laughed.
My gaze wandered over to the tree we were sitting under. I was suddenly struck with awe at the intricate pattern of bark covering the trunk. No artist could paint something so detailed, and yet here it had occurred entirely by random chance. Not only that, but no other tree in the history of the world would ever have the exact same pattern of bark. I rolled over and stared up at the leafy canopy. I was astonished at the number of leaves — they seemed uncountable. I turned to look at her, and was overwhelmed with the deepest feelings of positivity, thankfulness to the universe just for the fact that she existed.
“Your eyes are as red as the devil’s dick!” she laughed, “You’re high as hell!”
I laughed too. Why shouldn’t we laugh? We were still young enough that life was funny.
We moved up north and got married. A few years later, I brought up having kids.
“No fucking way am I gonna get pregnant!” she said, “I’m not going through nine whole months of that shit, forget it. Unless you’re volunteering?”
I wasn’t, of course. We adopted. A girl from China. When she turned 17, she ran away and joined the army. We got a letter a few months later saying she’d been killed.
We never talked about it, but we both knew we blamed ourselves. And, to some degree, each other.
She moved out one day. She said it wasn’t my fault. She felt like she’d turned into her mother and couldn’t live with herself that way. I told people she’d run away with some young actor, but as far as I know she never saw anyone else. I know I never did.
I sat by her bed in the hospital. She’d been unresponsive ever since the stroke, but I was there every day. It’s not like I had much else to do these days.
She opened her eyes and looked at me. “Hey there,” she said, a pained smile crossing her lips.
“Shhh,” I said, taking hold of her hand, “Don’t strain yourself.”
She seemed as though she didn’t hear me. “It was a good run, wasn’t it?” she said, squeezing my hand.
“It was,” I said.
“We sure kicked the world’s ass,” she said.
“We sure did,” I said. “We sure did.”
Excerpt from the journals of Robert Witherstone, archeologist.
July 12th, 1894
We made our first excavations into the structure today. Amazingly, it seems to be a library, stretching on as far as the eye can see. I don’t see how a library of this size could have been lost without any record of its existence, unless it perhaps it is the hidden hall of some ancient Indian tribe. If so, this discovery could be a breakthrough in anthropology, finally giving us a written record of the history of this continent before colonization! I have taken a few volumes back to study and attempt to decode them.
July 12th, 1894 (later)
I have made an amazing discovery — the books are in English! The first one I opened turned out to be a history of the American Revolution. Something’s not quite right about it though. The book claims the war ended at the Siege of Yorktown when George Washington ate General Cornwallis. Perhaps this is a mistranslation from an original, different work written in another language, because this can’t be what the author meant to say.
July 13th, 1894
Read more of the books in the library today. Most of the books on science seem fairly normal, but the fiction is perverse and terrible. Worst of all are the supposed “histories.” I found a volume detailing the colonization of Africa, but rather than referring to the cannibalism practiced by the savages there, it described the Europeans as cannibalizing the Africans they killed! All of this is most unsettling, and I am not sure what to think. I am normally the type of man to laugh at silly superstitions, but the fact that today is Friday the 13th does not help my unease. I will continue to examine the volumes contained here in an attempt to get to the bottom of this.
July 16, 1894
Lord have mercy. I do not know what sort of unholy place we have found, but it has to be destroyed. Today I found a Bible (if, indeed, you can call such profanity a Bible).
The familiar stories were replaced with grotesque and disturbing tales of sadistic violence, culminating in the most awful blasphemy of all. The author of this monstrosity wrote the story of the Lord’s Supper as literal rather than symbolic. Christ order his disciples to literally kill him, drink his blood, and eat him. We have set up a fire in the center of the structure and are burning all the books we can lay hands on. We have also set up explosives to collapse the cave in the morning so that nobody else can stumble on this blighted place.
July 17th, 1894
We collapsed the cave today. Jones was injured in the blast. He is conscious, but his leg is too hurt for him to walk. It is slow going having to carry him.
July 18th, 1894
Returned to the University today. No doubt it is my addled nerves still in shock from the horror I discovered, but something about the students makes me uneasy. I do not like the look in their eyes; it seems alien in some way. While they commonly use strange slang and colloquialisms with which I am not familiar, it recently seems to have gotten even stranger, so much so that I sometimes cannot even tell what they are talking about.
Doubtless I am still in shock from the events of the previous few days and this will pass.
July 19th, 1894
I spoke with Jones’ doctor today. He is a nervous man, continually licking his lips and grimacing. His manner is overbearing, his breath is terrible and his teeth are unpleasant. But I digress. In any case, he told me that Jones’ injuries are much worse than they had appeared at first. Apparently he had a great deal of internal injuries as well. They are not sure if he will pull through.
July 20th, 1894
Jones succumbed to his injuries today. The funeral arrangements are being made.
July 22nd, 1894
Jones’ funeral was today. The preacher was very strange. I’m not quite sure what he meant when he said Jones’ soul was “swallowed up” by the Lord. I did like his point that Jones would be “a part of us forever,” though.
Although there was one good thing. As strange or flippant as it might be to mention, the food at the reception afterwords was fantastic.
“Excuse me,” the man said, “I’m here to see Mr. Henderson.”
Rebecca looked up, startled. She hadn’t heard anyone come in. In front of her stood a tall, thin, elderly gentleman wearing a black suit that had been out of fashion since before the 20th century had even begun.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “Mr. Henderson has passed on.”
“What?” exclaimed the man, taking out a gold pocketwatch and examining it closely. “That’s impossible!”
“I’m sorry sir,” Rebecca said sympathetically, “He passed on just a few minutes ago, in fact.”
The man sighed and put his watch away. “They just get more and more unreliable, don’t they?”
“The doctors do the best they can, sir,” she said, shortly, a little offended.
“Yes, yes, I’m sure they do,” the man said distractedly, looking at something above and behind Rebecca’s head. “Ah, so you decided to show up anyway?”
Rebecca spun around in shock, but saw nobody. She turned back towards the man. “Excuse me?”
“Nothing,” the man said, grabbing at something in the air and depositing it in a small jar. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got another appointment. Sorry to bother you.”
He tipped his hat and walked out the door. Rebecca shrugged and went back to her paperwork.
Let’s give a warm welcome to my friend Taylor, who decided to join me in creating an unstoppable writing empire.