May 4, 2016

Fiction By Phillip E. Temples: "Filings"

Phil Temples lives in Watertown, Massachusetts, and works as a computer systems administrator at a university. He's a native of Bloomington, Indiana. Phil has had over a hundred works of short fiction published in print and online journals.
Blue Mustang Press recently published Phil's full-length murder-mystery  novel, “The Winship Affair." He has two books due out this year--a paranormal-horror novel, "Helltown Chronicles" by Eternal Press, and a short story anthology in Big Table Publishing, "Machine Feelings."


Jessie comes home to a sweltering house. He enters, and lets the screen door slam shut. He curses at the non-functioning air conditioner.
"Hi hon. Did ya’ have a good day?" asks his wife, Kat.
"As a matter of fact, I didn't," Jessie replies. Kat knows this tone of voice. It means, Shut the fuck up. I don't want to talk about it.
Jessie is pissed because the shop foreman bitched at him for the third time this week about his sloppy craftsmanship on a job. Seems that he was off by a tenth of a millimeter fabricating a critical part today. It was made all the worse by the fact that John called him to task in front of all of the other guys on the floor. John warned Jessie loudly that he was jeopardizing all of their jobs. Another mistake like that, he said, and you'll get docked a week’s pay--maybe even canned.
Kat's had a miserable day, too. In addition to the heat, her three-year-old has been crying incessantly since breakfast. It's taken all of her patience not to haul off and smack Joey in the mouth like she did last month. Kat hasn't forgiven herself for that slip-up. It's a shameful little secret shared between her and her little boy. She intends to make it up to Joey by buying him something a little extra special from the meager allowance Jessie gives her.
"Dinner's on. It'll be ready in about twenty minutes, okay?"
Jessie grunts an acknowledgment to Kat while reaching for a Bud from the fridge. He wipes the sweat from his brow and proceeds to down a cold, 16-ounce King of Bottled Beers. It's his seventh of the day, counting the beers he's had at the local diner for lunch with his buddies.
Some days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed. It's not my fault, he tells himself. The friggin' screw latch is loose on the mill plate. I've told'em that a couple of times already. If they'd just give me some decent tools to get the job done...
"...Daddy, daddy!" Joey interrupts his train of thought. "Would you come and play catch with me?" he cries.
"Jesus fuckin' Christ. Kat!"
Kat averts a potential crisis. She physically intercedes between her little boy and a husband who is ready to erupt.
"Joey, your favorite cartoon is on TV. Why don't you go and watch it, sweet’uns."
"Hoo-kay," says Joey. He lets out a sigh as he trundles off.
"Honey, please watch your language around Joey. Okay? We've talked about this before."
"Just keep him the hell away from me after a hard day's work, okay? Is THAT too much to ask? HUH?"
"No," Kat answers, meekly. She knows what will happen if she talks back to Jessie when he's in one of these moods. In fact, her jaw is still smarting from last week's "conversation" in which she attempted to defend her point of view.
Jessie settles down on the swing on the front porch to contemplate his life. It wasn't supposed to be like this, he thinks. Hell. He had a future. He actually took college courses at Indiana University during the summer after high school graduation. Math and economics, he recalls. He did so-so in math--a C-, and a B- in economics. But that fall, after the factory job at RCA, Jessie started apprenticing at a metal shop. He never took any more courses.
Jessie doesn't remember when he gave up, or even if he did. He seems to think that it was a gradual thing. He recalls that a couple of his buddies talked to him once or twice about a college education and a better life. Two of his closest friends, Carl Simmons and Ed Shaw, had their schooling paid for by their parents. And a third friend--Tom Young—even had tuition and dorm expenses paid for. 
If only Jessie's mom and dad offered to give him money for tuition. He would have stuck it out. He would have earned a college degree. Yep. He'd be sittin' pretty right now. Jessie would be an engineer or a manager, livin' in a nice air-conditioned condo somewhere in the city sippin' on a fine wine with a fine wife who was a professional--a doctor or a lawyer, maybe...

Jessie recalls three summers ago when his buddy Tom Young invited him to a kegger at Whitman Hall. That was before he and Kat had had Joey. The party sounded like it would be fun. They acted decently towards him at first. The guys were carrying on, telling dirty jokes about college girls and how many they had gotten into the sack. But later, after everyone had been drinking for a while, the comments turned from sex to making fun of the town folk.

Crawford Styles, a junior from Massachusetts started it. He whispered to one of the seniors, Jake so-'n-so, that Jessie was a "townie" and "white trash." He said that Jessie's daddy probably sold used cars like the character in the movie, "Breaking Away." From that point onward, everyone snickered and joked at Jessie's expense. Even his friend, Tom chimed in. That hurt.
Jessie identifies with "Breaking Away." It is the story of his life. All of his friends can relate to at least one scene or character from the movie. In fact, he could have starred in it. They used to joke with one another about how the stars were mistakenly called "Cutters" when in fact the derogatory name for a person from Bloomington, Indiana is "townie." Carl reckoned how the movie producers didn't hire very good technical consultants, seeing as how they had messed that up badly.
Like the character "Bambino" portrayed by Dennis Christopher, Jessie rode his bike around Indiana University, and the scenic, rolling hills of Monroe County. Sometimes he invented imaginary companions. Other times, Jessie dreamt of his life-to-be. Jessie wasn't into the fake Italian bullshit, though. He just liked to ride, to feel the wind rushing up against his face, to fly like the devil down those steep county roads.
One day when he was a junior in high school, Jessie decided to head for Lake Monroe. He rode so far south that he found himself in Lawrence County, completely off the map. Jessie was both scared and exhilarated at the same time. He wondered if he could find his way back home without back tracking. Eventually, he came to Highway 37 and followed it north back into town.
Jessie returns from his recollections back to reality. He returns to his perspiration-soaked tee shirt he wears, to the squeaky front porch swing. He returns to the uncut grass, to the pealing paint of the smallish ranch-style house on South Washington Street. Jessie is sad about a number of things, especially his love life. He hasn't felt sexual attraction to Kat for a long time now. He feels only an occasional horniness -- a minor problem for which relief is only a Penthouse away.
Jessie supposes that he loves Kat on some level. After all, she is the mother of their child. Kat still has the extra thirty pounds from Joey's pregnancy. And she never bothers to make herself look pretty for Jessie anymore. The couple's wild, adventurous romps in the bedroom seem like they occurred in a different life. Jessie finds himself wondering, "Did I imagine those memories?"
"Yeah, right," he scolds himself, out loud.
Jessie tries to focus on the good things in his life. He, Kat and Joey enjoy their weekly Sunday night meal together at McDonalds on College Avenue. Jessie goes out with some of his high school pals to catch an occasional high school football game. Last month, Jessie and several of the old gang met one Saturday night at the strip bar on South Walnut. They sat in the front row of the dance floor, yelling and whooping their fool heads off, all the while stuffing dollar bill after dollar bill down the panties of the topless dancers.
In the oppressive heat of this early July evening, Jessie cannot shake these feelings--feelings of emptiness and despair. Feelings that he cannot articulate. They permeate his conscience in much the same way that the small, metal filings from the metal shop cling to his clothing, the result of his daily cutting on things much harder and durable than he is. Filings and feelings—they have embedded themselves into the fabric of his existence.
He picks absentmindedly at a filing and it pricks his finger. As Jessie watches, a small drop of his blood drips down onto the porch floor, forming a nearly perfect dot of dark red. He stares at it blankly. It seems to Jessie that his blood dries the very instant it hits the hot surface. Jessie feels empty.
"My life is shit,” he says, to no one. 
~Phillip E. Temples 

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