In March 2018, I was fortunate to be among the contributors to the innaugural issue of NUNUM. This journal blends flash fiction and art, so each story has a unique graphic design and can only be appreciated via their online reader.
I very much enjoyed the artistic rendering, but it made the piece a bit hard to read. Here it is in story-form.
by DL Shirey
Verle was a man of routine. Each morning his eyes ticked open minutes before seven o’clock. He’d stretch, rub his chin to test the grit of day-old stubble and wait. Verle enjoyed the sleepy silence of his curtained room, eyes half-closed, waiting to hear the clamor. A succession of sounds would start his day: the alarm clock’s buzz, the automatic grind of beans from the fancy coffeemaker, insistent bawls for cat chow.
Verle was often tempted to stop the first noise to see if it would prevent the others from occurring. If that tree did not fall in the forest, would there still be other sounds? This temptation never converted to action; it would rob him of those precious seconds of silence. At the buzz, Verle would roll across the blank expanse of Evie’s side of the bed and slap the clock silent.
In the thirty years since Verle and Evie’s wedding day there had been four clocks in the designated spot on his wife’s bedside table.
The first was one of those wind-up jobs with a round, white face and bells that looked like brass mouse ears. It had a deafening tick-tock Verle somehow never heard, at least not until Evie mentioned it.
Two days later came the second, a clock radio with a simulated wood finish. The hours and minutes were stacked on plastic wafers, which fell away like Rolodex cards. The clock buzzed at seven and, even after the slap, classical music would continue to play. It sat on the nightstand long before cats, back when the beans were hand-ground and French-pressed, and noises came from insistent sex.
Verle’s least favorite alarm clock was the one among the hundred other adjunct functions of that goddamn smart phone. It was a minor miracle that Evie could part from it at all, but she would always leave it by the bed. Evie knew the silent interlude was the best part of Verle’s day. She would wait until seven-o’clock sounded before retrieving the phone. By then she was fully dressed, off to start her day, pausing only to brush lips on Verle’s forehead.
In those few minutes before the phone chirped, Verle would often smile at Evie’s thoughtfulness. He would think about ways to reciprocate, vow to do something special for his wife that day, then let his mind drift elsewhere. Plenty of time to make plans with Evie after the alarm went off.
Now it’s six fifty-eight on clock number four, Verle’s old travel alarm. It hadn’t been used in years. All it took was a triple-A battery and divorce papers to get it running again. Two minutes before the buzz he reaches across undisturbed sheets and fumbles to remember how to turn the thing off. No other noises would follow. Nothing but routine.