August Squares

May 27th, 2014

 

He pauses, ponders, checks his calendar, scratches his scalp in thought, tries to rearrange his schedule like luggage in the back seat of a two door sports car. He fits it all in, and eyes the small square that represents Saturday, the 16th of July, only a week away. He goes to the beach with his family on that date. He hasn’t seen them in a year. He hasn’t been to the beach with them in… well, he can’t really remember. He can’t even remember the last time he went to the beach period. But his lack of a tan gives some clues.

But it’ll be fun, he tells himself. What is there to worry about?

But as quickly as he asks, another voice answers with: Your parents don’t even know you anymore. It’ll be like staying with strangers, and won’t that be fun?

He nods, as if to concede the point, but doesn’t actually. Instead, he turns the volume of the other voice down, and opens Facebook, as if to somehow prove to this other voice that he knows his parents. See? His parents have a Facebook profiles. That’s not totally true. He tells himself. And I talk to them on the phone, sometimes, too.

He flips back to his calendar, to the next month. He eyes all of the empty little squares. The other voice turns the volume back up and says: Don’t you think they’ll want to know what you’re doing in all of those little squares?

Probably, he mutters. But so do I.

They’ll probably have lots of good ideas about what you should do.

They probably will. He says. He hesitates to keep encouraging the other voice, but-

You’ve always taken advice from strangers, right? What luck, you’ll be spending a whole week with them, getting advice from strangers.

He scratches his head again, this time with a little bit more angst and apprehension, rather than sincere contemplation.

That week, he watches the small boxes on the calendar tick off, one by one, like miles on the odometer. On Saturday the 16th he takes the train to the airport, and flies back home. His family picks him up at the airport and drives to the beach.

The air feels empty without questions like “What are you doing in August?” and “Where are you going to work?” and “What are you going to do if you don’t get a job?” and he answers them about as well as his parents could answer the question “Are we at the beach yet?” had he asked them. But he answers as best he can, until the questions grow so heavy that the answers can’t hold them up, and they fill the air like thick, black smoke, pouring from the 18-wheeler that they’ve been trailing for miles.

And finally, they get to the beach. They enjoy their time there, or at least, pretend to. But he still struggles to keep the weight of their questions off of his sunburnt shoulders. They only ask him once, but it sets off a ripple of waves, as if they’d thrown a pebble into a pool. It sets off a steady pace of waves in his mind, one after another, lapping at one side of his skull and washing back to the other. It will be a while before they settle again.

The days tick away, again, and it’s time for him to go back. His parents drop him off at the airport and he flies back. He lands, and takes the train back to his apartment.

He arrives, drags his luggage up the five flights of stairs, and sits tenderly, trying not to rub his sunburnt body.

He looks up at the calendar.

At the empty August squares, looking back at him.

He forgets to turn the volume down, and that other voice reaches him.

“Did they give you any ideas on how to fill those squares?” It says.

He sits in silence before answering.

“Yes,” He says. “Lots.”

“Alright, then” The voice answers. “Why are they still empty?”

But he just sits in silence.

“Didn’t they give you any answers?” It presses, urgently.

“No,” He whispers. The voice continues, urgently pressing, but the sound of lapping waves begins to drown out the frantic voice.

“No. Only questions.”

And all thirty-one empty August squares stare back at him.
 

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