Running with Scissors

Summary:

A short-story that views into a man’s rather mediocre life.

Originally written in 2010

 

Click, click, click.

Thomas had once again resorted to his putrid habit, the one he always turned to when his mind refused to give anything resembling a creative thought.  His thumb, in the most methodical manner possible, exerted force upon the top of the mechanical pencil.  Every so often he’d stab the pencil into the table, if only to prevent the lead from falling out, rolling onto the floor, and ultimately resulting in grunts of frustration from having to pick it up.  His clicking was intuitive and well-timed, his thumb counting down to each set of clicks.  Anyone who knew Thomas had to condition themselves to the clicking, for it was rare day Thomas went anywhere without his pencil.  They assumed that like any good artist Thomas just wanted to be prepared for an incredible burst of inspiration and, for the most part, that’s what Thomas assumed too.

Just as his thumb was going for another round, Thomas brought his pencil down to paper.  His hand dragged the pencil across the paper in a dance, ending any long stroke with a flick and any short stroke with an arabesque.  Muscles exerted themselves carefully, varying the line widths to create the illusion of perspective (being one of the exceptional people who could do this regardless of the type of pencil).  Occasionally his hand would greedily grab a ruler and guide his pencil along the straight edge.  To the pencil the lines had always been there; Thomas was just the magician making them appear.  Stroke after stroke appeared on the paper and Thomas dedicated his wand to dance for a full hour.  During the few brief intermissions, Thomas would cock his head towards the phone, as if the mere action would summon the phone call he was waiting for.  To his disappointment his skills as a magician were only good for art.  Perhaps it would just be a little longer.

When Thomas finally stepped back from his work, a grandiose house cascaded on the paper.  Thomas scrutinized the paper and could already imagine how it would translate.  A smooth and perfect cobble-stone path would guide residents to the front door.  Strong, oak double doors, complete with ornate stained glass, greeted anyone seeking entrance.  A single alabaster pillar stood at the corner of the entry way outside.  Around the house sat plain casement windows, highlighting the single garden window that jutted out of the kitchen.  White walls shot out of the ground and came together via a black tiled roof.  For a house this grand only a site away from the suburbs would be suitable; perhaps one surrounded by a moderately-dense forest.  It would be the most picturesque site for entertaining guests, yet also hidden away enough that the envious neighbors could at least take a little comfort in not having to see it every day.  Thomas’ heart throbbed from the thought of not being able to own a beautiful house like that.

Click, click, click.

Thomas’ face distorted itself into a scowl, something that wasn’t uncommon for his appearance.  It seemed like it was meant to be there amongst his onyx locks.  His favorite aspect of his scowl was how his downturned lips and protruding nasolabial folds enhanced the encompassing, red scar that went across his left cheek.  It was certainly no small scar either, being a memento from when he rebelled against his mother’s sentiment about not running with scissors.  Although Thomas hated to group himself with his peers, even he had to admit that as a youth he fell into the “self-claimed misunderstood” artist category.  As such, he was the exception to silly rules like that in his mind; it was just his clumsy feet who had thought otherwise.  Thomas didn’t remember the incident well outside of tripping over one of his toy trucks –he was too busy crying about the 2 inch long, 1.5 centimeter deep gash in his face that was gushing blood like an erupting volcano.  The doctors said he was fortunate for it being “a few centimeters off from being fatal or handicapping.”  They had stitched him up and sent him on his way, the wound healing into a red, extruding bulge that never disappeared.  Thomas was sure it was the mirror image of how the wound had appeared inside his face.  He was also bemused this type of facial flaw wasn’t supposed to be handicapping by a doctor’s standards.

Needless to say, he considered himself lucky the scar wasn’t usually pointed out.  The rich people who frequented his neighborhood were “too polite” to do that.  Thomas hunched over the paper with his pencil, ready for alterations, before he just grumbled with the sound one would expect a sleeping dog to make.  His trained eye had caught an artist’s worst nightmare: a dark line blemishing the paper, one that was so thickly drawn even an eraser the size of a mountain couldn’t remove it.  Even if it was one simple flaw, to a client that single line could make all the difference and, unfortunately for Thomas, he didn’t have the credentials to trick their minds into ignoring.  With a sweep of his hand the house participated in a disappearing act from the table and demolished itself into a crumpled piece of paper.  Light thuds played across the room after it was tossed towards the trash can, though not in any manner that had a chance of landing it directly in the can.  Thomas once again found himself sitting at the drafting table with a blank sheet of paper, searching for the invisible lines.

Click, click, click.

***

An hour had passed and Thomas still found himself staring at the paper, his pencil-thin assistant lying heavy in his numb hand.  A loud silence had been the only sound in the past while, and the tension had caused Thomas to bemuse himself with the idea of stabbing his pencil into the table so noticeable holes instead of lines would afflict the taunting paper.  It would also serve to shut his pencil up; the little creep had the tendency to mock him when it wasn’t being used.  “What?  No ideas again,” it would ask.  “You shouldn’t be surprised, boss.  You’re never gonna make it as an architect.  Not with your mug and shoddy skills.”  Yes, stabbing the pencil into the paper would surely show it who was the artist and who was the tool.

Instead, however, a charming, ringing bell echoed in the room.  For a moment, Thomas’ heart emptied out all its blood before realizing it was just the store’s customer bell, not the phone.  Getting up, Thomas stretched his poor back a bit before navigating the maze of his work room.  There were only ever two things in his work-room: his drafting table and a collection of dusty, unlabeled boxes whose contents were as varied as grains of sand on a beach.  The stacking was haphazard enough that as Thomas scooted past one tower, his hip glancing against another sent it toppling to the ground.  Thomas, being so hardly fazed he didn’t even look, proceeded onward and hoped the crash didn’t scare the customer away.

Thomas opened the door with the full intention of putting on his best salesman smile (if he had one of those) until his eyes met with the green eyes of the customer.  Immediately Thomas felt the scowl return full force to his face.  The chubby woman in his store, however, didn’t feel the ill-founded aura from Thomas.  She simply smiled at him with her cheesy smile, dentures practically falling out and purple, gaudy dress swaying a bit as she ushered him over.  The fake ‘dears’ and ‘darlings’ sprinkling from her mouth raked across Thomas’ brain.  Only Mrs. Plum would insist on being a complete and utter annoyance to him, at least to this disagree, Thomas thought.  Only Mrs. Plum would have the audacity to wear a dress simply because it matched her name.

Click, click, click.

Thomas dragged himself over to her, slouching in a way that suggested he’d rather just fall to the ground dead rather than listen to one minute of her voice.  He always had hoped one day she would read his body language and realize that.  He mumbled an inquiry as to what brought her to the store that day, even though he already knew the answer.

“Just browsing.  Don’t mind little old me.”
When Mrs. Plum first began darkening the store, he’d sincerely tried to be nice to her.  He even offered her a discount on the spare fuses she needed after spending two hours listening to her complain about lazy mechanics, all the while trying to find the right fuses from her vague descriptions.  Her plum butt waddling out the door had, for once, erased the scowl from Thomas’ face for a whole two seconds.  The next day she came back and started her tradition of popping in on him every once in a while.  With it, the scowl returned and almost took up permanent residence on Thomas’ face.  She certainly enjoyed keeping him from his houses.

“Dear, I’m telling you!  You must simply go to the new café.  It’s wonderful and my friend Nancy and all her young, single daughters go there.  You should get out more.  You remind me of this girl I once tutored.  One day the poor thing…”

His attention to the conversation drifted in and out, being used to Mrs. Plum doing all the talking.  Her first words being about people Thomas didn’t even know clued him into the fact he wouldn’t care much for the subject matter anyway.  Thomas had never thought since the beginning she had anything of merit to say nor had she ever proved him wrong.  He knew that behind that cheesy smile was a witch and that her only real reason she was there was to play pretend.  She’d pretend to care about him, pretend her pity for him was real, pretend that she wanted to be his friend.  Thomas knew better though: he knew that he was just her charity case for good appearance.  It was one of those games women like her loved to play with people they thought were “pitiable.”  The more people you took insincere pity on, the more prestige you had.  The game left distaste in Thomas’ mouth, like garbage of rotten banana peels and disease infested meat was being forced down his throat.  He was absolutely not that pitiable.

“…and then that poor cat was just ran over flat.  She was in hysterics.  Why, it was almost embarrassing for a moment.  I’ll introduce you to her next time.  You’ll have to come to my next social gathering.  I’ll send you an invite.  I was thinking of having it in April.  Or maybe June would be better.  You see Nancy is terribly allergic to flowers and the last time…”

The women of the town, at least the rich half, didn’t have any real sympathy even for animals.  The spare parts store Thomas ran for the owner, who was getting on in years and was confined to bed for the good part of his days, had decided the best place for the store to be located was right in between the pleasant middle class and the pretentious rich quarter.  He’d had it in his mind that rich people were too lazy to fix things themselves and would hire the middle-class mechanics to do it for them.  What could be more convenient for the mechanic than to stop at the little shop that was on his way to work?  To top that, the owner had authorized deals specifically for the mechanics too, offering them better prices than the local Home Depot even.  Though his interactions with the owner had been brief, Thomas had a fondness for him.  Of course, that might have something to do with the owner letting him set up a drafting table in the back as well as letting him sell art supplies too, just because it was more interesting and convenient for Thomas.  It would have been perfect if it wasn’t for the rich people whispering and lording their wealth over Thomas whenever he saw them coming to and from the store (not to mention Mrs. Plum’s addition to the matter).

“Thomas, dear, are you paying attention?”

Click, click, click.

A nod was all she received in reply, enough to suffice her and let her continue her inane ramblings.  For a brief moment Thomas thought what would happen if he were to start yelling at the woman.  He imagined she’d probably turn purple enough to match her dress and namesake.  Thomas had no clue why this woman persisted on coming to him after all these years.  He’d made sure to never treat her with anything that could be mistaken with kindness after the first meeting.  He wore his same scowl, sauntered with his same slouch, and could only recall uttering the phrase “no we don’t have any of those” to her on one occasion.  She never purchased any of the spare parts his store sold anymore either, which would have been far more entertaining to him than the ramblings.  Then again, even if she was buying anything he’d be just as mad from the more intelligent show of pity.  He’d make it as an architect someday, he’d show them all.

“…poor darling cried for days.  It’s not every day your husband is lost at sea.  Or was it that he moved to England?  I’ll have to ask her.”

Mrs. Plum paused in thought, and for a moment Thomas was sure that his prison sentence for the day would be over and he could go back to pursuing his dreams.  He’d even enjoy his pencil mocking him for being an ex-convict from Mrs. Plum’s Penitentiary.

“I brought you something today, Thomas dear.  Something really good.”

Thomas’ chest felt like imploding, each ruffling sound of Mrs. Plum’s purse making the action feel more imminent.  After a moment of searching, Mrs. Plum’s fat fingers placed something onto the desk in front of Thomas. Thomas stared at it, having no possible way to comprehend what it was.  He could at least make out it was a tube of medicine, although which medicine he hadn’t an idea as the text was too faded.  His eyes squinted, trying to see through her trap.  He thought he saw a blurred, aged ‘A’ for a moment but couldn’t assign a significance to it.  The tube was so devoid of any evidence, in fact, Thomas briefly wondered if any medicine was left in it.  He turned a glance to Mrs. Plum and opened his mouth to inquire what she was up to, warily since it was obviously no good.

“It’s Mederma dear.  For the scar.  I don’t know why you’ve never thought of using this before.  They do make these things.  Nancy tells me you can get it in any store.”

Click, click, click.

Thomas literally shuddered from the coldness of her words.  Who did she think she was pointing out his scar?  She was just one of those pretentious rich people.  She had no right to act like his friend when it meant nothing to her.  Had she never even considered he didn’t want to use Mederma to get rid of the scar?  He had considered using it, of course, but she didn’t even bother to ask.

“It worked wonders for my husband when he got in that car accident last year.  It’s hardly noticeable now.  He was just going to throw it out and I told him it was still good even with the faded text.  Give it to someone who needs it.”

Click, click, click.

The lies constricted around Thomas’ throat, making it hard for him to breathe despite the imaginary nature of the action.  He wasn’t a stray to give left-overs to.  His dreams may be unachieved but he would achieve them.  Didn’t she see that?  Pretentious rich people never did; his scar would make a better companion than one of them.  Especially better than her!
“I thought you could use it the most dear.  No need to thank me.  It’s just something to help with this.”

Her hand, her monstrous, wrinkled hand, shot forward and grazed across the scar on his face.

Click, click, click.

Thomas grasped her wrist, squeezing it so forcefully it reddened and tensed.  Her bones silently creaked and strained, waiting any moment to break.  A dainty gasp left Mrs. Plum’s face as she reddened along with her wrist.  Thomas could only describe her face in that moment as a mixture between appalled and frightened out of her mind, and felt a slight twinge of disappointment she was turning red and not purple.  It never crossed his mind to let go; he was bent on conveying the things he’d never said to her.  His eyes sent the message of his hatred to her and his teeth pressed together so hard he could feel the grinding vibration across his whole body.  He leaned toward her making her feel smaller as each second passed.  She was a twig waiting to be snapped.  If not a twig, then a squishy blob that could be gutted by his pencil.  Her presence was far past tiring, and now she had finally crossed the line for him.  Thomas’ mouth opened, ready to spit out his own complaints to her and poison her ignorant mind with psychological bruises.

“Go.”

Thomas all too abruptly let her go, watching her stumble backwards and fall to the ground, flashing her purple panties at him.  Her red, round face did an about face and she crawled to the door while picking herself off just to get away from Thomas faster.  The dinging bell of the store door and a fleeing, plum colored butt was the last he saw of her that day.

***

Though half an hour had passed, Thomas had yet to move since Mrs. Plum’s departure.  Immediately after the fleeing purple ass had left his sight he’d chucked the medicine into the trash and just clawed at his scar.  He didn’t blame his scar as the poor, foolish mark had no clue what was happening.  His fingernails, however, seemed glued to the spot, as if moving would somehow remove the scar from his face.  He dared not even breathe for the longest while, his chest swelling a bit from the extra added air.  Eventually, another ring swirled in his ears.  This time is was the phone.

Click, click, click.

He stared at the phone for a while on the wall.  Each vibration made Thomas think the phone was minutes from falling, which is had done on the rare occasion.  Thomas reached for the phone and then retracted his hand just as the tips of his fingers made contact.  He wasn’t particularly in a condition to talk to anyone right now, but he found he could not fully walk away from the phone.  His heart, even his instincts, screamed that opportunity could be literally ringing there in the receiver (assuming it wasn’t some hopeless customer wanting to buy something).  Thomas recalled one incident in his previous days where he had ignored the phone ringing and continued to work through his drawing.  If he had spared those 5 minutes he would’ve been able to get the job that could have made his architectural career.  Thomas took a moment to bite his lip, so hard he drew just a fleck of blood.  His hand grasped the phone in a firm handshake and brought it to his ear.

“Hey, Thomas.  It’s George.  It’s about that job you applied for.”

Thomas felt the scowl on his face lighten just a bit –it wasn’t a customer at least.  Rather, it was probably the only person whom Thomas would call friend.  He’d met George at an art gallery, the two being there for the unveiling of some art prodigy’s sculpture.  The sculpture, which was a bunch of metal rods glued together at odd angles, received many delighted replies from the other rich folk and whispers of when it would be put up for auction.  Thomas simply found the piece disgusting and excused himself to an exhibit as far away from the ignorant gathering as possible.  As Thomas gazed at one of Monet’s impressionistic masterpieces, admiring the use of colors, George appeared next to him.

George chatted Thomas up, both agreeing the metal piece was horrible and that “people these days just didn’t know good art.”  George then proceeded to weave an intricate tale about how the particular Monet piece in front of them was born, impressing Thomas that maybe not all the people there had the art history knowledge of an ant.  The two spent the rest of the time walking the gallery together, talking about the technical aspects of all the van Gogh’s, Seurat’s, and Gauguin’s.  Even if Thomas’ dream was for architecture, he could appreciate the artwork of any genius.  At the end of their journey, and despite Thomas’ mind screaming at him to not trust a pretentious rich person, he mentioned to George he was an aspiring architect.  George immediately perked up at that sentiment.

Like he was a magician himself, George procured a paper and pencil and sent Thomas to work, wanting an example of his skills.  Thomas’ hand stroked across the page with haste, Thomas himself too busy dealing with the nervous bubbles waging war in his tummy.  The finished product was a simple two story town-house, which George looked over with scrutiny.  After a long stare George slapped the paper and his eyes sparkled.  He, of all the people there, had seen Thomas’ potential.  From that moment on George vowed to be Thomas’ patron of sorts; George had heard that wasn’t uncommon for down in their luck artists.  Thomas, although somewhat insulted at first, decided to accept George’s help, figuring there wasn’t much George could do being new money (something Thomas had learned earlier in the night) and also only being rich enough to be borderline accepted into the aristocratic society.

To his surprise, however, George wasn’t as useless as Thomas first imagined.  Rather, George had at least managed to get Thomas interviews, something Thomas had never been able to do without the college education credentials to back up his talent.  However, a few weeks ago George’s friendship became the most useful: he’d manage to get some friends of his to look at one of Thomas’ house.  The house was to be a 3-story, 5 bedroom masterpiece.  While certainly not a prestigious opportunity, Thomas knew even one single job could open the floodgate to many.  He’d drawn up the plans (perhaps some of his best work to date), dressed in his best attire complete with tie, and met the clients the next day.  The vibe Thomas got from them was a good one, or at the very least, he hoped it was good.

“They really loved the house, Thomas.  Especially the missus.  That view from the kitchen into the garden just about sold the thing to her.”

As the phone conversation continued Thomas took a gulp that he was sure even George heard.  His palms sweated, his body shook; all the classic signs of nervousness Thomas thought.  The fact most of the conversation blurred together for him in the moment also contributed to that idea.  He listened to George tell him more about the brilliance of his design.  He blushed a bit when George told him how the wife wanted to frame his design, thinking it was a work of art and not a design concept.  He even turned the corners of his mouth upwards for a moment when George said the client had been utterly impressed with the alterations he did (which Thomas made sure to have done 5 hours after they requested them).  It felt like he was floating and his heart beat so loudly he could’ve sworn he heard it.  This was what he’d been waiting for: opportunity.  This one grain of opportunity could open the door for him.

His mind traveled to the future, one where he’d be featured in a magazine for best building design.  He wouldn’t be working the dingy store any longer.  He’d have his own house of his own design.  The art supplies would smell like fresh pine, or whatever kind of tree they were made of.  Thomas wouldn’t be surrounded by boxes, but instead by marble floors and Impressionist artwork.  There wouldn’t be any Mrs. Plums in his world, just George and the few other people he could tolerate in life.  There was a chance he could even have a wife.  He couldn’t wait for this future.

Thomas quickly interjected into the conversation now, asking George what the job would pay and when he’d have to have it done by.  Though it was his first job, he was eager to start.  The design had got him in the door, now, with the help of the internet, he could figure out the rest step by step.  The silence from George, however, made him think otherwise.  For a minute there was nothing but silence exchanged between the two.  The phone somehow became a barbell in Thomas’ hand, making it shake just to find strength enough to hold it up.

“I’m sorry, Thomas.  It’s not the designs.  It’s just…well, the clients are worried about your inexperience.”

Click, click, click.

“You didn’t leave them with the best impression either.  You didn’t even smile when you met them.  I think you scared them off.”

Click, click, click.

“I really am sorry though.  I thought for sure they’d pick you.  These just weren’t the ones.  I’ll-we’ll find someone else.  In the meantime we’ll just work on your impression a bit-”

Click, click, click.

Thomas’ body acted long before his brain and, before Thomas came back to reality, he was slogging to his work room, having hung up the phone.  It was always because of him.  Never the drawings, the drawings had always been great.  It was always Thomas.  He was “too unfriendly” and his face “scared others.”  He’d remember the countless teachers, friends, and classmates who told him that.  He hated it.  If it wasn’t hatred it was pity.  If it wasn’t pity it was hatred.  Thomas was trapped in a world, one in which he could never hope to win anything.  Thomas glanced around his work room, not a single good memory flooding to his mind.  It was a room of disappointment; it was a room of failure.

Click, click, click.

The nearest box found its way into Thomas’ hands and soared across the room.  It crashed loudly and with a slight jingle into one of the box towers.  The box towers toppled one after another onto the floor from that single spark, like dominos purposely set up for this incident.  Each crash sounded like an earthquake had knocked something down, and, to Thomas’ eyes, that looked exactly like what was happening.

Click, click, click.

Another box was sent into the wall with Thomas’ foot.  The various contents of used art supplies scattered and tarnished the floor with unnatural colors from a paint bottle.  A few more boxes met with the wall too, broken pieces of glass (which were whole before the wall) and various nuts and bolts intermixed themselves with the art supplies, becoming a collage.

Click, click, click.

Confetti began to storm about the room, consisting of architectural pieces and even some old designs of Thomas’ from what he’d call “the good days.”  Thomas furiously tore each piece with more vigor than could possibly be mustered for such a task.  Boxes were continually thrown against the walls and toppled to the floor.  Dust coated the air, choking the oxygen particles.  Thomas panted and coughed with the dust, but was far too busy in his destructive dance to care.

Click, click, click.

Thomas’ fist landed square onto a mirror, his body slumping against his arm.  His hand had somehow avoided injury, but the force of the blast and the soreness from the broken shards dangerously grazing against his knuckles made his movement cease.  Pant after pant was filled with his anguish and Thomas returned to a semi-normal color.  When the panting finally stopped Thomas stood straight and backed away, not in any hurry at all.  A survey of the damage told him enough: he didn’t really want to know.  He rubbed a hand across his forehead, both wiping sweat away and resting his heavy head against his fingers.  Between his fingers he saw the mirror, the cracks and punch resonating from his left cheek.  Thomas hadn’t even known he had a mirror here; he’d never looked at it before.

Thomas wandered the room for a few more moments, crunching various objects beneath his feet carelessly.  He seemed aimless in his pursuit and his eyes unfocused from everything.  He could name every object that was being destroyed underneath him.  At last his foot slammed into the drafting table’s leg by mistake, the pain numbed too much by Thomas’ mind at the moment.  Thomas glanced at the table, thinking for a humorous second that the table would be split in two or on fire.  The table was unscathed though; he smiled as tears pricked his eyes.

Reaching behind him Thomas awkwardly grasped the chair and pulled it forward a bit.  A sort of grumble protruded from his throat as he sat upon the chair, surprised the chair had survived too.  Part of him had sadistically been hoping some glass would puncture him when he sat down; it might have brought back some feeling to the numbness.  Thomas released a breath, one of those clichéd ones he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, and swept his arm across the table in a wide arc.  His fingers played with the edge of a nearby paper before grabbing it and placing it on the table.  Thomas stared at it and waited for an idea to present itself, or for him to figure out how he’d manage to hold onto his pencil this whole time.  Perhaps the sadistic part of himself just enjoyed the pencil’s mocking too much.  Or perhaps Thomas’ hand knew better than he did about what letting the pencil go would mean.

Click, click, click.

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