?

Log in

 
 
26 February 2016 @ 04:25 pm
LJ Idol Friends & Rivals: "Return To Zero"  
Return To Zero
idol friends and rivals | week 11 | 942 words
Innocuous

x-x-x-x-x

Once there was a drab little house on a gray street in a city where nothing bad ever happened—or if it did, no one ever remembered it.

Tom Smith lived in that house with his wife and two children. His best friend was John Jones, a guy he'd known since grade school. They were in the same Thursday night bowling league. Tom's house had a lawn and some trees and a few forgettable flowers. There was a pair of roller skates on the driveway, for narrative potential.

Tom's wife, Jane, was a realtor who liked Country Kitsch décor and baking pies. Every few years, Tom got so mad that he felt like throttling her. More often, he loved her so much that he considered renewing their wedding vows—because it was a thing people did, even though he thought it was kind of redundant. Still, it seemed like effort, so it would probably never happen.

The children, Billy and Sally, played soccer and did well in school. Sally had pigtails and Billy had a frog, but that was as interesting as it got. They came from a long line of characters with indistinguishable personalities and histories, and maybe that was all for the best.

Tom was a middle-aged man who worked in middle-management at a company in Middle America that manufactured sprockets. He'd been there for years, so many years, that he'd forgotten how many. He was past the initial phase of new-hire excitement but it was far too early to retire. Instead, he was trapped in that seemingly endless in-between that paralleled his feelings about the rest of his life. Oh yes, he knew the state all too well: he was living in the drone years.

Weekdays, Tom drove his used sedan with its broken taillight to and from work. It was a 2.4 mile journey of monotony which had never been broken by even so much as a stray pedestrian wandering in front of his car. Weekends, he mowed the lawn and went to soccer games and church, and sometimes nearly fell asleep standing up because his life was so dull. Maybe there was a family dog, or maybe not—or maybe it was different from month to month. It was hard to be certain, really, and did it honestly even matter?

At work, Tom would read monthly budget reports and quarterly sales forecasts, and wonder if he was already dead.

He was in the break room at the office one day, scooping Folger's grounds into the coffee machine and half-listening to his coworker, Bob Hill. Bob was talking about golf, for some unknown reason, going on and on until he finally ran out of gas.

"You, know," Tom said then, "sometimes I wonder what I'm even doing here. I feel like this should all be more, like I was meant for bigger things."

"Hey now, don't hijack the plot," Bob said.

"Is there a plot?" Tom asked.

"Eh," Bob shrugged.

When Tom got home that night, the kids were already in bed and his wife seemed out of sorts.

"What's wrong?" Tom asked her.

"I want a divorce," Jane said.

"What? Why?"

"Did I say divorce? I meant a vacation."

Sometimes Tom felt as if his entire life was spent in a state of catatonia, broken by random surges of panic.

Around the time his best friend tripped over the roller skates on the driveway and nearly broke his neck—nearly but not actually—Tom realized no one else's life was any more exciting than his. It was both eerie and depressing.

We should make a suicide pact, he thought, except we'd be bound to screw up the results if we had to honor it.

His daughter lost her brand-new retainer the same weekend Tom and his wife's escrow on a bigger house fell through. It was maddening.

Useless, Tom thought. Why do we even try? He and Jane had put in a lot of work on that purchase proposal, and in the end they were right back where they started. It wasn't the first time.

He got in the car and drove, past dozens of identical schools and office buildings, way off to the edge of town near the scrubby fields and the county dump. Something loomed up ahead of him, a gigantic, squat circular structure that looked like an industrial storage tank. He couldn't imagine what it was, and curiosity won out over moping. He got out of the car to have a look.

There was a ladder running up the side and a smattering of printed signs, probably warnings about trespassing and improper use. Tom ignored them all.

He climbed over the low fence and ran to the base of the ladder. The metal of the bottom rungs was rusted through, but he could still reach the working ones. He hauled himself up onto the third rung and climbed up the side.

The top of the structure wasn't what he expected at all. It wasn't some kind of silo or concrete bunker. Instead, it had a curved top with enormous letters printed on it. He tilted his head so he could read them:

R-E-S-E-T

"Reset? You're kidding!" he shouted. But the truth was, the more annoying aspects of his life suddenly made some kind of sense.

He climbed down the ladder and stomped back to his car. A sudden burst of rain arrived to increase his general misery.

All this time, he'd been thinking that life just was, and there was nothing he could do about it. Now that he knew better, he was not appeased, not remotely.

Someone, he decided, was going to pay.


--/--

This week's voting was contestant-only.

 
 
 
carindaeeyore_grrl on February 27th, 2016 01:17 am (UTC)
" "I want a divorce," Jane said.

"What? Why?"

"Did I say divorce? I meant a vacation." "

That would add some recurring negative thoughts in my day-to-day. meep.

I think there are a lot of people living in that drudgery. It's so easy to fall into it.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 27th, 2016 01:40 am (UTC)
Mine too. What a jolt!

This would be like being a character in a book, where the author yanks your chain from time-to-time with stuff like this, but doesn't care. Because you're not "real." :O
favoritebeanfavoritebean on February 27th, 2016 03:42 am (UTC)
I chuckled at Jane's request for a divorce. I think they call that situation a glitch in the matrix.

The reset button though, I'm glad he suddenly felt angry. I thought he would push the button.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 27th, 2016 07:44 pm (UTC)
That's a good way of describing it. A glitch! But what a heart-stopping blip for her husband.

The reset button would be too big for him to push-- even if he jumped on it. But there's also the implication that it sure hasn't helped him in the past, either!

Edited at 2016-02-28 07:43 pm (UTC)
kick_galvanic, zagzagael, skull_theatrebleodswean on February 27th, 2016 05:51 pm (UTC)
Even more impressively executed on a second read-through, K! This is a ride in a rickety home-made sled down a snowy slope with hidden boulders. Niiiiiiiiiiice!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 28th, 2016 07:59 am (UTC)
I'd hate to be Tom-- or anyone else in this story-- with the sense that someone else is guiding your life, and nothing you do much matters. Plus, you do very little, at least permanently!
cindy: misc fictsuki_no_bara on February 28th, 2016 04:50 am (UTC)
this is kind of meta - it's a story that knows it's a story, about a guy who discovers he's living in a story.

"don't hijack the plot."
"is there a plot?"
"eh."

well, there's no plot in tom's life, anyway.... i really like that layer of it.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 28th, 2016 08:02 am (UTC)
Yes! It is kind of meta. The comment about the rollerskates on the driveway being for narrative potential, and that exchange you quoted, all kind of point to a larger level above this one.

In which the life you're leading isn't very interesting, and apparently never will be-- apart from those moments of panic.

So glad you read it and saw this layer to it. :)
rayasorayaso on February 28th, 2016 06:27 pm (UTC)
I loved this, especially the idea of the reset button. Who wouldn't be tempted to push it in real life? This was a great response to the prompt, focusing on the blandness of innocuous. The "narrative potential" of the roller skates made me burst into laughter when I read it. Another great entry!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 29th, 2016 03:28 am (UTC)
I can imagine wanting to push the reset button yourself, but having someone else in control of it? Nobody wants that!

The roller skates kind of set the whole tone for the meta portion of this, so I'm glad you liked that part!
Raised by Wolvessinnamongirl on February 28th, 2016 10:43 pm (UTC)
There's a lot of good nuggets in here, but this especially I liked: "There was a pair of roller skates on the driveway, for narrative potential." Good job!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 29th, 2016 03:28 am (UTC)
Haha-- I'm glad people have noticed that line. I think it gives you a clear sense that Tom's life is not entirely his own!
misfitmanor: Lean inmisfitmanor on February 29th, 2016 02:31 am (UTC)
Oy. What a way to be stuck in a rut, with the only way out seeming just a tad on the drastic side. Looks like a no-winner, Tom!

~karmasoup
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 29th, 2016 04:45 am (UTC)
It is a no-win situation-- just like the rest of his life. Poor guy!
fodschwazzlefodschwazzle on February 29th, 2016 04:54 am (UTC)
It's pretty bad when even your kids are boring. I liked the part where he subtly hoped he'd accidentally run over someone on the way to work. It's like Pleasantville except that no one is actually happy. Interesting work.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 29th, 2016 07:27 am (UTC)
he subtly hoped he'd accidentally run over someone on the way to work.
It would be tragic, and yet... momentous, unlike anything else that happens to Tom or anyone else in this town. These people could potentially plod all the way to the grave.

Thanks for reading and commenting!
alycewilsonalycewilson on February 29th, 2016 10:37 am (UTC)
So the family from the classic "Dick and Jane" books wakes up! It's about time. I think you are one of the few people who could write a story where nothing happens and nothing changes, but is nevertheless so compelling.

By the way, I'd like to thank you for always giving your prompt as part of the header. One of the things I look for is how well people address the prompt, and it can be maddening when they don't provide it, especially when it's not obvious from reading the piece.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 29th, 2016 07:12 pm (UTC)
I think you are one of the few people who could write a story where nothing happens and nothing changes, but is nevertheless so compelling.
Thank you! I agree-- it's a challenge, so I'm please to know that you think it succeeded.

I, too, wish that more people would list the prompt they're using somewhere on their story. If it isn't glaringly obvious and I can't tell, typically I will not vote for the story. And it's such a little thing!
whipchick: pic#125642089whipchick on February 29th, 2016 10:44 am (UTC)
I really like the meta aspects of this, and the little moments of existential anguish. I thought of him as the unnecessary adult in a Dick and Jane book...
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 29th, 2016 07:13 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you noticed and liked the meta. It's kind of an unusual approach, being half-meta, but definitely the story that wanted to be told. :)

I thought of him as the unnecessary adult in a Dick and Jane book...
Maybe that divorce will actualize after all! :O
Teo Sayseternal_ot on February 29th, 2016 11:52 am (UTC)
"Hey now, don't hijack the plot," Bob said.

"Is there a plot?" Tom asked.


I laughed out aloud when I read those lines..poor Tom. You really made innocuous very interesting..:) Great use of the prompt. Enjoyed this piece.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 29th, 2016 07:14 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you noticed those lines! What a horrible moment for a character, thinking their life is their life, then learning that perhaps it isn't, and that there's no point to it anyway. :O

Thank you very much for your lovely comments. :)
dee_aar2dee_aar2 on February 29th, 2016 01:51 pm (UTC)
Serious Drudgery here ... and no means to escape ... I like the concept of the Reset Button though ... might make things a lot simpler .... or perhaps even worse ... Yet he thought about renewing his vows every now and then ... that is some fodder for hope after all. Loved this take on the prompt.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 29th, 2016 08:02 pm (UTC)
I don't think the Reset button will help, as there's the implication that someone else may have been pushing it in the background from time-to-time (whoever controls this place where Tom is).

But he isn't entirely unhappy in his life, he's mostly bored-- because it is such a bland, mostly unchanging life. Sometimes we all feel as if our lives are that way, but his truly IS!
adoptedwriteradoptedwriter on February 29th, 2016 04:14 pm (UTC)
Very clever! AW
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 29th, 2016 08:03 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Ellakiteellakite on February 29th, 2016 06:18 pm (UTC)
I bring you the news from D Street. The news is not good. The news is very bad.
There have been times when I've wished that I could hit the RESET button and start over. On the other hand, a full RESET would mean that my memory would be wiped too, so I'd probably do exactly what I did before... which would defeat the whole purpose of my hitting the button.

Your piece reminded me of a couple of my favorite SF stories. And yes, I mean that as a very high compliment!

Thanks for sharing this piece!

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 29th, 2016 08:26 pm (UTC)
Re: I bring you the news from D Street. The news is not good. The news is very bad.
You would think that the Reset would wipe your memory, and I guess it would if it took you backwards. But you might not make the same decisions as before. I used to think so, but I know that if I restart something complex, like 4-suite Spider Solitaire, I typically do not make exactly the same decisions along the way. In fact, there's a point where I think, "I could have won that! Let me try again..." and pretty soon it's clear that my situation is a different one. I didn't make exactly the same choices (there's a huge amount of "fudging" and borrowing in that game), so midway through I'm not even at the same point as the middle of the previous round.

So maybe there would be quite a few different choices. But then again, they might not at all be better ones!

Thanks for your thoughtful comment
Murielle: I'm Melting...murielle on February 29th, 2016 07:43 pm (UTC)
This just plain clever! And droll. And clever. Did I say clever? :-)

Very entertaining!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 29th, 2016 08:26 pm (UTC)
Haha! Thank you. :D
prog_schlockprog_schlock on March 1st, 2016 12:09 am (UTC)
I was ready for him to jump up and down on the Reset button and see what happened. :D

The mundanity of life can really get to us. Indeed, the innocuousness of my job is part of what keeps me in therapy. It would be nice if there was somebody or something to blame other than society and body chemistry.

This is my go-to song on that topic:

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on March 1st, 2016 12:56 am (UTC)
That song really fits this story! I may be slightly depressed now. :O
prog_schlockprog_schlock on March 1st, 2016 12:58 am (UTC)
Yeah, its the most upbeat depressing song I can think of at the moment.