The song on the radio pulled and tugged, transporting Nathan Helms, if only briefly, back to an era of careless excursions, a time when decisions were made on a whim and there was little responsibility or stress. The summer after college, while the world awaited his endeavors, Nathan had spent a month Europe, another at the beach, and spent the remaining weeks travelling up and down the east coast. This had been a time when there were options; endless opportunities awaited, filling him with hopes and dreams that were attainable through hoping and dreaming. The carefree days of college had come to an epic conclusion and now it was time to join the ranks of the workforce.
The youthfulness of college had long since faded in the subsequent 15 years, as a job turned into a career, dating into an engagement, and marriage had gradually morphed into a working relationship of compromises and practical decisions. He tried to remember the early days of marriage, when he and Cori would head out with friends, drinking and dancing on weeknights, while discussing future endeavors with drunken enthusiasm.
These days however, Nathan spent his time looking forward to the two hour outing at Hoppy’s every other Friday after work. There–with Mitch, a coworker in his late twenties, and Art, a drinking buddy that he could not remember how he met–he would enjoy 3-5 beers as he slipped back into his youthful ways. If only for a couple precious hours, he forgot about deadlines and meetings, weekend projects and errands of the mind numbing boring insurance company who employed him. He quickly discarded the mundane thoughts of work that occupied his everyday life and sipped his Guinness, savoring each bitter mouthful, enjoying the careless chatter around him.
While he sat in his chair, letting the alcohol find its way through his bloodstream, the cruel apparatus on the wall relentlessly counted the minutes with ruthless efficiency. Its sole purpose of being built was to push time forward, the seconds became minutes, as it captured the first hour at a merciless rate. He checked his phone for accuracy, only to find that it too was counting, as if it were a ground soldier in the war against free time.
As the second hour passed–perhaps even faster than the first–Nathan asked for his tab, actually, one more beer and my tab. Mitch was droning on and on about his latest project at work, while Art was involved in a spirited debate with another man about the offensive woes of his favorite football team.
“Nate, you heard about Jim didn’t you?”
Mitch had asked, his face flushed from the Makers Mark. Nathan shrugged, feeling the warmth of his last Guinness. He only wanted to enjoy his last beer without talk about work, or kids, or anything for that matter. There were times when he had even thought about going to a different bar, alone before quickly discarding such anti-social thoughts from his head.
“Yeah, crazy.” He answered in response to the question about Jim Foyers. Jim was a senior claims analyst who was recently fired after sending inappropriate pictures to a female intern. According to Mitch, who was unable to suppress the sly smile parting from his lips, his wife had left him, taking with her their three young children.
“What an idiot…” Mitch concluded while finishing the last of his drink, setting it down while immediately looking for a waitress.
Nathan lifted his pint glass, pulling in the bitter concoction, as if to savor the taste, trying to savor the concluding moments of his barroom surroundings. Standing up, he had resisted the temptations of one last round, as Mitch had become loud and jolly, pleading with him to have just one more drink.
A car horn coincided with the green light, and Nathan started off, adjusting his rearview mirror as he slowly crept under the green light. The dated Honda behind him honked again, as a teenager, no more than 20 anyway, jerked the car into the other lane, while gunning the engine. The loud muffler screamed as the engine strained, and the punk flashed long, skinny middle finger as he passed.
For a fleeting moment Nathan thought about giving chase, he imagined himself pulling up next to the car and motioning for the pimpled and pierced kid to pull over. There he would out, ready for a rumble, and begin to teach the kid a lesson, saying something witty like, class is in session.
In his mind he fought like a mixed martial arts fighter. Quick and fluid in his motions, a few short punches and the kid would fall to the ground, stunned and repenting. Nathan’s button down work shirt was unbuttoned, revealing a tight t-shirt, clinging to his sculpted torso as he hovered over the young punk in a victorious yet compassionate stance, his tie waiving in the wind as he offered to help the kid get up and find his way in the world. He needed guidance. After a good ass whipping of course.
The screaming Honda shot up the road, as Nathan watched it weave in and out of traffic as it ascended, taking with it the loud winding muffler. Nathan relaxed his knuckles on the steering wheel, knuckles that had never been in a fight, had never been trained in mixed martial arts, and had never pointed an instructive finger at young punks on the ground after a lightning barrage of punches. As a matter of fact, they didn’t do much of anything these days.
Pulling in the empty driveway, Nathan checked his phone, guessing Cori had made a trip to the grocery store. He stared at the dark and depressing house, with the high grass she had been after him to cut. Why she hadn’t called him to stop on his way home? Walking inside, he tried to remember the last time he had even spoken to Cori about something other than household chores. He turned on the lamp in the living room, feeling an emptiness coming over him just before he noticed the note beside the remote on the table. He walked over, slowly picking it up, taking a moment before opening the piece of paper bearing his name.