Henry Judge walked into the gas station. A skinny young man with a red vest and a name tag was standing behind the counter. The employee heard the door as it closed and turned to make eye contact with him.
“How are we this morning?” The employee said.
“Oh, pretty good,” Henry said. “Say, do you guys sell those red plastic containers for gasoline here?”
“Yes, of course.” The guy said. “The polyethylene gas cans are back there on a shelf next to the oil.” He extended a bony finger while speaking and pointed toward the far corner of the store.
Henry walked over in that direction and located the gas cans. Three options on the shelf: One and a quarter gallon can for thirteen ninety-nine, two and a half gallons for sixteen ninety-nine, and five gallons for nineteen ninety-nine. He picked up the largest one and walked back to the register.
“All set?” The employee said. Henry was finally close enough to make out the name tag- Scott.
“Yeah. I’ll take this and prepay for five gallons of regular.”
Scott picked up the gas can and scanned the bar code. “Car ran out of gas?” He said, smirking.
“Yep, something like that.” Henry said. He smiled and reached for his wallet.
After pumping the gas and screwing the lid onto the container Henry walked the short distance back to his house. It was a typical spring morning: The sun was shining and robins were singing while they flitted about and hopped through the green grass. A few puffy white clouds and a couple of chemtrails drifted languidly across the blue sky overhead. The usual noisy morning rush hour traffic paralleled him as he made his way down the sidewalk. He held the gas can down at his side while walking and the sound of the liquid sloshing back and forth kept rhythm with his stride.
Jerry, his neighbor, was outside rooting about in his garden. He turned to smile and wave at Henry as he turned and walked up the driveway that separated their properties.
“Good morning, Jerry.” Henry said. He raised his free hand and returned the wave.
“Morning.” Jerry said. He turned around and continued to toil.
He just saw you walking up to your house with that bright red container, Henry! The voice in his head warned as he fished his keys out of his pocket and unlocked the front door to the small house.
“Who really cares anymore?” He said aloud in response to the voice. He pushed the door inward and entered the darkened room on the other side.
All of the blinds and curtains were still closed to the bright sunlight and the place was a bit stuffy, stale. He closed the door and sat the gasoline down on the floor next to a bulging backpack. He had spent a couple of hours jamming the backpack full of supplies the night before: A few days worth of clothing, the last of his cash, a few days worth of nonperishable food, personal hygiene materials, a pocket sized road map, his Ruger nine millimeter and a small box of bullets. Plus a few other miscellaneous items.
Henry walked over to the bookshelf on the other side of the living room and picked up the framed photograph of his family that was propped up against the books on the top shelf. He stood and quietly stared at all of their smiling faces, remembering the simple happiness of the day when the photo had been taken. Before he had been laid off and discovered that his college degree meant nothing in today’s world. Before his wife had taken the kids to go live with another man. Before he had realized that the bank was going to take the house just like they had taken the car. Before he had realized just how cruel and corrupt the world he lived in could be.
Aw, are you going to start crying again, you big blubbering idiot? The voice said.
“No, I’m not going to cry.” Henry said. He took a deep breath, then violently tossed the frame over his shoulder. He heard the glass break as it collided with the wall.
The rage that he had kept caged within for months suddenly escaped and he realized that he could now longer control it. He started with the bookshelf– Grabbing books and ripping them apart and throwing the pages in all directions. After the shelves were nearly empty he grabbed the back of the shelf and tipped it over onto the floor with such force that one side of it broke loose.
He moved next to the flat screen television sitting on the center of the entertainment center– A flat black idol on an altar– He tossed it down onto the floor and stomped on the screen until it was completely destroyed. He went over to his laptop computer and did the same.
Really starting to lose it now, aren’t we? The voice said.
“Shut up.” He said.
He worked his way through the house, breaking all of the mirrors, emptying all of the clothing out of the closet and drawers and leaving the articles strewn about the floor. He took a box of old photos and scattered them about much like the pages from the books. In the kitchen he took all of the cups and dishes and hurled them against the far wall, one by one, until there was a giant pile of broken shards on the floor.
Eventually he ran out of stuff to trash and found himself standing in the midst of the destruction, panting, out of breath.
He walked back out to the front porch to get some fresh air. He sat down on the top step and was just starting to regain his composure when he saw Jerry back his old Dodge pickup out of the driveway and putter off down the street.
Hurry, Henry! Finish this before he gets back! The voice said.
The rage had subsided as quickly as it had surfaced. He calmly stood and walked back inside. He unscrewed the lid and picked up the gas can. He started at the back of the two bedroom home and worked his way toward the front door– Leaving a connecting trail of gasoline wherever he had been. By the time he returned to the front door the container was empty and he tossed it aside.
Hurry! Get out of here!
Henry grabbed the backpack and slid his arms through the straps. He removed a cheap disposable lighter from his pocket and bent down to the trail of gasoline. A flame appeared and he slowly lowered it to the carpet.
Henry closed the front door and locked it. After a few long strides he had left the porch and returned to the driveway. He walked down to the sidewalk and took a right. The weight of the backpack upon his shoulders was worse than he had anticipated, but he ignored the pain and traveled as quickly as he feet would carry him.
He told himself that he wasn’t going to look back, but after a few blocks he decided that he simply had to. After all, it was an important day– The end of his old life and the beginning of something new and unknown. A dark column of smoke was already raising up in front of the sun.
To Henry the sight was both horrifying and beautiful. He stood there on the sidewalk watching it until he heard sirens approaching in the near distance.
[Original writing & photography by J. E. Lattimer]
© 2012, 2013 J. E. Lattimer all rights reserved