SHORT STORIES

Into the Background

by Scott Langdon

I’ve known Frank for so long it’s almost like we’re the same person. He was the type of fellow who, if you really want to know the truth, always blended into the background. For example, take the time in third grade when our teacher, Mrs. Kotch, left him outside when she called everyone in from recess one afternoon. 

Frank had lunch in the cafeteria with everyone else, went outside to the playground to swing or ride the merry-go-round with everyone else, but when everyone else went in, Frank jumped on a swing. Why not? Only the kids who could eat the fastest got one of the three swings on the only swing set the third-graders were allowed to swing on (for whatever stupid reason). They were the first ones to go out, “The east doors, please!” as the ladies with the walkie talkies would say every school day of our lives until we went to high school. Except for Brad McClusky, of course. He died in a car crash when we were in eighth grade.  At least he didn’t have to listen to the walkie-talkie ladies, anymore. The sound of their voices in those walkie-talkies can really hurt your ears. Anyway, Frank was a very slow eater, so he was never going to be able to get a swing if he went back inside with the rest of us kids. 

While everyone was inside learning times tables, Frank looked like he was about to blast off in Apollo 69 and go around the moon and come back in time to catch the bus that would take him home from school. He swang really high that day. It was truly something to behold. I thought I might have to take on the role of look out and distract Mrs. Kotch if it came down to it. But, it never did. It never came to that. No one even looked around to see if Frank was there. He stayed out all afternoon. Mrs. Kotch instructed the students to get their belongings and form a “Single file line, please!” as all the teachers say. 

I don’t know why it has to be single file. Noah from the Bible did everything in twos. Why can’t we ever line up like the hippos and the elephants and the garden snakes – two by two. I guess the fascist regime that is Tinicum Elementary School just doesn’t want you to question anything. I know I never had the courage to speak up about anything. I never wanted the conflict, if you want to know the truth. 

Anyway, so, Frank slipped back into the classroom and gathered his things with the rest of us. He just blended right in. Nobody except me even knew he was gone. When Sherry Morgan backed into him, she turned to see what she had run into.

“Oh, it’s you,” she said. 

“I’m sorry,” said Frank. 

“You’re so weird,” she said. 

Frank didn’t need to say he was sorry. Sherry bumped into him. She should have said she was sorry, not him. But, nobody understands the rules in the third grade or the twelfth grade or any of the grades, for that matter. They just throw you in together and expect you to work things out on your own. Throw the sheep and the wolves and the, I don’t know, the zebras, I guess, into a building for one hundred and eighty days a year for thirteen years and see what you get. Will the zebra change its stripes? It’s doubtful.

That brings me to today, Frank’s fiftieth birthday. His life might appear boring to anyone looking in from the outside. He’s a postal carrier and has been for twenty-five years this coming June. If you asked anyone who lived on his route to pick Frank out of a lineup, no one would be able to do it. It’s not like he doesn’t walk his route and hand deliver every piece of mail. He walks right up onto some people’s porches and puts the mail in their boxes, but no one ever sees him. 

It’s Memorial Day, so Frank was off from work. The post office is closed during federal holidays. Having Monday off is like having a three-day vacation for Frank and on his birthday no less. He decided to dress up and go to Applebee’s restaurant, the one on Route 52, not the one on Plymouth Avenue. The one on Plymouth Avenue has dirty bathrooms and the hand dryer never works. There is nothing that can ruin a good dinner like going into the bathroom, doing your business, and realizing you can’t dry off your hands after you wash them. Now, you have wet hands, and if you happen to meet someone and shake their hand, they think you have urine on your hand or something because it’s wet. 

Frank waited for someone to seat him when he walked in, but the two girls who were rolling the silverware behind the half-wall that you can run into when you come in if you’re not careful didn’t even look up to acknowledge him. So, Frank sat in a booth in the corner. 

“Excuse me!” 

Frank had just sat down when he heard the voice from behind him say those words in his direction. When he looked behind him, he saw one of the silverware girls approaching him with a clipboard in one hand and a very determined look on her face. 

“Excuse me, sir! You can’t just seat yourself. We have an order of tables we sit people at. There’s a rotation. You can’t just seat yourself,” she said.

“I’m sorry,” said Frank. “I waited up front, but nobody was helping me, so I just sat down.” 

“Well, you can’t just seat yourself.”

“I’m sorry.”

Frank didn’t need to say he was sorry.  They should have seen he was there. They were in the wrong.

“Well,” said the girl, checking her clipboard. “It just so happens this is the next table on the rotation. So, you can sit there. This time.”

“Thank you,” answered Frank. He decided not to say anything more. 

Frank looked around. It seemed as though every one of the people in Applebee’s had at least one person with them in their party. Frank was always a party of one. It never bothered him much. He liked to read and daydream and do things on his own. His mother taught him to knit when he was ten years old, and he still loved to do it. It’s a solitary pursuit, knitting. Frank picked it up so quickly, his mother said he was a “little sponge” because he retained so much information about the craft. 

Anyway, after almost twenty minutes, a server came over to Frank’s table. 

“My name’s Terry. I’ll be your server. Can I get you something to drink?”

“Can I have a Diet Coke, please?”

Terry turned and walked away. Frank wondered if Terry even heard what he had said. 

He thought he should go to the restroom before Terry came back. On the way there, he saw a table for twelve. It looked to Frank like some kind of work get-together. He saw the folks at the table were drinking quite a bit, and that Terry was waiting on them. 

The restrooms at the Applebee’s on Route 52 are pretty nice. They’re always clean, but the hand dryers are too loud, and they blow too hard. It was hard for Frank to get his hands dry because he had to keep moving his hands away and then back again, away and then back again.

Anyway, Frank made it quick in the restroom and hustled back to his table so he wouldn’t miss Terry. When he returned to his table, it looked as though Terry hadn’t come back yet. There was no drink on the table or any silverware for that matter. Frank sat with his menu closed and positioned on the edge of the table so someone would see he was ready to order. Nobody came. After twenty-five minutes, Frank finally flagged down a manager.

“Excuse me?” said Frank, almost falling out of his booth as he tried to get the manager’s attention. “Sir!”

The manager stopped and doubled back to Frank’s table.

“Yes, sir. Can I help you?”

“Yes,” said Frank. “Terry took my drink order about twenty-five minutes ago and hasn’t come back.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir. Let me check on that for you,” the manager said.

Five minutes later, Terry came back to Frank’s table with a Diet Coke and an attitude. 

“I thought you left,” Terry said.

“I’m sorry,” said Frank. “I had to use the restroom.”

“Are you going to eat?”

“Yes. I’d like a cheeseburger burger, medium well, and fries and another Diet Coke, please.”

Terry didn’t even write his order down. Was Frank supposed to trust that Terry would remember his order after having just forgotten he was even there? It turns out, Terry did remember and was back about twelve minutes later with his order. 

“Wow! This looks great, thanks!”

“Do you need anything else?” Terry asked no one in particular.

“Yes. May I have some spicy mustard, please?” asked Frank.

Terry turned and walked away. Frank wondered if Terry had even heard what he had said. 

Frank waited five minutes before he decided to give up on the spicy mustard. The ketchup on the table would do. But, he really wanted that spicy mustard. 

The table for twelve was getting louder now. Frank leaned around and could see some of the party was starting to get ready to go. Terry was nowhere to be found, and the manager he flagged down a little while ago had disappeared, as well. 

When he bit into his burger, the cold center almost made him instantly ill. Luckily, he grabbed a napkin just in time to spit the rare-cooked meat into it and not onto his plate.

Frank had enough. “That’s it,” he said to himself. 

Frank stood up and straightened his tie. He looked over to the party of twelve. They were looking over the bill, trying to decide who owed what. Frank watched them from only a few feet away. There was a man in a pink dress shirt who seemed to want to be in charge, and then there was a woman in a yellow top and black pants who was in charge. It might not have been apparent to anyone else but the yellow-topped woman and Frank, but she was definitely in charge. 

“Everyone just give me thirty dollars cash, and we’ll be good,” she said, maybe a little more loudly than needed. 

Frank and she were right because she was in charge. If she wasn’t in charge, why would everyone give her thirty dollars like they did? The woman counted the money and put it in the small book in which Terry had placed the check. Just as she did this, Frank walked over. 

“Hey folks,” said Frank. “I’m one of the managers here. Did everything come out okay? Everyone have a good time?”

Everyone said they had a great time. Even the man who thought he was in charge but wasn’t. 

“Great,” said Frank. “I can go ahead and take this bill for you and get you some change. I’ll be right back.” 

“Oh no! That’s okay,” said the woman in charge. “ We don’t need change!”

“Perfect,” said Frank.

Frank took the book with the $360 inside and just stood there. He looked around the restaurant. Not a single person was looking at him. Frank walked right out the front door. Terry came up $360 short at the end of the night and didn’t even remember seeing him.

It was as though Frank had just blended into the background. 

____________________________________








Am I Still Recording?

by, Scott Langdon

Am I recording? Is this thing on? Testing, one, two. Check? Check? Okay, the needle is moving so…wait there’s the red light, which is on. This app is so stupid.

Okay…

Oh, man. I don’t know exactly what’s going on here, but I think I want to say a few things before…

I’m feeling sleepy, like I can’t keep my eyes open. I’m not really surprised. How could I be? What did I think would happen?

The pills are gone and so is the whiskey. I don’t even like whiskey. I should probably try to throw up.

Fuck. Did I take all those pills.

Maybe some fell onto the floor and rolled back, underneath the couch. I need to find them because I know I didn’t take them all. Did I? Fuck.

They’re all probably saying, He’ll never do that! That’s not something he would EVER do! He loves *blank* too much. What a cliché. 

Yeah, fill in the blank. You have to put a *blank* in there because I love too many people and too many things. Love feels good. I know what it feels like to love and to be loved in return. I’m very grateful. Did I just quote Moulin Fucking Rouge?

If I’m so grateful for being loved, then why do I get so goddam sad? Why?!? What’s wrong with me?!

So, I’m not actually grateful? I’m UN-grateful? Is that what you mean to say? I’m a narcissist? A fucking narcissist, Kathleen? How can you say that? I don’t want to be fucking sad like this! Come on! 

Okay, I’m sorry. I should erase that part. 

No! I’m not going to stop recording. This is me. This is who I am right now, and I’m sick of all of our perfectly curated lives.  No, I want to record everything straight through, as it is because…I…want…I don’t know what I want. I just don’t know. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

You think I want the attention? Is that what you’re saying? I want attention? 

I don’t know. Maybe it’s true, in the sense that I want to be loved. I mean, who doesn’t love being loved? But, this is different. This is a sadness in my head. It’s in my skull. My skull, skull, skull. I know I should be happy, and not because I know what society says about happiness. 

Fuck them. Fuck society. 

I mean, I acknowledge my life is amazing and full of beautiful people who love me and whom I love and (I just said, *whom*, is that right? I think that’s right. I should call Mom and ask her) at the same time, I’m sad. In my skull. In my achy bones. 

I can’t call Mom if I go to sleep. I have to stay awake. Where am I? I’m on the floor looking under the couch. Nice. How long have I been down here?

What am I doing? Why am I here?

Oh, the pills! The pills, the pills, the pills. Where are they? They’re not here. They’re not here! I took them all! Fuck. Oh, fuck. 

I’m just going to lie here. 

Jesus…Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…Jesus?

Where are you? Are you coming for me? I’m not finished here. There’s more to do. I don’t want to go with you. Not now. I don’t think I even really know you. 

Do I? I thought I did, but I’m not sure we ever really got acquainted. Not properly, anyway. Maybe formally, but not properly, I don’t think. Do you know what I mean?

I know who you weren’t, I can tell you that. It got to be pretty easy to spot after a while. I don’t want to live in a world where you look like that, the way you look in America. If that’s who you are, then you can fuck right off. Don’t need you. I don’t want any part of it. 

Okay, I need to get up. I need to walk. I should call somebody. Let me call someone. Where’s the house phone? The land line. Line. Line Line. Lionel. Lionel Railroad. Lionel… 

Am I still recording? Okay, still recording.

Okay, I’m dialing now…dialing, dialing, dialing.

“Hello?”

“Hi. It’s me.”

”What the hell, dude? Do you know what time it is?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize…I’m sorry. Goodbye. Goodnight.”

Nice going, Asswipe. It’s three in the morning. Nice. Perfect. That’s a perfect example of how you suck at life. Fucking genius. 

I’m going to lie down…on the…right here…

“Hello? Hello!? Can you hear me?!”

“Oh, shit. Did I not hang up?”

“There we go. Can you understand me, at all?”

“Yeah…yes. I just…Jesus is real. I mean, he was a real person who died, but ‘Jesus,’ you know, with a capital J? That shit’s real. He’s real. I mean, not physically, but a presence, a mystical collaborator. A companion. Love. Love, Love, Love.”

“Tell me what you’ve taken. Can you do that?”

“Xanax.” 

“How much?”

“All of them.”

“Do you know how many that is?” 

“No.”

“Do you know where you are?”

“No.” 

“You’re in an ambulance, and we’re taking you to the hospital. Your best friend called. He was extremely worried. But, you’re going to be alright. Everything is going to be fine. You’re lucky to be alive.”

Am I still recording?