Jarvis Altman had been celebrating his retirement ever since his first day as professor of engineering at Southern University. It was a post he had accepted reluctantly, a degree he had tricked his head into allowing him to attain.
It had ruined his life, he felt. Admittedly though: there was not much to ruin.
Jarvis was born into an unsophisticated middle-class family; his mother a professional alcoholic, who spent many nights naked in a whiskey glass; his father had been a happy underachieving toilet seat salesman. Until the day he received his promotion; he always claimed that the stress was too much; how could they possibly expect me to now sell the entire toilet? and that it had had the most damaging effect on his lumbago. He eventually succumbed to the idle promise of peaceful unemployment, and joined Mrs. Altman in her whiskey jar. When Jarvis was nineteen years old, he found them red-faced and dead. They had drowned in inebriation, in their devotion to doing nothing.
Looking now at the days ahead of him, at the future – whatever that was supposed to mean, he thought – he decided to apply for a scholarship to Northern University, and study art history. To his surprise and an almost rueful realization: they had accepted him.
After only one semester in art history, he was bored to the point of opening his ears, and to coherently listen to what was being said, to all those words dripping out of his teachers’ mouths. Of course, though, he couldn’t allow this to happen. He switched courses, and engineering it was.
He found the course relatively easy, and only honestly stuck with it because he figured he was far too lazy to go back to administration, fill in all the endless forms, and too obvious to ignore the indignant downward glances of the professors who saw him as a shiftless degradation of their academic lives: he and his kind – this sub-class – were what they were dedicated to improving. He could taste their bitterness in his eyes. In a slight, complacent way – it made him warm inside.
After six years of study and self-pitying nights spent alone with a magazine and a sock, Jarvis Champman Altman graduated with a PhD in engineering.
So what in the hell was he supposed to do now?
However, he knew that, with a doctorate at his side, he could never be looked upon as a worthless lay-about, a directionless drifter filling the ears of people who endeavored to listen with sophistry; clever and manipulative excuses for the circumstance of his twenty-six year life. The world and the people in it; their opinions and benchmarks, ideas, ideals, praise and personal scorn were nothing to him; he had, after all: a doctorate at his side.
He did this for a further four years – the specious claptrap of the most golden of tongues, working but doing nothing, years were ephemeral; twenty-six became thirty, and thirty became frightening. On the anniversary of three decades of waking, Jarvis Altman saw himself in the mirror for the first time. He had gotten fat. He couldn’t quite remember how – or when – it had happened. He was always rather gaunt; a tall man with somewhat stooped shoulders, loosely outfitted; his thin sandy hair static and independent of all attempts to manipulate it. Heavy brows sheltering grey eyes, a bulbous nose and a thick misshapen mouth; his face – he was almost subconsciously certain – had been marked by his constant thinking of new ways to explain an old situation, and he also knew that if people really looked close enough they could easily find a number of words stained onto his visage. None of them were particularly flattering.
He knew this too.
It was after this that he decided it was time to probably do something with his biggest excuse: his doctorate. One morning early – it was a strangely cold September Thursday – he sighed on the steps outside of his no-bed roomed pigeonhole, and unwillingly launched himself onto the street, into the reality of awareness. He had slowly made his way to Southern University; he had heard that they were seeking some self-satisfied ingrate to teach engineering. The position unfortunately had his name all over it; he could already smell it. It was inherently nauseating that something could be so apt.
He stood outside the ugly red building for thirty minutes crunching his toes against the soles of his shoes, trying not to know, and sighed one last time; he pulled open the door, burdened himself to the office, and offered his reason for being there. He was tacitly admitted to a paneled room, green and cream it was, and sat down. It was now too late to do anything sensible, it had begun; this was what the end will look like. The interview was done; impressions were formed and held with conviction. There were three of them who decided his irrelevant hereafter, three of them all uniform in their brooding, in their grey.
It’s going to be me one day, he thought.
A grey lump with red strong-willed veins trying so desperately to spell out the words on his forehead, so wanting to warn these idiots around him. Nevertheless, he was blessed in the fact that none of it happened; after all - it wasn’t possible. It was with this almost smug assurance he sat in the anteroom, explicating his existence to the vaguely curious secretary, neatly wrapped up in a tight white synthetic jersey and camel brown skirt. She was nodding out of unconscious habit, clicking down her fingers onto a well-worked keyboard, typing in all the required information of this oversized buffoon, this slick lard-ass.
She was able to see right through him.
Thank you, was what she said, walked him to the door and threatened that they would see each other again on Monday. This was true, as it was: true.
For the next thirty-five years he saw her every Monday. And what seemed to be every other day of this - his regretfully responsible life. Ursula. He always wondered how she remained alive – he was quite sure that she must’ve been at least twenty years his senior and she seemed to gleefully cheat expiration every winter: through the most violent coughs mutilating the stillness; febrile exploits hallucinogenic in nature; and the wheeze of death slipping from her thin feminine lips – she carried on.
(Why on earth was she still working? How could she still be working? Where was death?)
They never spoke much; there was a shared antipathy. But he didn’t have to ask her to know the answers to these, or any other questions that might’ve irked their way into his mind. Death just didn’t want her; and there was not much life could do about her now, either. This was the most obvious of answers; every day affirmed his belief… how he despised her! How he knew it was as close to a marriage he would get.
For thirty-five years it was as if his life had stopped on that one erroneous day in September. With the mirror and its derisive reflection. He had since moved from his dank pigeonhole onto the university premises, unsurprisingly he was the only member of faculty to do so.
The space he now called his own seemed to be at the bottom of everything the university could throw at him. Two hundred and eighty-three steps down, through narrow unforgiving passageways dressed in sandgrey and dark-stained cedar wood; all the effort of breathing led to the eventual crooked dirty door, and beyond that a dimly lit, hellish little room which had once belonged to the janitor who had vacated over a decade ago, after threatening the university with a python coyly draped over his shoulders, screaming that not one mindless fool should be forced to co-exist with the occupant of the closet: the university’s massive geyser.
For the past twelve years, this was where Jarvis Altman recoiled to after the days spent of non-teaching, hours of canteen-sulking, collapsed in himself: a huge grey lump; this was home. Like all of his other choices, it had been the wrong one, and he was silently and bitterly resentful to the university for letting him make it.
The fuckers, he would think at night in his sweltering army cot. He of course knew his decision to accept this hellpit was his own, but he also knew that if he left they would’ve won the thirty-five year fictitious war. So he stayed to spite them.
But all which had been harboring in the vats of this burgeoning madman, was to be culminated. This was the day which he had been waiting for, the past thirty-five goddamn years and all the quicksand before: this was now the day which had taken all and everything he could deceitfully put together and mourn over; minutiae of blame, all the excuses; a life. Sixty-five years of futile preparation. He didn’t care if he was bald, that his skin glowed like an oiled tomato or that his buttons pulled and puckered at his oozing stomach, that the bottom of his feet were dry and blackened simply because he didn’t have the concern to bend over and wash them. Months of strategizing and campaigning for one hour of the sweetest glory he could ever put together in his heated brain – he knew what had to be done, and here now, on his stage in front of all these pieces of his life: he was ready.
It was certain that Jarvis Altman had been celebrating this day all his life.
This is what the end will look like