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Station 5. A stranger helps Scott carry the cross

Wood carving by Susan Hagen, story by Mike Walsh

Scott was working late. He needed to finish formatting and printing the handouts his supervisor needed the next day. He also needed to make two dozen collated and stapled copies. He was tired and wanted to go home, and he couldn't believe he was spending his time doing such stupid bullshit.

By the time he got home, read his mail, listened to his phone messages, and ate, it was late. He watched a television show, but he was restless. He called Leslie, his ex-girlfriend.

"I feel like hell," he said.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

"You know, my job. It sucks."

"You were going to keep that job just until you got your college loans paid off, remember?"

"I remember."

"Then you were going to get a part-time job and write a novel."

"I know, I know," he moaned.

"You paid off your college loans, but then you bought a house. Now you've got mortgage payments, and you can't afford to quit your job."

"You're right."

"You haven't written anything in years. No wonder you feel bad about yourself."

"I was broke for a long time before I got this job," he said, "and I just couldn't deal with that anymore."

"You've got to get your priorities in order. What do you want to do, make money or write?"

She was making him feel even worse, so he got off the phone and went to bed, but he didn't sleep much. He couldn't stop thinking about the writing career he had seemingly abandoned. Three years in grad school for creative writing, and now he was a company man eight hours a day, forty hours a week, every week of the year except for a couple vacation weeks. His instructors in grad school had said he showed promise, and he had gotten a few stories published. If only he had stuck with it, he could've had dozens of short stories written by now or maybe even a novel. He wasn't even sure he could call himself a writer anymore. What was he, an administrative assistant?

The next morning he felt off-kilter and sluggish, so he called in sick. He went back to bed and didn't get up until eleven. He ate a bowl of cereal and looked around his house. The place was filthy. The sink was full of dirty dishes, and he was almost out of groceries. It depressed him. He decided to spend the day cleaning and grocery shopping. Maybe it would take his mind off of his identity crisis.

He did the dishes and walked to the local supermarket. He bought more groceries than he had intended, so he had two heavy bags of groceries to carry the six blocks to his house. He put one in each arm and trudged off.

His arms were aching after just one block. He lifted the bags higher and pressed them against his chest. He was hot and sweaty, and he could feel himself getting depressed. If he could just get some writing done in his spare time, he knew he would feel better. But no matter how often he had resolved to write, he had never done it. His job took up too much of his time and energy. Perhaps he put too much of himself into the job just so he would have an excuse not to write.

If he hadn't bought the house, perhaps he could've gotten by with a part-time job. He couldn't remember exactly why he had bought the house. At the time it had seemed like a good idea, but he didn't even like his neighborhood anymore. He felt trapped and saw no option but to continue as he was.

An old man passing by on the sidewalk stopped in front of Scott, pointed a bony finger at him, and said, "You think you got problems. You ain't heard nothing. My sister's in the hospital for a gall bladder operation, I haven't worked for three years, I've got liver cancer and no insurance, and my dog got run over last week. Now those are problems, buddy-boy."

Scott was shocked. He hadn't realized that his distress was so visible. And what kind of a nut would say such a thing? What a weird neighborhood.

Sweat rolled down Scott's face as he walked. He could smell cans of frozen orange juice melting in the grocery bags. Twice he stopped, lowered the bags to the ground, and rested his arms. As he crossed an intersection just a block from his home, he stumbled and both bags broke open.

He stood motionless in the middle of the intersection watching his groceries-fruits and vegetables, cans and bottles-roll away from him in all directions. He was flabbergasted at the situation. How would he get his groceries home? He didn't have extra grocery bags with him. He couldn't repair the ripped bags. Would he gather them up on the sidewalk and run armfuls of them home hoping that no one stole what he left behind? Should he knock on a door and ask a complete stranger for two spare grocery bags? He knew he shouldn't have bought so many groceries. Everything was so horrible, his career and now this. Life was one big problem without a solution.

He felt like lying down on the hot asphalt and weeping. He might get run over, but he didn't care. Maybe that would be for the best, he thought. The entire scene--the cars now waiting at the intersection, the people now watching him from their front doors--began to slowly spin. He felt himself falling.

He dropped to his knees and felt as if he were melting into the surface of the earth. The planet would absorb him, and he would be no more. Everything would be so much better then because he wouldn't have to do anything and no one would expect anything of him.

He heard a car pull up and stop behind him. It was a red, shiny Camaro. A tall, muscular young man stepped out. He wore large, untied basketball shoes and baggy shorts that matched his tank top. Scott could see a shiny substance in his neatly trimmed hair, and he smelled distinctly of male grooming products.

The young man approached him and asked, "You all right, man?"

"Yeah, thanks," said Scott as the young man helped him to his feet.

Scott was astonished. He had expected the young man to yell at him or perhaps to push him around. He could see an attractive, thin young woman in the passenger seat. She adjusted her makeup in the rearview mirror. He wondered why he never had such girls accompanying him about.

Several cars waited to cross the intersection, and a few of the drivers leaned on their horns.

"What's the big hurry?" the young man yelled in the direction of the honking cars.

"Don't worry about them," he said to Scott. "They can wait. I got a couple of bags with me."

The young man opened his trunk and pulled out two large plastic bags. He and Scott quickly picked up the groceries and put them in the bags.

Scott stood on the sidewalk with his groceries and watched the young man step back into the Camaro. "Can you make it home all right?" he asked Scott.

"Yeah," Scott answered. "Thanks again." He felt pathetic, like an invalid, as if he couldn't survive without the help of kind strangers. The young woman still hadn't looked at him. She seemed bored.

"Be careful," said the young man as he rolled up his window and drove off.

The waiting traffic took turns driving through the intersection. A few of the drivers gave Scott irritated looks. One teenager shouted, "Hey, what's the matter? You fuckin' crazy or something?"

Scott ignored the comments. He was still in shock. He couldn't believe that someone had actually helped him without asking for anything in return. He felt refreshed and invigorated. He forgot about his aching arms and his career problems.

He walked the remaining block without incident, admiring the plastic bags. They were strong and did not sustain even the slightest tear. As he entered his apartment, he resolved to write a fictional account of his struggles getting his groceries home safely.

Stations: [Contents] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14]

See more of Susan Hagen's artwork or Mike Walsh's writing on missionCREEP.

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