Peacetalk 101

Excerpt: Pages 1-3


This is the story of a man, and what happened to him, and what he did about it. His name was Henry, and he had a hard row to hoe. His first thought when he woke up every morning was "Here we go again -- and I can't face it!" But of course no matter how many mornings he started out like that, he had to face it anyway. That's the way things are.

Henry had a wife and a child, and neither one of them was what he had expected; he was pretty sure he wasn't what they had expected either. He had a dog that wouldn't come when he called it, and a car that only started about half the time. He had friends who didn't show him the respect he deserved, and an elderly mother who was getting vague and weepy and didn't recognize him when he went to see her, and a nosy father-in-law who lived much too close by; he had a greedy Congressman who was no more use than the dog. He lived in a rented house that was hot in the summer and cold in the winter and always felt like it was closing in on him. He had a job that he hated but was afraid to leave, because it was a pretty good job and good jobs aren't easy to find. He had a bad back and he caught bad colds, and he weighed twenty pounds too many. He was an ordinary man, with an ordinary man's problems. That didn't please him; he had thought he'd do a lot better than that. He believed in God, but he didn't trust God; it seemed to Henry that God was unreliable and absentminded. And of course there was the crazy weather; he didn't know what to make of it.

However, Henry felt as though he might have been able to put up with all those things if that had been the end of it. What he couldn't bear, somehow, what seemed to him to be the last straw, was that he had no peace, and as far as he could tell, neither did anybody else.

Everywhere he went, it was the same. Everybody bickering and badmouthing and putting each other down; everybody nagging and griping and sneering, whining and carping and bellyaching. Everybody out to win the award for Wickedest Mouth In The East, and Meanest Mouth In The West, and Foulest Mouth Overall. And they were proud of it! It baffled him, the way they behaved. Everybody wading around up to their noses in what looked and sounded and smelled to Henry like a cesspool of talk, and so proud of their performance that they couldn't stop bragging. It was "Boy, I really got her going, didn't I?" and "Hey, did you see the way I made him squirm? How about that! Am I a great communicator or what?" and "It'll be a cold day in hell before they take me on again!" On top of everything else he had to put up with, it was too much. Way too much.

The day finally came when Henry had had all he could stand. He wanted out. He decided that he would do two more weeks of this hard row of his, so there'd be one more paycheck and he could leave with his bills mostly paid, and then he was going to hoe no more; he was going to get out of this mess for good. He had no rich relatives to wait around for, and he knew the Publishers Clearing House guys weren't going to be stopping by his place. Death was the only door that was open to him; he was going to go through that door. And because they were his responsibility and there was no one he could count on to look after them, he would be taking the wife and the child with him. He hadn't yet decided exactly how he was going to work it all out, because thinking about it made him sick at his stomach. But his mind was made up. Two more weeks -- and then, Lights Out.

Henry was ordinary, but he wasn't stupid. He did realize that a man with only two weeks left in his life ought to do or say at least a few significant things in the time that remained to him. He even sat himself down and deliberately tried to think of something significant to do. But nothing came to him. His mind, which had been so little use in his life so far, was no use to him this time either; it stayed as blank and empty as water in a ditch on a gray day. And so he just went on about his business the way he always had, to make the time go by.

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Published 26 January 2003