As Time Goes By

A Short Story by Zoltan James — Lex Kranmer changed radically on his 43rd birthday.  It wasn’t a mid-life crisis, but rather something abnormal, like a chemical reaction that threw his brain into reverse and left him stuck there.

At first, Lex’s wife, friends and even his colleagues at his law firm, Courtman and Kranmer, didn’t notice anything different.  That is until Lex started playing loud rock ‘n roll music in his office.

Prior to the onset of the series of events that would forever change his life, Lex and his wife, Sabina, lived happily in an upscale neighborhood, west of downtown Denver.  They lived in a modest, but ample ranch home surrounded by old elms and birch trees.   While they weren’t wealthy, they were comfortable.  Everyday, Lex drove his 2005 white Volvo into the city, and rode the elevator to the 22nd floor where, from his office with the to-die-for-view of the majestic Rockies, he fought the good fight to restore justice to his injured, scammed, harassed, maligned, and unfortunate clients.

To say that Lex was a workaholic would be akin to saying that Superman never slept.  Lex hadn’t taken a vacation since his honeymoon twenty years earlier when he and Sabina escaped for four days of downhill skiing at Steamboat Springs.  It had been years since they last danced, ate out, or went to the theater.  But, they attended Mass every Saturday evening, where Lex always held Sabina’s hand. They were not boring by any stretch of the imagination, but Lex’s time was far too valuable to spend in frivolous pursuits.  He was tethered to his Blackberry, Dell laptop, and Tumi briefcase.

As his wife, friends and law partner looked back on the turn of events in Lex’s life, before the BIG change, they could, with perfect hindsight, understand what happened.  Just not why.  Even the best doctors and psychiatrists were stumped.  And, it didn’t matter what diagnosis, syndrome, or disease label they awarded his condition, none resulted in improvement.

Sabina claims it all started one Friday evening when they sat down together to watch the movie, Grease. The very next day, his tastes in music changed.   Lex started listening to rock ‘n roll in his car, at home and even in his office, which was quite the departure from his usual preference of Mozart and Schubert.

According to Lex’s law partner, Riley Courtman, at first he didn’t mind the change in music, or notice any appreciable change in behavior.  “I admit I kind of liked it when he played Elvis ballads.”  But, subsequently, the music got louder and louder.  “It was never a case of do or die, for me, but ultimately it was just too much of a distraction to hear, over and over, I Fought the Law, by the Bobbie Fuller Four, pounding through the speakers in his office.”

One day Riley confronted Lex about the hard-driving beat blaring from his office.  “The music overtook the entire office to the point that it shook the paintings hanging in the client waiting area, not to mention the clients waiting there.  I stormed into his office and told him to shut it down.”  Lex shrugged, “Listen, dude, rock n’ roll and love songs are never out of date and can never be played too loud.”

Courtman said after that incident is when things started reeling out of control.  On Fridays, Lex showed up at work wearing jeans with a black leather jacket.  “Sort of a James Dean-look, if you will,” Courtman said.  And, soon after it became an everyday choice of attire.  Then, a couple of weeks later, to Sabina’s consternation, Lex traded in his Volvo for a perfectly restored cherry red, 1966, Mustang convertible.

“It was about that time that I thought Lex was having a mid-life crisis,” Sabina said fighting back the tears.  “Don’t get me wrong.  He was still the same old fun-loving, Lex.  But, when he suddenly wanted to dance with me all the time, I was shocked.  He’d come home from work, drop some rock n’ roll CDs into the stereo, and pulled me into the kitchen to dance the Twist, the Lindy Hop, you name it.  That was fun and silly at first, but it became a real distraction evening after evening when I was trying to get dinner ready.”

Then, one day, time seemed to stand still for Lex.  He woke up, pulled on his Levi jeans and penny loafers.  He found Sabina in the kitchen and with a vacant stare asked her to make him lunch.  She didn’t think much of it at first, but agreed.  “Anything to make my Lex happy and get back the Lex I knew.  That was the first time I realized that something had really changed.”

Lex took his lunch in a brown paper bag, walked through the garage, past his red Mustang, and stood at the curb.  And, he stood there for hours.  This behavior continued for several days.  He stood patiently as if waiting to get picked up.  But no one stopped.  Sabina watched nervously from the living room window.  Then, at twelve-noon-sharp, Lex took one last look up and down the street, bowed his head, and retreated to his house.  Sabina bit her lip and silently shed a tear.

Lex’s odd behavior continued into the following week.  Neighbors were now starting to notice and the rumor mill started to fly.  Then, one day, Lex’s neighbor, Dwayne Allenwrench, sauntered across the street and talked to him.  Dwayne was one of Lex’s high school classmates. But in those days, when Dwayne was the hero quarterback and Lex was the debate champion, Dwayne was merciless in his taunts.  It was the typical star-athlete-makes-fun-of-the-geek-scenario.

Although Dwayne didn’t look it, with his flat top haircut and beer belly, he was now a millionaire.  He had grown his business, “Dwayne’s Plumbing,” into a thriving money-making venture.  But, he still lacked class and it was never so evident as the slogan he bore on his white Ford van, which proudly blared in red Times Roman lettering, “Never sleep with a drip.”

“Hey, Cranberry, what’s going on?  Dwayne said, as he shot a soft punch to Lex’s shoulder.

Lex didn’t respond.

“C’mon buddy, can’t be that bad.”  Dwayne circled him eyeing Lex’s high school wardrobe.  “You miss the school bus, or what?”  Dwayne giggled at his own joke.

Lex’s eyes came to life and he turned to face his neighbor.  Lex bounced on his toes, “Have you seen it?”

“Nawh” Dwayne huffed looking up and down the street.  “I think you missed it, buddy,” Dwayne offered with a little laugh.

“Oh,” Lex exhaled and the bright light in his eyes went dim again.

Dwayne patted Lex on the back of the neck and swallowed.  For the first time in his life, he felt sorry for Lex.  He said, “See you around, big fella,” and he re-crossed the street, climbed into his van, and sped off to save the world from another burst water pipe.

After another couple of hours of waiting at the curb, Lex looked both ways, checked his watch, and slowly turned back toward his house.  Inside, he sat wearily at the kitchen counter, opened his brown paper bag, pulled out a bologna sandwich on white bread and the baggie filled with Oreo cookies.

Sabina brought him a glass of milk and sat with him.  Her heart ached as she watched him absent-mindedly dunk a cookie.  “You okay, sweetheart?” Sabina said.

“I missed the bus again, today,” he said as held his soaked cookie to let it drip over the milk.

Sabina hugged him around the shoulders and softly kissed his cheek.  “Maybe we can try again tomorrow.”

“Yea, maybe,” he sighed.

Lex stared ahead in silence, seeing nothing, not even the most fundamental things, not the ticking kitchen clock with the painted coffee mug on its face, not the chattering bluebirds in the backyard, not the red and yellow tulips poking through the eager earth of spring, and certainly not the tears streaming down Sabina’s face.

She held him tight taking in everything around her, the knick knacks of their lives, thinking of all the things they could have done but didn’t.  While Lex stared ahead and ate his cookie, Sabina’s gaze turned toward her kitchen clock.  She watched helplessly as the precious time passed them by.

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1 Comment

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One response to “As Time Goes By

  1. Erik

    I was not sure what to make of this short story. Obtuse? Not sure?
    Fascinating? Quite. After my 1st read, I responded with a “harumph”, much like Eeyore would say harumph.

    And while I was waiting at the curb for my bus it dawned upon me this could be a story about me. Except I got rid of all the knick knacks at the last garage sale.

    Are there “do overs” in life?

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