Decay: A Short Story

Concrete sidewalks don’t wear out. Humans are quick to stifle the process of decay. That’s why potholes sometimes feel like a blatant violation of basic human rights, both in an existential and metaphorical way. Imagine driving a car- a token of human ingenuity and progress- and feeling your lunch splash around in your stomach as your body is carelessly jerked from your seat. Even the outright existence of potholes themselves offer a similar controversy: even a masterful concoction of earth’s elements, engineered for strength and efficiency, cannot withstand a minuscule seepage of water turning into ice. Does our arc of glory cause us to forget the inevitable process of biology: digestion or the expansion of water? Perhaps it does. Perhaps materialistic pursuits have taken precedence over the flesh-and-bones that we inevitably are. We forget are bodies are fallible. We forget that we are humans. But if we are no longer humans, than who are we?

I think of the pothole that had opened up at the end of the driveway. Its almost perfect roundness emphasized the mechanical and predictable process in which it was born. The incessant drum of rain and crush of car wheels pounded that hole into a dreadful and mathematical certainty. The pothole has no free will: it appeared as a byproduct of the inevitable parade of time. Now the pothole is filled with rainwater and the bottom contains an aesthetic splattering of pebbles. It is now a lake- a small lake for all the small people. At that moment I realized the pothole for what it actually is: a hole in the ground. A hole. A sign of decay peacefully waiting and holding its breath.

I’ve read somewhere that, if humans were to suddenly disappear, nuclear plants would soon erupt from the lack of regulation, causing an ice age that would wipe out the rest of the world. Humanity is so frighteningly close to eternal decay. So enormously close, in fact, that potholes appear inconsequential. Yet we complain about potholes more than we do about nuclear plants. Maybe it’s because we cannot imagine what it would be like to die of radiation poisoning; we cannot comprehend the enormous amounts of unbelievably powerful reserves of energy contained only by the strings of a cautious human promise, but we sure know what it feels like to have our insides unsettled from an unexpected pothole under our wheels. The human empire is like a timid pencil inscription on the wall of a bathroom stall, a sandcastle awaiting high tide, or a powering of snow under a blazing winter sun. Its crumbs can be easily brushed away. We forget the uncertainty and unpredictability that reigns our lives. But now that I think about, is it even worth remembering?

And so it goes, the surge of humanity. I now remember a scene from a film I once watched, where music started playing in a prison, and, for a few magical minutes, the world was still and peaceful: a moment warped and transcended. The mushroom cloud of our twisted procession blossoms under the assumption that the music will never stop playing and that the self-congratulatory applause are always in anticipation. But the theatre is empty; not once has someone stirred to observe our lonely act. We are alone on our small planet.

I am now standing in line at the deli, trying to remember what it was that I wanted. I observe an employee on the other side of the counter tossing together the necessary ingredients of a sandwich. Her body performs the operations in a machine-like manner: an arrangement of atoms rearranging other atoms. Arranging and rearranging until the shift is over. Arranging and rearranging until the music allows her to start a new dance. But will the ding of the cash register, the pour of the coffee, the sizzle of eggs and bacon, the chatter of customers, the bustle of coworkers, the pop of lids on to containers, the rustle of pastry bags, the slice of bread, the bell on the door, which go on and on and on, ever release her? Will the swell of this gaudy orchestration, with its artificially cheerful sense of purpose, ever stop? I notice a distant and cloudy look in her sleepless blue eyes. I could tell she is worried about something: a bottomless ocean compared to the paper boat she now resides in. Maybe her life is shattering, yet she is forced to remain here, performing her part. How cruel we humans are to ourselves. We are the cruelest animals.

It is now my turn to order. That same girl whom I was observing comes up to the register. The sadness in her eyes blazes like an infernal fire. I still can’t remember why I had come here. I shake my head and leave the deli.

I returned the next day. She wasn’t there. Maybe it was her day off. Maybe she was late. Maybe she took a sick day. Maybe she was in the back kitchen. Maybe she decided to stop dancing.

I never returned to that deli again. I overthink things. The pothole on the edge of the driveway grows bigger and bigger each year, ripping through the harmony of my blurred and resigned existence. Each time my insides rattle as I drive over the pothole, I remember the sad-eyed girl, and we become inexplicably linked for a short moment.

11 thoughts on “Decay: A Short Story

  1. Such a thoughtful piece, as your writing always tends to be. I think you really shine when you’re discussing the girl at the deli. Those “arranging and rearranging” lines I especially like. And the ending line is very tender. Thanks for sharing your work with us, Kat. :- )

    Liked by 1 person

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