PART A (The Psychologist) — 17

Bing had a misunderstanding.

The community college rested like a sweet little hub, surrounded by a giant horseshoe of rich grass bunched at rigid intervals with green, leafy trees.

Sunlight beamed from across the college courtyard, sparkling off the oil spots of a brood of mallard ducklings as they waddled after their mother in a loony zigzag line like a tiny honking marching band.

Bing took in the scene, smiling as he circled the school on the thin paved path that looped the major parking lots.

If asked, he would have said he was there because of a computer game he had taken to.

In the game, the player’s avatar could go to college, work and get promoted, exercise, and socialize at bars.

Each activity would earn different progress points.

If time was portioned well, the avatar might end up the company CEO, with celebrity looks, who owned the biggest mansion, and was married to the hottest girl at the best bar.

It was an easy game for Bing to beat, but one he played through over and over most afternoons at work.

Perhaps the peaceful surrounding scenery served to help avoid the heartache of having never seen real-life progress move in such straight, measurable lines.

It was his lunch break, and he was high.

Bing never bothered anymore with monotone radio voices that seemed only to buzz unintelligible amongst grating, repetitive sound effects just to fill in time between paid spots.

Even chosen voices speaking now in tinny tones through his tiny iun speakers had become but soothing background noise at best.

His mind raced instead with pretend accusations from his co-workers.

He had never actually been accused.

But Bing’s battle was to both believe and ignore that which he could know best from experience: that no one seemed able to tell whenever he came back high from lunch . . . or cared . . . or even noticed he’d been gone.

Must be almost time.

Old colors whirled and wheeled like ghoulish funhouse mirrors.

Within these came faint glimpses of distorted alien faces, cheerful cartoon animals, complex symbols, and textures upon textures . . . all too dim and rushing away too fast to really focus on.

Or maybe it was nothing but memories of past highs, back when…

Regardless, the words at the forefront (now taking form as [fake] allegations) never seemed to cease.

Always so, so many words.

A too familiar flash, and Bing lurched to grip his iun like a feening robot.

His car swiveled back around to restart the loop behind Lot A, the busiest.

It would be too hard to type.

A few deft sweeps, and his iun’s voice recorder was prepped and blinking red.

He heard himself speak then, as if from far away (still far too close for comfort), saying, “I can’t get high on my lunch break every day like this because I just get all anxious after. I get real worried and paranoid about how everyone sees me. It’s like I can’t pay attention the way I need to or something. I’m off in my own world, but also thinking everyone knows. But if I know I’m wrong about that, could this just be my conscience telling me not to get high this way? Should I stop doing it at lunch, then?”

Another sweep to close the screen, and the iun was re-lowered.

As he began the slow right turn to leave the loop before Lot C, Bing spotted a middle-aged man in unkempt slacks and tweed, probably a professor, jumbling along just behind a group of young, giggly girls.

Bing watched as one from the group turned back to face the would-be educator.

She then grinned and began to skip about her friends like a lively faun amongst more stoic elder deer.

Another flash, another sweep, and: “Teachers who sleep with students… Guy becomes a teacher so he can roam the halls, y’know, strolling for strange… Trolling for strange? Shit, I messed up my own joke.”

He made the left onto Holding Ave., chuckling to himself.

Or maybe he was surrounded by a cliché group of friends in some dingy living room somewhere, all laughing together at his mis-told bit over enormous bowls of rainbow cereal.

To his right, Bing watched a tribe of miniature people sweep across the yard of a fenced-off playground.

Some of these came to cluster in open spaces, while others drifted to the tiniest of plastic ladders, slides, and swings.

A young woman in skinny jeans and converse shoes stood with her hands clasped behind her back, inspecting the small humans in their bustling.

Bing smiled again, telling himself the woman’s story: that she had always loved kids, and saw her job as a great and noble opportunity to sow some good into their lives while they were all still receptive enough to…

A partial stab of regret…

But Bing was also still away, playfully one-upping his makeshift friends in that homely, trashy room.

Weed and bongs abounded, of course.

Pounds and pounds and pounds of weed.

Trash bags full of it.

The college and preschool crossed, colliding with smoke and grins.

Then another flash, a swipe, and yet more words: “I don’t want to be the old guy that spends his lunch breaks driving through a school I dropped out of years ago just so I can check out all the chicks’ asses!”

The giggling friends in the living room morphed and expanded to a packed theater’s worth of house-lit faces, all roaring along as Bing contorted his expression to a half-grin, half-snarl in perfect, playful self-mockery.

As he nodded to his own reflection, reveling in his wit, a massive sentry in thick, dark shades swooped its black-and-white chariot in to cling to Bing’s rear.

It held, as inescapable as gravity.

Ugly, angular, and cold, it filled every unoccupied space in the rearview mirror.

Bing was instantly sure the cop had read his reflection’s lips.

The muddling of the two schools went all dreary and terrible like damning courtroom evidence being read in drab tones and televised.

A wave of panic hit Bing’s chest.

And there was an awful flash of further words, this one not to be recorded.

No, officer!

I wasn’t talking about the preschool when I said “asses” just now.

I meant the college, but . . . but I was kidding anyway.

I’m not like that.

See, I was recording these dumb jokes, and…

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