J.A. Tyler has recent publications in Sein und Werden, Idlewheel, Underground Voices, DiddleDog, Arabesques, The Furnace Review, and AntiMuse. Chapters from his recently completed novella Nobody are available at Ragad, Blue Print Review, Cezanne’s Carrot, Artistry of Life, Sage of Consciousness, and Poor Mojo’s Almanac(k). He lives in Colorado with his wife and son.
“Everything Just So”
• Episode 1140 •
Walking through the living room, he paused to move the corners of a half read book into alignment with the corners of the table. He liked the way it looked. Lined-up. Soldier-ized.
• Episode 1161 •
He stood naked, holding his hand under the streams of water, waiting for the temperature to rise. As it warmed under his touch and he pulled the curtain back, he noticed the Vargas Girl framed print and its half-cocked tilt on the bathroom wall. An elbow, a wrist, something had nudged it off kilter. He straightened it before stepping under the water.
• Episode 187 •
With only one book shelf and a clean desk, there wasn’t much in the bedroom worth looking at, save the neatly arranged books. Five alphabetized rows. Dusted and read thoroughly. Dusted and dusted and dusted again. And then read and reread. Again and again and again and again.
• Episode 1354 •
Now there were twelve shelves, all surrounding the outer walls of an immense library of books. A fortress. His own hide-away. His own playground. Where imagination trumps all other things. It was knowledge. First knowledge, then escape. His finger ran the length of one shelf of spines, touching the endless words supported by paper and ink and glue. Each shelf could be straightened a little more. Each shelf could be packed a little tighter. Book-ended a little neater. So he did that. Shelf after shelf. And when the little girl looked up at him with weepy blue eyes and asked him to play Slinky with her on the stairs he flatly refused. He needed to re-alphabetize; some books might be out of order. He needed to categorize it differently. Maybe fiction with non-fiction this time. Maybe he’d move the plays in with the fiction and keep the non-fiction separate. Maybe he’d categorize instead of alphabetize. Maybe he’d arrange it all by date or color or size. Slinky on the stairs was ludicrous. He had far too much going on.
• Episode 556 •
He loved to clean. He’d wipe all the counters with warm soapy water then spray them down with Windex. Then the inside of the microwave and the fridge. Then the inside of the cupboards, which meant taking everything out and then putting it away again, which meant that the counters needed re-wiping; crumbs had fallen. The gleam had fallen too. Then the face of the cupboards, the dishwasher, the oven. Then the stove top, which required him to wipe everything down, remove the burner pans, soak them in a soapy solution all their own, scrub and rinse and scrub and rinse until it could all be put back together again. Then the floors. Again and again and again. It only looked right after two or three complete washes. Then it was alright. Then he could sleep happily.
• Episode 18 •
As a child, he’d loved to take the wooden spoons and spatulas out of the kitchen drawer. He’d line them up on the floor according to size and type. He’d arrange and re-arrange. Everyone thought it was so cute. Someone even bought him little rubber frogs, red and blue and green, so that he could have something else to arrange and re-arrange. He doesn’t remember any of it, but he’s been told that it was adorable.
• Episode 1355 •
Books done, he’d laid down to take a little nap. Three pillows arranged behind his head with absolute accuracy. Two whites and the big fluffy one with the beige slip cover. That was the perfect combination. He knew because he’d tried all of them. Over and over and over.
• Episode 169 •
In school, the fight had been against dull pencils. He loved to take notes, good solid notes with perfectly slanted cursive. But the faded tips of the No. 2 wouldn’t work. He couldn’t stand the feel of a dulled lead tip on scratchy college-ruled. It made him sick to his stomach. It made him crazy. So he was up and down up and down up and down. He’d even take the time to empty the classroom pencil sharpeners tap tap tap against the plastic trashcan. Then he could sharpen it right. Then everything was okay for a little while.
• Episode 99 •
They always wanted him to eat the food together. His parents loved to show him the wonderful food-finds of other countries, other palates. But food outside of this world was meant to be eaten together. A little of everything on an extended fork. Flavors were meant to mingle and intertwine. But they couldn’t get him to do it. He built dams and levees and walls against mixture. He ate one then another then another. Just like that. Every time. There was nothing they could do. It was a quirk they said. A silly little quirk. He’ll out grow it. He’ll change. All it takes is time.
• Episode 1356 •
When he awoke the alarm was buzzing sharply, marking the quarter hour. A fifteen minute nap. He’d read that those were the best, the power naps, the ones that really worked to refresh and revitalize. So that’s what he took. The fifteen minute power nap. He rolled over to reset the alarm for the coming morning, and when he passed five-forty-five by one minute, five-forty-six, he was forced to make another set of clicks back around to the right time. He couldn’t have it off. That wouldn’t do.
• Episode 1357 •
He heard her coming up the stairs. Heard her greeting the little brown-eyed boy and the little blue-eyed girl. Heard her lugging plastic grocery sacks that crinkled up the stairs. He found himself thinking, hoping, that she would unload the groceries right this time. Get everything right this time. Then he padded into the bathroom for a shower.
• Episode 1358 •
He always washed in the same rhythm. Hands then wrists then arms then armpits then neck then stomach then face then midsection then thighs then legs then ankles then feet then hair.
• Episode 1359 •
And he always dressed in the same pattern: underwear, socks, pants, belt, shirt, shoes. No deviations.
• Episode 1360 •
She confronted him in the bedroom. Talked about him refusing to play with the girl. She connected it to a yesterday when he had refused the boy. She said it was getting worse. Said it was starting to cause a lot of problems. She cried a little. Just a little. Didn’t yell. Didn’t scream. Didn’t accuse or demand. Just cried. And only a little. He saw she was trying to make a point. It angered him. He sighed and rubbed his smooth shaven chin and then his eyes and then his lips. She saw the old sequence, the one he always used. She knew what was coming.
• Episode 1361 •
He grabbed her upper arm and wheeled her into the kitchen, past the kids who were coloring quietly at the dining room table. He wanted them to see to. He ripped open the refrigerator, left it hanging limply on its hinges, and saw what he expected. And although he’d hoped she would do it right this time, he knew that she could never do it exactly right. She wasn’t careful enough. She didn’t care enough. Cupboard door after cupboard door were torn from their box frames with every picture inside the same. He showed her what she’d done wrong. Showed her for the millionth time. Showed her how the cans needed to be stacked, how they should be labels out not labels in, how the pasta boxes should stand not lean, how the packets had their own basket and how it was easiest if they were alphabetized too, just like the cereals and the dressings in the fridge, how the fruits should have been washed, stickers removed first, then put in the drawer, how the vegetables should have been washed too, and cut up and put in the Tupperware for the coming week, how the milk cap should be opened and then retightened and then the plastic wiped down so that it wouldn’t lose the dry flakes on the clean floor, showed her how her arm could twist and bend and how his fingernails could dig and pinch and decimate, showed her how she could bruise and scratch and bleed and break, showed her what kids screaming sounded like, showed her about rhetorical questions and rules, showed her how clean the floor had been before she’d set foot in the house, showed her up-close and left her lying in a heap, broken, on that very dirtied floor.
• Episode 1362 •
And then something clicked, and the screaming and the crying and huddle of whispering bodies in the other room were no longer of consequence. All that mattered was getting the kitchen back in order. Drawers and cabinets needed to be fixed. The refrigerator needed to be fixed. Then the cans and the fruits and the vegetables and the cereals and the dressings and the little packets of cheap, store-bought pasta sauce needed to be fixed. But he knew it could be done right this time. He’d stay up and do it. Make sure it was right.
• Episode 1363 •
She packed clothes and toothbrushes, said this was the last time, said what an evil man he was, said how crazy and obsessed he was, told him to go to hell and slammed the door with kids in tow. He heard the door, but it was vague and blurred. He was focused on the cans. Labels out. Then he paused. It was as good a time as any to rewash the cupboards. The whole kitchen even. He had time. It was nice and quiet in the house. He could use the alone time. He had so many things to do.