Stuck in a Rut. Short Story.

Norman took a deep breath and released it slowly, he relaxed back into his chair and picked up his glass of whiskey, he took a small sip and sighed. Finally the day was coming to a close and he had a chance to just relax. He was supposed to have this time every night, just a few minutes to himself, but the last few weeks, no, the last few months, had been hectic and there hadn’t been a moment. But now there was. The kids were in bed, Connie was doing some reading and he had managed to slip away. He felt his muscles relaxing and his worries just fading away. He allowed his mind to drift, there was nothing outside this room. There were no worries, no fears, there was only here and now, the soft comfortable chair beneath him and the glass of whiskey in his hand. He took another sip.
“Norman? Norman? Where are you?”
His grip on the glass tightened, five minutes, that’s all he wanted, five minutes. Please, please just go away.
“Norman!?” he put the glass down and gritted his teeth,

“Where are you Norman?”
Why did she have to shout like that? She was going to wake the kids.
“I’m in my study.”
“Oh. Well, I need your help with something.”
“Can it wait?”
“No. It’ll only take a minute.”

Norman looked at his glass, the moment was ruined anyway. He heaved himself up from the chair and felt all his worries come crashing down again. It had been nice to let it all melt away, if only for a moment.

Connie was in the kitchen, a jar was sitting on the wood counter, “Could you open this for me?”
“Couldn’t it have waited?”
“Well, I was making myself a drink and I was going to surprise you with one too, but then I couldn’t get the jar open.”
“What were you making?”
“I don’t like martini’s.”
“Don’t be silly Norman, you do like them.”
He picked up the jar and it opened with a soft pop.

She smiled at him, “Thank you dear. You go inside and start watching some TV, I’ll be in in a minute.”
Norman nodded and left the kitchen, the TV was already on in the sitting room, some show that Connie liked was paused, it looked like it had doctors in it. Norman sat down on the couch and waited patiently. A moment later Connie came in with two glasses, she passed one to him and sat down at the other end of the couch. Norman took a sip of his drink and winced. Carefully he put it down. He remembered when they’d bought this couch, it seemed so big, but Connie had slipped her hand into his and pulled him into a kiss, whispering after that it wouldn’t seem so big once they were snuggled together. That had been a few years back, it had been a long time since they had done any snuggling.

Connie watched her show and drank, casting glances at Norman every now and then, signalling to him that it was time to take another sip. Once his glass was empty she scooped it up, “See Norman? I knew you liked them, you drained the glass! I’ll make us some more.”
Norman opened his mouth, then closed it and opted instead for a nod. A nod was easy, it couldn’t be misinterpreted. Connie left the room with the glasses. Norman hated watching TV this late at night, he could never wind down or turn his mind off, even with the most mindless of TV shows playing. Secretly he suspected that Connie knew that, and that was why she insisted they watch TV together. There was no way to go off to their own separate places to spend some time alone, something he hadn’t gotten for a long time. Even that bathroom wasn’t sacred, someone, usually Connie, always started knocking away after a moment or two, never mind that there was more than one bathroom in the house. She returned a few minutes later with their drinks. Norman took a large gulp hoping he wouldn’t have to keep sipping it.

When Connie had finally finished watching her shows they had each drank three martini’s, Norman felt a little tipsy, slightly light headed. Connie went upstairs to bed while he went around the house, turning off all the lights she had left on and checking the doors were locked. He stood for a moment in the dark kitchen, looking out the back door. It would be so easy. Just slide it open, it would do so quietly. He had oiled the rails after Connie kept going on about it squeaking. How long would it take her to realise he was gone? Just disappeared into the night. His hand reached out for the handle, “Coming to bed?” Normal jumped, snatching his hand back as though it were burned. “Yes, just double checking everything is locked up.”
He listened as she went back up the stairs, then he leaned his head against the cold glass. She always seemed to know, how did she know? He took a few deep breaths then he followed her upstairs.

The next morning was as hectic as always, Connie was still asleep while he ran around trying to get the kids out of bed and have breakfast ready for them. They ate their cereal in silence, which Norman was thankful for, usually they were full of energy and talking nonstop, but he would take his breaks where he could get them. He wolfed down his own breakfast of plain toast and coffee and made sure the kids had everything needed for school. Connie still hadn’t rose by the time they left. He didn’t know when she got out of bed, he had always left before she was up.

The drive to school was painless as it could be, the traffic was frustrating, the morning radio show that Ben insisted they listen to was loud and annoying and Kathleen insisted on singing along with every song and doing so out of key. Finally they were dropped off and he had some peace again. He switched off the radio, allowing blessed silence to fall. This was the only real time he had to himself, stuck in this box, surrounded by people.

He parked the car in his usual space and sat for moment, “C’mon you can do it. It’s just a few hours, then you’ll be home again.” His stomach dropped. “Tonight’s the night you get some alone time. You can go for a walk, something, anything to get you out of the house. Just a few hours here and then you’re free. That’s all.” His hand rested on the door handle, “You can do it, you’ve done it every single day for years. One more wont hurt.” He gritted his teeth and opened the door, “Just one more day. That’s all it is, one more day.” Even saying it didn’t help, he knew it was a lie, it wasn’t just one more day, it would turn into one more week, month, year. There was no such thing as one more day.

Work passed in daze of boredom and frustration. Everyone around him seemed to be going out of their way to fuck up. He couldn’t take it anymore after lunch, he had to get away from it all, so he went to the bathroom and locked himself into one of the stalls. Occasionally he would pull some tissue from the wall and use it to mop at his eyes and nose. When he had regained his composure he stepped from the cubicle, splashed some water on his face and went back to work.

After work he sat in the car, not moving. He knew Connie would start to wonder where he was, but he didn’t care, after all it wasn’t like she cared either. No, if she cared she wouldn’t be fucking her yoga instructor. Or her tennis coach. Or any of the other men she fucked, seemed like these days she was fucking everyone but him. He couldn’t leave her though, not with the kids. They couldn’t come from a broken home. He loved them, he really did, in a distant sort of way though. He saw them and sometimes he felt a brief thrill of happiness and pride but it was gone just as fast. Most of the time he looked at them and couldn’t help but wonder what they’d want from him next. He always felt a deep sense of shame as soon as the thought came, but he couldn’t help it either. His hand rested on the keys, he needed to start the car now. “Start the car Norman.” His hand didn’t move. “C’mon, just start the car, it’ll be easy once you get moving.”
Nothing. He dropped his hand from the key and leaned back into his seat. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t take it anymore. He couldn’t go home to that awful, awful bitch and pretend like everything was still ok. He couldn’t get up in the morning and come back to this awful, maddening, soul sucking shit hole. He couldn’t. This was his breaking point, he had finally reached it. He didn’t know what he’d do but he needed to do something, something had to change. He could leave it all, find a new job, leave Connie. He shook his head, he couldn’t do that to the kids. He couldn’t bear the thought of hurting them like that, of what all the parents would say, of the taunts and jeers they’d get from the other kids. He had to stay, if not for himself, then for them. A sob escaped him before he could stop it, unnervingly loud in the confines of the car. He clapped his hand over his mouth, his body shaking as he continued to sob.

He turned the key in the car, he was feeling much better now. He knew what to do. He drove, listening to the radio, humming along with the music. He was waiting, that was all, just a little longer and everything would be so much better. He let out a sigh of relief as he reached Junction 14, it was a long stretch of gently curving road and most of the time it was jammed with traffic, but now it was clear. It was a sign. He grinned. Norman increased speed, feeling all his worries being ripped away and left behind, too slow to keep up, he felt a sense of elation, this was what it was like to be truly free, free from everything. A sharp curve was coming up, sometimes Norman saw deer at the curve, every time he saw them they made him feel a little lighter, a little better, but there were no deer now. He slammed his foot onto the brake and jerked the steering wheel hard to the left. The car screeched and started spinning. He felt it slam into something, though what he wasn’t sure and suddenly he was weightless, a McDonalds toy seemed to float passed him, to his left was a crumpled tissue and Connie’s sunglasses, everything was still, suspended. He looked up and saw the trunk of a tree filling the windscreen, there was nothing left, only that dark, brown trunk. He had one final thought, “It worked!” before the tree crashed through the windscreen, pinning him to his seat. He let out a gasp of air as it was crushed from his lungs, the sound lost in the grinding of metal. When it was over there was nothing of Norman left, just pulp in a metal box. He had succeeded, he was finally free.

About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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