This story was written for the March 2016 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month!
“I knew I had to find it before,” Jimmie Myrick said.
“And so did that make it easier to find it this time?” Dr. Jasmine asked.
“No,” he replied. “In fact, I haven’t found it. It’s shifted. Before, I found it for Claire and the boys. But now they’re grown, and Claire is busy with her new career.”
“Not to mention her new husband.”
“Exactly. So, if I can’t find it for them…” His voice trailed off.
Dr. Jasmine handed him a card. On one side, she’d scribbled her phone number. On the other, was the number of a crisis hotline.
“Just in case it gets really bad,” she said. “Enter both those numbers in your phone. Just to be ready. Help is a call away.”
“I’m not at that point yet,” he said, and Dr. Jasmine nodded.
“I know,” she replied. “This is for preventive purposes only, just to be sure. To help keep you from ever reaching that point.”
She walked him to the door.
“There’s this saying that one of my friends who’s in AA shared with me,” she told him. “Fake it until you make it.”
Jimmie thought about that. “It doesn’t sound very real.”
“No,” said Dr. Jasmine. “It’s not. But it is something. The point is to put something in place until you find it.”
He tried it for a week, every day.
Once, doing the dishes, he caught himself smiling. It wasn’t fake, but the moment he felt it, the smile disappeared. So the next smile he faked. He hummed a little tune to wash dishes by, not a real tune, but enough of a semblance of one for an actor in a dishwashing detergent ad.
He made coffee each day, a whole pot, though he was the only one there to drink it.
He pretended to enjoy the ritual, the sound of the ground beans sifting into the filter, the aroma, the steam from the brewing pot.
Every morning, he pretended to savor the bitter brew. Fake it. At least it kept him from crawling back into bed and sleeping the morning away.
He wondered if it would make a difference.
He tried not to wonder if it would make a difference.
The next day, he wondered again: would it make a difference?
He hadn’t needed a reason when he was a boy. Every morning had broken with hope, and he’d jumped out of bed and hopped on his bike to do a million things before school.
That hadn’t been him, had it? That was another person whose memories happened to be implanted in him.
He was an old man who stood on the landing and tried to find a reason not to crawl back into bed.
He’d lost it for a while when the boys were nearly teens. Life had become futile. His career had stalled, and it seemed he’d never make tenure. That was when he first started losing Claire.
“Why aren’t I enough?” she asked him.
He couldn’t answer. “It’s different for a man,” he said, but he couldn’t bring himself to say that love wasn’t enough, that he needed something more.
He supposed he had faked it back then, pretending to be happy for Claire, for the boys. Maybe he hadn’t found it. Maybe all those years, he had faked it, even then. Maybe that’s why Claire left once the boys were grown. Maybe faking it wasn’t enough.
The house was so empty.
It wasn’t so empty when you stayed in your room, in your pajamas. When you ate breakfast in bed and let the dirty dishes pile up on the night stand, the rest of the house floated away. How could it be empty if it wasn’t there? When you curled up in bed and closed your eyes, it was better: everything disappeared then–maybe even you, if you kept your eyes closed long enough.
It didn’t matter, did it, if he stayed in his pajamas all day?
What was the reason to get up? No one noticed.
He liked the taste of coffee.
He had something to do.
Nothing mattered anyway.
He faked his way into his art studio one morning. He pretended not to notice the dust on the easel.
The oils were dry. The acrylics had hardened. But he found some caseins that were fresh enough.
He had forgotten their scent. He liked it: the sharp bitter of the cadmium; the creaminess of permasol blue; the sweetness of raw umber.
He didn’t like the painting he created, but he pretended to.
He returned to the studio the next morning. He forgot to fake it and found himself engrossed in the sensations of applying paint to the canvas. Yellow ochre spread so smoothly. He smiled a real smile: it didn’t extend far, but it curled his lips.
He felt something inside–not for long, but for a moment. It felt real.
It was gone the next morning, but the next day, the week was up, and he dropped by Dr. Jasmine’s in the evening again.
“So,” Dr. Jasmine asked, “did you find it?”
“Does it matter?” Jimmie answered. “Does it even exist? Maybe there is no reason to be happy. Maybe there’s no reason to get out of bed each morning. Maybe the reason isn’t the thing. Maybe it doesn’t matter if you feel like it or not. Maybe you just do it because it’s the morning, and that’s what you do in the morning, you get out of bed. And then you make coffee. Do the dishes. Force yourself to hum a song. And then, at ten o’clock in the morning, you wander into the art studio and paint. You fake it. And before you know it, you’ve got a painting on the canvas, and maybe you’ve got a smile on your face, and maybe not. But at the very least, you made it out of bed. You did something. The day wasn’t wasted. String together enough days like that, and maybe a reason to be happy doesn’t matter any more because maybe you wake up one morning and you discover that you simply are happy.”
“So,” said Dr. Jasmine, “are you saying the question isn’t the thing?”
“Not exactly,” said Jimmie. “I’m saying the search is not the thing.”