Ooonh

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Oooonh Ooonh Ooooonh Oooonh!
Oooonh Ooonh Ooooonh Oooonh!
Oooonh Ooonh Ooooonh Oooonh!
Oooonh Ooonh Ooooonh Oooonh!

The heavy repetitive sound of synth bass came thundering through the floor and try as he might Charles could not tune it out.  Earplugs didn’t help, he could still feel the vibrations in the pit of his stomach churning the cheap chinese food he’d eaten earlier that night into a nauseous boil.  It was 3am and there was absolutely no way he was going to sleep.

He put some water on to make tea, hoping it would help settle his stomach.  The gas burners of his rickety stove didn’t light on their own so he had to use a lighter and a strip of paper from the stack of old newspapers he kept by the stove for exactly that purpose to get the burner going.  He’d moved into this rathole of an apartment barely a week before and the remnants of his former life were strewn about the place, mostly still in boxes.  As the bass pounded on, he ruefully remembered asking the landlord about the bar downstairs and how loud it got – Charles was a light sleeper and had to work mornings.  The old man had assured him that the bar was very mellow and not loud at all.  Lacking any other good alternatives in his price range and needing a place to be as soon as possible, Charles signed the lease.  He got his keys and moved in the next day.

That night, the pounding started.

Charles was not a violent or angry person by nature, in fact if you asked his ex wife Jeanine he was the most spineless useless loser to walk gods green earth.  Jeanine was bipolar and abusive.  Charles was codependant and figured she was probably right about him – or at least she had been right.  Right up until he walked in on her sleeping with their neighbor.  She yelled and screamed and said it was his fault and that if he had been a man she wouldn’t have had to look elsewhere.  As ever, Charles stayed calm.  He didn’t yell or hit her back when she started pounding on him, he simply picked up his car keys and went to the grocery store to ask for whatever used boxes they could spare.  He came home, packed a few things he couldn’t bear to leave behind while she sat in the corner and cried and cursed at him (now exhausted and on the downswing of her bipolar episode).  He did not say goodbye, didn’t look back.  What was there to see?

When he emerged from the house he could see the neighbors peaking through the blinds, wondering what the fuss had been about.  He nodded to them once, put the boxes his car, and started driving.  He couldn’t feel yet, it was too much.  So instead he went into programmer mode and started identifying problems to solve.  Driving from the ‘burbs his commute was terrible so he figured fixing that was the first order of business as a newly single man.  He drove into the city, got fast food, called in to work to say he was sick and wouldn’t be in tomorrow, and slept in his car that night.  That was last Thursday.  He spent Friday and Saturday looking for apartments and (lacking any savings to speak of to use towards a deposit – Jeanine had emptied all their joint accounts within an hour of his leaving) had ended up here.

The memory was still raw and that damn synth bass kicking him in the gut meant he couldn’t relax and let it go.  He couldn’t even think.

Charles grabbed his coat, keys, phone, and wallet and headed out for a walk.

The night air was cold, January had put a sharp chill in the air and he could see his breath.  After the stuffy stifling closeness of the apartment though it felt good.  He walked to the end of the block and couldn’t bear to turn around and go back.  He kept walking.  Despite the cold it had been a remarkably dry winter, the river was far below its normal winter depth and there was a homeless family camped under it – a father and daughter judging from the bald head out of one bag and the mop of curls out of the smaller bag that lay next to it.  “I could have it a lot worse” he thought, walking past them and up the winding pedestrian walkway that led up and over the bridge.  The thought was not particularly comforting.

He made his way slowly to the top of the hill and sat down, back against a tree and looking out at the bay.  From here, the world looked peaceful – almost serene.  He leaned back and exhaled slowly, not relishing the thought of returning to the thunderous noise of his apartment and the bar below it.

Dawn broke slowly over the city and the light woke him up not long after.  Charles hadn’t intended to fall asleep and his fingers were frostbitten from staying out all night, but his exhaustion had taken him unwittingly.  He slowly climbed to his feet, limbs creaking and sore, and made his way back slowly to his apartment, still half asleep.

The smouldering wreckage waiting for him when he finally got there startled him wide awake.  The whole building from the bar on up was gutted beyond repair.  He asked the cop who was taping the area off what had happened.

Fire brigade says the fire started in one of the apartments, looks like some jerk went for a walk and left the stove on.   Thank god no one was hurt!

Charles nodded numbly and stumbled away.  He had literally nothing but the clothes on his back – Jeanine had cleaned him out completely and everything he’d valued enough to take with him when he left was in that apartment.  And of course he didn’t have renters insurance.  As he stood there looking at the smouldering wreckage of his life he realized he was laughing like an idiot, the sound halfway between a sob and a guffaw.  He sat down on the sidewalk, head in his hands, and laughed and cried and then laughed some more until his body hurt.

A short walk and a cafe supplied pancakes thanks to the power of credit cards – the account he’d opened up the last time he almost walked out and never gotten around to telling Jeanine about or closing.  As he sat there eating he pulled his phone out of his pocket.  He couldn’t live on credit forever and he needed a place to stay until he could get on his feet again.  He flipped through his contacts thinking about who he could call – the breakup would mean that most of his friends would have divided loyalties.  Finally, he landed on his old college room mate – they’d’ kept in touch on Facebook but hadn’t spent much time in the years since graduation because their girlfriends didn’t get along.  He tapped the ‘Call’ button and waited while it rang.

Hey John, yeah it’s Charles.  Listen man, I know it’s been a while but I need a favor…

Perfect

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A bright green water bottle lay on its side on his otherwise immaculate desk, lid off.  The laptop was almost certainly fried – he hadn’t been fast enough to stop the water from getting into it.

Perfect.  Absolutely f—ing perfect.

The real danger of course with wet circuitry isn’t the water itself – it’s the electricity flowing through the board shorting out; so in theory a machine that’s off shouldn’t be damaged by liquid as long as it was dried thoroughly before being started again.

Unfortunately, he had been in the middle of a video call and the smell of burnt ozone wasn’t a hopeful sign.  Worse, the computer was a Mac and some idiot at Apple had decided users shouldn’t be able to remove their own batteries so he couldn’t just pull the plug and remove the battery to cut power quickly.   Instead he’d had choose between closing the lid to put it in a sleep state (ie not quite off and still a chance of frying things) or going through a shutdown sequence that required running the machine for an additional 30 seconds with who knows how much water  on the motherboard.  He had opted for the former and had the machine bottom-up on a towel.  He couldn’t even open the lid to blow dry it without it turning back on and risking permanent damage.   Literally the only thing to do was leave it alone and hope.

Perfect.

And then there was the news that had made him drop a full water bottle onto his brand new work laptop in the first place – after 6 years together Elaine was dumping him.  She had a whole list of reasons, white noise mostly.  The big one – the real one- was that she was bored with him and she’d met someone new.

There are a million ways for love to die – whether through deliberate hurt or unintentional neglect.  Truth be told, John had often put his work ahead of everything else in his life – including her.  He had always found it easy to lose himself in the work – focus on the task at hand and see it through to completion.  Most times he thought that was a positive character trait but maybe somewhere along the way he’d lost a little more of himself than he’d intended.  And now he’d lost Elaine too.

Not that she was blameless – he and his boring job paid for her lifestyle after all.  And right now he was the one paying for her to spend a week in Hawaii and meet her new lover.  They had planned to go together but, predictably, something had come up and he’d had to cancel at the last moment.  She was livid and declared she was going without him and he’d said that was just fine (it really wasn’t fine) and that he couldn’t deal with her right now anyway.  She had stormed out in tears and he’d spent the night drinking and writing code that – in the cold sober light of morning – he’d been forced to scrap.

That had been 4 days ago and neither of them had reached out to the other since  – perhaps because of despair or fear of appearing weak or just out of reluctance to confront the obvious.  When she popped up on his Skype chat and asked if he could spare a minute to talk he almost said he was busy.

It’s hard to spend time if you don’t make time, and as he sat there staring at the (probably dead) laptop and wrestling with his heart he realized just how glad he was that she was a thousand miles away and that he was completely incapable of logging back on and getting into a yelling match with her.  Maybe a dead laptop wasn’t the end of the world.  If nothing else it meant he couldn’t work any more tonight and he was in no fit state to focus anyway.

He mopped up the rest of the water on the desk that he’d been ignoring while tending to his computer.   A quick search around the disheveled apartment revealed jacket, wallet, keys, hat, and phone – all the necessities of modern life.  On the street below, downtown was alive with people out and about and the bars were already getting crowded.  So many lives, so much life.

Time to lose himself in it.  And maybe find himself as well.