On the first day I know I saw him, I woke up early in the morning for work. I got out of my bed and folded the sheets at the edge. It is more important than most people realize to make your bed every day. Then, the first task of the day is done. The day is started with accomplishment from real work, even if it is only a small effort. It gives you the right mindset of organization and productivity.
Next, I showered. I used the best soaps and shampoo I can get. Personal presentation is always important. Even if it seems no one notices, your cleanliness will affect how people treat you, and can be the first obstacle to success.
I shaved with a straight razor. Using a straight razor takes a bit more effort. It is a skill that needs to be developed, but leads to better results. Whenever given the opportunity, I always work to develop a skill, rather than take the easier route.
Finally I got dressed. I have an array of suits ready, in a variety of different colors. Each color could mean something different, and was ideal for different scenarios. That day I went with black, the color of authority and formality, and the one that fits any situation.
I covered my suit with a long black overcoat and headed to work. Though the sun was warm, there was a cold wind and the air was freezing. Snow was still falling from the night before, and crunched under my feet.
I was walking down the sidewalk between rows of office buildings and crowds of rushing workers when I heard him. It was right outside a coffee shop I usually stop by on my way to work.
“Spare some change for a drink?” his voice said.
I looked down to see an old man sitting by the door of the coffee shop. He had long, ragged hair, and was wrapped in a torn jacket.
“No, sorry,” I replied.
“Oh? Why not?” he didn’t sound angry, only surprised.
I looked down at him and crinkled my face. “If you want change, work for it. No one ever gave me anything.” I turned away, and moved on.
“Oh, are you so sure?” he said. I ignored it.
I could see him through the window as I waited in line, and he was still there when I left. He nodded at me, seemingly not upset by what I had said.
His face stayed with me for the rest of the day. Normally panhandlers were just something I ignored- an everyday occurrence to move past and forget. Something about his voice, or perhaps his attitude, made this one different. He asked for money as if he was offering me a favor. He wasn’t begging, he wasn’t desperate, in his mind he was the one helping me. He had even been polite with me afterward, as if he hadn’t lost anything from my refusal.
The next day I went by the same store again, and the same man was sitting by the door.
“Spare some change for a drink?” he asked.
I sighed, ignored him, and went by without a response. I hoped that would convince him to drop it. However, he still watched me from the window, and his face stuck with me. I tried to shake his image out of my mind all day. As with before, I couldn’t.
On the third he was once again sitting on the same spot before I arrived. I paused a moment down the road, thinking. I could have just walked by him and ignored what he said. I could have walked to the other side of the street if I wanted to. Of course, that would mean waiting for traffic to slow, and I wasn’t one let someone else dictate my decisions. In the end I decided to go the same way as before, and not change it for some random vagrant.
I closed my eyes as I went by and heard his voice. “Can you spare some change for a drink?
I turned on him. “Don’t you get it? The answers no. It’s always been no. Why do you ask again?”
“Well, sometimes there are sides to people to people that are hidden. Maybe today you’ll say yes.”
“Why should I?” I asked, agitated.
“It would help me,” he remained calm and placid, unaffected by my anger.
“So? Why should I care? What would I gain from it?”
“Maybe there are things I know that are worth it. Its only coffee.”
I got more frustrated. He just wouldn’t drop it. Why was he so certain that he could convince me? I walked by a thousand panhandlers a day, and none of them acted like this. More importantly, none of them stuck in my mind the same way. Normally I didn’t even acknowledge them, but here I felt the need to respond.
“Well? Is something wrong?” he asked.
“Yes, you ask me every day!” I said.
“And I’m going to keep asking every day.”
I sighed and put my head in my hands. I couldn’t stand him badgering me about it again. “If I buy you a coffee, will you leave me alone?”
“If that is what you want, then yes.”
“Fine.” I walked in, not bothering to check if he followed.
The café was covered in dark earthen colors, occasionally broken by decorative paintings for sale and small checkered tables. In a few moments we were seated under a long painting near the window.
I faced the man who had annoyed me into buying him coffee. “So,” I said, “what is it you know that is worth my money?”
He sipped the cup. “You know, to you coffee isn’t much, but on a cold winter day, it can bring warmth to someone who needs it.”
“But why should I give it to you? You should learn to depend on yourself.”
“Well we all from time to time depend on others.”
“Really? No one gave me anything.” I had heard this line a thousand times, and always from someone asking for something.
“Really? No one ever helped you?” he asked, surprised.
“That is what I said.”
“Nothing? You had no family, no friends?”
“Well of course I had a family!”
“Surely they helped you get where you are. They must have done something, at least.”
“No, I came from a poor family. My father could barely provide. I made it on my own.”
He blinked when I said this. “Hmmmm, is that right? Did he never give you anything?”
“Well I don’t really see why this is any business of yours.”
The man sipped his coffee, not effected by my brusque reply. “Well, you paid for this already, you may as well talk to me.”
I sighed. “Fine. What was it you wanted to know?”
“You said your father could barely provide. Did he never give you anything?”
“Like what? He didn’t give me my job, if that is what you are asking. I didn’t inherit anything from him.”
“No, not like that. I mean, did he give you anything just to make you happy. Aside from the normal things- food, clothing, and all that. Did he ever give you something else just as a gift that you really remember?”
“Nothing worth mentioning.”
“Then was there anything not worth mentioning?”
I thought a moment. “Well, he did… sometimes when I was younger.”
“And what was that?”
That was a very personal question to ask. “Why should I tell you?”
“As I said, you may as well tell me.”
“You really won’t stop until I tell you, will you?”
“You bought me coffee on the condition we speak. I wouldn’t want to take something for free, would I?”
I paused, surprised. I sounded like he was repeating my thoughts back to me. I decided to humour him. “Sometimes he’d have treats when he came home. Trinkets, stuff he had picked up at the dollar store. Nothing much.”
“It doesn’t sound like a lot.”
“No, they weren’t even that good.”
“Then why do you remember them?”
I paused a moment. Old memories came back.
Every night he’d come home exhausted. He’d shut the door behind himself, close his eyes and lean against it, undoing his long grey coat.
Then he’d wipe the sweat from his brow, look up, and smile. It was always the smile. Broad, clear, and genuine, like he had been waiting all day for this moment. He’d call to me and I would come running, ecstatic. He’d put his hands on my shoulders, then kneel down and hug me back. I can still feel the warmth of his arms, count the greying bristles of his face and smell his cologne. Afterwards he’d get up and hug my mother, who waited behind me. While he did I would check my pockets, and he had always slipped something inside. Toys, candies- my favourite was finding the small oval strawberry candies, usually wrapped in red. It was never too much, but to me it was the world.
“They were important, in a way… I think it was because it came from him. But more than that it was something done just for the sake of it, just to make me happy.”
“I see. So you did get something, then?” he smiled.
“Yes… but it’s not like it helped much.” I was quick to add the last part. “Anyway, that is only when I was younger. He stopped doing it when I was seven.” I didn’t like these questions. I knew what he was doing- by asking what I had been given, he was trying to make me think that I owed everything to someone else, that the only difference between him and I was my parents. I wasn’t going to let that happen.
“Oh, what happened then?”
“Th.. things changed.” It wasn’t like me to stutter.
“What sorts of things changed?”
He came home, shut the door and leaned on it, as he always did. We waited for him to look up, but he didn’t. He just kept facing downward, unmoving. Eventually I called out, and he turned and smiled.
The smile was different. His mouth took the same shape, but there was something missing behind his eyes. I knew something was wrong.
I’d never see that smile again.
“He lost his job. I never found out why- maybe he was lazy, or argued. That left us with nothing.” I didn’t know why I was telling him this, or why the words didn’t feel as bitter as they should.
“So you blamed him for it, then?”
“Well of course I did! We lost the house, car, everything.” The memories still stung after all these years. He was my father. He was still there, but it felt like he had abandoned us, leaving us on our own because of whatever he had done.
“Were you hungry?”
“Were you on the street?”
“Then he didn’t exactly give you nothing, did he?”
“Well yes, he gave us what he could.” Of course he had, I thought, though I was surprised at my own words.
“So he kept working?”
“Yes, he did. He never really talked about it after, but sometimes I’d see him in fast food restaurants or cheap stores, working along people half his age.” This was always hard for me. I’d see him from afar, and my mother would take my hand and pull me away. Even worse was when he noticed- the look of embarrassment, of shame, of him quickly looking away and hoping he wasn’t noticed. The hardest was feeling of failure in his eyes. I hated to see him like that. “It was rarely full time, and he had to switch jobs a lot. He never seemed to do well with his bosses.”
“You blamed him for this, didn’t you?”
“Yes… I always felt angry for it, that he couldn’t do better for us.” I had tried to put blame into my words, but it didn’t feel right. There was never much, but there was enough, and he did do all he could. I always talked about hard work and effort, and I guessed he had been working hard, even if it didn’t give much.
“Well it sounds like he was still trying. I can’t imagine it was easy going though all those different jobs. Perhaps it isn’t as lucrative as some other positions, but that doesn’t mean it is less effort.”
“No… I suppose not. It’s not like he wasn’t working at all.”
“Yes. It sounds like, if anything, he was embarrassed by it. He was ashamed he wasn’t doing more for you. If that is true, then it doesn’t sound to me like he didn’t try to do more, but that at the time he couldn’t.”
I thought a moment. I tried to remember his face when I did see him, or his stuttering words when I asked what he had been doing. I was never sure, but there was always some money, even if it wasn’t much. “I guess he did. He did seem to give us all he got, at least.”
“But you were still angry at him for this? Even after all these years?
I paused, and he stared at me expectantly. I tried to feel the same anger, remember how I had felt over and over again, but it came across as fake, just a cover. He had worked all day. How could I be angry at that?
“Yes,” I said finally. Even as I spoke, I instead felt shame at that anger. I had harboured it for so long. Even when I was older, I never understood why it had to be that way. I always thought people earned what they had. If he wasn’t providing, it was because he wasn’t working, and he didn’t care. However, that seemed silly now. He had always been so kind, even with the little things he brought, the idea that he was being neglectful didn’t make sense.
“So he went through all of this, working jobs he was embarrassed to talk about for little pay… all for you? Did you ever say anything about it?”
“No… I was angry, I thought he should do better for us.”
“Do you still think that?”
I paused, thinking. I shook my head. “It was unfair. I wish I hadn’t.”
He shook his head. “It is over. There is no point in wishing for something that is past.”
“I know, I just feel like I treated him unfair, when you put it that way. I was so angry with him.”
He seemed “Are you really sure you were angry at him? Was there something else?”
“What do you mean?”
“Sometimes anger is a cover. It can be easier to feel angry then sad, and easier to blame someone for a problem then to accept it. Are you sure you were really angry with him?”
I thought for a moment. “I don’t know, I just wish I could speak with him.”
“Why can’t you? What happened to him?”
“I…” I couldn’t find the words.
He had been working construction at the docks. Long hours of back breaking work, pulling lines, carrying cargo. A sudden storm had storm came in, and they couldn’t evacuated everyone in time. I remember watching it from our window, anxiety turning my stomach. The next day there was a knock at the door. My mother answered it to see a policeman with his hat in his hands. She broke down crying even before he spoke.
I didn’t cry that day. I remember thinking I should feel sad, but I only felt a deep emptiness. It stayed with me for years. Even when I smiled, I felt it inside of me, the same thing I finally knew was behind his eyes years before, and inside mine now. It wasn’t sadness, but a cold, grey nothingness that came from knowing joy was gone. He had given all he had, and finally, he had nothing left to give.
The docks paid out for his death, as did an old insurance claim he had taken out when things were better. We hadn’t realized he had kept it
I did everything I could to forget what had happened to him.
“I see,” the old man said, guessing what I was thinking.
“I got everything after that. I never thought of it. I can’t believe, all those years with him, and I was just acted like I hated him, and now I…” I couldn’t finish the words. Tears came down my face.
The man put a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you so upset. I understand this is hard to talk about.”
“I just… It was hard. We had so little, and everything we did was a struggle. We kept moving into smaller and smaller places, my clothes were torn, and then even he was gone. I had to blame something. I couldn’t just stay sad all the time. It was… it was easier to be angry then to be sad. I had to move on. I don’t know if it was right, but… It helped. It just helped.”
Ever since then my life had been different. The money we got, though it wasn’t too much, was enough for a better life. I went to university, and never had to worry about paying for it.
From then on everything kept changing. I moved to a different city, got a job, and worked constantly. I moved up the ladder, getting promoted, and never looking back. I all but forgot about my old life back home, about the poverty, about my father working small jobs for us, about my mother watching after me day and night. I forgot about the smiles, the smells, the candies, and the storm and the policeman. I forgot the good along with the bad, and everyone I had known.
The man gave me a moment as I wiped my eyes. “Why don’t we head out? I’m sure you need to get to work, and probably want to be cleaned up.”
We both stood up. “Thank you.” I said, trying to stay calm. “I’m sorry, I can’t believe I just broke down like that. I just never really thought about all of these. All those thoughts I had about him just seem so… so wrong. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry, it is done. Just remember, sometimes something small to you can mean a lot to another, even a cup of coffee. You really helped me today, and I hope I helped you.” He wrapped his arms around me for a moment, then left.
I wiped my tears, then got up to leave. As I did, I noticed something in my pocket. I reached in to feel a hard, oval object.
A typical suburban kitchen, camera situated at one end facing slightly down, as if at on the ceiling against the wall. There is a wooden table in the center, a fridge, a counter with a sink, and a window on the right, and a doorway on the left. The walls are white washed with pictures of the family on them.
A family of four sits at the table, eating breakfast. JORDON, late 30s, fit, clean cut, shaven, and in a pressed suit, is seated facing away from the camera. MARIE, late 30s, attractive, and wearing a dress, is facing him. The children, JESSICA, aged 13, and BEN, aged 7, are between the parents on the right and left side of the table. They all appear happy. Music is quiet and calm. Everything is extremely cheery, clean and pristine, to the point of seeming deliberately over done. Emotions are over expressed and campy.
Unless otherwise stated, every camera cut is accompanied by a simultaneous “flick” sound, like a light switch. Flicks represent JORDON’s perspective changing.
So what do you have at school today?
I have a biology test, but it should be fine.
Did you study for it?
Yes, and it’s easy anyway.
What’s biology? Is that where they make you dissect stuff?
I bet it is! They’ll make you cut up a frog, with all its guts…
Ben not at the table.
It’s fine. He is just joking around. Is everyone ready for today?
Good. Well it’s time to go.
It is. Come on, get in the car if you don’t want to walk to school.
Goodbye honey! Have a good day at work!
They kiss, and depart
Next day and the family is again at breakfast. However, the far wall is slightly closer to the table, making the room smaller. JORDON is glancing up at it, no one else seems to notice. Music is the same as before.
Something wrong honey?
(looking at the wall)
I don’t know. Does the room seems different to you?
(glancing at the wall)
No, what do you mean?
(Anxious, but not wanting his family to see)
Never mind. I probably just need some sleep. I have to go.
Next day, breakfast, the wall is closer than before. Jordon is staring at it without stopping.
Dear, you’re not eating.
I just can’t help the feeling that the wall is closer than it was before.
Others to face him
Is that a joke dad? I don’t get it.
Your father is just being silly. Just ignore him.
(Sensing her worry)
It’s nothing kids. Go back to eating.
MARIE looks at JORDON questioningly, worried and wanting to talk about it but not wanting to say anything in front of BEN and JESSICA. JORDON is staring at the wall.
JORDON alone in kitchen, sitting on ground and staring the significantly closer wall.
Kitchen, wall now covers most of the table. The family is crowded at one end eating supper, JORDON is staring at the wall and not moving. Chatter of family. JORDON’s mood has effected the family, they are noticeably less cheery then before.
JORDON is standing in significantly smaller room, standing a few feet from the wall. Camera in same location as before, but begins moving along the side of the room, then gets closer to JORDON, ending in a side view of him facing the wall.
Music begins. A deep, rumbling bass sound giving a slow beat. Quiet, dark, and ominous.
JORDON reaches out and touches the wall, feeling that it is solid and real. He begins pressing against it.
He retracts his hands.
(silently) CUT TO:
JORDON’s face, his eyes squeezing shut, then opening.
Same side view, with wall now touching JORDAN’s nose. He appears afraid, and backs up.
Music increases speed and gets louder.
(silently) CUT TO:
Split screen. On the left is JORDON’s eyes. On the right is the side view of him and the wall. He squeezes his eyes shut, this time keeping them closed. Music reaches climax.
JORDON reaches forward. His hand approaches the wall and goes through, disappearing into it.
As he is reaching forward, the left screen showing his eyes gets smaller as the right side increases, so that as his hand goes through the image completely covers the screen. Music is replaced with loud, distorted screeching noises.
JORDON opening his eyes.
(silently) CUT TO:
JORDON’s perspective, his hand going through the wall.
(silently) CUT TO:
JORDON from behind, with his hand going forward and disappearing into the wall. Screen becomes blurry at the edges and shimmers, then shrinks. Three images form, blurry and shimmering. hey move to form three equally sized rectangular shots, lined up side by side. Each show JORDON from behind with his hand forward. The one on the far left has him touching a wall that is right in front of him. The central shot has his hand going through the wall. The shot on the far right has the wall in its original position.
The three images stand for a moment. There is a flicking sound as with the cuts, and they switch positions. There is another flicking sound, they switch again. The flicking gets faster and louder, replacing the music, as the images continuously switch position.
One screen, continuously switching between the three as the flicking sound continues. JORDON screams and runs forward.
(silently) CUT TO:
Screen turns black and remains dark for a moment. No noise.
JORDON screaming and falling through empty black space.
Thumping sound, like something falling on the floor.
Camera sideways on the floor, JORDON lying facing down.
JORDON lifts himself up, and camera raises and straitens with him.
(silently) CUT TO:
Camera at same angle as first shot. Image is of the same kitchen, but changed. The fridge is open, with the door broken and hanging off of it. The table is missing a leg and leaning. Everything is dirty, with broken beer and pill bottles open on the ground. There are no pictures of his family. Everything is literally darker, as there are no lights on.
JORDON is significantly older, wearing ruined clothes, and has a long untrimmed beard.
Having moved passed his previous perspective of reality, he enters a separate, darker one. In this one, he is an alcoholic and drug addict, and previous world was imagined to hide from grief.
JORDON begins to run around the room frantically. He is shouting and slamming into the walls.
(silently) CUT TO:
JORDON’S face. He has his hands on his head and is shouting. He squeezes his eyes shut and screams, then opens them.
Image of MARIE’s face in original kitchen and original reality. She appears worried.
Dear are you alright? Why are you screaming?
Music comes in, the same calm sound as first shot.
Camera turns around and pans out to show JORDON with his family around him. They are all staring at him. The kitchen is in its original condition. JORDON is facing the wall that he saw moving, MARIE is directly in front of him with a hand on his shoulder.
Oh thank god.
JORDON leans forward and hugs MARIE. Camera begins rotating around to the left, towards the wall with the door in it. Both faces go through the view, JORDON’s near ecstatic relief contrasting MARIE’s worry.
You’ve been acting strange lately…
It’s alright, I…
Camera is no at a side view of JORDON and MARIE, still hugging. JORDON’s is facing away from the camera and toward window. His reflection is visible in the window, looking confused. Reflection shows him with his arms around nothing, and the room empty except for himself, while MARIE is still visible outside the reflection.
Music changes into ominous rumble.
(silently) CUT TO:
JORDON turning his head to face forward. He is horrified.
(silently) CUT TO:
MARIE’S face. This time her innocent smile contrasts JORDON’s worry.
Is something wrong?
(silently) CUT TO:
Couple from a side view, window visible in background showing JORDON by himself. He closes his eyes and reaches forward, his hand passes through MARIE.
The kitchen, dirty with broken furniture, from the original angle. JORDON alone with his hand reaching forward.
Music returns to loud distorted sounds.
No no no no….
JORDON grabs his head and screams.
Camera facing down toward JORDIN lying in a bed, sleeping. His eyes open and he sits up, camera moves to side view of him in a bedroom. His understanding of reality is switching between possible alternate explanations, one is that it was a dream.
JORDON looks around the room.
JORDON in a strait jacket, in a dark and padded cell room.
JORDON looks around himself frantically. He screams and struggles to get out of the strait jacket. A buzzer goes off, and two people in doctor’s coats run in and grab him. They inject him with something. He is considering that he was insane.
JORDON back in kitchen with ruined furniture.
Flicking continues, with shots continuously changing between JORDON with his family, alone with the broken furniture, in a bed, in the padded cell, in the dark cavern, and in a doctor’s office. Flicking increases speed as music gets louder, returning to distorted noise.
Scene ends with one final flick and a black screen.