Fit to Survive by C. Angelo Caci
Followed by Q&A
Organisms face a constant struggle to survive and reproduce. As perceived by Charles Darwin, an organism’s environment determines what pressures Natural Selection will exert on that organism. To wit: Human survival within a society could very well be perceived as our inherent ability as a species to adapt to whatever intolerable stench of circumstance we’ve decided to impose upon ourselves as a species, and to then come out smelling like the proverbial rose.
…music on the radio’s interrupted, as it goes. A commercial, followed by the archetypal D.J. rambling on, as it goes…in further still.
“They just don’t know when to shut the fuck up, when enough is enough!” protests Harry. And Harry, he’s had quite enough. [Crescendo] “ENOUGH STOP Damn it!” while jabbing the red protuberance conspicuously sticking out of the faceplate of his almost new SUV, effectively cutting off said D.J., as well as half the protuberance and well before the penetration should chafe the raw-nerve palate, following:
“…and it’s another beautiful day in the Southland…” That’s as far as he, said D.J., got.…
“Yeah sure, that’s all I fucking see is fog, asshole!” Harry counters, “I don’t know what city you’re in, but…”
a most holy silence befalls the moment, enshrouding his raw nerve animosities with a prophylactic-like insulate of serene (?) insolence…However, holy silences, being what they are, last shorter than the effect of a forty-five minute massage during a one-hour lunch break for an upper- management executive struggling to hold on to a job he/she despises from the covetings of his/her consortium as he/she rushes back to the office struggling against every possible adversity Murphy’s Law could conjure up at the spur of the moment. To wit: As a matter of course, holy or otherwise, silences are just not quite what they’re hyped up to be, this one soon implodes as Harry, simultaneously struggling to parallel park his oversized vehicle—already with dent in the back fender and a broken lens, one that he had just finished duck-taping this very morning…”I’ve only had this thing for a week, one fucking week!” Harry hisses, his forked tongue searching, fangs readied, then screams, [Molto crescendo] “You damned son of a mini-skirted bitch!” in response to someone else parking their tiny little vehicle—and right in close, mind you—behind him.
The aforementioned driver, completely unaware, of course, of any perceived transgression on his part was merely engaged in juggling his car forward and reverse, back and forth, forward again and not unlike a mutt compulsively meandering about in circles in search of that one sacred spot to deposit its ritualistic morning defecation and all the while the mutt can’t make up its mind the body’s not paying the mind any mind and the result is quite embarrassing to both mammals on either end of the leash.
“That’s right,” Harry moans, “you asshole! With all the room around you, you still got to pull right up on my ass blocking me in….A fucking eco-car, no less…figures. A prissy, little green….you inconsiderate, hybrid bastard!” Luckily Harry’s windows are rolled up. It isn’t really the man in the hybrid car, nor the car itself that boils Harry’s juices—no, not at all.
All Harry can really think about, outside of the present circumstance of course, is the girl…the one who dented his car two days ago…here, in fact, and in this very same location where he was to meet her today. ‘I’m so sorry…,’ she had said, ‘ya da ya da ya da,’ dropping the ‘so’ so low it hit the bulls-eye right below the belt. “God what a sexy voice…” he thought then, and said now. ‘Tell you what, I’ll meet ya here tomorrow, we can have lunch, and I’ll try to make it up to ya…kay?’ The …kay was the KY that greased him up good. She then promptly sashayed away, even though Harry’s mouth was too stopped up full of furry feary dust to bleep any answer; simply put, Harry is now left to stew in the marinade of his own toxic misgivings, and to top it off, he’d let her go, let her go, simply because, ‘God she looked hot…’ that short mini and fuck-me heels and all… ‘and maybe I, we…’ he thought then...
Now (?) “Bitch!” he rants, “I should have fucking damn well known better.” She, with a name that resembles a tiny red fruit with a stone-like pit embedded in its center. A pit so hard that caused Harry quite some years ago to break his front tooth on. What was her name, he’s wondering, Berry? Naw, berries don’t have pits…Doesn’t matter, she ain’t gonna show. “Man! Was I the fool to think she would…”
Getting back to things at hand, as they say, Stewart, his name, of course, unbeknownst to Harry…The unfortunate one who thought to park his said prissy green Priux of a car behind Harry’s, now proceeds to excavate himself, all three hundred and twenty-eight pounds—without socks or underwear—from his too-low to the ground vehicle…First one leg, then with a mighty harrumph, the other. This, followed by a burst of energy that could have exhumed the dead or launched a Triton, yet, could only succeed in his having risen an impotent three and a half inches or so from his launch pad. Although, this valiant effort proves quite unsuccessful, leaving him clawing at the air around him as if it had the consistency of dough…And that, needless to say, quite doesn’t.
His second attempt, though, is far more victorious, augmented in part by an audible grunt while simultaneously décor’d by an audible fart. He does, however, manage a successful lift-off and the big man proceeds across the park, all three hundred and twenty-eight pounds of flesh-joggling glory, toting a gallon of bottled water in one hand—swinging like Poe’s pendulum—and a…
Look’t that fat thing! Disgust oozes from Harry like a ripened sebaceous cyst. Continuing on in the same slippery silence, he’s probably on his way to some drone-type, desk job, where he’ll guzzle from his one-gallon, baby bottle and munch potato chips while he anxiously awaits freedom’s ring-tone on his watch, set for lunch of course… “Hey, Larry, Larry quite contrary, I wonder, wonder just what you carry in that duffle fucking bag.” I wonder if his name is Larry. Probably has his lunch in that bag, it’s for sure he’s not off to the gym; hell, just getting his fat ass outta that sissy prissy Priux is workout enough for him! I can see it all now, a diet lunch no doubt, a dozen deviled eggs, head of lettuce, and no less, I’m sure, than four—no, make that five—goddamned cans of tuna. There’s probably a whole loaf of Bimbo in there and a half gallon of 2% milk—2%, yeah, a loaf a bread and a half gallon a 2%...I’m on a diet! Stupid fat fuck!
“Moooo!” Harry taunts, this time without sparing the decibels. Having broadcast this, in utter vehemence, the far corners of Harry’s mouth begin to turn slightly upward. He watches, with growing satisfaction, the big man as he waddles through the park. Destination (?) wherever: luggage in hand he sways back and forth, back and forth again, looking something like some Spanish Galleon topping a wave. Harry turns his attention away and upwards: up toward the heavens. Not too far away in the distance, a section of luminous blue has begun to burn its way through what was previously obscured by a heavily-ladened sky: chalk-gray clouds with dense fog. It would now soon become another beautiful day indeed in the Southland for Harry. He pokes at what is left of the broken protuberance on the dash, then, with the radio back on, turns up the volume, closes his eyes, and settles back reservedly into his seat as if he’d just exhaled the finest cigar Havana has to offer.
Stewart tramps through the door from the street into the outer office dressed in his usual attire which consists of a pair of nondescript gray sweat pants provocatively (?) stained down the crotch, showing overt signs of continued usage, what with all the worn sags and all, especially those bulging out several inches below his knees. This, augmented by a faded blue sweatshirt adorned with more than just a few old stains, quite suggestive of marinara to be sure. The overall appearance, or persona, is one of pick on me! Understand, Stewart doesn’t much care for Laundromats, as the little children there tend to stare wide-eyed in awe, followed in course by muffled laughter at the overt size of his underwear whenever he’d retrieve them from the drier. He continues on swabbing his enormous bulk, somewhat absent mindedly, right by Cherry, the receptionist, who sends him her token,
“Oh, Mr. Harrison, the Doctor’s expecting you. Just go right in.”
Stewart sets down, as usual, his gallon water-bottle and duffle bag right next to Cherry’s desk.
For safekeeping? Cherry thinks; again, as always, each Tuesday at 3:30 PM. Stewart ambles in, sets his baggage down—same place, right by her desk—as if it were her job to safeguard it. The fat pig! What’s he think, I’m some kind of security guard for his…whatever it is the jerk’s lugging around with him? I’ll bet that cow’s got his lunch in there. He probably has a hoagie in there big enough to feed a family of four.
“Don’t worry…” in a sing-song manner, sounds Cherry. The tonality she uses sounds much like that of a social worker turning down some indigent in need of food stamps. “Mr. Harrison, I’ll keep an eye out for your [pause] stuff,” then to herself, as if anyone, any one, would even consider rummaging around in that sweat sponge’s bags…Oh, gross be the thought!
Stewart, who for reasons you can well imagine, is usually quite in-tuned, but yet, will not ever become truly acclimated to, of course, such subtleties of tone as was the decorum of Cherry’s chidings. He’d had quite enough already, from that man parked in front of him at the curb, so hers slides off him like melted butter. The last unprovoked straw was just laid upon him, ‘Moooo,’ and clings to him still, like bacon grease.
Stewart pushes open the unlatched door, sits down carefully, instead of his usual plop down, looks around, desperately and unconvincingly feigns an aura of nonchalance, one he’d acquired instantaneously while crossing the threshold into the Doctor’s inner-office for the first time two years ago.
“How are you, Stewart?”
“What does that mean exactly?”
“I don’t know…It means fine, what else would it mean? Fine, I’m, I’m fine, fine, fine, that’s all, fine.”
Pause (the drip, drip, drip).
Doctor Krause folds her hands upon her lap, as she usually does, to signify that she intends to wait even longer for elaboration. And, the dutiful patient squirms dutifully. This of course preempts the next response from Dr. Krause,
“I’m glad to hear it. Sooo, I take it that you haven’t had any suicidal thoughts lately?”
“Uh, well…” Stewart was obviously unprepared for this and waddles through an ad hoc response.
“…thoughts maybe, but nothing…uh, nothing to be concerned with, Doctor.”
“Suicidal thoughts are nothing to be concerned with?”
“Well, you know…I mean…nothing that I would really act upon. Just maybe…I don’t know, like maybe wishing I didn’t wake up in the morning…or something.”
Pause (pregnant pauses are much too posh for Stewart, not withstanding ‘pregnant pause’ is no longer, it became a still born years ago lying forgotten on a shelf in the romance section.)
Stewart squirms more, until the Doctor finally breaks the pause with,
“Do you have a plan?”
“A what? Oh, a plan. Uh…nooo, no plan...It’s just, you know, a wish…hope.”
“I seeee. And what about anger?”
Pause (like foreplay)
Stewart, trying heroically not to squirm, answers,
“Well…yeah, I suppose…well, yeah, I’ve lots of anger, I mean, look at what I’ve had to put up with all my life...” No more squirming for Stewart now…“How the fuck could I not feel angry? How could you even suspect that I not feel anger? I mean…Mooo! That’s what some asshole said to me out there. Oh, not directly to me, to my face, mind you, but I heard it. Oh, did I hear it!”
“Well, Stewart, you’re not exactly giving yourself credit are you? Didn’t you tell me, just last week, that you’d lost a few pounds?”
The Doctor begins rummaging through her notes. “Yes, you said you’d lost six pounds, remember? Do you remember telling me this? And, I might add, you’re no longer carrying around that duffle bag. So, you are making progress, aren’t you?”
Stewart cringes. If he’d a tail it surely would have left a trail in the dust of that lie. You could say that the pause that followed Dr. Krause’s affirmation settled over Stewart like a fat ass over a bicycle seat.
After which, Dr. Krause informs Stewart that time’s up. Stewart’s rather bulbous and sweaty body sucks loose—audibly— from the overstuffed leather chair…slowly, as if he, through some Zen sort of thing, has become one with his padded upholstered universe, yet an all too sticky universe.
So, Stewart lumbers on out into the reception area, head hung low as if on auto-pilot, walks right past a bemused Cherry, and right on past his duffle bag without even so much as a word of goodbye to Cherry (or the duffle bag), or of paying anything in the way of acknowledgement at all of her (not the bag), which doesn’t really suit Cherry at all (or the bag), as she rather enjoys that look of wishful desire even from those she considers repulsive. It’s a sort of Cherry thing. Stewart just ambles on by and out into the foyer in front of the elevator, punching the down button, and resolves to wait, standing like a child who’s told by the teacher to go stand in the corner. If it isn’t for the rather emergent and otherwise insistent hunger, he’d never have remembered to go back into the reception area, to pass in front of his Nemeses, on a mission to retrieve his duffle bag. That, and his jug.
“Forget something?” A melodic riff from a sassy soprano sax, albeit disguised in the sweetest and cheeriest of modalities.
Instantaneously desensitized, yet careful not to show it, he blubbers, “Harrumph,” which responsively triggers the kind of laugh that just can’t be suppressed. It seems to find its way back and up and out through the sinuses to surreptitiously escape through the nose in one short snort sort of burst, much like that of a firecracker—a cherry bomb to be precise—placed in a toilet—a real silent, but unmistakably deadly, as they say, and no one, her or him was saying anything. Luckily, for him, and like a bowling ball pitched down the lane, Stewart blasts through the remaining two pins of a set of double-hung doors leading to reception and out of reach of Cherry’s nasalized critique. Good thing, as he was already feeling self-conscious enough. However, stage left enters the Doctor; upon hearing Cherry’s bomb, she subsequently proceeds to reprimand her for it.
“Stewart has enough problems with self respect, Cherry,”—a soft, yet effective reprimand, sounding off like a muffled Miles Davis horn. She announces, “He sure does not need you to rub any alcohol into the open wound of his injured ego.”
“Oh, sorry Doctor, I really didn’t mean anything by it.” Cherry’s simultaneously thinking, well why doesn’t the fat fuck lose some weight then?
Doctor Krause turns to go back to her office, stops abruptly, turns to inquire, of Cherry, as to whether Stewart was carrying a duffle bag with him. Cherry beams, and fires away...
“He was, yes…” and continues to inform the Doctor how he always leaves it by her desk whenever he comes in.
“Oh.” The Doctor, suppressing a smile, performs a perfect pirouette on her stiletto heels and bops off, heels in driving syncopation upon the hardwood floor, right on back into her office. Cherry continues smiling; it’s the smile of the triumphant, growing ever wide as she witnesses the pronounced bounce in the Doctor’s retreat back to her office. She, Cherry, then sashays over to the picture window that looks down upon the street below, upon noticing that the familiar SUV—because of the dented rear fender—has retreated, sizzles like a cymbal, her glossed lips a light-emitting diode, spins around, a prima ballerina in heels pumping the tout de resistance upon the self same hardwood flooring as she glides back to her desk.
“Fool!” she proclaims.
Meanwhile, Stewart, alone in the elevator, reaches into his duffle bag, tears open a Ma Kettles bag…thoughtfully, with an ever so delicate deliberateness of manner, he extracts just one thin unmolested potato chip, places it into his mouth, with the reverence of receiving the body and blood of some obscure savior, relaxes, then settles back into the privacy of the elevator compartment. And, without chewing, he lets Ma Kettle’s finest, stuck to the roof of his mouth, slowly dissolve, like some Holy Communion wafer. He closes his eyes, and allows himself to become enrapt in the savory ambiance of the commingling juices of one fried potato wafer, provocatively curved to the shape of the roof of his mouth and tongue, while a cornucopia of herbs, real and imagined, marinate between pursed lips…
In such moments it is entirely plausible that one might arrive at, fall upon, or give in to, the discovery, or catharsis, subtle as may be, that perhaps one may just have power enough, just so, to change his world, yet be entirely content not to do so. Enlightenment is usually a spontaneous, transient thing—much like that of water flowing downriver, never to repeat itself again—yet the illusion of the finger of permanence does tickle the psychic clitoris of reason, leaving one right back where the foreplay began. It happens. And, since just which one of the countless tributaries of moments (to get back to the stream) that carry the roving waters of truth/deception upon the tips of those tantalizing fingers of inspiration that inherently must remain anonymous, the duplication of any such experience is therefore impossible, perhaps justly so, as it is certainly debatable as to whether or not there is any absolute or permanent value in anything we call truth. It would perhaps suffice to say that such an experience…its value, may indeed be absolute…lies only for that given moment, like a flash of sunshine reflected off transient beads of water, those emeralds of perspiration trickling down the abdomen…or, for Stewart, the time it takes for that sole potato chip to dissolve.
C. Angelo Caci: There was a threshold crossed. I became aware that I’d entered into a space where writing became an act of desperation. I found myself writing as if something inside depended on it. It did. Something most familiar, like that something inside an alcoholic that only drink can quench. Earning a living became secondary, as did everything and everyone else. The story is predatory; it must be, or it’s impotent. I wake up, coffee and a cigarette, and I write.
Q: What was your inspiration for this piece?
A: "Fit to Survive" is a short work of fiction caricaturing our toxic reactions to the daily stresses imposed upon us by each other within a society we ourselves continually create. Sarcasm and humor are the tools used to render this concept.
Q: Why are you a writer?
A: Why? I was tempted to say why not (?), as if I had to be on the defensive. My first choice was to be an investment banker (no caps), however I fail miserably in math. Used cars became an option—selling them, I mean—you know, I'd get to wear a madras sport coat and romance previously discarded resentments. Then it occurred to me that I could do this writing fiction and, screw the ball rolling, that put the cherry bomb in the toilet bowl. It was off/on. Seriously though—in case you think I'm not being serious—one morning: cup of coffee, cigarette, lap-top (not the girl), my spine turned to jelly (cherry, perhaps) as I contemplated the mortality of my lap-top. Since then, I make damn sure that I take my blood pressure med before turning it on each morning.
Q: What musical instrument are you?
A: I'm a set of Ludwigs (drums) and a Zildian sizzler (cymbal) playing jazz in a smoke filled bar, accompanied by the tinkle of ice in a well drink stained with ruby red slipper lip gloss, oh yeah!
Q: What’s your favorite part of the writing process?
A: It's a tossup between the beginning—as it's like single-handing a sailboat, cruising into some obscure anchorage in a foreign country. A place you've never been before and your only familiarity is some insipid dot on a chart—and the three quarter mark, when I'm finally rest-assured that I haven't been urinating against the wind.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: 4. I'm currently avoiding rewritng my third novel by compiling another collection of short stories, as well as exploring the how to help in the marketing (I do so much hate the implications of this word) my new release, "To the Victor Lies..." on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.