Feet dug in the fragile grass, Hennesy watched the clouded world from atop his faded gold hill.
Heavy, dark and grey clouds, the kind that looks like rain, that tease rain and never deliver—those type—moved slowly, like government workers, like old persons unwrapping noisy sugary sweets during sermons, like
“Any drive and ambition I’ve ever had.”
He scratched his stubble at this, sneering at the dark overhead for a moment before looking back upon the deep greens, the deep reds, the deep oranges and browns and yellows that flecked the world and blended into a lovely mush when viewed from far enough away—when viewed from where he sat. Houses could easily be seen from that spot on the hill. The drab siding, clay-like and earthy, would have hidden them from even the sleepy gods that supposedly loomed above all, but the trail of smoke—as fleeting and flicking and finicky as the tail of an eager rat—gave away the abodes of father, mother, son, and daughter.
He had a house like those he looked down on; Hennesy did.
He had a wife like the ones he knew were busy at home down below. He had children like the ones he could imagine were causing no small amount of chaos in their parents’ home that he judged so silently. He had a plot of land, small and humble, like all these he saw. Trees surrounded his home, much like the gold and scarlet he saw filling the yards of the world. Birds flitted from branches in shrill attestations, just like those he watched from his perch.
His life was so so so much like those he watched.
And he supposed he should be grateful.
He was told as much by the obese, grave-faced, aloof minister who gyrated and shouted from behind the safety of his chic pulpit. “Be grateful! Be grateful for the blessings in your life! Count each one and hold it dear, for only Heaven knows when something—when the Enemy, like a lion—could come stalking and steal it all away. For he comes—the Enemy does—seeking whom he may devour! So be thankful! Give thanks and be thankful!”
And he was. Hennesy was grateful, was thankful for what he had that was so much like all those he watched from his hilltop. He muttered his gratefulness to the sky every morning and night, eyes downcast, hands clasped. He did what the bloated, gout-ridden minister said.
And it made little difference in the scheme of things.
And he said as much to his lovely, to his beauteous, to his seraph on Earth wife. She didn’t take kindly to it.
“You shouldn’t say such things,” she said on more than one occasion. No matter what it referred to, such a phrase was the signaling of the end of any possible conversation. She’d let him continue rambling, aimlessly and irritatingly spouting this and that frustration aloud, but her mind would be far from what noise he made. Magazines, books, crochet patterns, and letters of gossip would infiltrate, would occupy her mind until he stopped, and not a single flared, fiery word he uttered would cement itself in her consciousness. When he was done spouting, she’d walk over to him, lay her lips against his forehead and say, “You’re so unique, and that’s what I love so much about you.”
And he knew she meant well, that she truly loved him as far as she could understand or silently accept his oddities. But there was a loneliness that was given to him with each and every one of these exchanges; the knowledge that he was seemingly alone in his thinking, in his values.
He loved her, deeply.
But that love wasn’t enough to fend off the winter of his existence.
“Alone in my head…” he breathed and watched the cloud of his words rise, then fade into the grey of the cool of the day. He chuffed. “Popular in body and lonely in mind… How do so many find this as treasure when I’m left in a silent Hell?”
He wriggled his toes angrily and watched a few crickets and black beetles scuttle away.
Looking back at the world, Hennesy sniffed and loved, then hated, and then loved again the scent of the cold wind.
The spice was something he loved.
The frost and deadly ending of the living was something he loved.
The memories of plumes of scarlet and ivy greens, married in festive enjoyment; this was something he loved.
The word family and community, the involvement of his fellow man in his life and into the lives of his children was the one thing he hated.
“It’s all pseudo.”
A rumble, far off and probably benign, rumbled in the deep of the sky, in the belly of the earth. Hennesy felt it and grinned, thinking that some sort of ill-planned community festival might be ruined. He scolded himself, inwardly, as soon as the thought popped up. “I shouldn’t be that way,” he said, counseling himself. “Those are good folks; hard workin’ an ain’t wishin’ the bad on anythin’ aroun’ em. They don’ deserve mah ire.”
Another far off rumble.
Another flickering grin on the face of the weary, wary, worn-out, hollow faced man that sat in a patch of grass with his toes dug in the grass.
“Is it so bad to want more?”
That was something he remembered asking his wife, his minister, his employer, his brother, his sisters, his father (never his mother); each separately, and each throughout the numerous years he counted towards his existence.
“Is it so bad to want more than wha’cha got?”
“Contentedness will yield a tolerable life,” his father told him when he was young; no more than six or seven, and their family was poor and wanting.
“What’s wrong with wanting somethin’ more’n wha’cha got in front of you?”
“Boy, you always scramblin’ for more’n you’ll never find it! Be happy with wha’cha got, an if more comes yer way, than grab hold’n be happy fer that. But don’ go searchin’ for it.” That’s what his older brother said, and that’s what younger sister number one said, and that’s what younger sister number two said. Almost verbatim.
“But really. Tell me. What’s wrong with strivin’ huh?”
“Nothin’, I guess. So long as yer fine chasin’ yer tail an never catchin it.”
That was the last time he’d really asked it, hoping for an answer. That was the minister—the fat one—talking with him over his customary pulled-pork sammich and coleslaw for lunch. The sight of dribble and crust on the minister’s chin was enough to wean Hennesy off barbeque forever, and he left with both an empty stomach as well as a deepened sense of isolation.
Many many many years, and Hennesy became a man.
He got a wife, had kids, had a home, had a livelihood, and everything the world said he needed to fulfill his purpose.
Reaching in his jacket pocket, he brought out the flask he was best friends with and unscrewed the top.
“Here I am, here you are.” He raised the flask to the grey world and all its contentedness. “An here’s to your ambition.”
Then he drank deep, hissed, and drank deep again.
Screwing the top and shoving it back in his jacket, he looked to the grey heavy sky and sighed.
“All them ‘er fuckin’ idiots.” He wiped his face with a dirty palm. “An’ I’m a greater idiot fer fuckin’ listenin’ to them.”
Hennesy stayed out there on the hilltop watching the world and sipping from his flask every now and then, thinking on how much of his life he wasted listening to others, and hating himself for doubting his drive.
“I coulda had so much more,” he mused, falling back to lay amongst the golden, snapping stalks of grass, and watching the grey sky pass overhead, in the sluggish, sloughish, depressing way his own existence had followed.