(Note: This flash fiction is inspired by Mary Doyle. She gave me the subject matter – "Standing in the toilet paper aisle. THE CHOICES!!!" Thanks, Mary.)
4. Laundry Day
And finally, just like that, Jeremy leaves work. It was a typical day: Bob the "weeble wobble" on the street, lifeless and then resuscitated again (Why does anyone even still call about that junkie?); the Chief winning at ping pong, again (Who holds the paddle like that?); another day where she didn't text back, again (Where is my kid?).
And of course, because he lives and works in a city, and no one knows how to safely put up Christmas lights, there was a big fire, again. It came at hour 23 of a 24-hour shift. Three-alarm blaze. In his profession, you don't just get to go home. In hour 29 of his 24-hour shift, Jeremy was on the roof of a rowhome nearby fighting the blaze. Water became ice. Adrenaline-depleted, he lost his focus and slipped off the roof, his entire descent cushioned by an overgrown tree. Swear to God, the ice-choked branches broke his fall. Nothing but a twisted ankle.
He hobbles home.
Sleep never comes easily for a firefighter / EMT. When Jeremy closes his eyes, all he sees is yellow and orange and blue. Sometimes he has nightmares about the worst things he's seen. The red and pink flesh of a newborn because the tub was too hot. The naked body of a slightly spinning, noose-hanged corpse. Lots of liquids forced out of a body that somehow didn't look human.
He drinks vodka with the tiniest splash of Red Bull until his mind feels like a helmet and his brain shuts off.
* * *
Jeremy awakes and checks his phone. She still hasn't responded. It's her custody week but he still doesn't know where his daughter is. He shifts his body until his heels are on the floor. He sits for a long time. He stands. Tinder.
Laundry everywhere. Whelp, might as well finally do this today. Piles rest on the floor like parallel ant hills. The room smells like sulfur and char. He picks up each pile and throws them into baskets. Probably at least 3-4 loads to do.
He pulls out his phone. Texts, again. Then he puts the first load in.
Jeremy walks down the stairs to the kitchen, each step punctuating the pain from last night. He opens the fridge and eats cold pizza. He thinks it's funny in the way dark things can be funny that the cheese feels like a dead person's skin.
Jeremy heads to the living room and pours room-temp vodka into the glass from last night. Might as well. What else do I have to do today? He turns on the T.V. Texts. Again.
After many episodes and two more loads, the pizza isn't sitting well with him. He stands up, favoring the uninjured ankle. He remembers he's out of toilet paper.
Jeremy Ubers to the Rite Aid. "Be right back," he tells the driver.
He enters the store. Walks to the appropriate aisle. The whole place looks neon white.
The phone in his pocket vibrates. He reads. "I want a different arrangement. I'm calling my lawyer."
He stares at the rows of intentionally stacked toilet paper. Basic. 1000. Scott's. Extra thick. Extra soft. Tube free. Cottonelle. Quilted. Charmin. Ultra. Clean ripple. Rapid-dissolving. Mega.
He grabs a single roll of the cheapest stuff and hobbles to the cashier.