Downward Spiral (short story)

Downward Spiral


Timothy Herrick


 Copyright 2002, held by author

He remembered something, maybe it was from when he used to read books or one of the Humanity classes he took before dropping out of community college, about how life is a circle and birth and death are connected and in the center of the circle was God. He forgot what religion or philosopher this circle was from. But he knew that the line of his life wasn’t going to meet. It used to be more of an EKG reading with peaks and valleys, but it’s no longer jagged, just a straight, and steady decline, beginning somewhere and ending some place lower.

            Ten to Six Am. That was his shift for the past two years as head clerk at the Convention Center hotel. By the time he came home, Janey had left for work. But, since they saw very little of each other, they had less time to talk, thus less time to fight. By the time he left for work, she was either out with friends or deep into cable television.

He liked being alone in the apartment, the solitude when the rest of the world was in offices or stores. He drank vodka with ice and looked out the window. There was a time he would watch some news show, or listen to the radio. Current events. Baseball scores. Not any more. Life was just drinking, eating, pissing and shitting, or cutting his finger nails or shaving or brushing his teeth, the burdensome upkeep of the shell, all weak and wrinkling with barely any evidence of the youth that once was; the stranger looking back at him from the mirror.

            The apartment had a view of the park. It was just a play ground, no grass, only a couple of trees, some benches, some swings, a see-saw and monkey bars. Every day, by late morning, the day school nearby marched a dozen or so kids there to play. It was hot and he hated air conditioning and he sat with his ice and his vodka and a glass. He’d take off his clothes, sweat, listen to the chirping children, laughter, voices. He remembered stuff sometimes. There was a river and a dog and sometimes his father wasn’t angry and would teach him the names of trees and birds. And a few drinks later, he wouldn’t be thinking of anything. No memories, just the heat, the sounds from outside. He wouldn’t remember pleasuring himself. He wouldn’t remember going to the bed and passing out. It had become a ritual and his wife never mentioned the tissues she would find on the floor near the window.

            Then one day, it was late August, Janey was home, still making coffee. She was usually gone and the coffee odor was only barely noticeable. Now it was strong, fresh, pungent. The smell made him cringe.. He drank about a cup an hour at work. By dawn, it was all he could smell or taste. The vodka cut through the residue. The idea was to forget, everything, including the most recent memories, be they of boredom or the meaningless conversations and tasks at work, or simply tactile, like the morning air hitting his face when he walked out of the hotel towards the bus stop.

            “I’m not going to work today, I have to talk to you.”

            He got a glass out of the cabinet, dropped in some ice, and got the bottle of Vodka out.  Something had happened or was about to happen. She hadn’t talked to him in weeks. Was there some money crisis he had over looked? He knew that change was inevitable, that everything was leading to or about death. When you’re younger, it’s about sex. When you’re older, it’s about death. Maybe even the sex was about death too, just seemed otherwise when it was intense and frequent and still new.        

            “Mrs. Nixon said she saw you.”


            “She lives in the apartment building across the street. We go to the same Mass. She had been sick for a long time, but for the past few weeks, she’s been much better and said she saw you..”


            “At the window, Travis. During the day.”


            “So? Is that all you have to say.”

            “I don’t know what else to say.”

            “She told me that you watch the children and masturbate.”


            “Is it true?”

            “I don’t watch the children. I don’t watch anybody. I just like to sit by the window. I didn’t think anybody was watching me. I’m not an exhibitionist.”

            “The children use that playground every day. I can’t believe that’s what you do.”

            “But I don’t..”

            “You play with yourself.”

            “I really don’t remember.”

            “I’ve found evidence.”


            She walked into the other room, came out with a plastic bag which contained about a dozen used tissues. She dumped them on the table in front of him. “She told me last week, I couldn’t believe it but I collected these from the floor for the past week. She said she was going to call the cops on you, but because we’re friends, she wanted to tell me first to have me talk to you.”

            “What’s there to talk about, the old crone is wrong.”

            “The tissues, Travis, the tissues.”

            “So what? What I do is my business.  Janey, how can you even think that, that I’m some kind of degenerate. Children don’t turn me on.”

            “I know I don’t, you haven’t touched me in months.”

            “You haven’t touched me either.”  He watched her wince, her bottom lip tremble. “Hey, it’s just normal. We’re familiar with each other, it’s normal that our needs for each other plateau out. Our hours don’t help, do they? It’s just a natural reaction, what I do, when you’re not here.”

            “It’s natural to get turned on by children, and not by your own wife?”

            “It ain’t the kids. and it ain’t you. It’s natural, I mean, a need, just to get, to get aroused, it’s like going to the bathroom. That’s what I mean by natural. It happens, you know? I don’t think about it. I don’t remember even doing it, it just happens. I guess it’s relaxing or something. I don’t know. It’s nothing to do with the children, I swear. I swear to God.”

            He finished his drink during the silence, then made another. Her face quivered with the onslaught of an undiluted anguish containing reference points from over the course of her life. But that face flickered for him—her jowls were flabby now, the skin had a dryness to it, lines and crevices around the eyes and corners of her mouth—but also he saw the less blemished countenance he had met more than a decade ago, that filled him with desire and what he thought and what he thought she thought was love. That was the word they used at least, that was the word everybody uses. The past and the present coincided in the face he saw. He couldn’t drink fast enough. He touched her hand. He asked her if she wanted to have a drink. She whimpered no. He said, please, have a drink with me. She shook her head. For a moment she was still, He refilled his glass with Vodka, and he tried to gulp as quickly as possible as her arms and shoulders started to shiver, then her sobs steadily got less and less quiet.

            He put down his drink and held her and said words he thought she wanted to hear. She was just sad, she wasn’t hysterical. But she was crying and kept crying and soon she started to kiss him back, to hug him back, caress him back. When they got to the bedroom though, he couldn’t go through with it. Consoling her was the only response he was able to muster It wasn’t because of her weight, or history or anything he could specify that he couldn’t continue. There was  simply no urge. He held her and said something about work or being tired and when it seemed liked she was asleep he went back to the kitchen and made another drink and looked out the window.

            He started to drink a little more the next few days, bringing a small bottle to work. To save money, he only bought one small bottle, and refilled from the larger jugs he bought. He didn’t get drunk at work, he just flavored the coffee with vodka. What he didn’t notice was Janey—until the day he came home and saw a letter on the kitchen table. She was staying with friends from church, she was going to call in a few days. She wrote that she didn’t love him anymore but she would pray for him. He noticed that some things were gone, appliances, mostly, the television.

            He made his drink and sat by the window. Nothing mattered. He took off his clothes, looked at the sky, enjoyed the heat.

            The next day after his shift, he did the same thing. The only thing he remembered from the day before was that she had left. He was just as indifferent. As he sat by the window, he heard the laughter of the children stop. He looked out to the street. Two police cars were parked in front of the building and the children were gathered at the edge of the playground and looking up towards him. Some were pointing. He imagined the knock on the door even before the cops were up the stairs.