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SERIAL FICTION: What It Means to Hurt (Chapter 1)

Depressed and uncertain, Zachary Thomas wandered the city streets with no destination or purpose. He found himself outside Johnny Brenda’s at the intersection of Frankford and Girard after about five miles of walking. He had never been inside before, though he often drove past it on his way to work. Feeling no longer to be in possession of his faculties, Zachary yielded to the force pulling him into the bar.


He sat down at the bar and ordered a beer. Everything smelled of reality. The dim lighting made him feel better and worse at the same time. A low murmur travelled through the bar, punctuated intermittently by an enthusiastic exclamation or an obnoxious guffaw. Zachary turned around on his stool and looked at the people sitting at the tables on the other side of the room. They all looked to be about his age, so happy, so glad to be out and about in the presence of one another. Zachary wanted them to leave. He turned back around on his stool and faced the bartender and the wall of alcohol behind her.

Several hours passed, people came and went, and Zachary Thomas continued to drink. He didn’t speak to anyone except the bartender, though their conversations consisted of little more than his affirmative responses to her asking him if he wanted another beer.

A middle-aged man at the other end of the bar took notice of Zachary. He walked over to Zachary and sat down on the stool immediately to his right.

“Looks like something’s on your mind,” the middle-aged man said. “Everything okay?”

“Actually, no,” Zachary said, absentmindedly tapping his fingers against his glass of beer. “I just got divorced. We signed the papers today. It’s over.” Saying it aloud for the first time provided him no relief, but he appreciated the man’s concern. “Thank you for asking,” he added.

“Of course,” he said. “I really am sorry to hear that, though. It stings, doesn’t it? I’ve been there myself. Three times, as a matter of fact. Just keep your head up and fight through it.”

Zachary raised his glass of beer to the man and slightly bowed his head. “You’re a good guy,” he said. He took a sip of his beer.  

“Oh, sorry, I’m Rick, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you, Rick. I’m Zachary.”

A silence fell over the two men. Rick turned on his stool to watch the baseball game on the TV at the far end of the room. Meanwhile, Zachary thought about Jane and her long brown hair and her perfect teeth and her dimples and her coin collection and her penchant for yogurt and all the other things that made her who she was. Jane was no longer his.

“This has not been a pleasant life,” Zachary said.

Unsure whether or not it was he Zachary was speaking to, Rick turned back around on his stool and looked at the young man. “Are you talking to me?” he asked.

“I guess I am,” Zachary slurred. “I don’t know. Maybe. I’m sorry, man. I’m just depressed as hell. I feel like the Fates are conspiring against me, you know? They just want me to be miserable all the time, because that’s what I always am: miserable. You have no idea. Nobody does.”

“How old are you?”

“I’m twenty-three, why?”

Rick chuckled, clapping his companion on the shoulder. “Zachary, you’re barely out of the womb. I know you think what you’re going through now is worse than anything that’s ever happened to anyone ever in the course of human history, but it isn’t. It’s just not. You’ve been pricked, that’s all. Just a little jab. Let’s get together again in thirty, thirty-five years, and then you and I can have a real conversation about what it means to hurt.”

 Stay tuned for the next part of “What It Means to Hurt” in next week’s issue of the Spirit.

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