First & Third (A Short Story)

first-and-thirdWritten by: Derek Hobson

The walls are talking to me. Everything starts to move when you stare at it long enough: expanding, drifting, shifting, encroaching. I don’t know what kind of perception it is, maybe it comes from watching a sinking sun or being in tune with the Earth, feeling the rotation beneath your feet, pulling you down.

I love doors. Drop me in a doorless room with all four walls and you’ll agree. Agree that you love doors and that everything feels like it’s moving even if it’s coming down on you to crunch you. Spin around and you feel vertigo. Marking the walls won’t help, it’ll drive you mad. Say one stripe, one cut, on one wall. Spin around, fall asleep, wake up again, assume it’s North, but the skid mark is thinner, the cut is deeper; it’s a different wall entirely, more narrow, someone’s gotten to you in your sleep, it’s a mind game! They’re playing games! Rotating the walls when you weren’t looking, switching them in and out like filters. Opening Pandora’s box, making you believe that there is a way out, but I know better. Eying that mark, that spontaneous curve, they couldn’t recreate it—no matter how hard they tried. Can’t trust ‘em. Walls. They’re not real. Designs, paints, the bumps—oh yes, the protruding bumps along the wall to make you think it’s not predictable. Falsehood and lies. Count the bumps but lose track, find pictures that morph into other pictures and shapes. Find grooves so obvious and yet, even after years, you never saw them before. If it’s a recognition game, then all walls look alike. Some taller, smaller, colored differently, but they all mean the same thing. Access is limited. Move to think outside the box, but it limits your thoughts. Only so many walls; travel inward, but even you are the contents, the organs of the box. You’re a box yourself, stuffed with innards you were never meant to see. Disembowelment destroys the box, but liberates the contents. Restricted movement, but the organs are working with you (until the nausea kicks in). Should I work with the box as well? No. That’s what it wants, it can’t be trusted, it follows its own will and it’s not there to help you out.

It wants you in for what you did wrong. What did I do wrong? I guess I made a wrong turn somewhere, passed out and awoke inside a tomb. No buried treasure or pyramid scheme, just me and a box.

“What the hell are you doing?” Grandpop lifted the cardboard veil exposing the disillusioned Wade. “What the hell’s the matter with you, huh?! Out here in the middle of the street; someone could run you over!!” Grandpop’s voice indicated frantic perplexity yet it was the look of worry that brought Wade’s head to his chest. He stood himself up. With one arm firmly secured around Wade’s collar and the other gripping the box—pushing the box’s flexibility to its limits as the creases turned to tears—he marched the 7-year-old from the crusty, hot cul-de-sac to the tamale-colored house. Wade was willing, but not enthused.

“Sit down here,” commanded grandpop. Wade sat in the thickness of the couch cushion slowly being swallowed up into the slimy, leather plates.


“That’s what I said. God forbid a reckless driver comes by; he don’t know he’s under there.”

“I’ll call his mother.”

“First and foremost, I’m gonna throw out this box.” His voice sighed into the garage, “Jeez louise.” As the door slammed, Grandma dialed. Those tones meant nothing to Wade, for he knew on the other side of that line was silence.

“Yes, Amy, hi. How are you? Good, well, it’s been a handful here today.”

Grandpop came in through the garage, “is that Amy? Let me talk to her.” They swapped ears, “oh good. Listen, has mom told you? Gosh Amy, you wouldn’t believe this.”

Grandma walked over with a look of scorn, “I think it’s time you go to bed.” Wade didn’t want to, he didn’t feel tired. Without actual imminent danger, he felt no need for such a fuss, but Grandma’s stare told him better. He slipped from the couch to his feet and trudged for the stairs. He felt his grandmother follow like a hungry vulture. As the stairs turned and he put his hand on the rail, he caught a quick glimpse of her crinkled brow and stern chin indentations. He pivoted his head back to the stairs, but too fast—notably so. “Don’t slouch.” reaffirming his position on the totem pole. And as he faded from grandpop’s ear shot, “I looked all over but I couldn’t find him. I’m tellin’ ya, something’s wrong with that boy.”

Into the bedroom, tucked under his covers, close the blinds, off with the lights, Grandmom closes the door. They’d claim his mother was on the other line, but Wade knew it was silence. The room grew dimmer, the walls leaned closer, and his eyes flickered into the all-consuming darkness.

They dragged me out to put me back in, it’s mind games, I tell ya. They swap ‘em out like filters. Can’t trust ‘em. All walls are alike.

Adults and watches. Looking over me in shifts. They always ask, “what time?” As though numbers had anything to do with it. Nap time. Time to go to school. Dinner time. Time out. Time to wake up. But they run their own schedules and clocks. Mom time, is always late. Grandpop, time is money. Grandma time is squandered away in lectures—grandpop says talk is cheap. At least they own it. I stare at the hands of Mickey Mouse with a frozen smile on his face, performing upper body yoga. His arms up above his head—I can’t hold my arms up that long. I don’t own it. I’m a slave to it. Watching it while at school, given it at home. I have no time, only what they give to me. If it’s time to go to sleep I cannot resist—I cannot fight the inevitable, they know I’m condemned to live their hours, I exist because they pay me in time to be conscious.

I’m thankful for their time, but I’d rather be doing something else with it. Everything I ask to do however, is considered a waste of time. So I commit my time to them, working with them, hoping I don’t become indebted to them. I don’t want to be owing years to my family, droning on when I’m 90, frail and weak, collapsing in a soggy bed, suffocating as I huff and puff factory fumes. My hands, wrinkled to the bone; flesh sagging from my face, drooping into my cereal. I feel the wear on my bones, they don’t want to move; they don’t want to strain anymore. I can’t wait to be buried like the rest of them, released from this time capsule—my real walled coffin. Until then, I run on their clock, strapped to the second hand, spinning round and round, staring at the paradoxically longer minute hand. And when the clock strikes 12, it starts over again, there is no finish, it is not a pendulum—as the grandfather clock implies. It continues.

Each day I wake and feel the same—it must be a side-effect of having no time of my own. I’m conscious and then I’m tucked away, stashed for tomorrow’s service. My room is a drawer, no different than a hairbrush. Though I am a pain. They complain about my inability and my shortcomings… what am I here for? A family finds common ground, speaking of me downstairs when the mom comes home. They get along well. I only hear the first few minutes of their laughter, next thing I know, my mother is shaking me to wake up for school—time flies when you’re having fun.

“Sound it out!” Counselor Fields squawked at Wade as he stared blankly over the cover in front of him. A dim bulb cracked in the back of the portable, dimming the murky space further. Wade squinted as though it would become more clear. Fields wouldn’t have it, “Excuses, excuses!” She read the title aloud and Wade’s eyes welled up. Despite what he heard, he couldn’t see where she got it. She bleated again, “Excuses! Say it!” Wade’s lip trembled, his teeth chattered, he wished he was with his classmates, enjoying arts and crafts. He wished he was not in this dark room with Miss Fields whose hair was too many colors and face could only make a scowl. He tried to say it aloud, but the “E” came off too strong.

“NO!” She snatched Wade’s hand, manipulating his limp fingers, pressing his index finger to the words on the cover page, “say it!” Wade couldn’t hold back. The tears came and wouldn’t stop. The only words he was capable of uttering, in this state, were onomatopoeic. He used his free hand to shield his face, spit wetting his lip and oozing to the floor. His hand became pasty and hot, reddening his face. “Stop crying,” Miss Fields dropped his other hand only to snatch it back from his face, “stop crying.” Wade echoed those words to himself, ever since he ended up here, but it was so much harder than she could understand; he started getting mad. He withdrew his hands to look upon the face of the crone, but she commanded, “Now read it.” Wade trembled, trying to reclaim his body. Snot poured out of his nose but he pulled away strands with his crimson sleeve. Her face unaltered, “you’re not leaving until we finish.” Wade tucked his arms in and leaned forward, he tried desperately to see what she was seeing but could only recite her words, “excuses, excuses.”

“Good.” She opened the book to the very first page, blank with some plain black and white text. A different font provided a new challenge, one Wade was unprepared for. He tried sounding it out but the “E” was too strong.

“It’s excuses, excuses! Do I have to call your mother? I know you can read this!” Her backwards confidence in him made him sickly once more; his mouth shuddered and eyes pleaded to drown, Wade felt the icy reality, he was on Miss Field’s time now, and would not leave until he paid off what was due, “excuses, excuses.”

“Good,” flipping the page, “moving on.”

Trust yourself. I get a kick out of that, combining “your” and “self” to make it seem like it’s one thing and not property. Trust your eyes, is what they say, as though they’re apart from you. Trust your instincts, as though you can own them. What is self? Can it lie to you?

Mirrors. Me looking back at me, doing as I do except when I blink, turn around, or leave. How would it know, or I know. If I don’t know, I can’t be certain myself knows either. What I do know is that the face I see will wither away. It will morph, grow, alter, elongate, and eventually wrinkle, pop, tear, burst. It will not be the same as now, it gets left behind. And to assume that my self is the same self as four years ago—based on appearance—is inaccurate; though so is mindset five years ago. So it’s consciousness then, not the organs either—those are invisible to the naked eye, impossible to identify and will also change, wither, burst, and tear. The thread of my consciousness is my self. But even my consciousness is confused, it doesn’t have all the answers. Even if I trust it, I second guess, thinking it a paradox. Saying, “trust your self,” is the consciousness asking you (the consciousness) to trust it (the consciousness). The statement is absurd, it goes without saying, so why isn’t it generally understood like a principle. What goes up, must come down. Equal and opposite reaction. Two protons cannot occupy the same space. How can you not trust yourself, unless you do identify with physical features. Stray away from mirrors and look back 35 years later. What you see would not a be you, like being planted in a different body with the same consciousness or making a clone with all the memories up until my death; it would still be me and I’d have multiple deaths. Immortality. I already don’t like what I see but it’ll be there tomorrow unless I wake up and it’s years from now; but how? It’s too unreal to fantasize about. Too unreal.

“I need to run some errands, how long will this take?” Wade’s mother interrogated the young hair cuttress.

“30 minutes.”

“Alright. Now, Wade, sweetie, Mommy has to go but I’ll be back when you’re all done.” That time was subject to change.

Wade stared ahead into the mirrored abyss, one reflecting another, reflecting another, another. He thought about one mirror reflecting another and what that would look like—if anything. It got greener as it went down. A two-way mirror seemed best.

She snipped his hair, he squeezed his eyes shut by his forehead, feeling the steel scissors slice his hair with limitless ease; his eyeballs were next if she slipped. Thick crescent hair clumps slid down his plastic poncho. The more snips, the more his appearance changed, perfectly timed with when he shut his eyes, or tilted his head forward. He could not see the changes, but felt the weight alleviate on top.

“You go to school?”

Wade nodded, causing a sudden grimace over the lady. She recovered quickly but remained silent. Conversation would not come with this package. He wanted to ask her about shampoo; apply it to scalp or lather it all over, but the words wouldn’t come out. A lack of confidence and timing prevented these words. He held his tongue as, when he opened it, tiny hair packets flew in. He couldn’t get it right. Enough about him, more about her. That’s conversation.

“Alright.” She brushed him off and let the chair down as though it was being deflated. Wade hunted for the three dollars in his pocket but couldn’t find it. He sat, rummaging mercilessly through his pockets, stuffing his hand all the way down. The lady paid no mind and went to the back. Inside his back pocket was the money his mom told him to give to the woman. He got to his feet and proceeded from the waiting area onto the cutting floor. People paid him no mind, as though he were invisible. Unfortunately, the mirrors dispelled any thoughts of transparency. A woman came out from the back, but did not look familiar. Suddenly, it occurred to Wade that he didn’t know what she looked like. He didn’t know her name or memorize her features and she wouldn’t talk to a boy.

“Wade?” His mother called from the door and the child rushed to meet her. A woman approached the register and gave the amount. While Wade’s mother responded in kind, he slid three dollars on the counter. While the two grown women giggled, Wade thought about the inconvenience it must be for the lady. She retreated to the back, he must have picked the wrong one—or she was insulted to be tipped by an uninspiring child.

“Do you like your new hair cut?” Wade didn’t know what to say, he looked different.

For more short stories, check out Derek Hobson’s Article Archive

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