Ned stared into the mirror. A dred hung limp and dirty over his forehead. He grimaced.
After breakfast, the young man lounged on the sofa scanning the want ads looking for a new life. He had called in sick yesterday to attend a couple of interviews for jobs he didn't really want. He sighed. He knew the jobs would not be offered to him. After so many interviews, Ned could tell when prospective employers were taking him seriously and when they were not. He rubbed his hands through his hair and couldn't help but think the interviewers hadn't liked his dreds.
“Really?” he said to the ceiling. “Is that why no one will give me a job? MY HAIR?!”
Ned lay on the couch for quite some time burning through excuses for his life like a chain smoker. Once he could no longer stand his own addiction, he groaned and rose up.
“Arrgggh!” he yelled as he stretched his torso, hands behind his head and elbows raised to the ceiling. “Fuck.”
Ned dragged himself back to the bathroom where he thought he was going to take a piss. Instead, he stood before the mirror. He stared at his own eyes – bloodshot. “That's what you get for playing computer games all night, you idiot,” he said to his reflection. Ned had indeed played several games until five o'clock in the morning. He slept for one hour and then woke to his alarm at six o'clock to get ready to go to the “Seventh Level of Doom.” That's what he called his job. Fortunately, Ned's skill-less job would not be affected by a lack of sleep.
The razor cut his thin skin here and there as it was hard to keep his head up while shaving. He fell asleep for a moment only to jerk awake with the sting of another, deeper cut. “Shit!” He grabbed toilet paper to stop the bleeding, but the thin white paper stuck to his wet fingertips instead of his face. A blur of flicking fingers tried to release the white patches from his skin. They would not come off. He flicked once more and caught his fingers on the edge of the mirror, scraping his knuckle and causing a trickle of blood. “Tsssss,” he breathed in pain and annoyance at himself. “Fuck.”
Ned decided that the bathroom was a dangerous place and went to his bedroom. He noticed a spot at the top of the door frame where he once hit his head. He went to his closet, and pulled out a dirty towel to wipe up the blood from his razor cut and on his knuckle. He then went back into the closet and pulled out a polo shirt and a pair of khaki pants. He slipped them on and surveyed himself in the mirror. His shirt was wrinkled in a couple of spots and his pants were stained and tattered at the bottom hem.
“Welcome, Mr.Ned. Please sit in the back of the room where you won't embarrass us,” he said to himself. He quickly pulled off his offending garments and went back to his closet. He surveyed the contents of his wardrobe – all polo shirts and cotton or denim pants. He did have one suit, nice shirt and a tie for special occasions. These were several years old and a little short in the leg and sleeve. “Fuck.”
He flopped on his unmade bed. How had he become such a loser, or was that who he had always been? He had the degree of an accountant but the wardrobe of an ultimate frisbee player. No wonder he couldn't get a better job.
“I don't want to dress differently! Suits and ties and dress shirts are uncomfortable. And dress shoes...ugh.” He twisted himself up in his bedspread and his sheets as he thrashed at his demons. Soon he found himself on the floor, arms pinned to his sides in his sheets. It was then that he realized he should have taken his “piss” earlier. Suddenly, his bladder was about to overflow. Ned tried to thrash his way out of what he thrashed himself into, with little effect. He rolled toward the door, but what good would that do if he couldn't get out of this straightjacket?
“Oh, what does it matter? I can't do anything right!”
Realizing it was too late to make it to the bathroom, he gave up. Ned felt the warm stream leave his penis and spread throughout his crotch. He felt his underwear cling to him. As he lay there, the warmth quickly dissipated and the urine-soaked clothes became cold He now gave up again and all of his muscles went slack. His head rolled on the floor and he lay there lifeless in a giant cocooning diaper of sheets and blanket. A long breath was forced out of his lungs with the collapsing weight of his chest. It was here that Ned should have given up one more time and cried. He should have let the frustration, the humiliation and embarrassment of the years flow out of him without concern. But he didn't. Being incontinent in his pants, though not ideal, was somehow more acceptable than being incontinent with his eyes.
After a bit, Ned finally removed himself from his prison. He balled up his sheets, blanket, underwear and pants and threw them in the laundry basket. He took a quick shower, put on dry clothes and then grabbed his basket and detergent and headed to the laundry room. He was going to be late for work, but he wanted to wash this bedding before it dried. He wouldn't be home when the washing machine was done, but if someone needed it, they would just pile his stuff on top. Like always.
Approaching the laundry room, Ned heard swearing and someone banging on the washing machines. As he entered, he saw Gerald trying to open the coin box on a dryer.
“Goddamn key!” Gerald hissed. He pulled violently at the coin box and then started beating on it. “Garrgh, flister mick, bick, fuhstung, blahhhh bak, fertimeigahugen.” Gerald had started swearing in non-sensical language – this was not a good sign.
“Hello Gerald,” said Ned. “Having trouble with the coin box?”
“Wha? Oh, yeah,” said Gerald who barely glanced at Ned. After spitting on the key and then inserting it again into the lock on the box, Gerald took a closer look at Ned. “Ted?”
“Ned... Ned? Is Ned short for something?” puzzled Gerald.
“Hey, you're the kid who... you done any growing up lately?” asked Gerald.
Ned was unsure what Gerald meant by this. Then he remembered Gerald was there that day he had a growth spurt of epic proportions. “Oh yeah, uhm, no. No, I haven't grown up lately.”
Gerald laughed. “I didn't mean you haven't grown up, like, I mean, like you haven't matured. I meant grown taller.”
Ned assured him again that he had not grown taller lately either.
Gerald laughed again. “I mean, I'm sure you’re an adult and you don't pee in your pants or anything like that anymore.”
Ned turned red as a beet and quietly put his laundry basket on the washing machine behind him. Gerald continued beating on the coin box. Ned put his wash, detergent and coins into his machine. He then watched Gerald for a few minutes as he continued swearing at the coin box.
Sure that he knew Ned from some other situation, Gerald stopped suddenly and turned on Ned. “You have friends, don't you?”
“Um, yeah,” replied Ned knowing full well that he had kicked his girlfriend out of the apartment and walked out on Bartholomew, Topping and Charlotte just a few days earlier.
“What do you do when you get together?” asked Gerald.
“Well, we eat, we talk, we do things, you know.”
“No, I mean, like, what kind of activities do you like to do? Like on the weekends,” continued Gerald getting closer to Ned.
“Oh, I don't know. Go to concerts, drink beer, work in a garden.” Gerald's eyes lit up on the word “garden.”
“Are you close to those friends you garden with?” asked Gerald who was now practically on top of Ned.
“Of course,” boasted Ned defiantly. “Bartholomew, who started the garden, is my best friend. Why?”
“Never mind,” replied Gerald who then went back to beating on the coin box. Though it looked as if Gerald was focused on the small black cube with a key stuck in it, he no longer was.
“What kinda job you got?” asked Gerald.
Ned hesitated. “A sucky one.”
Gerald laughed. Then he yelled “Goddamn it!” as he gave the small box one last slam with his fist and hurt himself.
“You okay?” inquired Ned with some concern.
“Yeah, I'll be okay. Had worse,” replied Gerald. “D'yah think you could try opening that box one time. It won't budge for me.”
“I'm sure you know more than me about these things,” said Ned.
“C'mon, just one try,” pleaded Gerald.
Ned approached the washing machine with the locked coin box. He eyed the key and the box cautiously. He surveyed all of its sides. Then he reached his hand out, grabbed the key, turned it clockwise and pulled. The coin box came right out, almost as if it was falling into Ned's hands.
“Shiiiiit,” said Gerald. “You’re pretty damn good with money.”
“No, it just came out. Really, I didn't do anything.”
“You're too modest,” said Gerald. “I'd say you're a near genius when it comes to getting money.”
“No, really, I didn't do anything. It just opened up.”
“Son, let me tell you,” continued Gerald, “I have learned that the genius to making money is not knowing where the money is. Hell, that's easy. The real key is accessing the money. And you just showed me you are one hell of an accessor.”
Ned handed the full coin box to Gerald. “Here, I gotta go,” he said as he headed for the door.
“Where you going so fast?” queried Gerald.
“I gotta get to my job, I'll be late.”
“But I thought you said it was 'sucky.' Why rush off to something you hate?”
“Uh...because it’s my only way to make money,” responded Ned.
“Listen, son, there are a million ways to make money. What do you want to do? How is it you want to make money?”
Ned stood in the door for a moment wondering why he was still here talking to Gerald. But talk to him he did. “I want to be an accountant.”
“Is that it?” laughed Gerald. “Shit, you're an accountant then. How does that feel?”
“What do you mean?”
“You are now my accountant. Or I should say one of my accountants. You can start tomorrow. If that's all you want to do in life, then that's what you can do for me. I've seen you extract money from something that was unextractable. Hell, you'll do just fine.”
“Wha...what do you mean? Are you saying you're hiring me?” asked Ned in disbelief.
“Isn't that what I just said?” asked Gerald as he poured the coins out of the box and into his pocket. “You can start tomorrow. Be at my office downtown at 8:00 am sharp. Maybe while you're accounting for me you'll figure out what you really want to do. But until then, I'll tell you what to do.”
“Okay,” Ned said happily. “I'll be there with bells on.”
“Bells are fine,” said Gerald while taking stock of Ned. “But no polo shirts and khakis. I run a professional joint.”
“No problem,” said Ned as clothing stores started scrolling through his mind.
“Yes, we will see,” said Gerald as he returned the coin box to its machine. Ned headed for his apartment and was halfway down the hall when Gerald closed the laundry room door. “And get rid of the dreds!” yelled Gerald. Ned stopped. When he turned to ask Gerald why he would have to cut his dreds, Gerald had already left the building.
“Fuck,” said Ned.
Gerald walked to his pick-up truck with a calculating smile on his face. “Yes, we will see. We will see.”
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by Matt Wells
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by Matt Wells