The repetitive beeping of the truck outside caused Aaron to wake up without a start. For a long second, an internal battle raged as to whether or not he wanted to know the time; then, groaning, Aaron rolled over and took an apprehensive peek at the digital clock on the bedside table. It read 6:02 AM. ‘Fuck,’ he thought, wishing it were more like 3. He debated whether or not to go empty his bladder, but after declining to do so, Aaron pulled his comforter up and sank back into sleep.
Aaron began to dream, and although this was one of many he experienced that night, this particular dream would be the only he would remember later that day. In said dream, Aaron found himself back at college. He somehow knew that he was back to visit, but the data seemed to be suggesting otherwise, either that his would not be a short return, or that he had never actually left at all. This dream, like any other, blended his present, real-world consciousness, aware that he had already graduated, with the pseudo-empirical evidence presented to him to create a scene of harmonious discord.
It was one of those shining Indian Spring days, perhaps right before graduation. Sorority girls were out sunbathing in bikinis or sauntering around in halter-tops, flirting with fraternity boys engaged in mid-day drinking on row-house porches. Aaron was on his way to meet his girlfriend for lunch, but, as often happened to Aaron in his dreams, he could never seem to get there. First there was one thing, his girlfriend still getting ready in her room. Then another, running into one of his early-to-rise friends on his way back from the library. Aaron was frustrated, though he wasn’t sure why. Maybe he was hungry.
It was the jack-hammering that made Aaron wake up this time. Oddly enough, it was a politer awakening. At this point, the clock read 6:46. ‘Typical,’ he thought. With half an hour to go, Aaron sighed and tried to doze off. Though desperate for sleep, he was ready to wake up.
Despite technically being asleep, Aaron was prepared for the alarm when it went off. As such, he propped up his pillows behind him, leaned back, and promptly sat for five minutes. His one, dull thought was, ‘Man, this bed is comfortable.’ After the numb respite, Aaron lurched up and headed for the shower. ‘I’m absolutely having lights off by 10 tonight,’ was his first thought as he turned on the water. He rolled his eyes at himself when his train of thought continued. ‘I said that yesterday morning too. Besides, I’ll be tired no matter what.’
After showering and pulling the rest of his life together, Aaron went out into the kitchen, nearly ready to leave. He regretted, as usual, that he had not made a sandwich for later that day; now he’d have to spend money on lunch. He opened the cupboard and looked to see if he had any bagels, hoping for breakfast for the road. Nope. All out. ‘I guess there’s a bag of goldfish at work with my name on it,’ he sighed as he headed out the door. Today was definitely going to be an away game.
Down the stairs and the street, Aaron approached the metro stop. Platform 3 and 9/5. He took the newspaper handoff from the man in the neon construction vest and the hat and gave a nod of recognition, for it was the same man from yesterday, and the day before. Entering the station, the orange letters of the electronic board read that a train would be arriving in 2 minutes. Aaron swiped his metro card at the turnstile and sprinted up the escalator in 10 seconds, pausing only to wait for the female-half of a couple to move, out of his way, to the right. As he reached the crest of the stair, he saw the train-he-wanted-to-be-on accelerate and speed away. Looking up above him, Aaron saw that the electronic board on this level read that the next train would be arriving 5 minutes later. Disappointed for a second, he shrugged and changed his mind. ‘What’s the difference.”
Opening up the newspaper, Aaron flipped passed pages of current events to the crossword puzzle and pulled a pen out of his pocket. Taking a glance at the 3 long, horizontal clues, it appeared that today’s theme was 1950’s starring actresses. ‘Wonderful,’ he thought.
A train eventually came, and Aaron beat a mass of people into the car. It was a good thing he had enough practice to know exactly where the door would be. Unfortunately, there were no seats and the train was already somewhat full, so Aaron put his crossword puzzle away and headed to the middle of the car.
Today was Friday, which of course meant the weekend was nigh. This weekend was particularly banal, though, so Aaron wasn’t as eager for the week’s end as he sometimes was. Not only did he have no plans for night, there were none on the horizon. It wasn’t as if Aaron felt like doing anything in particular, though. There was no interest in any of the usual escapades, yet somehow the idea of sitting and doing nothing seemed painfully boring. Wanting and dreading the doing of nothing.
‘At least it’s not work,’ Aaron thought. Then, ‘How optimistic,’ and rolled his eyes. Truthfully, though, work had been a grind lately. It wasn’t that Aaron hated what he did; sure, there were some off days, but there were at least as many on days too, and holistically he didn’t mind his day-to-day activities. Nor did he take issue with his company’s constituents; he rather liked nearly everyone in the office, and found no one worse than tolerable.
The problem was the routine, the lack of progress, and the absence of any hope of change. No matter how well Aaron had performed the week before, how fast he sprinted through the finish line, in some perverse, Sisyphean fashion, he would start each Monday adjacent to the starter’s pistol, preparing to run the same race. He rowed hard, and opened the sails, but there was still no land in sight. Aaron felt like Jimmy McNulty, pouring his soul into a cup with no bottom. “Perhaps,” Aaron mulled, “there is no land.”
With two stops to go, the train reached a central hub of the underground system, and a mob crowded in after the doors opened. The train was now completely packed, and Aaron had to stand uncomfortably close to a large woman whose dreadlocks were well past pungent. Thankfully, when the train reached the second to last stop, a majority of the train’s temporary inhabitants emptied out of the car. Aaron stretched out a little, glad to have some free space. Not thankfully, as soon as the previous occupants finished filing out, a greater number of scabs, impossibly, took their place. Aaron felt that the bald man in the jean jacket was on the wrong side of the line between standing close and invading his personal space.
Still in the darkened tunnel, the train unexpectedly screeched to a stop. The conductor announced over the loudspeaker, “We are waiting for a train to exit the station in front of us. The train will be moving momentarily.” ‘Marvelous,’ Aaron thought sarcastically. ‘It’s a linear track. Weren’t there 5 minutes between trains when I got on?’ But then, again, Aaron changed his mind. He thought of Elaine Benes getting stuck on the train on her way to a lesbian wedding, but took a contrasting attitude. ‘What’s the rush?’ he wondered.
Aaron felt conflicted about what his feelings really should be toward journeys and destinations, for though they were few and far between, he had in his life reached some of the latter. Annapolis. Bobcat Territory. Raviolo. The Saxe-Rose residence. These were times when, in the moment, he really felt he was “when” he wanted to be. But those times, as all times, came to an end, and their former existence made their present absence all the more empty, turning life into one big, insatiable drug addiction.
Three minutes later the train was still static, and Aaron’s mind had changed on the subject a third time. ‘What the fuck is this!?’ he thought angrily. He was impatient again, but finally, after another minute, the train stutter-stepped its way to half-speed. Aaron smiled and sighed in relief, thankful as the train crawled forward. At the very least, it was better to be moving.