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The One Thing to Do
by Gwendolyn Mintz


     Fifty-three days and counting.
     Meyers stands in his kitchen, wearing a pair of clean boxers and brown ankle socks, a red, felt-tip marker in his hand. Carefully poising the implement against the calendar, he makes an X in the box, which indicates the day of the month.
     Replacing the cap, he releases the marker and it falls back to the wall where it hangs from a piece of yarn, taped above the calendar. He steps back, admiring the X. The lines are straight, connected perfectly at the point where they intersect.
     A man at peace, he tells himself, makes those lines. He holds his hands before his eyes and smiles at the way they do not tremble.
     Fifty-three days. He imagines the 5 and the 3, the smooth curves of the numbers mirroring his belly. He thinks of the construction job he's getting that'll rid him of the soft paunch he acquired when he was still agitated and drinking. He sucks in his gut, taps his abdomen with his knuckles, and dreams of the sweet changes and opportunities ahead of him now.
     He sighs contentedly, turns to the counter and opens a cabinet drawer. He pulls out a large plastic bag, which he lays across the card table as he walks out of the kitchenette, to the larger space on the other side of the wall. It serves as his living room, and when the couch is pulled out, his bedroom.
     He sings softly under his breath as he dresses: a khaki pair of pants, a light t-shirt. Jogging shoes and a visor. He goes back for the trash bag, and then heads out the door.
     It's exercise- his afternoon walks about the neighborhood where he's been staying since rehab. Stays, not lives. He lives on the other side of town, a nicer side of town, in a three-bedroom house with a wife and a cat (though he doesn't miss her because she bores the shit out of him - the cat, you understand). He had a job then, when he lived on the other side, and he'll have one again, he tells himself. Now that's he's quit drinking and wants to live.
     While he's out walking, he collects aluminum cans. Greets people along the way, hoping, though, that they don't become attached to him cause he's not staying on this side of town. Nosirree. He's a man headed for change, and not just that which he's getting from the recycling center.
     He can't stay anyway. Too much temptation. His efficiency is cheap, but it's across from a bar. He's done good so far, showed how strong his will is - fifty-three days and counting - but he wants to go back home.
     At a dumpster, he uses a piece of tree branch to move trash around. He does this carefully, thinking he might come upon something of value. One man's treasure.
     One time he found a chair. He had been looking for cans and there it was. A cane-back, not in so bad of shape. It was lopsided, a leg broken on the tip, so he wound duct tape around the bottom until it was sturdy. It didn't wobble when you sat on it. That was on day twenty-three. If you flip back on the calendar, you'll see it: April 17. Acquiring furniture, it says.
     He continues his rummaging and he whistles the tune of a man with time and the world before him.

~

     Home late afternoon, he drops the bag of cans on the kitchen floor, about to rinse them out (he won't go to the recycling center until tomorrow and he doesn't want the cans to attract ants), but his work is interrupted by a knock at the door.
     He wonders who it could be because nobody knows he's here except his wife, and it couldn't be her because the last time he talked to her, she said she never wanted to see him again.
     Opening the door, he finds a young man wearing sunglasses, holding a clipboard before him.
     A survey, Meyers thinks. "Yeah?"
     "Raymond Meyers?"
     Meyers is surprised his identity is no mystery. "Yeah?" he repeats.
     The man tells him he's there to serve some papers. He hands over a large yellow envelope along with a pen and turns the clipboard toward Meyers. The young man points to an X on a line.
     Meyers is asked to sign for the papers. He doesn't want to sign but he signs.
     "I'm getting a job," he says.
     The young man smiles at Meyers. He clicks the top of the pen, retracting the point. "Congratulations," he says, before turning and walking away.

~

     Meyers knows what's in the envelope. He closes the door and shakes his head. Carla. Carla. Carla.
     In the kitchen, he drops the envelope on the table. He wants to call his wife but he knows they'll argue if he does and she's told him it's unprofessional for her to yell at him from the cosmetic counter in the department store where she works spraying smelly fragrances at passersby and ignoring those ladies interested but not rich enough to buy.
     Should he call her? Yes. No.
     He picks up the phone, takes a breath and punches a number.
     "Yeah?"
     Meyers clears his throat. "Hey Jerry, this is Ray. I...uh. . . I was just checking with you about that job you told me about."
     There was silence on the other end.
     "Jer?"
     "It's gotten really slow, Ray. When I told you about the position, I was thinking about expanding my crew, but the way things sit right now, Man, I'm thinking of letting a few guys go."
     Meyers lets the words register in his head. "Well," he says, with something of a laugh, "I was just checking. Doesn't hurt to check."
     Jerry agrees and hangs up.

~

     Meyers sits at the table, staring at the clean white paper in the notebook before him, smoothing his hand over the page. He picks up a pen and numbers the paper, each digit along the red line margining the page. He makes a list of options: people he could call, things he could do. The page fills quickly with his scribbling and momentarily it overwhelms him. He leans back, frightened, but then he is reminded by something from his A.A. sponsor: Keep it simple.
     Yes.
     Yes, he will do only one thing tonight; he needs only to decide what it will be. He has plenty of ideas, he thinks, as he slips the pen into the wire spiraling through and binding the paper. He pushes the notebook across the table until it stops against the wall.
     The afternoon is disappearing. Shadows fall across his back and he drops his head into his hands. The room is hot, his head aching. He realizes, finally, that it's the cans in the garbage bag. The beer cans he picked up from the dumpsters along the strip are emitting a heady, dizzying scent into the room.
     He goes to the bag, opens it and rummages through the aluminum until he finds a beer can. He brings it to his nose, breathes deeply. Dazed, his head explodes with the scent.
     His senses reeling, he stands, goes to the window.
     Energy crackles through the neon tubing of the sign above the bar.
     Meyers is thinking of the one thing he will do, the light flashing in his face as he stands there, watching. And counting.



About the author:
Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz is a poet and fiction writer living in New Mexico. She raises turtles and performs comedy for fun.



© 2011 Word Riot

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