To Live

Standing wearily in the small, dingy bathroom, with its chalk-white walls and uncleaned mirror, Darren studied his reflection. Sharp angular features, populated by freckles, and flecked with whiskers stared back at him. Sighing heavily, his chocolate-colored eyes drifted towards his bathroom’s tub, an unassuming, utterly normal piece of porcelain, its milky color broken only by the soap scum ring, encircling its interior like an elongated halo.

Pulling off his loose-fitting shirt, a brightly colored v-neck, punctuated by several discolored spots, Darren moved towards the tub and turned on the water. Inside the walls the groaning of the pipes sounded like an agonized plea for mercy, but inevitably water began pouring, initially bursting from the faucet with spastic ferocity before becoming more consistent and pacified. Darren began to remove the rest of his clothing, stripping away a pair of washed-out jeans and two socks riddled with holes.

The faucet continued to pour with unrelenting force, splattering against the smooth walls of tub and coating the bottom with warm, clear water. Darren’s nose wrinkled as he smelled the pungent aroma emanating from his pile of soiled clothing – the beautiful mixture of bleach, fecal matter, and wet dog. He wondered how at this point he could still be susceptible to such a repugnant smell, having lived in it for so long, his days on a circular loop, going through the same few motions, the same few responsibilities.

Inside the kennel the world seemed to vanish. Each period started with eight hours but then turned slowly, inexorably, painfully into eighty. For five days a week his body was rooted to the spot in exchange for a paltry wage, caged to an equal degree as his canine charges. In the bathroom he gently massaged his pale right forearm, which was still sore and tingly from when he had pulled apart two enormous, and seemingly mindless labs, who had attacked each other because of one’s habitual mounting. Darren wondered how badly he was getting used by the owner of the business. That was the real question. Whether or not he was getting screwed had already been answered.

Mopping, pulling, scolding, separating, life at the job was a circular pattern with no end in sight. It wasn’t the smell, or even the deafening noise that bothered him. It was everything –  wild, rolling eyes, feverish panting, desperate attempts at dominance all coalescing into a frantic, violent mess of anxiety and excrement. It had turned a love of his into a hate. Gagging in revulsion he would move through the hairy, teeming masses devoid of empathy, employing a much more brutish hand towards the animals than he ever dreamed he was capable of.

The original motivation had been the simple difference it promised. Coming off two years of restaurants, where he spent his time glowering with near-homicidal rage over bad tips, or sullenly leaving shifts after being scolded by an assistant manager, the prospect of abandoning the service industry for the kennel felt like a beautiful reprieve. Yet, it had sadly been all the same. The power dynamics between worker and manager, the infuriating apathy displayed by the owner for everything but money were disturbingly similar, as if there was a managerial handbook that everyone he worked for shared.

The negation of time was another phenomena that bothered him about his work. The tasks involved were rudimentary and perpetual, allowing for little in the way of progression. There were no projects to be completed. His role, essentially, was an endless task, and without the feeling of completion, without the idea of change, time itself didn’t seem to exist. He existed in a void. His brain dismissed, his capabilities untested, Darren was a body, a blunt instrument. He was bone and meat whose use was minimal, basic, and so, perhaps justly, minimal was all that he received. Perhaps it was all he was good for.

So why continue? What was the alternative? Darren had thought about these questions many times because, primarily, he had ample time to think, eighty hours of it in fact. The truth however was that it was a simple question with an even simpler answer: he had to. Existing here at the beginning of the 21st century Darren knew he was stuck, like being trapped in a room with its door erased. The “investment” side of his college education had been all talk and posturing. He could see the reality now. Of course, the shiny facade of academia, the promises of personal betterment, and the development of a social conscience had been good in theory, but at what cost?

Hot rage coursed through him when he thought about the college recruitment efforts that had bombarded him in his final years of high school, and the limey snake-oil salesmen who he had met during college tours and had handed him informational pamphlets like they were pieces of scripture. They had promised him the world, promised him the tools needed to blaze a post-collegiate trail. But it hadn’t happened that way.

Years had passed since he had walked across his commencement stage, his golden tassel obstinately bouncing towards the front of his cap, obscuring his vision. He had firmly gripped the hand of the Dean of Students, whose wizened face had broken merrily into broad-grin. “Congratulations,” the dean had said, his smile stretching goulishly even larger. “Congratualtions for what,” Darren now wondered as he stared in the mirror at the dull, purple bags under his eyes. He had gained his piece of paper, the paper ostensibly cherished by society, which allegedly was supposed to provide validation. What had it provided aside from another surface to collect dust? Years of monotony? The loss of being able to move forward? A return to the type of positions he had occupied pre-college, which had cast his five years in school in a hazy, illusionary glow?

All of these were true he now realized, looking with anguish at the cool, digital surface of his phone. Ten hours until he was back in the kennel where he was sure it would feel like he had never left. Now naked Darren sighed again and moved towards the tub again, his hand extending towards the faucet to turn on the shower. Suddenly he yanked his hand back as if he had been burned while his eyes widened at what he saw near the bottom of the tub.

A common, everyday spider had been inside the tub, and had gone unnoticed by Darren as he had turned on the water. He stood frozen, watching in horror as the arachnid moved its myriad of legs with a frantic and fruitless zeal, with the smooth white surface of the tub walls proving to be a unbreachable barrier to its escape. The sheer magnitude of the sight overwhelmed him and he found himself moving closer to the spider, moving inside the spider. Inside its urges were paramount, kinetic, spastic energy spurning movement, impulsive gyrations aimed towards salvation, the need to preserve dominating its form. Darren moved with it, through it, the clouds parted and he could finally see that this was his life, this was his experience. This spider, blindly and obsessively fighting to escape the bubbling rush was everything, and it always would be.

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