Toothless Paper

By @alexis_the_great
Toothless Paper

This is a mildly dark, philosophical commentary on corporations and the future.

Chapter 1

I will die in 731.45 days. Is that a lot? I don’t know. It’s two years; but what is that really? A lifetime is like an ocean; who’s to say how long it is when you’re in the middle of it?

         As I sit in this white-walled room, that’s what I think about. I have two years? What do I do?

         Well, in the immediate future, I have two options. I can muffle a sob, nod my head, swallow my fear, and stay there, fidgeting in the uncomfortable chair. Or, I can throw the chair, break the pristine glass window and burn the commercial photos of happy people leading happy lives. Flip the plastic white table and smash the plastic white lamps. Sit still and listen, or destroy.

         I do neither. I stand, cutting the smiling woman off, turn around, and leave. I slide through the automatic door and barely give the guards a glance. **** them. How long do they have? Forty years? I have a twentieth of that. They want to hold me? Do it. Taser me. Punch me. Throw me in jail. I dare you! Try!

         Please.

         Maybe if they throw me in jail, I won’t have to see Daniel again. How old will he be when I leave? Nine. He’ll be nine.

         I swallow hard, walking in a random direction down the dry, hot, beige sidewalk. Los Angeles is huge; this dreadful building should disappear from both my memory and my vision soon. Unfortunately I was wrong in both respects. The skyscraper is too tall, I‘m too close. My mind will never forget that day for the next two years.

         Maybe I regret leaving like that. Maybe I wish I’d stayed, sat still, listened. How will I die? Why? Sickness? STD? I suddenly feel a stab of sudden fear, causing my chest to constrict and my eyelids to flutter. Was this a mistake? Should I have gone back? Should I go now? But my emotions harden suddenly. I hadn’t gone back. I’d left. I’d left my future to be a large blank. So what. If my lifetime is an ocean, I’m sinking to the murky bottom.

         Or maybe I regret leaving like that, but for a different reason. Maybe I wish I’d flipped that table. Heard the satisfying crunch of the computer smashing. The paper shredding. The ******* paperclips flying. Maybe then Life Corps would know not to play with other people’s lives.

         I remember suddenly that there is a man near my apartment who sells all sorts of crazy ****. He’s probably rich by now. *******. Probably has years to waste, even if he takes drugs. He sells cigarettes, I think. I long for a cigarette as I yell at him in my head. I long to wash away my anxiety with the smell of tobacco and feeling of paper between my teeth, despite the fact I’d be putting more money into his pockets. Two years, huh? Maybe I’ll get lung cancer. Doesn’t matter now.

         Maybe I’ll be murdered. Sounds interesting. Why? Maybe I’ll rub a mafia member the wrong way. Maybe I’ll come across important information that could blackmail an important corporation. Maybe I’ll stick a fork in a toaster. 

         Or I could die in a car accident. Ordinary. Boring. A man forgets to check his left-side mirror. A woman texts back to her boyfriend at the wrong time. A teenager turns to a friend as they pass a red light. All of them crash. They survive. I don’t. My red Prius collapses in on itself. I fall off a bridge.

         God I need that cigarette.

         At some point I stumble upon a Metro station, blue and glittering, and like any man forged by routine I numbly hop on a bus. People give me strange stares. A man that out of it is either listening to music or taking drugs,they think to themselves. I don’t have my earphones in.

         I ignore their looks and wonder what Daniel will do. I hope he won’t cry. I hope even more he won’t be there. I had sold most of my earnings for this life sentence; I couldn’t afford one for him. I hope to God that wasn’t a mistake. 

         One-thousand dollars. That’s how much it cost. 1,000 dollars to realize my life should never have been taken for granted. I’ve done nothing, nothing at all, to die happily. I’d gone to a community college. Hooked up with a girl. Had a kid. Gotten divorced. Acquired a job, an office job. Nothing of extraordinary talent. Nothing of interest. What had I done in life that will be remembered? Nothing. Nothing at all.

         With an abrupt wave of anxiety to go with it, I jump up from my sitting position on the bus and stumble over to the back. The heavy forces opposing the high-speed vehicle cause me to plummet to the ground. I barely grasp onto a handlebar in time to stop myself from smashing into the plastic floor. Breathing hard, I straighten up against the bar, staring out at the window I’d been reaching for. It’s a curved rectangle of glass, curtained with the blue walls of the rest of the bus. The glass cover juts out from its position like an empty see-through pudding cup, overlooking the train tracks. Meant for emergencies, as soon as the floor drops to catch someone opening the window, they’d be safe to leave. But break the window, crawl through… all that’d be left to run into was the electric rails, ready for their next well-cooked human meal. 

            I could see myself doing it. Life Corps doesn’t have **** on me.You wanna monetize people’s lives through your silly predictions? Monetize this! Suicide.

         I slowly wobble to the edge of the bus’s walls, ignoring the robotic driver as it warns me to stay away. My heart beats fast and my body shakes with fear. I raise my left hand, the one not preoccupied with keeping me balanced, and pause to stare at it shiver. My parents got their life sentences through Life Corps. And Life Corps was right. Car accident, ‘47. Three dead. Them and some maniac. I wonder how much their lack of money had to do with it. Speeding to the bank, trying to take out their cash. Laugh. Scream. Swerve. Glass. Gone. ****, and only a year after they’d spent so much of their money on the life sentence. 

         My left hand shines in the light of the window. I plunge it into the glass, ignoring the scream from the woman closest to me. The glass shatters across my wrist, devolving into twenty tiny paper cuts that feel not like pain, but like water. I rear back from the window and kick through it, my heart racing at the same pace as my legs as I burst through the glass. My body feels heavy as I fall into the abyss…

         I close my eyes. None of that now. No suicide. It’s not worth it. I turn away from the window and the sweaty handlebar and hop off the next stop there is. 

         I get to my house only by instinct. The hot wind buffets my back as I struggle through the sweltering humidity. I see the man near the corner of my apartment, with his black attire looking out of place in the white-walled street. I stop myself from running to him and grabbing that cigarette pack. Instead I walk, trying to ignore the blistering sun on my skin. Yeah, Californians, it’s one of those days.A hellish day.

         I finally get to the man, and unsure what to do, I stop. He looks at me silently, hood covering his hair. We stare at each other, the desperate insurance guy and the wanna-be drug dealer. He holds an open pack in his hand.

            I slide my fingers in the pack and take a cigarette. I let my mouth slowly close around the soft paper, and I let my fingers methodically flick on the lighter. The breath I take in is just the way it should be, natural and addicting. What a beauty. I puff out a plume of smoke and let the smells take me, closing my eyes to a future I can’t comprehend.

            I’m awakened from my trance by Daniel’s voice. Opening my heavy eyes, I swipe the cigarette out of my teeth and put it behind my back. He wraps me in a warm hug.

            “Daddy, look what I got!” he says to me cheerfully. His voice echoes a world of perfect days, of joyful hopes; a world I’m no longer welcome in. He raises to my face a new paper from his school. It offers a fifty-percent discount for a life sentence. I look up at our street and see even the telephone poles funded for by Life Corps. “How was yours, dad?” Daniel asks me. “Was it fun?”

            The emotions I thought would burst forth in me upon seeing his face again—terror, sadness, agony—don’t come as I thought they would. Instead they’re replaced by a hard shell, strong like the glass exit in the back of a Metro. “Hey kid,” I say, dropping my cigarette to the ground and hoping he doesn’t see it, “How about we go on a road trip?”

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