The gleaming aura that surrounded Chester’s new house faded last night as he reclined, on his back, in his bed. He stared at the ceiling which, painted a bone-white, almost seemed to stare back at him. In the night-dark of his first half-hour staring at that ceiling, still awake, it gains the sense of depthless distance that only a dark too great for a human’s eyes to pierce can attain.
Then his northern neighbor, the one behind him, turned on their porch light, and the sick yellow glow of it pierced right through Chester’s blinds, filling the room with bands of light and shadow. The walls of Chester’s cheap new home are thin enough that he could hear the jingle of a dog’s collar tags as its owner let it into the yard, and then the sounds of the owner calling harshly to the dog to finish up and come inside.
Then his eastern neighbor, toward which the second window in his bedroom faces, flushed their toilet. The window to their bathroom aligns perfectly with the window to Chester’s bedroom, and though Chester’s window is closed, apparently theirs was not. He frowns, disgusted that he could hear the inner workings of their house so clearly.
Then a neighbor, whose direction Chester can’t identify but who he supposed could be any one of the five houses either directly or diagonally adjacent to his, started yelling at his spouse. It was not the sort of yelling you do for fun, or even the sort that happens when two people are angry at one another and they both have reason to argue. Chester heard this sort of yelling for years, growing up. It was the one-sided sort, which ends in the weaker party crying, begging for forgiveness, and, sometimes, bleeding.
Chester did finally fall asleep, last night, after hours of staring at the dark ceiling and then his own dark eyelids. The lights that swim behind his lids in total darkness distracted him, keeping his mind frustratingly active. When he awakens he feels as though he has just fallen asleep. His body and his mind are both unrested, and sore besides.
His first steps are to the bathroom, where he relieves himself and bemoans the fact that he doesn’t have anything in the house for a headache or aching muscles. He heads for the kitchen, where he digs out a glass for water, fills and drinks it, and then chases it with a beer as his breakfast, which he tells himself will help with the headache.
He follows his beer with a second glass of water, because he read that drinking plenty of water helps you stay healthy and hydrated, and he wonders if that’s part of the reason he feels tired all the time. He follows it with a cigarette as well, telling himself that the healthiness of the water balances out the unhealthiness of smoking.
Even though he thinks the thought, he doesn’t really believe it. He just wants to convince himself of it to feel better. There are a lot of thoughts that float through Chester’s mind that he hasn’t come to believe, but which he thinks anyway because they make him feel better. I’ll find a wife. I’ll find a better job. I’m attractive. I have friends.
Chester took today and yesterday off of work while he moved into his new house. He had to use two vacation days to do it, because his boss wouldn’t let him just shift his regular days off around. He doesn’t like that, but at least he gets paid vacation days, which he knows a lot of people don’t.
On his mind, somehow above his horrible night of sleep and the creeping, sinister feeling that he’s made a mistake in buying this house, is the thought that he still needs to write a thank-you note to his parents for helping him to move in. He’ll write his father’s name on it, even though he and his mom did almost all of the work, because discluding his father would be more of a problem.
This means that the first thing he’ll do is go to the store to buy a new pen. Make that, the first non-routine thing he’ll do, because he didn’t shower last night and if he’s going to be out and in front of other people, he feels the need to be clean. The tips of his fingers are dry and cracked and in some places, stained so deeply by his work that he wonders if they’ll ever be clean again; but at least, if he showers, he won’t smell.
Chester wore a light tee-shirt to bed last night. He strips it off in the bathroom, in front of his small mirror, revealing his underweight body with its sparse hair, and revealing as well the tattoo on his upper right arm. It takes the form of a shield with a coat of arms, though it is not his family’s crest or anything like that. It is the symbol of a guild from a video game he used to play.
He doesn’t play that game anymore. He got that tattoo ten years ago. Sometimes, when he looks at it, he regrets that it has become so meaningless to him. Most of the time, he doesn’t think about it at all. It’s just part of his body. It has always been dark. It was made with black ink, which faded a bit as the years passed and blurred around the edges, making the finer details more difficult to discern.
The water is running for his shower, but Chester continues to stare at his tattoo. It is darker than he remembers, and the edges are even fuzzier than he thought. But then, he doesn’t take any sort of care of it, and he can’t remember the last time he looked at it closely.
Chester shrugs it off, attributing the change to his own neglect, and hops into the shower. He’s never had much patience for showers. While he soaps down his body or scrubs his hair, he can only think about all the things he’d rather be doing. Paradoxically, however, he loves to be clean. This is the main source of the discontent he feels toward his job. As a mechanic, he never feels clean.
Shampoo runs down Chester’s face and into his eye. It burns, so he blinks and puts his face under the falling water. With his vision blurred by soap and water, he notices something odd about the shampoo bottle itself. The text on the label has blurred and run, leaving the label white in patches. The water pooled around the bottle’s base where it sits on the shelf has darkened with the ink.
The bottle itself, and the label, are black. It’s a Shampoo for Men, so the label has to be a dark, strong, manly color. Chester has seen labels wrinkle and peel before from the water and steam of the shower, but he’s never seen the print run off of them like this. He accepts it as a curiosity and files it away in his mind as an interesting story to tell at work, later, when he’s trying to fit in.
The other guys are not often interesting in Chester’s stories. They don’t play the video games he plays, and that’s often all Chester has to talk about. This is something outside of the realm of games that he can bring up. Then again, as soon as he starts a story with “I was in the shower,” they’ll probably turn the whole conversation into one long line of sexual jokes, and Chester won’t get to tell the story at all. Maybe he’ll just leave it unsaid.
The trip to the store is a short one. Chester navigates familiar roads from an unfamiliar starting point. He has driven to the store uncountable times in the years living with his parents, always starting from either there or from work. To approach it from the west instead of the south is, in an odd way, disorienting. He considers turning on his GPS, but scoffs at himself for even having the thought. The drive takes less than five minutes.
At the store, Chester falls prey to pricing and temptation. The same pen he loves, which has died at home, lives here for sale by itself at one price, and with a single companion for another, and with a group of seven other pens for a third price. The price per pen is much lower in the largest pack, so even though Chester feels like he’s never going to use all of those different colors of pen — Who would ever use a magenta pen?, he wonders — he buys the big pack.
Chester also has the wherewithal to remember to grab medication for his headache and sore muscles. He gets two different kinds, in case one doesn’t work, but also because he can’t decide on one or the other. Since he’s at the store anyway, he meanders through the video game section. There are no games that draw his attention today, but he does end up getting a collectible figurine which interacts with the games he plays that are made by a certain publisher. He hasn’t seen that one before, so he can’t resist.
Chester slides his credit card at the self checkout, avoiding two things by doing so: human interaction, and the need to think about how much is in his bank account and how much he’s spending. The fellow in charge of the six registers smiles at him and wishes Chester a good day, but Chester just grunts in response and keeps walking.
When he gets back to his new house, Chester sets his new pack of pens on his desk. He had intended to sit down and start writing the thank you note to his mother — to his parents — immediately, but the new figurine in his grocery bag is calling out to him. He owns three games with which it interacts, and he tells himself he deserves a break, after all he did yesterday. He sits down on his couch, opens the figurines, and turns on the video game system, his mother’s thank you note temporarily forgotten.