Home Alone Men
His neighbor Dan was the type of loner you’d someday expect to see on the front page of the paper, having committed some heinous mass shooting or something. He lived alone, quiet and unassuming and rarely coming outside for anything but the mail. If you happened to see him, he’d give a pleasant smile and wave but never stopped to make small chat. Occasionally a young woman — probably his grown daughter — would come over and clean up the yard. Otherwise Dan didn’t have visitors.
Tom often wondered where Dan worked. On weekdays, he use to get into his old Cadillac, which was always parked in the driveway, and drive off wearing dockers and a button shirt. He seemed like an IT guy or something.
“He kept to himself.” “He seemed nice enough.” “I never thought he’d do something like this.” These would be the types of things his neighbors would say about Dan if he ever appeared in the newspaper. Dan’s was an existence defined by the assumptions of others.
It had been a while since he’d seen Dan. Now, they’d all been forced to become Dans, quarantined in their houses. Unlike the other men in the neighborhood, though, Dan kept his blinds closed, never revealing what TV show he was watching or looking out the window to catch a glimpse of another man doing the same, trying — as they all seemed to do — to escape the inhumanity of the present moment. When others had been forced to become loners, Dan had simply forced himself to become a bigger loner. It was like he had a need to keep speculation about himself going, even now. Or he could just be dead. Either way, Tom was pretty sure his name was Dan, and not Dave.
Tom pulled himself away from staring at Dan’s house and went into the kitchen to look inside his Provisions Box once more, though he knew the contents quite well — tracked them obsessively in fact. He was down to three pieces of bread and some expired tapioca pudding. He’d be getting a new PB from the police today, as he did every Wednesday, without fail.
Tom picked up the expired tapioca and started eating, bringing his tongue to the roof of his mouth at each bite in order to discern a flavor. Nothing. Taste wise, it seemed like he was eating marbles with a lead sock on his tongue. But, the texture was pleasant, soft globules — fish eggs — rolling around his mouth, being guided to the tip of his tongue and then ceremoniously forklifted between his teeth and crushed, like a sacrificial offering. Tom imagined each fish egg standing for something he wanted to forget or, perhaps, be forgiven for. This one: boredom. This one: fear. That one: anger. One was loneliness, or at least one should’ve been, if he could endure such a painful truth.
One was certainly regret. He replayed the day in his head for the 500th time. It had been June 12. The announcement, his rush to the gun store, the clerk glaring at Tom and the others and telling them to leave while pointing a rifle at their heads. The feeling of the sun scorching the back of Tom’s neck as he walked into the parking lot with his tattered old work jeans on, the firearms application — which the clerk had refused to take — still clutched in his hands and McDonald’s wrappers and old plastic bags swirling around his ankles like slow-motion tumbleweeds. In the parking lot, he’d taken his phone out of his pocket to make a call but it wasn’t working. He’d later learn they’d “disserviced” cell phones an hour before.
Tom had driven home, to an empty house, thinking that the only thing still happy was the doll he’d just bought his three-year-old step daughter earlier in the day.
It sat next to him, sprawled out on the passenger seat, looking up at the hazy blue sky with an optimistic grin.