The Whisky Blot
Journal of Literature, Poetry, and Haiku
Johnny sat at the kitchen table, his right leg moving up and down as if someone had just dropped hot wax on it. He was an edgy person, a trait made more noticeable by his dark, darting eyes. He spotted his mother passing into the kitchen. He thought she noticed, so he stopped, hoping she wouldn’t say anything this time. He didn’t want to be bothered. He was thinking about his co-workers, a daily ritual for him each evening. He was trying to figure them out, since they liked giving him a hard time.
Johnny smelled the pork chops his mother was preparing for dinner. Not one of his favorites, he thought.
“We’re having your favorite meal tonight, Johnny,” his mother chuckled.
“Unfortunately,” he replied, rolling his eyes.
“One of the great perks of the day for my prince,” his mother said, popping a smile.
Look at her mock me, he thought; she knows I can’t stand pork chops. He slid back in the chair, catching his shoulder blade on the edge. “Ouch, damn it, not my day,” he muttered.
“What was that, Johnny?” his mother asked. He remained silent.
His mother had dark brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. There was some gray, but she looked good for her age. She had a habit of using the kitchen table and countertops as storage space. Also, there were the pots she used for cooking, but also some old relics she had hanging from the walls for show. Johnny found the clutter annoying.
They sat down for dinner. Johnny took a few bites and then toyed with the rest with his fork. He continued thinking about his co-workers. He figured they gave him a hard time because they were envious of him because he was a handsome guy and several of the girls at work were attracted to him. The painful irony was he was too shy to talk to girls and posed no threat to his co-workers. Couldn’t they see that? he asked himself. If they did, they showed no pity.
They’d hover around his cubicle like paparazzi each day, waiting for the right moment. There were no cameras; their “weapons” of choice were words like “weird” or “crazy.” They didn’t call him that to his face. They used the words more indirectly during conversations they’d have, while smirking behind his back, so he’d catch on they were referring to him. They could’ve lashed his backside with a whip, and it wouldn’t have stung any more. He let it slip once that it bothered him, and he knew that was a mistake. Keep your friends close but your enemies closer, he thought. It seemed that’s all they were there for sometimes, devising ways to get under his skin. He felt as stable at work as a feather in the wind.
His shoulders were hunched and tense as he cut a piece of pork chop. Taking a bite, he knew the only pleasure he’d have today was dessert. He felt time moving fast but not his life goals. He was thirty years old and still living with his parents. Not that he felt ready to be on his own. He’d been coddled his whole life and was dependent on them. That was the problem though, which he secretly blamed them for. He looked at them and realized the disdain he had for his lack of independence. He felt trapped by it but too scared to do anything about it.
They’d finished the evening meal and were sitting together in the living room. His father was there too. A large man, he usually peppered Johnny with questions about his workday, which typically went unanswered. Johnny felt cold, but that wasn’t unusual. I don’t know what’s worse, the chill in the house each night or the chill I get from the people at work each day, he thought. His father was the type of man who’d rather throw on a sweater than pay a higher heating bill, and Johnny felt he was in no position to ask his father to turn up the heat. Not at that rental price, a bargain in any century.
“Why The Thinker pose? Those people bothering you at work again?” his father asked. “And why not put on a sweater instead of shivering like that?”
Here come the questions. Not tonight, I’m not in the mood, he thought.
His eyes drifted in another direction. He looked at the sofa. It had the plastic cover on it that came with it when they first purchased it. His father liked maintaining things in mint condition for as long as he could. Looking at it, Johnny was reminded of the plastic smiles of his co-workers. He chuckled, and his father looked at him oddly. He’d sit for another moment before retreating to his room, where he’d not have to discuss his problems with anyone. That was his plan, as it was every night.
“Now, if you think you’re just going to sit there silent, night after night and not talk to either one of us, then I suggest you start looking for your own place to live, damn it!” said his father.
Johnny was as unsettled by these words as he would have been in an elevator that malfunctioned on its descent from the hundredth floor. His father had always been so appeasing, but Johnny knew from his stern voice and piercing gaze that this time was different. It wasn’t only the paparazzi he had to worry about now. Being threatened with the possibility of being thrown out on his own put a scare into him like no other.
However, he was ashamed to go into detail regarding his co-workers and had only vaguely alluded to them in the past. He found it embarrassing and painful to talk about. He hoped his problems would miraculously disappear so he’d never have to discuss them with anyone. Johnny gasped. Feeling his life converging on him, and with little choice, he opened up about it.
Finally his father spoke.
“People aren’t always going to make life easy for you. Why would your co-workers be any different? They’re so wounded in their own lives, which is why they treat you the way they do. You just need to navigate through it. That’s how to build character, not sitting back and feeling sorry for yourself,” his father said.
“Look at it as if they’re giving you an education about yourself,” his father continued. “Some people call it the school of hard knocks. And don’t waste your energy wishing something bad happens to those people, or you just might end up like they already say you are.”
“We just want you to be happy,” said his mother apologetically, “That’s why I said what I said in the kitchen earlier. Just trying to cheer you up, son.”
He had never heard words like that from his father before, and it changed him, even if his co-workers would never change. He realized he didn’t have to continue playing the victim. He’d decide how he’d feel and not leave it up to them. He’d turn their jokes into his jokes and not take himself too seriously. Maybe he’d call himself crazy in their presence, he thought. They couldn’t bother him anymore. He was free.
He realized now his parents were just trying to help him, and he’d been selfish with them in the past. That’s something, he thought. How being self-absorbed like that can make you dumb. Nothing needed to change at home; he just wanted to appreciate them, now that he had the chance. He’d tell them he loved them. This wouldn’t last forever, he thought, and it’d be sad if they were no longer here and he hadn’t.
He yawned and then got up. It’d been a long day. He’d tell them another day. They’ll be here, he assured himself. He headed for his “bunker,” safe for another night.
Don’t mind the paparazzi, he thought, strutting to his room.
Frank Vallorosi holds a BA in literature from SUNY Purchase. He studied acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute and appeared in several off-Broadway plays. Frank also studied writing with the Long Ridge Writers Group, now known as the Institute for Writers. He currently works as a compliance specialist in financial services.
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