Bewildering Stories

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Bound in a Nutshell

by Stephen Heister

Am I alone?

The snow falls. The wind blows hard against the thin walls of the shabby third-floor apartment. Snow is finding its way inside along the cracks in the small window’s trim.

I’m cold, but still I sit against the only window in the apartment I need to look outside. The streets are deserted. Five minutes to curfew and everyone is already tucked and cozy in their beds. There is no laughter and warmth pouring out of the dark windows up and down the street. I reach to turn off my light, the last one on in the whole block. Now everything is dark, except the still-setting sun.

I feel alone.

In the morning I feel better. I always feel better in the mornings. The snowstorm is over and the sun’s warmth pours through the little window, leaving little piles of moisture where the snow had been. I am trying to dress quickly; I am late for my work assignment.

I hurry through the streets. There are people everywhere now, and I can feel the crush of them around me. People of all shapes and sizes, and I feel lost in the crowd but somehow still a part of the humanity that surrounds me. No one takes notice of me. I am just another person hurrying to their assigned task.

The crush of people is absolving and healing. When it is over I again feel lost. There is a bakery, near my job. I stop there for a breakfast biscuit. There is a pretty girl behind the counter. She smiles at me.

For a moment.

I believe in my heart that she understands. There is knowledge in her eyes. I believe that she knows what and who I am. She will sit by the window with me. She smiles again as she hands me my change. Then she smiles for the boy behind me. She doesn’t understand. She doesn’t know.

Now I must work. I am part of a great machine. I must adjust the flow and the balance. My mind wanders all day and I get burnt by the steam.

My foreman yells at me, he tells me that I am lucky to have a job. That many people have no work. I find it hard to believe him. Everyone seems to be working. Everyone has some machine to adjust. Something to balance. He scolds me for fifteen minutes during the lunch period. Now I only have ten minutes left to find something to eat.

I go back to the bakery. The girl is there again. She smiles again. Again my heart jumps and then sinks in the few seconds it takes me to rehash my early morning struggle. She tries to make conversation. She likes the way I look. I have talked to girls like her before. Taken them to my apartment. Shown them my window. But I can tell. Her mind is empty. She wouldn’t understand. I eat my sandwich and go back to work.

I balance the flow. I adjust the pressure. Everything works. The shift is over. I report to the foreman and he tells me to go home. He is on the phone with someone important. He keeps saying “Yes, sir.”

Who does a foreman call “sir”?

I feel sick. I walk home slowly. I dread walking up the stairs to my apartment. I dread being there again. Nothing to do. The sun is beginning to set. I hasten to be inside before curfew. I unlock my door and enter my apartment. I sit by the window and only then notice the man that is waiting for me.

Am I alone?

He smiles at me. “You’re alone,” he says. I can see him now. He is a policeman. He pulls out his gun. I almost smile. It almost makes me happy.

Why am I alone?

Because the world is worth it, his smile seems to say. He pulls the trigger; springs, motors and circuit boards fall to the floor. I fall to my knees. Steam is rising from my head, gears fall out of my face. “It doesn’t hurt,” I say. “It doesn’t hurt.”

“I know,” he says.

I am a failed experiment.

Copyright © 2004 by Stephen Heister

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