"The only things certain in life are death and taxes" was the last thing Robert said to his son. What a shame. He didn't even believe the well trodden words himself. Not like it would have helped the situation out any, but nonetheless he wished he would have added an addendum to the statement. Something that included a bit about how if you're clever enough, you can avoid taxes and that Death by the dictionary's definition is the opposite of life and that life was about living in the moment. He mulled over these thoughts for a while pointlessly as his son wasn't even old enough to understand or remember any life advice he might have for him. What his son really needed was his father to be present, a fact Robert knew more than any of the rationalizations swimming around and ricocheting off each other in his head. Unfortunately, when faced with such large decisions the loudest voices in his thoughts weren't always the right ones.
"But what is right? who decides this stuff anyway?" Another bumper car of existential mutterings came in and out as fast as he could think of it.
"Would you like some more hot water for your tea?" asked the waitress startling him from his meandering mind. In another five minutes he'll find out through eavesdropping that it's only her second week working at the diner but as far as he can tell at the moment she seems to be a permanent fixture of the place, no different than the worn out vinyl booth he was sitting at. Once he found out she was new he just accepted it as the new truth of the world he moved through instead of considering for even one second how wrong his assumptions were.
"yes please, thank you" He replied not questioning himself if he really wanted more hot water or not. She returned within a minute and placed in front of him a small steaming pitcher with a sliced lemon on the side that was carefully selected to not contain any seeds.
"Oh what a day, you get my best customer award my friend, I have had nothing but demanding ungrateful people this shift" she unprofessionally lamented.
"Well I haven't paid yet" Robert sarcastically replied. They both chuckled a little at his remark. She left his table as fast as she arrived but for some reason this last interaction finally caused Robert to see things through a different lens. He admitted to his subconscious that he would have placed himself as the last contender for the best customer award before she spoke up. The thoughts of how things are perceived versus what they really were began to domino inside Robert. He began to tune the frequencies in his brain so that the undeniably "right" voice was the loudest.
Although he paid for the hotel room around the corner from the diner, he didn't sleep. He just starred at the stained popcorn ceiling and squinted his eyes until the beams of light made his sober hallucinations dance and morph into anything and everything imaginable. Tragically, the morning finally came and the fleeting epiphanies turned back into primal needs of food, shelter, and sex. This was the closest he would ever come to going back to his family.
Do you think you can do me a favor God, and wait a couple more months before you off another one of my friends? Or at least take them out with a more traditional method like a drug overdose or suicide -something that would give me a reason to get mad?
Finny put the pen down before he cursed himself any further. He got what he wanted, the false sense of power by writing a scathing letter to the big man upstairs. There was no need to continue, in fact he crumpled it up and thew it away immediately after writing it. By the tone of the note you would think that Fin had lost an abnormal amount of the ones close to him in a short amount of time. Although it was true by the standard of any life at all is surely invaluable, the number two hardly seems God cursing worthy to most people so he never showed it to anyone.
First it was Casey who had a heart condition. Everyone was well aware that Casey had been on borrowed time for years and that one day everyone close to him would all simultaneously remember that they intentionally forgot about that. Nonetheless the story played out exactly like everyone knew it would, and they all eventually went back to leading happy lives, or depressed ones, whichever they were previously inclined. Predictably, each one returned to "normal" in order of closeness to Casey, ending with his widowed wife and her young bastard son.
Eddie was different, his demise was also expected according to statistics but of course like all others in his statistic bracket, no one could have possibly prepared for the news. Late on a Friday night, a drunk driver swerved and hit his car in the worst way one could hit a car and crushed in the driver's seat from the door. "T-boned" they called it. The driver lived and of course that made Finny mad but it wasn't enough. He could only stay mad at someone he never met or even saw a picture of for so long. He wished he could pass off more of the confusion and pain he was feeling into anger but it wasn't happening. At least then he knew he'd be advancing quicker through the stages of grief so he could he happier sooner or would he? Maybe he's part of the latter category of perpetually depressed folks now, all because of his two deceased friends. This revelation made him mad which of course made him happy.
It was a full week before Thanks Giving and Lloyd was already dreading the arrival of Christmas. Long ago he decided that he liked his large fluffy white beard and that he wouldn't cut it off just to avoid all the Santa comparisons for one month a year. The mosaic liquid pattern on the large windshield in front of him increased in intensity as the rain began to fall a little harder for a moment. Nonetheless, the large city bus lumbered on into the night as he depressed the gas pedal.
"Look Mommy, Santa's driving the bus" came a young voice from a few seats behind him. Lloyd couldn't even tell if it was from a boy or a girl. Of course he didn't put very much effort into analyzing it in favor of shuddering at the first "Santa sighting" of the year.
"Can I ask Santa to bring back daddy this year?" asked the voice followed by a quick indiscernible reply. This time Lloyd was paying more attention and the voice was identifiable as a young boy. The instant growth of Lloyd's attention span was because his own father was not around when he was young. He thought briefly how amazing it is that with a whole lifetime behind him, he could still switch on and off his fatherless sympathies with one overheard sentence. He looked up into his rearview mirror to catch a glimpse of the people behind him but couldn't see anyone younger than middle aged.
"Are you Santa?" asked the child, startling Lloyd as he suddenly appeared right next to him on the hydraulic off ramp. Caught off guard, instinct took over and he snapped a sharp "No" right as the bus tumbled over a large pot hole, shaking the oversized vehicle with a thunderous crack and a flicker of the interior lights. The young boy expelled no effort to hide his disappointment in his face and began to turn back towards his seat.
"Not yet, not till Christmas. Not…not for another week, then I'm Santa." corrected Lloyd. The words felt like they were spoken through him from an other-worldly entity that temporarily took control of his brain. He was shocked at himself. Now what? whatever had just seized his tongue for a stuttering 12 words had left him to deal with the obvious followup questions about to come. Lloyd waited but nothing came, no further inquiries from the inquisitive child. Finally the boy broke the silence;
"Well I won't call you Santa till then if that's how you like it".
"Why thank you, yes, that is how I like it". Lloyd replied.
"What are you thankful for?" questioned the boy. The question once again caught Lloyd off guard and he didn't know what to say. Luckily, the child, wether aware of Lloyd's inability to talk or just restless, decided not to wait any longer to inform him about what he was thankful for.
"I'm thankful for my mommy and my friends at school and….and….and that Santa's driving the bus-oops! I mean…. I mean…."
"Lloyd. My name's Lloyd"
"Nice to meet you Lloyd" He politely said with an overly exaggerated wink.
"My name's Phineas Martin Garrison" he continued. Another pause in the conversation passed as the bus crossed the old Hawthorne bridge. The two observed the myriad of rain distorted lights across the river. The scenery seemed like it carried an extra weight of history tonight as Lloyd contemplated his past.
"So what are you thankful for" pressed the boy again. Lloyd was frustrated with himself that this simple question was so frustrating. Why couldn't he just give an answer? Anything will do. Just say something, he thought. For some reason he felt it extremely important to not lie to the child like he had when he shockingly admitted to being Santa just moments ago. He could sense the impatience growing within the boy so he decided to just start talking and whatever came to him first would hopefully semi-eloquently roll off his tongue.
"I'm thankful for, this conversation we're having right now. I was having a bad day until you started talking to me. Now I feel better." He told the truth and he did feel better. Phineas said nothing in response, instead he just moved closer to Lloyd and placed his small head on his shoulder. A burning yet pleasant feeling rushed from the point of contact on his upper arm to throughout his whole body for a moment as Lloyd remembered what it was like to be young and yearning for the important things in life.