Existential Terror and Breakfast: 15

Epiphanies taste better with toast.

Malcolm Steadman will dial the suicide hotline in 27 days.

His knuckles white, and his sweat cold, Malcolm Steadman gripped the chocolate toaster strudel in front of him as if it were a neck he was trying to strangle. He watched, almost paralyzed as it crumbled into pieces and fell to his kitchen floor like grains of sand in an hour-glass. It was done. All of those poor giraffes, he thought helplessly, gone, forever.

His mental crisis was over, and though his breakfast was sacrificed in the process, he was relieved that he was done with it. He could go about the rest of his day knowing that he would not be assaulted by another epiphany. Relieved, but saddened. He could never eat chocolate again. All of those poor giraffes, he thought again. At least the worse part of his day was over. Malcolm Steadman looked down at his smart phone to check the time. It was seven ‘o clock. His attacks were getting longer, and though this last one had gone on for twenty minutes, he still had time to get to work. He ignored the red numbered notification at the corner of his texting app and put away his phone.

Maggie.

The notification had been there for a week, the text had been left unopened. He did not dare to read it, he was still far too afraid of its consequences.

Convinced that he could go about the rest of his day without the threat of his existential terror gripping him, Malcolm walked to the bus station, and he went to work. He did not feel invincible, but he did feel safe.

No amount of feeling safe can help you when you are your own worse enemy.

 

 

As far as his coworkers knew, Malcolm was an ordinary, well put together every-man. To his coworkers, Malcolm was as normal as one could possibly be, and Malcolm aimed to keep it that way. When asked how his mornings went, Malcolm lied. He could never tell them that he had just spent his morning physically stricken with horror thinking about the obvious correlation between the darkness of chocolate and the mortality rate of giraffes. No, even if that were explained from the beginning, it would sound too absurd. Too abnormal. Instead he would just say that he read the news off of his phone. The epiphany he had about oil after buying a toy dinosaur? No one would understand. No, he went jogging, he would say. Had he been fretting about the impossibility of being touched on a particle level? Of course not, he was on his social media page that whole morning looking at pictures of puppies.

Malcolm. Was. Normal. There was nothing to see here. The only people who knew differently were strangers working for his internet provider…

Until today.

Today, he felt safe from his existential terror, believing that if he had one in a day that he would not have to deal with another. This notion was the cornerstone to his earlier plotting when he tried to schedule time in for a panic attack. These terrible epiphanies, weren’t they just like going to the dentist? A lot of pain at first, but it was one and done, right?

No.

Malcolm chatted with a coworker, and instead of telling them that he had once had a philosophical crisis because he forgot to plug his toaster in, lied about being a part of an online fantasy sports league. Instead of admitting that the lifespan of carbon made him anxious and that he couldn’t eat toast without thinking about the whole of creation and its potential energy being wasted on reality television, he lied about all of the golf that he didn’t play. Malcolm’s coworker laughed politely at all of Malcolm’s cheesy jokes and regarded Malcolm as a normal guy. Malcolm’s Coworker had no idea that the days Malcolm came in sweaty were due to him constantly reassessing reality. He just thought Malcolm liked to jog.

It was time to clock in, to get to work, and both men wrapped up their conversation, and ended their simple pleasantries. “Gotta get to the ‘ol grinder” his coworker said in jest, “time is money”.

Time is money. Time IS money. Malcolm contemplated it. He had heard the saying dozens, if not hundreds of times, and though he knew its correlation, did he fully understand its meaning? Time. Is. Money. The phrase kept repeating itself like a mad mantra. His money, was his time.

Each hour that Malcolm worked, each minute that he spent doing his job, was traded for in dollars and cents. Money was not just a necessity to buy the food and shelter that he needed, it was an actual measurement of his time. When Malcolm handed over a five dollar bill for his coffee in the morning, that bill represented him being here at work. When Malcolm Steadman bought the plastic dinosaur, that was him trading in an hour of his mortal life. An hour that he would never, EVER get back.

Malcolm was trading in a finite amount of time to be spent here, doing something he did not like and felt was unfulfilling, for a number. Just a number. He could not trade in his time forever, someday Malcom Steadman was going to die, and when he did, what would he have spent his time on? Suddenly his money seemed all the more precious to him, suddenly he felt the gravity of spending it on trivial things. Malcolm had spent a portion of his finite life on a toy dinosaur because it made him nostalgic for his childhood, a toy that, at the end of the day had made him miserable and that was useless. What hour was that? He wondered. Which specific moment had he given away for that failed escapade? Did it matter? He suddenly saw himself aging before him, every dollar representing a wrinkle on his face, every swipe of his debit card a grey hair.

The problem wasn’t simply that Malcolm was earning his money doing something he hated. Hell, the problem wasn’t even that someone else’s mortality was arbitrarily worth more than his own if he considered that others got paid more. The problem was what he chose to trade in his mortality for, the things that he bought. Was the fast-food breakfast really worth whatever moment he had to spend at his job? Was that beer he bought the other night a fair trade for something as valuable, and scarce, as his mortality? Malcolm knew, not suspected, but knew that most of the things he owned were either consumable, or petty in nature. Malcolm was bad with money, and therefore bad with time. When he died, he would leave behind him monuments to his time, each belonging representing him doing something he didn’t want to do. Malcolm’s whole life could be represented by his cheesy, tacky possessions.

His sofa? That represented three weeks of his life. His Tupperware? An hour that he could have spent painting. Every single beer that he bought, consumed, and abused to waste even more time? Months scattered across his life that he could have used learning a new language. All of these things, they would be the real testament to Malcolm’s life. No matter how shiny his epitaph, no matter how well written his obituary, the real representation of how Malcolm spent his time were inanimate things that he bought mostly on impulse, and didn’t understand why he wanted them after he had them.

Something was wrong. A wall of concerned faces were staring at him. Malcolm had not moved for ten whole minutes, and his coworkers had noticed.

“Are you okay?” one of his coworkers had asked “what’s wrong?”

“Is he having a seizure? You know they don’t always shake like they do in the movies?” another offered.

“Malcolm, Malcolm can you hear me what’s wrong? Why are you staring into space like that?” a Coworker asked looking grim. The same coworker that uttered “time is money”. Malcolm, still in a state of shock, and existential hysteria, told him the truth for the first time since he had met him.

“I can’t be here!” Malcolm screamed. “Time is money! Time is money don’t you see?” Malcolm pointed angrily at the clock. “No one should be here! We are all going to die, and our sofas are going to make us look stupid. ALL OF OUR SOFAS WILL MAKE US LOOK STUPID IN THE END! DON’T YOU SEE?!”

Malcolm’s coworker backed away from him slowly, cautiously. Each step was soft so as not to agitate him. Malcolm watched in horror as his coworker did this, realizing now that his coworker thought Malcolm was a threat. He watched as the concerned faces switched from that of empathy, to that of fear. He noticed now, for the first time, that he had been holding a pen tightly, as if it were a knife. “Our, our sofas…they are gonna… don’t look at me like that I didn’t… they, the sofas…” Malcolm muttered while hot tears streaked down his helpless face. His hand went limp, and let the pen fall impotently to the floor. “…our sofas…”

Malcolm knew that he was in the wrong, that he was the villain here, but he also knew that now that the facade was broken, now that they all knew that he was mad as a hatter, that there was no going back. There was no way that he wasn’t going to be fired now.

“I’ll ah, I’ll just go now, I’m sorry. I’ve ah, I do this a lot don’t worry” he sputtered in admittance. “I’ve never jogged a day in my life, I am not a part of some stupid fantasy league, and most everything I say about myself is a lie” Malcolm continued. There was nothing but silence in return. Malcolm’s hands were shaking.

“I fucking hate jogging” Malcolm offered to the silence.

 

 

Malcolm Steadman left his former workplace as astonished and fearful as he left his former coworkers. He was filled with instant regret. Malcolm trekked home in silence stunned at what had just happened. He would not regain his faculties for some time, and the horror at what he had just done would not hit him for some hours.

When Malcolm got home, he saw the pile of toaster strudel that he had strangled to dust earlier that morning. There on his floor was a physical reminder that everything was NOT okay. He swept it up, and now that he was back where he had started his day, decided to finally read Maggie’s text. It was lengthy, but the final sentence in it read:

“I think you should see someone. You need someone to talk to about this.”

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Rev. Fitz
Michael Fitzgerald (Rev. Fitz) is a writer, illustrator, and amateur Electrical Engineer who lives in Seattle.

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