P.T. Stone (@ptstoneofficial) is a senior English major at Clemson University. His work has appeared in The Moth, The Chronicle, and Poetry Quarterly. He runs two blogs, The Near and Far (thenearandfar.wordpress.com) and A Book of One's Own (bookofonesown.wordpress.com). He is also a blogger and reader for Spry Literary Magazine.
Jeremy got in his car to drive home after his midnight-to-six-a.m. shift at the on-campus dormitory, the summer job he had all but stumbled into because of his friend’s job as a resident assistant for the university and his accidental affinity for staying in the quiet college town during the summer months. After a bit, he came to a stop at a yellow light and he might have taken the turn anyway if it hadn’t been for the campus police car opposite him at the light in the left turning lane, turning onto the street on which he would be turning.
Given his recent time in jail because of the tardiness on paying a speeding ticket and its resulting suspension of his license and the subsequent driving while under suspension charge that manifested, Jeremy had formed an even more irrational fear and even stronger disgust for the police—because, of course, he still maintained that the slight oversight of not paying a speeding ticket was all-too-little to warrant a punishment of even a single night in jail, which he had spent sleeping after first attempting to reconcile his relationship with Jesus Christ by reading the provided Bible in his cell, but he couldn’t get past the list of different translations before calling it quits on renewing that broken relationship—broken simultaneously by the onslaught of collegial knowledge maintained by his philosophy minor, which he had completed early in his junior year, and the mere thought of his ex-girlfriend, who by this point had gladly moved on and found a new boy to torture (“pray with”) about her problems in the campus ministry which she now headed, likely given her because of her senior status at the university and the tenure she had put in since their very first semester with the ministry.
On the radio was the soft but ardent lilts of cello music, a Bach piece he remembered from its announcement, echoing from the instrument played by a professor with three degrees in music and a teaching position at a small mountain college in Appalachia, all of which somehow had good music programs and Jeremy wondered if that was somehow related to the idea that mountain ranges in the classical poetic sense encouraged beautiful reverberation or echo for the audio art or because given the mountains’ majesty and nearly mystical presence, those who attend these universities or desire to attend them fall into the trap of inspiration that renders them both capable and insistent on creating critically good music.
The cop car’s red break lights reflected and seemed to even dance on the glass of the abandoned sub sandwich shop that Jeremy had not visited since his sophomore year, the same year it closed and was abandoned after the owner had failed to pay rent and was subsequently evicted, though Jeremy had stopped going to the sub sandwich shop a few months before that had even happened because his ex had gotten a job there and despite the sub sandwiches being slightly above average and priced slightly lower than average, something for which any college student would be thankful, Jeremy had opted to never go into the place again so as to avoid her and he only ever peered inside to see if she were working the counter on days when he walked past the shop to the small pizza joint beyond it.
Jeremy’s hands were rough and would likely make a sound when he rubbed his fingers against each other as if he were sprinkling salt or some other spice, a nervous tick he had inherited from his father, but the Bach cello piece on the radio was too loud and the windows were halfway down in the car, which made the air flickering in and out of the car shatter and cackle as he drove down the uneven road, still behind the cop car but maintaining enough distance so as not to alert the badged driver that his rearview-mirror road companion might be breaking any laws behind him.
Jeremy’s fingers looked lanky up against the black steering wheel (at ten-and-two) but they were not very long and he often felt like his thumbs were too fat in comparison to the rest of his fingers and that his index fingers had oddly shaped fingernails—too thin in comparison to the others, especially given their close proximity to the fatter thumb, which as too plump thus also had too wide fingernails. His fingernails were in need of a trim, though recently Jeremy had forgotten to maintain their short length like he did during the school year. He often felt self-conscious about the length of his fingernails because his mother had once told him women didn’t like men with long fingernails because it resembled something trashy or slightly effeminate about them and though Jeremy was very much not trashy and very much ‘in touch with his feminine side’ as the saying went, having been raised chiefly by the women in his family and having a slightly above average ability to both talk at length about the way he felt and cry if need be to reconcile the distress that putting all one’s feelings out there for the world to know causes for a man raised in the part of the south he was, where the only thing just as emasculating as getting one’s prostate checked was crying about one’s feelings, he still somehow let that memory of his mother talking about his long nails cause the anxiety that self-consciousness creates whenever he thought his nails had reached a length that were indeed “too long.” He also, though he hoped this were less the reason than the self-consciousness, kept his nails at a reputable length in hopes that one day he would again have a woman share his double bed and perhaps that woman might want him to use his fingers, nails at a short enough length as not to cause her discomfort (or worse, and more much embarrassing, harm), to please here while they kissed so that she might also get aroused enough to ask him if he had protection, which he always had of course kept in his bedside table drawer. However, this had not happened in many months and certainly not at all during the summer and instead of getting accustomed to meeting and having women over to his apartment and in his double bed with the prepared box of condoms in the bedside table drawer, he had become much more accustomed (to the point of nearly loathing) to masturbating daily and, less frequently, changing out those boxes of condoms for new ones for fear of their expiration prior to their prescribed expiration date and his subsequent use of one of those hypothetically faulty condoms and impregnation of his hopefully beautiful bedfellow by his apparently potent sperm, for another self-consciousness-ridden tidbit that his mother had shared with Jeremy was that his father was a very potent man and that both he and his younger brother were accidental pregnancies—of course not in the sense that they were unwanted, she had assured him, just in the sense that she had not before the nights of conception planned to become pregnant but did in fact become pregnant not once but twice, she had said with emphasis, and that it was the fault of Jeremy’s father’s “potency,” the specific word she had chosen and which had always stuck to that memory like the very subject of the potency itself, his father’s ejaculate, because for the layman the word potent itself was much more akin to poison in relational terms and now the negative connotation of both poison and potent had stuck itself to the very idea of ejaculate, which Jeremy had of course formed an aversion to after that and every conversation his mother had with him about reproduction and the intimate acts that made it happen.
The cop car in front of Jeremy finally turned left off the road they were sharing at a normally busy intersection, which was not busy partly because of the early time but also because most of the residents of the small college town were gone for the summer months and because it was July fifth and the patriotic parties the night before rendered those who were still in the small college town comatose at a time before the sun had even risen very much. Jeremy drove forward at the intersection where the cop car turned left in front of him and at the next intersection took a left, arriving in the apartment complex he now called home on his taxes and to his family when he visited them, something to which his mother would take offense whenever she heard him say because, as she said with a wet kiss of lipstick that she tried to wipe off with her licked thumb that only smudged it and enflamed his skin to the point where the spot appeared only to be a blemish rather than the stain she created, “Your HomeTM will always be Here®, son.”
The speed bumps in the apartment complex parking lot were a darker black asphalt than the rest of the road and they didn’t glimmer like the granite pieces in the other either, but the yellow diagonal lines that went across them coupled with the contrast created by their darker shade made up for it, rendering them impossible to miss. Though, becoming accustomed to slowing down at a fixed interval (given the speed bumps’ equidistance from one another) did make them seemingly blended into the wider landscape that Jeremy called home, being both connected to the aura of the space itself and the way in which he inhabited and traveled in that space. There were usually cars parked along the side of the road opposite the apartment buildings but weren’t on July fifth most likely also due to the holiday weekend.
A car passed by Jeremy as he opened his car door to step out of the small white Honda Civic and with it blew a gust of wet air that kissed at Jeremy’s face as he stood up, moist with the humidity of the morning dew and the sticky summer weather, which was as essentially southern as the accent and numbing religiosity of the locals. At the concrete stairs that led down to Jeremy’s apartment door, a spider web formed a miniature glistening trapeze wire across the rail so he went walked down the grassy hill with patches of orange clay peaking out in stark splotches like rosacea on the face of the verdant landscape. The key to unlock Jeremy’s apartment’s door was a copper color and had an engraved F for front door, an addition to the key he had requested before moving into the apartment so that he could tell the difference between the front door key and the key to his bedroom in the apartment. He wrestled with the jingling wad in his hands until he found the engraved key and unlocked the door.
The apartment smelled like soured flowers and he knew upon smelling it that this was because instead of taking out the putrid bag of trash in the kitchen, his roommate had thought spraying air freshener would disguise the smell enough. Though this lazy oversight by his roommate did slightly annoy Jeremy, it didn’t infuriate him, for the apartment often smelled much worse—like gamey deer meat that his roommate had hunted and stored in the freezer in plastic bags but which stained not only the plastic countertops and the inside of the freezer, in which he would never again store his own ice-cream after the last time had rendered his pint inedible because of its tainted metallic flavor, but which had also somehow soaked into the carpet and furniture in the apartment so that with every step and sit in the apartment, a poof of meat air was wafted into one’s nostrils. Jeremy tied up the bag of foul smelling trash and carried it out the door and to the large green trash bin that had been rolled to the back of the apartment building after his upstairs neighbors had complained that the sight of it at the bottom of the stairwell leading up to their apartment prompted smelling it and that just wouldn’t do.
Jeremy reentered the apartment and saw that the bad of trash had also apparently had a leak and had left a trail of spots along the carpet from the kitchen to the door. He ignored them and avoided stepping on them so as not to even taint the bottom of his shoes. He re-bagged the trash bin and cleaned up the tiny puddles that speckled the kitchen floor with a paper towel and threw it away. Jeremy walked into his bedroom for the first time in almost seven hours and without brushing his teeth or removing his uniform, took off his shoes and got into bed, thinking how aptly named the comforter was and he slept.