All the things that John could have said string together so easily, now that he no longer has the time to say them.
“It’s over”, John whispered to himself, barely able to meet his eyes which reflected back in the dimly lit bathroom mirror.
The lines under his eyes were deeper and more pronounced than they had been just a few weeks ago. John squinted and watched the way skin at the edges of his eyes bunched in horizontal lines.
A singular window in the bedroom let in the soft afternoon light, which struggled around the bend, into the lampless bathroom where John stood. The dreary ambience was a comfort to him. It hadn’t been the best of times, when he left home nearly three weeks back, but the road was better even if the hotels, like this one, had been less than hospitable along the way.
John stared into the gray, empty sink. Two paper wrapped miniature bars of soap sat quietly at the edge, accompanied by equally small bottles of shampoo and conditioner. To the right of those, also in miniature fashion, was a bottle of lotion. John realized how much he had in common with these little throw away versions of larger replicates, which each traveler kept at home in bathrooms not at all unlike the one he occupied. How easy it was to only use what one needed from these hygienic products, then toss the rest and mostly unused part into the trash. It was complimentary after all. That is how John felt, a complimentary addition to the lives he passed through. Never a mainstay but rather a product to be partially consumed then tossed aside once he was no longer needed to fill the gap between where one was and where they were going.
John wondered how many of these little bottles were used every day, and what happened to them once the travelers had used all they needed? There were countless motels that lined the highways and surrounded airports across the US and it seemed that none of them were at all likely to ask their guests to kindly rinse the bottles and place them in the ascribed waste basket for recyclables.
A waste, John mused, but a negligible one that neither found time or purpose in the thoughts of busy people always on there way. It wasn’t like him to consider such elements of the human incapability to understand how things like plastic really did not go away, whether their contents were used entirely or not. The particles that create even the smallest of squeezable containers, such as these, were stubborn to live and refused to decompose in any natural way. Yet most of these creations would find their way into the natural world, buried in earth like a seed but gave life to nothing. John wondered why he should care or why he even gave it thought. If it wasn’t for the fact that he too felt used only for temporary supplement, as if he would fall away and decompose from the memory of their lives, then he might not have considered the bottles at all. Damn the process and damn the environmentalists too, he thought.
John wanted to live in a simple and completely ordinary fashion. Finish school, get a career, find a woman, buy a house, and start a family. There weren’t ulterior motives when he was fresh out of college, the world was his for the taking. Now, he was incapable of understanding what it was that he had wanted back then, which seemed so long ago. Why was it so difficult for one to revert back to his old way of thought? He’d learned too much. It was impossible to turn away from the truth that whispered to him from every corner of the world he found himself. A dark agent following him in the shadows, never seen but always felt.
John’s eyes flicked around the bathroom in suspicion. He stomped to the bathtub and ripped the shower curtain aside, hoping he would find the culprit hiding there, but he only found more shampoo bottles staring up at him from the corner of the tub.
John walked back to the mirror, placed his palms down on the counter, and stared at the reflection. His pupils were dark and wide, nearly squeezing the color from his iris. They seemed empty and endless at the same time. He wondered what one would find if they were small enough to travel through the portal of the eyes and continue on the brain, peering into the different corridors like window shopping in a mall. If one found something of interest they might step inside an idea and give it a closer look. John wondered what it might be like, if there were silent shelves or if it hummed and beeped like the data centers he’d worked at in his early twenties.
John turned from the sight of himself, refusing to think about things that didn’t make any difference in his life after the idea was exhausted.
In the same way, he tried not to think about Lynn. She must have been nearly eight-hundred miles north of him by this point, somewhere in the flatlands of Montana just east beyond the mountains. It was only two weeks ago when she left for the last time and even though he’d told her it was alright, now it seemed that it was anything of the sort. Why did leaving always have to be so hard?
John never appreciated the ideas she flooded him with during the time they spent together. He believed it was a phase she would grow out of, something they would laugh about as grandparents as they grew old by each other’s side in matching rocking chairs on a porch in rural Oregon. However, Lynn never showed signs of growing out of it. She lined her desk with books on small farming, hydroponics and the like, and it was the stake she drove between them that eventually split them apart for good. She was a suburban girl driven toward hippy idealism. Their conversations drifted towards consumerism and the in-sustainability of the new age. Topics that John was reluctant to talk about because it felt so negative and pessimistic, it shut him down entirely until they didn’t have much for conversation during the final days of their relationship. Lynn told him about her plans to move away from the city and start something a different life. A life lived for the good of the planet. That was all she cared about, the good of the planet. It was this distant and ideal future that pulled her from him as the moon pull the tides away from the shore. What was left behind in her wake was this strange emptiness that could only described as absence of what should have been.
In the beginning, John had been certain it would be the last time he would date anyone. Lynn would fill the emptiness that only became more vast and indescribable as age had pressed its lonely fingers around John’s heart. There was an unmistakeable connection between them that John understood as the draw between two souls that were meant to share their existence. Lynn was the rising sun coming to warm his heart from the cold and darkness he’d suffered before her slow trajectory above the horizon. Now, it felt as though she’d been eclipsed by her own ideals, which aligned with her path, forever blocking out the light and drifting below his world without a promise to return.
John turned from the bathroom and plodded to the kitchen. He grabbed his pack of Marlboros and turned it over in his hand. Lynn hated his habit of smoking and he’d made a genuine effort to put it away, but without her to point out his weaknesses he felt it necessary to fall away into their outstretched arms.
John stepped outside into the blistering Nevada heat. It was six in the evening and the west facing door of his room let him out into the full brightness of the burning star. The parking lot in front of him was empty except for a few cars. A silent highway bordered the lot, only distant taillights could be seen wavering in the distance as the heat warped the edge of the earth.
John pulled a cigarette from the pack and walked around to the backside of the building, in search of shade.
It was day one of his journey to Colorado. He was on his way to a new career and a different location where one might start over again, uninhibited by the past. Thats what he really needed now, was a fresh start.
John was to begin in three days at Silfien Energy. It was an apprenticeship, and, at the age of thirty-two, he was reluctant to begin again in a new field but the job boasted a healthy salary. The residential construction he was familiar with had dried up in northern Idaho and he’d been searching for months for anything that would pay his bills and give him a fresh start somewhere new. Somewhere far from Lynn.
Beads of sweat welled up on his forehead as he stubbed out his smoke and moved hastily back to the shelter of his room. Once inside, John felt relieved of his thoughts of home, Lynn, and the life he was leaving behind. He picked up his laptop and opened a folder on the front screen, it was the pdf of the new employee handbook for Silfien. The heat encroached the room and he sat the laptop down, walked over toward the air conditioner, and dialed thermostat down a couple more degrees.
The day was July 23, 2017.

4 thoughts on “A Couple Degrees

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