button down shirt

     Howard only wears button down white shirts $22.95 a piece at Sears. Buys them individually wrapped in plastic packaging with cardboard in the collar. Black slacks and matching socks. Keeps a pack of Pall Malls in his breast pocket and never uses a pocket protector. Drives a Buick and trades it in every three years. His home is on the edge of town, though he grew up closer to the heart of the city, which is now a run down crime ridden area his mother refuses to leave because it was nice when she moved there and it’s all she knows. His two story McMansion is one of many cookie cutter structures in a neighborhood run by a council of homeowners who all agreed on artificial turf instead of lawns.

     He drinks black coffee but never had an espresso. His life is filled with ‘have nevers’. The woman he married, and Howard, ‘have never’ taken a vacation together. They ‘have never’ paid more than twenty dollars for a bottle of wine. ‘Have never’ dined out anywhere but a buffet. ‘Have never’ had sex more than twice a month. ‘Have never’ watched a movie together. ‘Have never’ had a fight, or a kind word.

     Howard is depressed but doesn’t know it. Assumes everyone feels the same, and spends his days trying to rationalize the dualities he is certain governs the laws of his universe. Like how he feels ashamed that his favorite actress is Mia Kershner, but has never tasted the vodka-besotted lips of a stranger at two in the morning.

     The grimy window to his air-conditioned office looks out over the shop. Howard can see the workers all day, and they can see him. He seldom walks the wooden steps down to the shop floor because it can reach one hundred and twenty degrees down there; the workers are sweaty, tired, and mostly embittered. He knows this because he was down there for the larger part of his career, looking up at the prick in the window having an easy day in the coolness, going over green ledgers on a dusty computer monitor, and reading the newspaper at lunch.

     Two fingers on each of Howard’s hands are permanently turned inward from endlessly grinding small flame cut flanges on a noisy disk sander. Most of the nerve endings in his thumb are dead from nibbling burrs off larger pieces of metal. He can still taste the grit in his mouth. The production halls are poorly lit and resemble a cave filled with dead air that has never seen sunshine or felt rain.

     Each day he remembers the voluptuous blonde girlfriend from his youth, his best buddy who moved across the state, the Christmas of his youth and the red Schwinn with a banana seat, and when Howard’s father said, “I love you”, the day he passed away.

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