He bought a bucket of chicken on the way home. At home, he got drunk and ate half the chicken. Went to bed. Slept until morning. Got up.
Went to work.
His ex-wife worked at the same facility. She was walking down the hall. Walking directly towards him.
-- How are you? She said.
-- Not so good, he said.
She stopped. -- What's the problem?
-- Last night I got drunk and ate half a bucket of chicken.
-- Then you brought it on yourself.
-- Have I denied that? he said.
She looked good. She was doing well. He could not tell if she had asked out of sympathy or malice. She was not, as he recalled, a particularly malicious person.
People changed. He knew that. He had changed. He did not know how.
It was not change he had brought on himself; perhaps it was change he'd brought about himself.
He felt furtive, tremulous, and to blame.
Had she intended him to feel this way?
He had felt furtive, tremulous and to blame before he had seen her.
He wished he had not seen her.
He wished he was not at work.
He wished he was in the woods. Hunting. Hunting with his surplus rifle, his surplus rifle tricked out with a cheap laser sight.
That was something he'd promised himself he would do.
His throat hurt.
He felt like the whiskey had borne a hole in his throat though he knew the whiskey had not borne a hole in his throat.
Hydration. A hydration issue.
Had he really nothing to do but imagine injury and disease?
As though he were planning his end. As if, because all his plans had always failed, his planned end might fail as well, and he might not end at all.
Any sane man would be dead by now. Someone said that. He said it himself, now.
Not that he meant anything by it.
The next time he saw her, he would ask her not to talk to him. It was too much. That's what he'd tell her. He'd say, now, this is really too much.
She might be relieved.
That was it. Put some order into things. Should have been done earlier. At the divorce or before and maybe if before, if there'd been some order then, there would not have been a divorce. Maybe.
He knew he was losing.
The winner-take-all society drove the absolutist values. All and more or all and none.
He always wanted what he had.
Same as everybody else.
She could not say she was any better.
Other day he'd been driving, not aimlessly, but not in a hurry. Took the streets and coasted past the cemetery of his childhood. The names on the big stones as the names from when the names of the dead mattered.
Couldn't have them now.
Couldn't afford them if they were allowed. And they were not. The mowers demanded flat stones the mowers could go over.
Order of utility even in death.
Even among the dead.
Cemetery like a park when he was little. Green with stones to run between and hide behind.
He had not asked for her help. He had never asked for her help. It occurred to him he could have asked her for her help.
He could have said, can you help me?
He could not imagine he would have said that.
The past with her -- some darkling dream of unhappy love.
The past like something past.
Like the days when things were made of wood and stone before glass and steel and long before sheetrock and moisture barrier.
He had not told her he had lived in the past, had grown up in a house with a jar of mismatched buttons, a drawer of saved plastic bread bags, a jar of grease on the stove, splinters of soap mashed into lumps.
Garbage was wrapped in newspaper and burned in the incinerator in the basement.
Burned in drums in the alley.
Burned like leaves in the Fall.
In the Fall, dressed deer hung from clothespoles in the yards. And images of the crucified Christ in the dining rooms and kitchens and bedrooms.
She and he had none of that.
He doubted she would believe such a life existed.
Then the industrial kitchens of the past were once to be the communal kitchens of the future, an essential element in the reorganization to come.
Not that he was for the collective.
Though he was not happy to be atomized.
He could not go out to the woods.
Still, a bucket of chicken?
They'd had a small -- almost decorative but working -- fireplace, he and his ex-wife.
Never burned a scrap of wood.
Had a few fires -- holidays -- but they always used the cardboard and wax logs from the gas station.
Easier. Burned cleaner. Polluted less.
Where was the argument with that?
He liked to watch them burning as though on what altar in what sacrifice.
She lived in the present.
Increasingly, in the future.
Now she met him with judgment and pity.
No doubt she had forgotten he had encouraged her to apply years ago.
He suspected she saw her future without him before he did.
Once she'd said she hoped it would have been different.
Chicken and whiskey.
She was the one who had told him to go to the woods.
Why, he'd said, what are the woods for?