My response to the Prompt Challenge over at Raising Hell. The Prompt was:
'Contentment is not the fulfilment of what you want, but the realization of how much you already have.'
Hope you guys enjoy!
As Normal As It Gets
The loud clanging metal hurt his ears. The noise greeted him every morning and it never failed to elicit the small groan and a twitch from the side of his cheek. Normal bent low and put two hands underneath the rusty metal grate, giving it a big push. The metal screeched upwards, and he gritted his teeth. You'd think after the many years he had spent there, it would all fade away.
Sometimes he wondered why he even bothered coming so early. The sun was barely up and most people were still in bed. Most people. Normal turned on the lights, silently reminding himself to turn them back off after the sun was bright enough. There was absolutely no need to incur anymore unnecessary costs. He cast a quick glance around, making sure nothing was amiss (you couldn't be too careful nowadays) before settling himself into his daily routine of cleaning up the place.
It was during this time that he allowed to his mind wander. As he grabbed the broom and started to sweep dust and grime off the floor, he thought of how it could have been turned out very differently. His many academic degrees had taken him years to complete. He wanted more, always more. Knowledge was better than gold. Knowledge lasted you a lifetime. And so he kept on, earning Masters and PhDs. Reagan Ronald didn't mind at all that he hardly had friends at the time. He was pretty content with his life, as long as he had his books, and his dear, dear Grace.
It was a wonder how after so many years her name could still evoke such strong emotions within him. The Pulse hit and had taken everything away. Grace. Even the horrors of being out of a job and his dwindling funds couldn't compare to the pain of realising his only love had left him. Her father's company had collapsed after the Pulse, he'd committed suicide and Grace had been obliged to take over. A working woman had no time for an unemployed man.
The Pulse had taken everything away. Bitterness and pain had seeped in by then. He had nothing to his name, and he was barely surviving in the poor economy. Reagan Ronald had been willing to accept any low level job offers that came his way, anything to keep his mind off his sad excuse for a life. His degrees, qualifications and references didn't matter anymore. As far as anyone was concerned, Reagan Ronald was another nobody trying to bluff his way through the system. All he had were his words. And words weren't enough. Damn the Pulse.
Normal glanced around, satisfied the area was clean enough and placed the broom back carefully in its designated corner. A quick glance at the clock told him every one of his workers was officially ten minutes late. Unofficially, they still had another forty minutes. Morons.
He moved on to the dispatch counter and started sifting through the packages that were supposed to be sent that day; first by importance and then by sector. He arranged them in neat piles by his side, much like the way he had arranged his books when he was younger.
If the Pulse hadn't hit, he would have been rich, or so he liked to think. He'd have his penthouse apartment, nine to five job, wife, kids. He imagined he would have been a great father. His kids, no, Reagan Ronald's kids would have had the greatest father in the world, and none of them would turn out to be anything like the slackers who worked for him. He narrowed his eyes at the thought. Some of the slackers who worked for him definitely needed a father figure in their lives.
Normal stopped sorting out the pile momentarily as he heard the first of his earlier workers guide their bikes through the front. Their laughter drowned out the small ionizer in the corner of the room for a moment and he shook his head. Normal couldn't ever live his life like that; blissfully ignorant of how little they had in life, how this was it for them. They didn't care, didn't worry about anything.
"Pay-day today, boss-man!" One of them yelled as they made their way past him to their lockers.
Except for that. They worried about their money.
Normal scowled and tossed a month old 'return to sender' package into the trash. More of them strolled in within the next few minutes, not at all worried about being nearly an hour and a half late (officially). His angry yells to make them move faster flowed off them like water on lily pads. Young fools. He walked up to them, shoved packages in front of them and watched helplessly as they slowly stored them in their bags still refusing to pick up the pace. They chatted easily among each other, painfully unaware that their boss was on the verge of firing them all.
"Home girl's gonna be a little late today."
Original Cindy's distinctive voice broke through his reverie like fire through ice. Normal resisted the urge ask her why, knowing she had probably prepared a list of valid reasons for him. He nodded stiffly and pointed at the clock behind her.
"Half an hour more and she's fired. You tell your 'home girl' that." He muttered before tossing a package towards her. Original Cindy flashed him a toothy smile and bounced off to the lockers. Nobody took him seriously anymore. Truth be told, Max was his best rider and he could not afford to fire her. Late or not, she managed to send off the most packages in a day. Unfortunately for Normal, though, Max knew this and took every single opportunity she had to exploit it. Normal sighed.
The messengers were slower than usual today. They dragged their feet, mishandled their bikes and dropped the packages. It was as if they knew what day it was and were hell bent on making it worse for him. No way. Inactivity made him uncomfortable. Normal picked a random messenger, yelled at him to hurry up and shoved him out the door. The other messengers seemed to get the message and started to move a little faster. There, nothing like a little assertiveness to show them who's boss. Normal smiled ruefully to himself.
"Sorry I'm late."
A voice said from behind him. Saccharin sweetness dripped from the words spoken by his all time favourite slacker. He turned around, and Max stood there, a wide smile on her face. Her curly hair was in a mess, proof that she had at least tried to hurry to work. Did she say sorry? Did he hear right? He never thought Max was capable of saying that word. Normal wasn't even sure if that word had existed in her vocabulary before this.
"Excuse me?" He said, scowling and making his irritation obvious. He noticed now that the rest of the messengers were crowding around the two of them now, probably expecting some sort of blow up from him. Sketchy was grinning foolishly from the corner. Hopeless fools.
"Had a package to pick up 'fore I came here." She drawled, running a hand through her hair trying to even out the tangles. She grinned at him, adjusted the shoulder strap on her back pack and then pointed to a big pink coloured box she had put down on the counter before she came to greet him.
"You understand that your time on the job only starts after I say so? That-" He pointed to the box. "-that package does not count." He snapped. Inactivity really made him uncomfortable. He waved his arms wildly at the rest of the messengers.
"Go, move, now! All of you! Or none of you are getting your checks. For the love of Mike, I am serious!" He growled, not at all comprehending how him being angry was in any way amusing to them. His messengers were stifling their laughter and averting their gazes from him. Sure, he realised they made fun of him on a regular basis, it was their only source of entertainment here. But usually the idea of not getting paid would sober them up.
"It's something for you." Max said pointedly, ignoring his words and nodding towards the box. Original Cindy backed away and took the box from the dispatch counter. She flashed them all a smile before flipping the top off. Normal eyed her wearily. With this lot of no use lame brained excuse for human beings, one cannot be too careful. Original Cindy approached him cautiously, balancing the box on both her palms.
As soon as she got close enough, Normal peered into the box.
"Happy Birthday, Normal!"
His bike messengers chorused and cheered around him, a few of them coming closer to see the cake. Normal blinked stupidly. The red letterings on the cake were messy, but it was obvious somebody had tried hard to make it legible. Happy Birthday Normal. The letterings contrasted sharply with the white icing, a little smudged at the corners of the cake. He looked up to them and took in their eager, smiling faces. Original Cindy smirked at him, tilting the cake towards the others, allowing them to get a better look. Normal swallowed hard. What was he supposed to say to them? He cleared his throat and took the box from Original Cindy. Standing awkwardly with the box in his hands, he nodded to them.
"Well." Swallow, deep breath. "Thank you."
He saw Max's face break into a full blown smile before she turned away to go to her locker. The crowd began to disperse, grabbing their bags and bicycles and started to move out. Someone called out to him asking him to save some of the cake for them. Probably that fool, Sketchy.
It hit him then, as he closed the box and carefully placed it on the counter, that maybe his life wasn't so bad after all. Sure, if the Pulse hadn't hit, he could have had all the money he wanted in the world, his perfect wife, kids. But the Pulse did happen, and it was no use thinking of 'what ifs'. He threw a package at Max who was leaning casually against her locker, secretly admiring her ability to grab it out of mid air with such ease. She flashed him a look of annoyance before she stuffed the package into her bag and pushed her bike out.
This was his life now. He was married to Jam Pony and his bike messengers were his kids. Slackers as they were, they were still his people. People who looked to him for their source of income, and, he admitted grudgingly, their source of cheap entertainment. He felt his face muscles relax, was that a smile forming? He gritted his teeth. It was no good to show them he was so easily affected by their sweet gesture today, nice as it was. He swept his gaze across the room and a few lingering messengers hastily made their way out as they noticed him watching them.
Happy birthday. Was he happy? Normal gazed wearily at the heavily graphitized walls, and then shifted his focus onto the mess his messengers had created not even an hour into their arrival. Gum wrappers, together with scrunched up bits of paper littered the floor, causing him to take out the broom again and stare resignedly at the nearly overflowing waste paper basket. Happy was a strong word. Content was more like it. Normal was content. He knew it could get better, it should get better. But at least he knew it couldn't get much worse than this.
Normal looked back at the box, nestled between packages heading towards Sector 5 and 8. He reached for it, flipped open the top of the box and lifted the cake from it. A plastic knife lay beneath it and Normal used it to cut himself a slice. He smiled (first ensuring no one else was near enough to see him) and took a bite. The corners of his mouth twitched, unused to the sudden activity as his smile grew wider; savouring the sweet taste he'd forgotten he knew. Yes, this might not be what Reagan Ronald had expected when he enrolled into Harvard all those years ago, but he definitely wasn't going to start complaining.
Was it too sappy? Mushy:P Normal, Normal...
Special thanks to Mari83 and her wonderful fic-rambling. :D Thank you!
Hope you guys enjoyed it! Read and review!