Friday, May 17, 2013

A. J. Kirby


Every morning, Mark Nipple was up before the alarm. A quick shower and then a hurried breakfast. A tall glass of juice. A couple slices of dry toast. He no longer took an egg, fried or otherwise. Cholesterol.
Before he left, he’d shout up to his son, Aubrey, and he wouldn’t step out the door until Aube responded. Aube was nineteen: pretty much a vampire. Mark had an irresistible urge to force the kid to encounter daylight. Which was some kind of ironic because it was exactly what Mark’s dad had wanted for him, when Mark was the nineteen year old with dreams of making it as a musician, burning the candle low at one end in the low-rent bars and back-street clubs of Maine. Only, his dad hadn’t made do with a simple shout. No, he’d thundered up to Mark’s room and physically dragged him out his pit.
Why he cut loose from Maine in the end.
These days Mark was always on the road in time to hear the headlines at six. And he always reached the city before any of the rush hour traffic snarled-up the roads. He always called for a Starbucks on Rowlands, and he always eyed the cakes hungrily, but settled for a cap and a copy of the Tribune-Review from the news-stand. Then back to the Chevy.
It was now Mark’s course deviated. The way the seasons were in Pittsburgh pretty much dictated what he did next. A few weeks back, he’d have driven to PNC Park. Slugged down his cap and then taken a constitutional. Maybe picked a bench, a book, and whiled away the morning reading. Now the city was entering its usual downhill spiral into winter. He’d have the ice scraper out for the windshield in a few days. He’d whack on the winter tyres in a couple weeks. He just hoped it would never get as bad as ’93, and the Blizzard of. Because if they got weather like that, he’d literally have nowhere to go.
Today, he headed in the general direction of the Monongahela river. Yesterday, he’d found a nice, quiet spot he could sit and contemplate the way his hair was rapidly being deforested – an area the size of Allegany State Park receding away on a daily basis – in the rear-view mirror. There was a picnic area – at the car park, not on his head – and public conveniences. A little trail he could take if he could brave the cold.
Mark’s hair was, he’d decided, symbolic. At n-n-n-nineteen, he’d been complacent with his thick, luscious locks. Never bothered washing it; head-banged it into submission on a nightly basis. Then, when he’d given up on his rock star dreams, he’d shorn those locks, like some latterday Samson, in order to prove he was up to the job – what job? Any job. And in his forties, when, amazingly, the job Anita had for so long sneered at, had become serious, when graphic artistry had finally threatened to do more than just pay the bills, but actually provide them with a little nest egg, he’d allowed it to grow over his collar once more, just a tad, because artists were a law unto themselves. They weren’t just white-collar drones. Now he used three different bottles hair potion during his quick morning shower; some forlorn ritual, he knew.
Book he was reading last week seemed to contain a lot of stuff about hair, and it had posited the theory that people reach a certain stage in their lives when they settle on their coffin-cut. They just go in the barbers and slam their cards, their youth, on the counter, and say, I don’t care what I look like any more. In women, this phenomenon is more pronounced. Men go bald, after all. But still, yesterday, Mark had realised, with that same horror he’d had when he was nineteen and he’d crammed his fingers into his nostrils, and cocked his head in the mirror until he could see his own skull, that his own mortality stalked him. He would look like this when he died.
Yesterday, he’d been thinking of that old Rod Stewart number went I wish that I knew what I knew now, when I was younger. And hell, Mark did wish that. He wished he’d have got out his goddamn pit and seized the day. And hell, the fact he was even prepared to reference Rod Stewart now showed how different he was. Back in the day, he’d sworn by the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks.
Another book he’d read told him pretty much every cell in his body would have died and been replaced since he was nineteen so maybe he was a different person. Maybe the nineteen year old Mark Nipple who made a brand – at least on the low-grade punk scene in Maine – out of his name had already died.
The Nipple runneth dry.
Mark parked up by the sludgy brown drag of the river, between two skeletal trees, and felt like he was already dead. When he was younger he’d thought the government made people get jobs to keep them off the streets so they couldn’t kick up fuss and rail against how the world was. Now he saw people were complicit in this too. Because without a job how did one while away the hours which yawned ahead of him; the crashing boredom of weekday mornings; the monotony of the afternoons. His dad had died soon as the ink was dry on his retirement papers. Old, stubborn bastard had probably made his own heart go bang because he couldn’t stand the thought of the alternative.
But Mark’s dad had been sixty-five. Had worked a hard, menial job. Mark was still, just, right side of fifty, and yet all his days had in store for him was the reality of trying to hold back on eating the sandwiches Anita had made for him until reasonable lunch time, and then, maybe, reclining the seat and having a snooze in the afternoon. Those few moments of brain-taxing enjoyment when he attempted the Tribune crossword. Those few moments after he’d scrawled two, maybe three answers into the white squares, and he understood his brain was numb, constricted by his coffin cut and by these days of tedium, so that he’d forgotten everything he once held true.
Mark sat, watching the clock on the dash and rationing switching on the heaters. Ducking down when the occasional passerby passed by. Pretending like he was on an important call when a couple joggers wearing lumpen Duquesne University hoodies rolled past, as though he feared they’d rap on the window and ask him what he was doing there. Wondering whether he had it in him – and already deciding he didn’t – to tell them he was a private dick on a secret spying mission. When you already had your coffin cut, the creativity to lie convincingly deserted you.
But still, his one true lie, the one he told to Anita and Aube every morning when he left for work, held firm. He hadn’t worked now for six long months, ever since the cutbacks. And though he’d applied for hundreds of jobs, he’d not even scored a single interview. Despite the fact he’d now cut the photo of himself, as well as his DOB, out his CV.
Still, he wasn’t sure how long he could keep it up. The mortgage payments were okay for now, as were the repayments on the Chevy. His daughter Samantha though. She seemed to think she deserved a monthly living allowance which would practically allow her to streak past the Kardashians, never mind keep up with them. She was a student at UCLA, majoring in living the West Coast high life. Only rarely letting her Pittsburgh roots show through, with minor slips of the tongue like, in her most recent text message: “Send money pls. The car needs washed.”
And then there was Aube. Nineteen and a wannabe musician now. What happened when he realised nineteen was already too old and that he needed college, qualifications just to buy his way into a life like everybody else. Mark’d be expected to pay his son’s way too.
Ten fifteen and Mark was already removing his sandwiches from the bag Anita had packed them in. Ten twenty and Mark had tossed the only-nibbled sandwiches out the window. He’d eaten bread, in some form, every day of his life, he realised, and he was sick of it.
What would it be like to simply drive off? Simply head on down to ol’ Mehico, like he’d once dreamed of doing after the band bit dust. Leave all this behind: cut loose, make a new life like he’d done when he left Maine.
He caught his own eye in the rear-view and saw he could not even fool himself he was the same person now. Too many cells had died. Too much hair lost.
In the car, it was cold as a coffin.

© Andrew J. Kirby 2013

The only time AJ Kirby speaks in the third person is in biographies. He's the award-winning author of five published novels (Sharkways, 2012; Paint this Town Red, 2012; Perfect World, 2011; Bully, 2009; The Magpie Trap, 2008), two collections of short stories (The Art of Ventriloquism, a collection of crime shorts, which was released August 2012, and Mix Tape 2010), three novellas (The Haunting of Annie Nicol, 2012; The Black Book, 2011; Call of the Sea, 2010), and over fifty published short stories, which can be found widely in print anthologies, magazines and journals and across the web in zines, writing sites and more.

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