“A SLOW RADIOACTIVE DEATH (IN AN ENDLESS LOOP)”: A Short Story for Bad Survivalist by Joshua Rodriguez

 

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<meta name=“description” content=“Joschua Blau has all the leverage. Yours Truly doesn’t stand a chance, and what’s worst, Yours Truly is used to being subjugated, exploited, and discarded. We welcome abuse like a long-lost twin separated at birth—this is the story of Joschua Blau, the perennial POS, emblematic of something truly frightening in each an every one of us. It’s equal parts cautionary tale and truck stop graffiti scrawled on a bathroom stall.” />
<Title> AN ENDLESS LOOP </title>
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<h1><b><u><center> A SLOW RADIOACTIVE DEATH </h1></b></u></center>

<p> and at the end of the day, I guess it doesn’t make much of a difference, though it still incenses me. The mere thought is incendiary—no matter how small (like an imperceptible atom split to unleash unfathomable devastation [uprooting family trees in a macabre rendering of deforestation]). Nothing makes a difference in the grand scheme of things, but I can’t believe I need to disambiguate exactly what’s wrong with it (its ultimate insignificance and inconsequentiality doesn’t make it not wrong, you understand [feelings are immaterial to everything at the end of the day like defects we’re born managing—a disability we hardly notice]). I’m sitting with Joschua Blau on a park bench, perspiring profusely—unremittingly—constantly wiping my (expanding and distending) forehead (my thinning hair’s a point of unending shame) with the back of my hand, and sometimes my shirt (though I avoid this for fear I’ll expose my sizable gut and irreparably damage my already bankrupted stock with the opposite sex—it’ll be the final nail in a coffin essentially already sealed). I’m chain smoking filterless Lucky Strikes and eating cold Schnitzel out of plastic packaging—like baking or frying it (or even nuking it in the microwave [though that’s mildly abasing—debasing—whichever applies best—because here, microwaves are regarded like a nuclear weapon; not one exploited against others—more like smoking cigarettes; a slow self-imposed radioactive death capitulated to for convenience]) was just a culinary suggestion. Joschua Blau is </p><br>

<p> trying to convince me I shouldn’t be so irate—that he didn’t mean anything by it. That, while what I feel ultimately doesn’t make a difference, I’m completely justified in feeling the way I do—I’m entitled to my feelings (if you think this reads patronizing, you should fucking hear it out of his indignant putrid mouth). <Joschua Blau> Just calm down. Think about it from my side—I know you’re upset, but what we need is objectivity. Rationale. What’s done is done—being dramatic won’t help matters. </Joschua Blau> I pull an Oettinger half-liter beer out of my book bag and listen intently, trying to absorb as much as I can to determine whether or not to allocate the benefit of the doubt (though I suspect even doubt is an apathetic intermediary) to him (I’ll inevitably exercise it). I open the beer with my lighter. It’s room temperature. It’s hot and humid outside. Bees buzz and the sun is a cattle iron searing into us. Trees cut figures like skeletal, emaciated gymnasts frozen halfway through a routine—like airport workers on the tarmac cutting semaphores—like gesticulating citizens of Pompeii trying futilely to warn their compatriots of their impending extirpation. The bare trees and denuded branches are incongruent with the weather—like a defanged dog snarling, threatening to pounce. Ever since The Factory started operating here, it hasn’t been the same (to the chagrin of virtually everyone but those irredeemable, felonious corporate scumbags [though even they must occasionally miss the bloom]). Even water under the bridge is polluted. Somehow, Joschua Blau is making less sense </p><br>

<p> the more he talks. Words are like that I guess—at first they’re propelled in a salient Jetstream of intent, but eventually, the propulsion tapers and dwindles and sputters—mass production cores out all meaning and significance—resonance is bred out like faulty genetics—and all you’re left with is </p><br>

<p> a trickle of intent alloyed with words piled on words piled on words. A mass cemetery of sincerity and substance. We always talk in concentric circles around the point. <Yours Truly> (My words are interspersed in between draughts of beer and drags of cigarettes, imbuing them with an unintended improvised, almost jazzy, quality [even straining through belabored breaths, it feels like an affectation when really it’s my body telegraphing that something’s terribly wrong—though I elect to ignore these flashing red lights and blaring sirens my anatomy’s setting off]). Objectivity my ass. You know what you did was wrong—is wrong. Nothing’s changed about that—it was wrong then, it’s wrong now, and it’ll be wrong in the future. You’re trying to trick me into not being angry. But I have news for you: I’m still fucking angry. And this isn’t doing </p><br>

<p> anything but exacerbating that fact. Joschua Blau—you son of a bitch. You’re gonna make this right. I don’t know how, but I deserve restitution. Reparations. </Yours Truly></p><br>

<p><Joschua Blau> (He waves his hand dismissively, clearly not registering the severity in my voice—but that’s expected—lately it feels like all worries and concerns [any feelings at all] are an apostate pulpit genuflecting in the tabernacle of this modern world). You got anymore beer in there? I’m fucking parched. </Joschua Blau></p><br>

<p><Yours Truly> No, I don’t, you asshole—not after what you did. Why would I give you a beer? I’m fucking homeless—I lost my job. And you’re acting like it’s all OK. Yeah, I have a few more. You want me to open it for you, too? </Yours Truly> </p><br>

<p><Joschua Blau> You’re a real gentleman, you know that? </Joschua Blau> I nod, retrieve the beer, and open it, feeling like an </p><br>

<p> asshole the whole time—but still. I’m in this for the long haul. Maybe Joschua Blau can still help me out. Clouds crawl and cover the sun like autonomous pillows euthanizing it—like we’d even managed to automate that procedure (which isn’t exactly a stretch—let’s not pretend TV and Internet browsing aren’t slow, steady descents toward death—a protracted death sentence in thirty minute installments and ten minute clips). Let’s see how long it takes for free will to corrupt those billowy motherfuckers. Let’s see how long it takes for them to have existential crises—to wonder if there’s more to existence (spoiler: there isn’t, and exploiting it won’t help anything [people try pimping this life they’ve leased like an illegal sublet and only end up hoeing themselves]). But even though it’s buried beneath clouds, the sun feels inordinately hot. Amplified and intensified. Like </p><br>

<p> the clouds are just defective insulation. Like this world’s a house that needs to be renovated—gutted—eviscerated—condemned and demolished. Reconstructed. </p><br>

<p> I don’t know how I’m supposed to trust Joschua Blau anymore—I don’t know why he did it. I’m staying with him while I figure out the next move (i.e. finding another menial, minimum wage gig [which is harder than it sounds ‘round here] and apartment); I don’t know anyone else. Joschua Blau knows how precarious my predicament is—how urgent I am and how that urgency can be exploited. But, worst of all, Joschua Blau knows he can do what he wants because I’m dependent on him and can’t do anything about it. We’re like a slapstick coupling of Brutus and Judas running around trying to betray each other first in thirty minute increments (including commercial breaks and opening and ending credits). Joschua Blau sips his beer and has a cigarette I bummed him. Birds are perched in trees, chirping, and </p><br>

<p> it almost sounds like Morse Code. <Yours Truly> Can you at least tell me how I pissed you off? Maybe something happened when they were talking to you? I just want to understand. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. If I can’t find a job, I’ll be living with my mom and brother in a tiny trailer. Discarded in the compost heap of America. That shit precludes your fate. </Yours Truly> Joschua Blau doesn’t look at me. He probably won’t expound on his reasoning—elucidate the rationale—but who knows. Whatever. I don’t give a shit. I can’t change what he did and I can’t change what I need to do and I can’t change how reliant I am on him. This whole world is a recursive replication of the same foundational system: someone’s always doing the getting and someone’s always getting got. It’s really that simple even though </p><br>

<p> people try portraying it as more complicated. It’s part of our condition to complicate things—because observing things simply and plainly—bare and denuded of obfuscating pretenses and complexities—is too agonizing and heartbreaking. Recognizing reality beckons the apocalypse. <Joschua Blau> (He butts his cigarette and lights another he bummed from me.) Look—Loss Prevention had it all on video. Us in the back eating product. If I didn’t tell them about everything else, we’d both get fucked. I was working there longer so they trusted me, you know? So I just told them everything—if you think about it, I could’ve told them nothing—I could’ve omitted how we drink every day and sneak out food. But then we’d both be homeless, and in a way, you’d be twice as fucked. I grassed. So what? You still need me and it turned out to be mutually beneficial. You didn’t do anything but get in the way. That’s all it takes to be bulldozed by tragedy. </Joschua Blau> He explains it to me and of course it makes sense—relationships invariably turn into hostage situations. People only stick around because of the Stockholm syndrome suffusing them. </p><br>

<p><Joschua Blau> I did what I had to, but if you’re really that bent out of shape over it all, find somewhere else to live. </Joschua Blau> </p><br>

<p><Yours Truly> I don’t have anywhere else to go. </Yours Truly></p><br>

<p><Joschua Blau> Then that’s that, isn’t it? </Joschua Blau></p><br>

<p><Yours Truly> I guess so. </Joschua Blau></p><br>

<p> That’s the last time we discussed it, and at the end of the day, I guess it doesn’t make much of a difference, though it still </p><br>

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Joshua Rodriguez is an American writer and teacher living in Stuttgart, Germany. He’s had short fiction published in Door is A Jar Magazine, Expat Press, FIVE:2:ONE Magazine, Silent Auctions Magazine, and Black Flowers Journal Vol. 3. He has a novella out via Alien Buddha Press called FAMINE: Get the Hell Outta Here While You Still Can. He’s Editor-in-Chief of Fishbowl Press.

Image: allposters.com

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