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Moving Forward by David August


A resentful man starts experiencing blackouts during which a mysterious interloper keeps trying to be nice to him.

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Coming home from work, I’m about to open the door to my apartment building, I look sideways, and whom do I see rushing in to meet me? Mrs. Brown from the third floor, that old bat, always gossiping about everyone and always with that phony beatific smile on her face. I can only imagine what she says about me behind my back.

Before she can catch up with me, I hurry and manage to open and close the front door and, thank God, the elevator is on the ground floor. It will take her a few seconds to find her keys and reopen the door, so now all I have to do is climb up before she gets here and… And then I blink. I must have blinked, because for a split second I can see nothing. But now I’m holding the elevator door open while Mrs. Brown gets on. Wait, what just happened?

She seems almost as surprised as I am, and thanks me for my courtesy. I release the door and push the button for my floor repeatedly, not even looking at her. Needless to say, she can’t take the hint, and now I have to listen to her all the way to the third floor while she goes on and on about some niece of hers.

And does she get off when we reach her floor? No, of course not, she holds the door so the elevator can’t go up, and she keeps talking for at least five minutes. When I can’t stand it anymore, I slam the door shut; I must have almost pinched her fingers. As the elevator rises, I can still hear her downstairs saying, “Thank you again, and goodbye.” I ask myself, what the hell was I thinking? I get to my apartment, turn on the stereo as loud as I can, and finally start to unwind from this fucked up day.

Nothing new happens for a week, but now I’m watching one of my favorite reality shows, with the contestants about to go for each other’s throats, when suddenly there’s something else on the screen. Some nonsense about art, a documentary for crying out loud, and boring as hell. The remote is right here in my hand. Didn’t I leave it by the TV? Weird, but whatever, I switch back to the right channel.

The days go by. I enter the building where I work and the security guard, a woman who always gives me a mean look, actually smiles and wishes me a good day. Well, that’s a first. I’m so surprised that I wish her a good day too, even though I don’t think she deserves it. Then one of my colleagues, a slacker who can’t do anything right, does the same. This time I’m prepared and just stare at him. He nods his head and says, “Man, I can never tell with you.” What does the idiot mean? I avoid him for the rest of the day.

The blackouts become more frequent, and each time it’s like I’m blinking too long. I’m standing in line at the grocery store, I look at my cart, and there’s stuff there I didn’t pick. There’s kale, chicken breasts and, what the devil, tofu? Also, my beef jerky and my burgers are gone. Someone is obviously trying to pull a fast one on me. I glare at the woman behind me until she looks away, but she doesn’t seem suspicious, so it must have been someone else. Naturally, I leave the stinking tofu and take my hamburgers back, but I lose my place in line. I just wish I could get my hands on the guy who did this.

I finally go to a doctor, he orders a bunch of tests and in the end can’t find anything wrong with me. Typical. Then I catch myself leaving the apartment like I’m going to the gym, wearing shorts and running shoes that I don’t remember buying. I get all worried again and consult another doctor. This second one can’t figure out what these blackouts are either and suggests I see a psychiatrist. The nerve of him to imply that I’m crazy or something. But I go to the shrink anyway, thinking I’ll just hear what she has to say, and she prescribes some medication. I take the pills for a week and now I can’t find them anywhere in the apartment. They’re just gone, and I’m embarrassed to ask for another prescription and say I lost the first batch.

There’s someone else in the apartment, I just know it. Every day I find that the furniture has been moved and I have to put it back in its proper place. I mean, I like the sofa right where it is, in the middle of the room, so I can see the TV better. And just today I found a painting on the wall in front of the bed. More rubbish, some kind of abstract art or whatever it is. I’ve had enough of this shit. I’m going to hide a spy camera in the living room and leave it on for a whole day. I want to find out once and for all who is behind this and I swear I will make them pay.

I’ve seen the footage from the camera and it shows, uh, well, it shows me moving the furniture around. Nobody else comes in all day. It’s just me dragging the sofa and the table around while I seem to be talking to myself. Or maybe I’m singing, I can’t tell. The rest of the time it shows me reading a lot, like over an hour. But I don’t remember any of it. So it couldn’t be me, right? It’s just not possible. I just have to figure out what’s going on, I have to think.

He has done it again. Yes, he, that’s what I call him now, the creep who is trying to hijack my body and my life. He deleted all my social media accounts, and I do mean every one of them. And when I manage to reactivate them and try to rejoin the conversation, people start calling me names and accusing me of being a “bleeding heart liberal” for comments I’ve never made. I am now officially shunned by all of my groups. But two can play that game. As soon as I found out he had a subscription to a literary magazine in my name, I canceled it.

I wake up this morning and find a woman sleeping next to me. I’ve never seen her before in my life, so I know it’s another one of his stunts. I jump out of bed and must have woken her up with the noise I made, because she opens her eyes, stretches out her arms and says good morning. All I can think of is that now he’s bringing strangers into my apartment. I get so mad at him that I start yelling at the woman, demanding that she leave. She looks hurt, like this is all my fault, gets dressed and storms off, but not before hurling a truckload of curses at me. Only after she is gone do I realize that she was actually kind of cute and that I probably should have talked her into sex before sending her packing.

My boss calls me into her office to tell me I’m being promoted. She also says she doesn’t want to hear any more stories about me leaving the company. I wasn’t even aware that she knew my name. I’m so stunned I don’t know how to react, but now I find myself with even more responsibilities and only a meager raise as compensation. I’m sure he, the other one, is behind it all, he never stops torturing me.

I find a diary hidden in the back of a drawer. It’s written in my own handwriting, but those are not my words, so it must be his. He says he’s worried that he keeps getting these blackouts, and that sometimes he’s mean to people without ever remembering acting that way. I can only marvel at the man’s gall. He’s describing what he does to me, not the other way around. But I know what he’s doing, he’s just trying to mess with my head. I write in capital letters in the journal, “Get out of my life, you creep!” The next day he writes under my line, “I don’t remember writing the above words, I need to see a psychologist ASAP.” Yeah, right. As if I would allow myself to go to a quack again.

I thought of the perfect way to get back at him. Since he’s such a ladies’ man, I go to a bar at night and look for the most unattractive woman there. It doesn’t take long to find the perfect candidate, the nerdy type. I make a move on her, and now I have to pretend that I really care about her life and stuff. I endure it all, as excruciating as it is, but in my mind I’m laughing, imagining the look on his face when he finds this girl in his bed. That will teach him. But for now, I’m the perfect gentleman, because I don’t want to scare her off. So at the end of the night we just exchange phone numbers and I invite her to dinner later that week. We go to a restaurant and eventually I manage to get her home. The trap is set for him to fall into.

I can’t believe this woman is still here. Yes, the chubby, nerdy girl I picked up just to spite him. She hangs around the apartment all the time now. Her toothbrush is in the bathroom next to mine, and she has a nightgown in my closet. I mean, dammit, there’s even some lingerie hanging in the shower. What in the world is he thinking?

She’s there again when I wake up this morning, so I decide to put a stop to it and kick her out for good. But I learned my lesson from before, and even if I’m not attracted to her at all, a freebie is a freebie. So I wake her up with a kiss and the next thing you know we’re having sex. And it was, uh, oh, okay, it wasn’t that bad. She’s making us breakfast now. I figure I’ll wait for her to finish because, well, you know, I can always kick her out another day.

The blackouts are getting worse, and now they last days instead of hours. Liquor doesn’t help, pills don’t help, and he, the other guy, tosses them in the garbage anyway, so there’s never any in the house. Also, I have this ring on the fourth finger of my left hand and I don’t know how it got there. I throw it away and it comes back, I don’t know if it’s a new one. I don’t want to read the names engraved on it.

I’m not in my apartment anymore. I’m in an unfamiliar house, small by the looks of it, in the suburbs, I guess. The nerdy girl is there, but her hair is different and she has a huge belly. She looks at me and says, “Uh-oh, you’ve got that look again. Here, hon, sit down.” She leaves before I start yelling at her, and she comes back with an ice-cold beer in one hand and a pack of beef jerky in the other. I hate being told what to do, but I sit down anyway because she hands me the beer and it would be weird to drink it standing up. Then she turns on the TV and tunes in to a reality show. A really good one too, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before. I start watching and time flies.

Suddenly I’m in a hospital with a very small baby in my arms. I panic, I don’t know what to do. What am I even doing here? Thank God a nurse comes over and takes the baby out of my hands. I want to run away, but all these strangers are staring at me from behind a glass window with smiles on their faces. I look closer, and I’ll be damned if two of them aren’t my own parents, who I haven’t seen in years. Come to think of it, I don’t know why I should be surprised. They probably hate my guts, of course they would come to cheer for this vampire to take over my life.

I keep jumping forward, and each time I spend less time being myself. I’m in a kiddie pool and this little girl calls me, “Daddy, daddy.” I want to correct her, you’re no daughter of mine, you’re his daughter, but why bother? She’s only three or four years old, it would be a waste of my time and I have so little of it now. I look to the side and see that the nerdy girl is there, too, with a baby in her lap. Only she’s not a girl anymore, she’s a plump woman, and she’s laughing her head off. In fact, I can’t remember ever seeing anyone look so happy, and I wonder how that’s possible with two brats crying in her ear and a creep for a husband. With any luck, there will be enough time to get her to bed before he returns.

Strange patches appear on my hands. Certainly not age spots. After all, when he’s behind the wheel, it’s only fair that he gets old and I don’t. To be on the safe side, I avoid looking at myself in the bathroom mirror.

Whenever it’s me again, I take the car, or should I say his car, I’m not the one who bought it, and drive as far as I can. Once I even managed to cross into another state. It’s not enough, I always find myself back in the overcrowded house with the two kids, only one of them is a teenager now. Her nose is so much like mine that it is kind of funny. On a guy, a nose like that is okay, but on a girl, well, tough luck, kiddo. Oddly enough, she doesn’t seem to hold it against me. I know I would if I were her.

I’m at a party and the girl with my nose, I’d say she’s eighteen now, is sitting next to me talking gibberish. We’re away from the other guests and I realize that, what a surprise, she’s grown up prettier than I expected. Anyway, she goes on and on about how she can’t decide what to do for college, but mostly she complains about her mother. As if I care about any of that. Thank God there’s beer and I finish my bottle in one gulp. She finally stops, looks me in the eye and asks, dead serious, “So, what do you think I should do?”

I almost reply, “Who cares?” but stop myself at the last moment, smelling another opportunity to strike back at my nemesis. What I end up saying is, “You know, I think you should travel for a couple of months. Maybe it will clear your head a little bit. Just see the world, go to Europe, go crazy. Learn some French in Paris. It’s on me. I’ll pay for it.” Actually, I won’t, I’m not around much anymore, so it’s up to him. Let him sweat to come up with that kind of money.

For a second she doesn’t seem to hear me, she just stands there, and then she screams and throws herself at me. “You’re the best daddy in the world,” she cries in a hug. I should pull away from her, but instead I do nothing and just let her hold me a little. Not that I like it, but I don’t want to make a scene in the middle of the stupid party. Then I’m out again.

I feel sick, I’m alone in a room in some clinic, under strong lights. I stare at my hands and a voice tells me not to move until the machine stops. I have no strength left, who made me so old?

More jumps. I only have minutes each time, then even less. I can hardly do anything. I became the wink in someone else’s eye.

Little kids again, running and laughing. Who are they?

Flashes. Images. It’s getting hard to think straight.

Faster. Shorter. Not much longer.

And then it comes.

It’s another party. Christmas, I think there’s a tree in the back. Several people around a large table. Mostly strangers, but not all. The nerdy woman, her hair all white. She doesn’t look so nerdy, even with those glasses, she’s all wrinkled. Somehow it suits her, and she’s still laughing her head off. The girl with the nose, now a middle-aged woman, waits on children who look just like her. She stops what she’s doing and gives me this look. My God, what a wonderful look!

Of course I know I don’t deserve it, I know it’s not really directed at me, but I still feel loved. No, I’m flooded with love, and not just from my daughter. Love flows from my grandchildren, from my son, from my daughter-in-law, from everyone around me. From my lovely wife. I recognize them all.

I want to say something to them, reassure them that I finally get it, but I realize there’s no time. I’ll never finish the sentence, no, worse, I couldn’t even start. This is my last moment at the helm, the very last second. After that, it’s just him for as long as our body lasts, there’s probably some juice left in it.

And with that knowledge, I find that I don’t envy him anymore. I couldn’t ask for more, and in a way, I’m off the hook. I’m blessed with the certainty that life will go on after I’m gone, while he, well, he’ll have to be there when it’s really over.

It will be lonely, my –


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