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Heavenly Torque
by Bruce Newman
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Exponential dread overtook Marlon Diogenes Morris as he listlessly thumbed the remote. A cumulative dread, this rote act segued into an unanticipated tipping point. Once again he’d come home spent from the job he resented, washed up on the beach of his couch with only enough energy left to contemplate how the job robbed him of enjoying his evenings. Searching for something edifying on television he instead found himself channel surfing televised waves of emptiness. The same commercials replayed daily with metronome mindlessness, onslaughts of maddeningly metastasized kitsch. Endlessly repetitive car and drug commercials dominated. He was a Pavlovian dog with severe dehydration.

The front door swung open to the inside, momentarily blocking Marlon’s view of the entrant. With a rustle of plastic and a momentary struggle, his wife Jade pushed through the door laden with item stuffed plastic bags from the grocery store. Dropping the bags, she reached back outside the door, retrieving an additional bag. Closing the door behind her she fastened Marlon with a syncretistic gaze, part greeting and part mood survey, for he had become sullen under the duress of his help desk job.

“How was your day?” said Jade in her usual, almost sing-song way with a genuine but slightly guarded smile.

“A day, just like the rest,” said Marlon blandly.
“I’m just glad the weekend is almost here.”

He rose against fatigue’s gravity, kissed Jade on the cheek, and helped her take bags into the kitchen, conscious of her observation as they put away groceries. She was worried about him. Marlon wanted to assuage her concern, but right now he didn’t care. He’d been laid off from his network administrator job six months ago, one he’d worked hard to attain. To make it even more personal he’d had the kind of life where some hadn’t even expected that much from him, and he was proud of having easily outdistanced all low expectations. He had a beautiful wife and two lovely daddy’s girls, Tai and Tasha, not yet ten years old, whose bedtime hugs swallowed up all the years that small minds had branded him a loser.

Or so Marlon had thought, surprised at how forcefully his vocational cul de sac had revived old insecurities considered vanquished. His sudden unforeseen ejection from a career he enjoyed into a stressful job he despised encased him in a cynicism that made him wonder if in some unfathomable way he was becoming like his namesake, Diogenes. Had his deceased father been unknowingly prescient in name choice? A desperate man thinks desperate thoughts.

“Where are the girls?” asked Marlon.

“Don’t you remember? I told you yesterday they were going to stay with mom for a few days. There’s a teacher’s workday at school tomorrow and she wanted to keep them, especially with dad still a little sick. The girls really help them out and they enjoy their company”, explained Jade while rearranging some cans in the cupboard.

“So they’ll be home…”

“Sunday afternoon. She’ll drop them off after church.”

At first Marlon was perturbed. His girls were a sure source of comfort for him and he always looked forward to seeing them. But soldiers of dread and cynicism had begun a Sherman’s march across his heart and he was becoming aware of the necrotic path left in their wake. He wasn’t in the mood for much human interaction.

Having finished in the kitchen he drifted into the bedroom and closed the door. He knew Jade would start probing him and he was on defense. She handled her unemployment, though he knew it bothered her, much better than he handled his undesirable employment with its significant pay cut. At any rate he wanted no deep conversation or contemplative nudge, which is why he soon put aside the magazine he’d picked up on entering the room. All that really took the edge off for him was exercise. Uncaring, he pulled dirty sweats out of a hamper, grabbed a cap, dressed and headed for the side door to avoid Jade.

It was a mild, rainy night for November. No matter. After some stretches on the deck he sauntered down the driveway and started a slow jog around the neighborhood. Living in the county there was one streetlight in the subdivision, supplemented only by those a few homeowners erected in their yards. Dark puddles were sightless eyes in the wet asphalt. After a duty driven twenty minute jog Marlon returned home, showered and collapsed into bed. Jade always retired later.

The alarm clock intimidated him to reluctant life at 4:30. Must be at work by six; thirty minute drive. Few cars on the road. A straight shot after hitting I540. Clear dark sky, mild temperature, cold stars trembling in a sable vault.

Marlon peered into the darkness pushed back by his headlights when a brilliant blue flash illuminated through his open sun roof. Startled, he looked up to see a blazing blue-white meteor sail across his field of vision. It was visible for a few seconds before burning out. He actually saw residual smoke dissipate. November. Ah, yes. The Leonids.

Exponential awe overtook Marlon Diogenes Morris like an avalanche. Marveling, the simple act of witnessing such splendor segued into an unanticipated tipping point, complete without cumulative effect. He was surprised at how forcefully this simple display of heavenly magnificence immediately resurrected old wonders and fascinations he’d thought divorced through neglect. Suddenly he was a kid again, on his way to a job he hated. He took the next exit and parked at McDonald’s, not to eat, just to savor the remaining wonder filled immediacy of the recent moment.

After resuming his course he knew everything remained the same, almost. This was no miraculous transformation; no complete turnaround. But somehow he knew that was ok. Sometimes a few degrees turn is enough to start afresh. Sometimes a little torque is all that’s necessary for an attitude adjustment that will eventually have a positive cumulative effect.

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