idol friends and rivals | week 11 | 942 words
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.
"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:
"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.