Here is the second installment of the free preview for Beyond His Means, from my book The Madness of Art: Short Stories. If you haven’t already read part 1, then you should do that first. If you’d like to read the entire story, plus several others, you can purchase it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. If the price seems too high, you can participate in my $3 for 3 promotion. If I can get 25 people to like The Madness of Art Short Stories page on Facebook, I’ll lower the price to $3 for 3 days. I’d also like to remind people that it’s an ebook, but that doesn’t mean you need an ebook reader to view it. You can read it on your computer, laptop, iPad or iPhone, compatible for Windows and Mac (you have to download an app, but it’s free and takes about a minute). Also, from what I understand, you only have to be connected to the internet to download it, and after that you can read it without being online. My apologies to anyone who finds all this horribly redundant. On with the story…
Beyond His Means (Part 2)
Harold did read too many books. From the local libraries he checked out fifty at a time, and would take home more if they let him. Apart from what he called his “morning calisthenics,”–brushing, flossing, and other minimal exercises–Harold spent his day alternately reading and lapsing into periods of either intense introspection or complete torpor (she couldn’t tell which). Talk was something he did as a form of relaxation after long periods of solitude. Conversations were rarely pleasant, as he tended to sum up his day’s reading in long and rambling exegetical monologues. Some days, if he felt up to the task, he’d paint, but he usually treated pressing a brush to the page as if it were an appointment from on high, and not all days were divine. Finally, bleary-eyed and atrophied, he’d collapse into fitful sleep then start the austere intellectual regimen all over again.
The problem was, through all of his ups and downs, minor triumphs and major setbacks, Harold hadn’t much of anything to show for his effort, save a few calluses, a pain in his lower back, and a few dadaist paintings no one understood. It was obvious that even living like a man in a cage, Harold was living beyond his means.
Earlier in the day, his grandmother called to say she saw an ad in the paper advertising an opening for tellers at a local bank and his first thought was that it was some kind of joke. He had a variety of moodiness and reserve that made him virtually unemployable and practically unapproachable.
Compounding their troubles, Harold didn’t have a face that was quite agreeable to the public eye. He had what could only be described as a clustered look; it was as if he had a number of facial characteristics that didn’t appear like they could belong to a single man. Caffeine and long nights left ringlets under his eyes like the brown smears leaky coffee mugs left on tablecloths. Choosing function over form, he wore large round lensed glasses that gave him an owlish look, except that the rest of his face didn’t fit the description. Inherited rosacea–‘Curse of the Celts’ as his grandma called it–caused his cheeks and nose to appear as if each had eglantines pinned to them. That he had a bristling mustache didn’t help his face from being overcrowded. Topping it all off, a few grey hairs had sprouted up as of late, despite how he said stress was an ailment only the upper-class could complain about. How he could expect to land gainful employment was beyond him, unless he found a career in computer communications, but for that he’d need a computer (and for that he’d need a job).
As perilous as the situation was, it was worse for Kathy. Harold liked to believe what she had on her side was luck. Landing and maintaining a job, as far as he was concerned, revolved greatly around luck. The luck of being born to the right race at the right time. As history tells us–or so proclaims Harold–the right race is the white race. It didn’t hurt that Kathy had family connections–her family had lived in the Northwest for generations. Kathy didn’t quite grasp his plaint, since Harold was white too, but Harold bemoaned that he was an “off shade of white.” Her “luck” though meant she had to work whatever jobs her uncles or grandfather could land for her, whereas Harold’s streak of bad luck kept him at home.
At breakfast, his behavior signaled he’d undergone another metamorphosis. She knew it by his tone. He said, with pomp and an obscure regality, “I’ve decided on becoming a christian anarchist.”
“How do you want your eggs?” She asked, hardly glancing away from the skillet.
“Leo Tolstoy was a christian anarchist. That was his answer to all this war and peace.”
“Runny or scrambled?”
“I never said I was hungry!” He said angrily, verging on a pout. “This is a new era. You do not have to fulfill the role of what society calls woman.”
Kathy smirked and whisked the eggs. “Everybody’s got to eat. I’ve already cracked the shells.”
“Were you even listening?”
“Christian anarchist? Sounds unusual. A meeting of opposites. Chaos and order.”
“Paradoxical,” he pontificated, “but not antithetical.”
“Antidisestablishmentarianism,” she said as she slid the plate to him. “See, I can use big college words too. Now eat your breakfast. Can’t think clearly with an empty stomach.”
“Can’t think clearly with a full one either.”
“Oh shut up.” She hesitated, “Is life with me really so vile and nasty you have to reject it all on principle?”
Harold swaddled his fork in egg whites then swallowed his food without pleasure or satisfaction but with a joyless notion of industrial efficiency. “You’ve got it wrong. I accept it all on principle. God created man and woman and spring breezes and starry nights and those are all good. It was man who created the infrastructures and rule books and it’s those things I reject because they distract the mind and the eye from the light showers and the orangish dusks.”
“You know, men have been burned at the stake for saying less.”
“Good men, no doubt.”
“That’d explain the shortage of good men.”
Harold remained silent.
Kathy said, “There’s always enough stakes and absolutely no shortage of fire.”
Harold chewed it over in silence, cleaned his plate, and returned to his room and his books.
Go to part 3.