The winds rushed in every direction. The flickers of light through the grave curtain of grey were few and far between, glaring out from the lighthouse a mile down the beach. Edgar’s arms were crossed at his chest like a mummy, and he stood in the sand, tied to a tree, expecting the worst. His thin black pin-stripe suit barely retained any heat, so he shivered in the cold of this stormy morning. His white shirt was crumpled and dirty from sleeping in the sand the night before. He looked ragged—a splayed version of his usual self. His black tie hung halfway out of his pants pocket—he had the intelligence to at least remove it from his neck so it wouldn’t flap him in the face.
Edgar thought to himself, if I live through this, I swear I’ll take my dog for more walks, I swear I’ll have children. He didn’t know what kind of higher power wanted him to have children, but he thought it must be the case. He knew the right thing to do was to at least spend more time with the only living thing that loved him, his dog Freckles. Then he brushed it off as a moment of desperation. He thought of how he ended up tied to this tree, now that the taxis sheltered themselves from the chaos and the people who lived nearby locked up their houses.
He spent the night before taking a few clients out for drinks at a strip club on the docks. Then he wandered alone down the coast to this point miles away. He didn’t feel like going home, and he was too drunk to even use his phone to call a cab.
“What about family?” His client asked him the night before. They sat in the front row next to the stage. Bright lights in blue, purple and pink ignited their eyes. Perfectly oiled and shaven legs moved gracefully in front of them. The smell of smoke soothed Edgar.
Thinking of this question now, in the fray of the wind and the rain sent him into the same flurry of confusion that triggered his binge drinking the night before. Was he living life wrong? Was it too late to change? He was sick of his lifestyle. He had to do something different. But how? Thoughts he was trying to avoid in the rage of both the night before and the present storm, but kept coming back.
“I don’t have any. My parents died when I was little, my grandma’s been gone for years, and the only one waiting for me at home is my dog.” He replied the night before. He thought of his cold house, his modern leather, cold metal furniture, his nearly empty cabinets, his single set of silverware, his harsh fluorescent light, so unlike the house he grew up in with his grandma.
“I can’t imagine never having kids. They make everything I do and earn worth it.” His client commented, as the very same client stuffed a woman’s panties with twenty singles.
“I just never met the right person. I’d rather be doing this.” Edgar lied, as he did the same with ten singles. For awhile now, he was getting bored with his habits.
As the storm bellowed, Edgar thought about how he had no one to make his life worth it. Every experience was worth the minimal joy he got from it. Looking at it this way, his life was bleak. Why should he settle for meaningless minimal joy? Why had it taken him so long to realize that without family and legacy, no one remembers you. No one wonders if you’re safe. No one gives you a reason to get up in the morning. He was finding it harder and harder to get up in the morning.
“I don’t get to see them much, but when I do those are the best moments of my life.” His client said the night before.
“What makes it so special?” Edgar replied.
“It’s hard to explain. It’s the look on their faces when they see me, like I’m the greatest person in the world. It’s all the recognition I’ve ever gotten from work, rolled up in three cute balls of love, every time I walk through the door. They’re so grateful for every bit of attention I can give them. And my wife is so supportive, I don’t know if I would’ve made it through my parents passing without her. It’s just comforting, to know I have someone who I can lean on, and kids who will always love me.”
“I just don’t have time to meet anyone because I work so much.” Edgar replied, as he loosened the tie around his neck.
“You make time.”
At that, Edgar had nothing to say. He ignored the growing feeling inside, the pang of regret, by flooding it with drinks. He forgot the rest of what happened last night. Today, sober in the storm, he couldn’t ignore it.
Edgar often drank as a remedy to any bummer feelings. When he was younger, he had major successes at work, he was very young for each promotion, he was frequently recognized for achievement. He kept it all top notch despite, perhaps because of, his drinking habits. It was a way to let loose—work hard, play hard. He had always been an overachiever in school. Since college, he usually had buddies to go out and rage with at night. He had laughter with them, making fun of people and each other. By the time his grandma died, when he was in his thirties, most of his buddies had started families and barely went out with him anymore. He would take the younger advertising executives out as often as he could, keeping up with their drinking and coke habits. When they couldn’t go out, he would take his clients to dinner on the company expense accounts. Between those two types of people, he always had something to do. But now, he was finally noticing how depressing that is, for a man his age. He didn’t like either group of people all that much. He was too old to be in on all the jokes with the younger crowd, and he could never get close to his clients. Even the strippers weren’t doing it for him anymore. And he was having trouble picking up chicks like he used to. For a decade now, as his body slowed down and his mind started skipping, he gradually felt less and less motivated to get out of bed. At this point, it took three alarms and smacking himself in the face just to put his feet on the floor. He was constantly reminding himself of what was at stake. He had begun to slip at work. Last week he missed a meeting with a client, which was the ultimate offense. Far worse than forgetting to do background research or forgetting to read his assistant’s work—in both those situations he could wing it.
Thinking now, under the pressure of nature, his client was right—if he really wanted to meet someone, he would make the time and effort. It might renew his youthful spirit. Since his parents died, he never introduced himself or tried to make friends, like he did when he was little. In college it just kind of happened, he fell in with a frat that recruited him off the street. The few he had now, he had met at work, and even they initiated the association. And if anything went wrong, if anyone got offended, he just stopped talking to the person. He was old enough to start realizing he hadn’t learned the habits of relationships people usually learn in their twenties and thirties.
The winds howled and the rain came from every direction. He wondered if he could learn. He wondered what it would be like if someone were worried about him right now. He always thought that he could never do what a woman would require of a partner, that a woman would ask more than he wanted to give, that he could barely pay enough attention to Freckles, so how could he keep a relationship afloat, and why would he want to? Now, in the cold heat of the storm, he thought that if he lived, he should at least try. So far from his physical comfort zone, he realized it wouldn’t be that uncomfortable to take the risk, put himself out there, and attempt a relationship. He had to recognize that his subconscious was screaming for companionship.
Edgar started thinking about Freckles. He felt relieved that her dog door was open and food bowl was full before he went out for the night, though she wouldn’t be using that door much right now. He thought back to every sad puppy face she had made at him, every time he had ignored her whimpering for attention and kept watching tv instead, every time he had ignored the dog walker’s suggestions that he start playing fetch with her when he had a minute. He wondered why he got the dog in the first place. He realized, just then, that he didn’t want to be alone. His home was empty enough with her. Having another heartbeat in the same space gave him comfort. He wondered if she was enough. In the whipping of the storm, his head started to pound.
Then he thought back to what it was like with his parents as a kid. How cozy and welcoming his house had been, when his mother filled it with knickknacks and floral patterns. He thought about how excited he had been when his father came home tired from work every day, how he suddenly got a second wind in the flurry of wanting to talk to them. He thought about the delicious family dinners on weekends, their laughter, their smiles, the way his parents kissed each other softly and slowly right in front of him. Back then, he was too young to go out galavanting with his buddies. And one day, when he was twelve, they disappeared one night. Car accident. It felt as if he was in a perfectly safe room with four walls and the walls suddenly all disappeared and he was in the middle of a dark and spooky forest. That’s what it felt like to lose them. He had been too young to want adult excitement, but now he was too old not to. Drinking gave him that warm and cozy feeling that nothing else seemed to provide as an adult.
As the winds grew stronger, Edgar’s legs rattled against the tree. His head banged against the trunk and his clothes swished sideways and up and down in erratic motions. He though, why didn’t I wake up sooner? Why didn’t I feel the wind and the rain in time to find shelter? His entire body had been numb by the time he passed out the night before. In the false glory of forgetfulness he failed to remember that the news had told him the storm was coming.
Other memories started coming back to him. Marissa, in high school. She told him she loved him and all he could say was, “thanks”. He stopped calling her after that, and stopped taking her calls. If he saw her in the hallway, he’d quickly turn his head like he was talking to someone in the other direction. He just didn’t feel the same way she did. He didn’t feel like they were close enough to say that to each other. They didn’t have what his parents had had—the closeness, the affection, the mutual support.
Then, as the winds raged on, he thought of the other women he’d kept at a distance in his adult life. He never went past the third date—if they didn’t put out by then, the relationship would get too serious anyway. There was this one woman, Rita, who he almost took a fourth date with. She was gorgeous, and funny. But it wasn’t worth it. He figured there was a high probability it would cause him more pain than pleasure. Now, though, he thought about what he had been missing out on. What if he’d given Rita a chance? Would she be loving him and worrying about him right now?
In this moment, his thoughts were catching up with his reality. Half an hour ago, he woke up soaked in salty rainwater, with wind so loud he couldn’t hear himself call out. It was too late to run for shelter, the storm was here. As he struggled to walk straight, as the storm tugged at his body, he saw the rope in an abandoned boat and had an instant thought. Tied to a tree, he would be safe from the gale forces. He leaned back against the tree and tried throwing the rope around to the other side, but it didn’t make it. He leaned forward against the tree, and got the rope around a few times, but couldn’t reach around to tie it shut. So he got off the tree, wrapped the rope around it a few times, loose enough to slide into it from the bottom. Once he was in, with his back to the tree, he tugged at each end to tighten it, and tied the best knot he could remember from his boy-scout days. Then he slid his arms into the loops, mummy style, which made it tight enough to hold him there.
Thinking about it now, he made the same mistake he always makes—trying to solve it on his own instead of seeking help. He might’ve been wrong—someone might’ve let him into their house. Why didn’t he even try? In the next few hours, that might mean the end of him. He swore to himself, he wouldn’t repeat the pattern any longer, if he made it through.