Wednesday, May 24, 2006

769 words about Neal

Neal is 36 this year but says he's 35. It's not vanity; Neal is forgetful. He works in an office, the kind with cubicles and posters of kittens on the wall. He has a fern on his desk. It's plastic.

He is tall. His legs are long, very long, and his torso disproportionately short. He's never had a good haircut in his life. The whiskers of a thin mustache more strawberry than blond tickle his thin upper lip.

He always wears a button-down shirt two sizes too big for him. The shoulders droop off his frame. He rolls up his sleeves nearly to the elbow. He tucks the shirt in, showing off a worn brown belt that doesn't match his black loafers. He wears a cheap watch and always has pens in his shirt pocket, always blue ink, usually Bic.

He keeps a jar of hard candy on his desk to offer to coworkers should they stop by. They never do. He eats lunch from a brown bag every day; tuna on rye for nearly eleven years. It has never occurred to him that he might be boring. He eats slowly, chewing thoughtfully as he flips through a magazine about model airplanes. He doesn't build them, but he's a faithful subscriber. He likes to think that he might build a model plane one day. One day.

He takes the #34 bus home at night, his knees knocking the seat in front of him. He stares out the window with a mild, almost pleasant smile on his face. He never fails to wish the driver a good night.

He waves to his neighbours but doesn't stop to talk. They think he is a nice man, a quiet man. And he is.

His home is modest, his yard is neat. The lawn is newly mown.

The key to his front door is on a Mickey Mouse key chain in his pocket, a souvenir from someone else's vacation, awarded to him for cat-sitting. He doesn't need to unlock the front door; someone is already home.

It's his wife, Martha, who is home. She is at the stove, stirring a pot of something that smells good. Her cheeks are rosy from the heat of the kitchen. She hears him come in but doesn't turn.

"Hello, Martha"” he greets her, as he has greeted her every weekday evening since they were married 12 years ago. "Another day, another dollar"” he adds, out of habit, as he grabs his beer out of the fridge. Home from work, one can of beer is his allotted reward for surviving 'another day in the jungle,'” as he would put it. He savours it from his favourite green armchair, worn almost bald in some spots but still the site of all his best sitting.

He watches his wife prepare dinner. He watches her scurry from the chopping board with a diced onion, to the pot on the stove where she dumps it, then over to the sink where she washes some tomatoes, and to the fridge where she retrieves the milk. She is shapeless even beneath the apron and the flower print dress, but Neal doesn't mind; he watches with fondness.

They eat in silence, mostly. Even after a dozen years in this this country, Martha's English isn't good, and it's Neal's only language. But they don't have to speak; when Neal cleans his plate with a last slice of bread, Martha knows he is sated, that the meal was a success.

In front of the glow of the television, they watch game shows while Martha works on some embroidery and Neal does some crosswords. He fills in the tiny squares with the blue ink pens from his shirt pocket. His printing is small and precise. He is particularly good with the history clues, and weak on the pop culture. He feels immense satisfaction when he completes a puzzle. He sighs audibly so his wife can congratulate him. When she does, he smiles, pleased with himself, and grunts.

Before Neal goes to bed at 9:30, he gives his cheque book a nice, leisurely perusal. He figures out his earnings for the day and adds it to the tally. He goes to bed dreaming of his savings account, of the exotic places he'll visit (Sudbury first, he thinks, he's always wanted to see the big nickel in person), of the lavish gifts he'll buy his little wife (a new toaster, possibly, the kind with wide slots for bagels), of the model planes he'll build and be much admired for by faceless new friends.

One day.


At 4:25 PM, Blogger Lostcheerio said...

The detail of the kind of juvenile keychain from someone else's vacation -- really communicates how out of touch he is with how he looks from the outside. How unaware he is.


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