Daylight Savings, by Chad Senesac
“Pigs-in-a-blanket. Don’t taste the same.”
The man across from Jack smiled. Abiding the years, a refreshing familiarity came as comforting as a deep sip of warm whiskey which would be nowhere in sight: the living room was full of Baptists and strangers at that.
“I doubt Miss Cynthia made them,” said Jack.
For Jack and Phil – who had peddled the old smile – buried in their eyes and encrypted in their smiles was the once youthful face of the other. Phil had less hair and more paunch, pipe-like arms as much muscle as fat, and the slenderer Jack had long ago amputated his long hair to craft the crew cut befitting a mortgage counselor.
Phil looked around despite his smile, and Jack registered his unease. Undershooting the funeral dress code, Phil wore a pair of dressy blue jeans, a tucked-in J.C. Penney’s button down, a cheap belt, and tennis shoes. The rest of the crowd was old – but not enough to be comfortable with death – so they wore their Sunday suits and dresses with the ambition of those who preached eternal lives while working earthly kingdoms to resist death’s dread. The mourners were not Phil’s people certainly and were only distantly Jack’s people; only maybe half a Baptist, yet a thoroughly American Protestant, Jack mentally shuffled off formal labels.
“God,” Phil said. “I’m suffocating in here.”
“I’d part the waters for you, if I could.”
Phil clapped a strong hand on Jack’s shoulder and popped another pig-in-a-blanket. He chewed, his jaw thick and carpeted with pre-graying stubble. “I dunno. I don’t think I can eat one of these in her house and it not taste the same, you know?” He spoke in between chews.
“She did something strange to them. There might have been cheese in the blanket, too. She did stuff differently like that. Just like the cantaloupe.”
“So much damn cantaloupe.”
“With ice cream. For breakfast.”
The men drank familiar talk in a place distantly odd in their memories. There was an easy openness, at least between them, the talk of everything, of nothing.
“It’s like the fruit made eating ice cream for breakfast okay. Even good for you,” Phil said. “You know, at my place, I’d get nothing for breakfast. But good ole Ms. Cynthia, you could count on her to make good shit – I mean stuff.” He mumbled and shrank back, looking at both Jack and the people around him. No one paid him any mind; the men might have thought they stuck out as if they were sixteen again, but deep in their thirties both were deep in the anonymous forest of adulthood and its bog of responsibilities.
“Gotta watch my language,” said Phil.
“Give it up,” said Jack. “Don’t get pretentious. It’s not you.”
Phil’s voice lowered and took on a familiar aggressive edge. “Pretentious. What the fuck does that mean, college-boy?”
“There you go.” Jack’s face tightened as he spoke. “Your f-bomb tells me you know exactly what I mean. Don’t pull some blue-collar crap on me.”
Phil’s eyes grew only slightly before refusing to be surprised by anything. “Yeah, church boy. Can’t put one over on you anymore.”
Jack nodded and said nothing. Phil shivered as if he was shaking out of an invisible overcoat. “What the hell… where’s McNeil?” he said. “God, we’re here for him pretty much in the first place. How’d you hear about his mom?”
“Read about the passing in the paper.”
“Nah, really, how?”
“God,” Phil breathed out a relaxed laugh, “who reads a paper anymore?” A former glee appeared in his eyes: Jack was as backward as Phil remembered; it created a comforting equality between Phil and his old friend.
Jack grinned in spite.
Phil clapped him on the shoulder. “It’s good to see you, Jack. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the neighborhood. Passed by the pool. What a wreck.”
“Yeah, sometimes I’ll stop by and take a look at it.”
“What for? You don’t still live here.”
“No, but… I’m looking for change, checking out older properties – it’s my business. Hoping that it might open again. I’m doing home loans now, so I keep an eye out for change. And I stop at the pool sometimes.”
The empty community pool, but for the brown leaves and tea-colored sledge at its bottom, told Jack little.
“God,” Phil said, “I remember sneaking in and skating there when they first drained it. I thought we were made in the shade. The pool would drain in the winter months, we’d skate our brains out, and then come Memorial Day we’d be doing cannon balls, but…”
“Never happened.” Jack grinned in spite.
“God, they drained it, and that was it: pool closed. Damn.” Phil shook his head at the suits and dresses milling past the food table. “I miss that pool… God, where’s McNeil?”
Jack shrugged. “I haven’t seen him yet. Lot of people here. There’s a whole ‘nother twenty or thirty in the back sunroom. He could be anywhere. Maybe he’s making himself scarce – doesn’t want to be here.”
“Yeah, and I wanna fuckin’ punch a wall, all the time, man. But I’m here, and so is the wall. Let’s get outta here.”
The waning evening offered more light than the neighborhood was willing to absorb, the spreading oaks a smothering blanket of leaves. Phil went searching for more in the screen of his phone. Jack followed; once in the driveway, neither glanced into the backyard though the detached garage loomed in their imaginative memories. In the front, the aged yellow street light struggled against the coming darkness which strangled day, ritualistically, legally – daylight savings time had just gone into effect the weekend before, an hour of light lost.
Usually, in those shortening days, as was their respective habits, Phil took shelter in the electric tube light of beer signs glinting off bar tops, football games on fifty televisions, Ladies Nights and drink specials; Jack in holiday decorations and the Friday night dates with a sitter taking the kids. These rituals staved off the inevitable dark thoughts, sudden, shifting, ebbing closer like night into the afternoons.
But tonight, a funeral had called them, and they answered weakly in nostalgia and acquaintance.
Phil scrolled his phone. Jack let the silence and the twilight take its course.
The driveway in front of Cynthia McNeil’s house emptied into the road, lined with the cars of the Baptists and which cut into rolling hills before eventually flattening into the streets of their childhood suburb. It was a Southern city, independently quirky in its own ways, proud of its incorporation and its economic progress; taxes meant wealth and wealth meant godly, American virtue.
And like the less-than-the-greatest generation to which they belonged, Phil and Jack could only recollect the adrenaline-tinged battles of their youth, particularly Capture the Flag: a game to defy all changes in time and light where McNeil, Jack, and Phil – part of a small army of Arlington boys and Arlington girls – ran, and crawled, and sweated the same adrenaline from the woods, their palms sand-spur stuck, knees scratched, arms palmetto pricked, but the pain as much a part of the adventure as the pleasure. It was a game at which young children hoped to be unfound for hours; to conquer a field of play that was as big as the scrub forest and Florida dunes that spread impossibly around them; to remain in the surging twilight, each one alone, but abiding in the knowledge that another was hiding near, maybe beyond the next turkey oak, the next ridge, across one mucky depression, striving for the same goal, something they called victory, which was no more than a discarded flannel shirt on a hot fall Florida night, and for which hearts beat on chests, like lunatics on prison walls. As long as they searched while they themselves remained hidden, the dark couldn’t win over their fears.
The change in time, the dark coming early. They wanted less darkness, and more; they feared it and welcomed it. At home, their beds and their usual nightmares waited.
Yet, on hands and knees in darkness, they remained alive.
Phil had parked his truck at the curb at the end of the driveway. A rusted-out pickup, the bed of the truck hauled the discarded skeleton beast of white plumbing piping; in the heart of the structure, the tough and heavy metal block contained tools and beside it a cardboard box. Phil stuffed his cell into his pocket, reached into the bed of the giant, and riffled inside the cardboard heart. He pulled out two long-neck beers.
“It’s warm, but at least it’s something.”
Jack accepted the offering.
A swig loosened his tongue. “You still play?” Phil said.
Jack smiled, thinking of the detached garage in the backyard. He reported what in his mind was mundane: Jack did play, and he played for his church worship band. Back-up guitar. Way off to the side. As Jack reported, he watched Phil’s eyes which in the dark were silent caves staring back at him, unreadable, unknowable.
“In the end, it’s not really a lot of playing. Pretty easy.”
“Whatever.” Phil said. “I’d love to get back on the stage. Man, we were there. Remember unpacking after the Milk Bar gig in this driveway.”
“You gotta drink to that,” Phil said. They clinked bottles.
Jack tilted back the warm bottle and poured the warm suds down his throat. “It was late.”
“But we were high.”
“No, we weren’t. At least I wasn’t.”
“Oh, come on, I wasn’t either. That was the beauty of it, Jack. No pills or drugs and we were high as kites after playing for hours. Not a single pill…”
“God, that was amazing. Played on adrenaline. Fourteen years old and jacked on adrenaline. Everyone buzzing in that place.”
“You know,” said Jack, “it was three hours and fourteen minutes. I timed it. I really timed it.”
The van they had unloaded in Cynthia McNeil’s driveway at 4:30am – guitars, amps, drum kit in pieces – and by 5:00 Jack, Phil, and McNeil lay on the lawn, looking up at the lid of the sky. Their first real gig was over. Was that what the rest of life would feel like? Children casting off fears and the childish nightmares by casting off sleep itself: the fears of their childhood and, if they’d admit to it, their most recent dread of unconsciousness in sleep, of the dreams that twisted certainty. They had pursued and attained an antidote, a grail from which they might sup and never grow tired, nightmarish, desiccated, but rather full, muscular, erupting: the stage that June night was their communion.
These things, now years later, Jack and Phil drank in remembrance: the weeks in May, the flyers, the bike riding. They had been weary travelers sailing suburban seas in the calm, lengthening hours of spring days. There were the short gigs played at friends’ houses where a few gathered, and then another gig, and more bike riding and flyers on utility poles. Self-promotion was a mimeograph, a staple gun, and the sweat on a teenage boy’s brow, long before someone could post a picture or share a thought, at the false promise of a whole glowing electric world looking on.
Phil turned the memories over in his mind. “At least you got something, now?” he said. “You’re in some kind of band. Even if it’s for church. You married, too. Kids?”
“Holy cow! How the hell do you survive?”
“I guess,” Jack said, his spiteful grin fading in the twilight, “by trying not to believe there’s anything I deserve.”
Phil slowly took his hand off Jack’s shoulder, taking three gulps of warm beer before tossing the bottle into the metal truck bed, its clanking a short echo in the loneliness of the night. “Sounds depressing.”
“It’s not, it’s just the only way I know how to live.”
“You should be more creative. I dunno… open-minded,” said Phil excitedly, “but it’s not my business. Me, I chase tail every weekend, and could do it every night, seven-days a week, if I wanted to.” Phil blinked. Then he abruptly searched the cardboard heart, the twelve-pack, and extracted another longneck, pulling it out with grand gesticulation, like Excalibur. “So, go ahead, what’s it like being with the same chick? Drama, I bet.”
Jack sipped and said nothing, instead keeping his own counsel on the girl who had become the familiar mystery and besides whom he slept for interminable nights. What could Jack tell Phil, who was himself little more than a living memory, an exaggeration? Jack’s lips pressed and protected his words.
“Yeah, I’m sure I’d go crazy, too,” Phil said. “I’m with a girl for a day or two sometimes, and I feel like I’m gonna go outta my mind – but sometimes I’m a great guy and give them a little longer. Hell, man, I’ve even played house a bit, moved in, but they’re all the same, they go a little crazy in the end. And then I gotta move on.”
“I do wish I didn’t have a memory, sometimes.”
“That would suck.”
“Would it? Or could I live the first day of my own creation over and over again?”
Phil clapped Jack on the shoulder. “Chasing and then leaving – that’s how you live the first day again and again.” He sipped the warm beer. “But you’re too good to be free.”
“Stop with that crap. I’m really no saint.”
“You’re decent enough, and besides, I don’t need your sinner’s story, man.”
“No, it’s not that,” Jack said. “Sin’s really of no consequence to me now. I’m just, just too tired.”
“Then why the hell show up for this? All this is exhausting.”
McNeil appeared. His shape cut the dark, another version of the McNeil of their memories, a loose part of their sliding imaginations. His suit jacket formed to his shoulders, a slender armor with his sculpted hair and his precisely pressed slacks.
Phil took his hand from Jack’s shoulder. “Buddy, damn, I’m sorry, bro. Good lady. Me and Jack were just saying how good she was to us.” Phil snapped a cap and extended another warm longneck, which, after two beats, McNeil gripped.
He didn’t drink it at first and rather said, “It’s been a long time, guys.”
“Yeah,” said Jack, grinning in spite of himself, “too long.”
“And you’re here,” said McNeil. “I never would have thought.”
“We heard. We appreciated her, and felt like we should be here.”
“She was really great,” added Phil. “Jack and I were just talking about the cantaloupe and ice cream for breakfast.”
McNeil leaned his head into a slow nod. “How long’s it been?”
“Almost twenty years.”
McNeil said nothing, only leaned his head to the side. Phil jumped at the interrogating silence. “I heard from Facebook. Apparently, Jack still reads the newspaper.” Phil waved his glowing phone, back in his hand, like a magic wand, and he sat that shining hand on Jack’s shoulder.
“Nothing wrong with that,” said McNeil.
“Yeah, well, it’s weird.”
“It’s simple,” said McNeil. “I’d love to read the newspaper.” He sipped the beer.
“What are you doing? God, where the hell have you been? I’ve heard about Jack from people. I guess he and I run in some of the same circles.”
Jack grinned. “I’m in some pretty distant circles.”
“Well, where’ve you been, McNeil?” Phil said.
“I’ve been in New York. Ever since high school.”
“Nothing, and then finance.”
“Oh, hell, is that worth it? Are you making cash?”
“Plenty of that.”
McNeil backed away to the side of the driveway and turned his longneck upside down. Into the grass, the suds funneled down and churned, the stream turning a sudsy white as it finished in the weak light.
“I finished school. Got a job in the financial sector, and here I am.”
“What about the writing?” asked Jack. “Phil has been asking about playing music. Did you continue it up there?”
McNeil had only lived partially the life Jack and Phil could imagine, and McNeil could not tell it. He refused – that he played clubs up north, too smart for the Florida burbs, a singer-songwriter at nineteen; that he went to school where he exchanged the religion of his words for the religion of worldly numbers; that the Towers fell and he emerged from the sad, stinking smoky grit another McNeil: the stock broker, who heard death in the scream of steel and the cough of collapse. McNeil the stock broker who fearfully made in the absence of wonder. So, the wealth and sex grew (he didn’t understand the distinction) until the debt and divorce became the smoke and ash of his life.
McNeil would not speak these things, even to his own mind’s eye.
Silence leveraged her name out of Phil: Jaime Lorraine Tyndale.
Which was odd because for Phil, women lacked mystery, the mapped out terrain that he navigated with mild hope and usual dread.
Yet, Phil became animated as he eagerly offered an unappeasable McNeil the sacrifice of her memory. “God, Jaime was hot. Whatever happened to her?”
“Got married,” Jack said. “Got divorced. Kids, I guess.”
“I think she’s happier now,” Phil said, crossing his hands.
Even in McNeil’s remembering eye, Jaime Lorraine Tyndale straddled her bike with long, fresh legs, wore rolled denim shorts and a sleeveless white blouse, and then rode off again; her crimped hair waved promisingly in the escaping wind, calling from another time – a distant country that once begged their hands and knees, their army-crawling invasions.
The old neighborhood: it stared back from the glory of youthful daylight, experienced in decade-waves of economic recessions; pesticides and fertilizers in the yards; generations of kids in the trees. They came down and rode on bikes, fueled by sticks of beef jerky, and rolls of dried fruit, and imagination. They passed and tackled in backyard football, bounced off roots of oak trees and nearly passed out from concussions that went unnoted in any medical records; when the headaches ebbed, they resumed dreams of the older girl down the block and what might be under her sleeveless white blouse or by what kind of magic she wore long sun-streaked crimped hair and feathered bangs, bows on beautiful brows of skulls shined with clouds of hair spray. A thousand times she walked out of her house and into their minds. And, when their minds broke from the burn, they burned gray video game cartridges in dim, bunked bedrooms.
Then, finally they turned the pedals over, to cars and surfing and electric guitars and grunge and dirty magazines whose images burned in their guts like a disease; a world arrived more wonderful and more terrifying than imagination could carry so it was time to organize, to meet in McNeil’s detached garage in that backyard, little more than a shed. Even before, it held the trappings of a yard empire, sheers and mowers and machetes meant to beat masterfully the yardscape into sublime submission; after that, boys beat back the nights with three chord bass lines and a drum rhythm with the same fill at the end of every universe-provoking verse.
McNeil said something aloud. Jack and Phil caught it only after McNeil was finished: “In the end everything fades away and it just feels like…“
“Duty. Routine,” finished Jack.
McNeil nodded and shrugged.
“God, that sucks,” Phil said.
“Yeah,” said McNeil, “so why’d you show up? It’s a funeral, guy.”
“McNeil, I’m sorry.”
A flood light interrupted the night and cast shadows towards the detached garage in the back. The trio had somehow slowly inched up the driveway and tripped the motion sensor to the flood light. Each man turned: the detached garage that occupied one corner of the expansive backyard was closer than they had realized.
Phil swore with a mix of pain and pleasure and went unheeded by the other two.
McNeil rolled his head on the pin of his neck, his sculpted hair now only a dark helmet, glistening in the garish light. He took his jacket off, which diminished him, so tall and broad-shouldered he had seemed in the darkness; without his jacket and in the light, his dress shirt draped on his frame like a parachute over the shoulder of an imperiled jumper. He studied the other two with his worn face and strained eyes.
For McNeil, women – every Jaime Tyndale – had become distant and defined and problematic, a stream of cryptic data, the final profit of which was his ex-wife with her imperfect and aging body, the cup of his failed passion.
“You know, I was back a few years ago.” He reached up for the padlock on the garage door and wrapped his fingers around it. “I wanted to open this garage and plug in and play. I really did. But that was when the economy was tanking. And I stood right here with the padlock of the garage in my hand, just like this, for a long time, and you know what? I didn’t open it, and I went back to New York the very next morning. From there, I watched friends eat their lunch. Lose everything. Not me though. I kept the garage closed, went back to New York, to all the numbers, and I was like a heavyweight who took the economic punches and kept going. I joked sometimes that I was recession proof. Now look around, guys. The mall’s closed up and then right there on the expressway strip you can still get a damn New York Strip in that steakhouse that’s always stayed open. That’s what I am. A steakhouse. Steakhouses are the only restaurants that don’t dip with recessions. So I got the nickname: the Steakhouse Stock Broker. Wish I wasn’t. Wish I’d hit rock bottom like everyone else.”
“Why? You’ve got cash. I bet the girls are easy like that.”
“Geez, Phil,” said Jack.
“Too easy,” said McNeil. “They die to you one way or another. They leave, or die. One way or another. Easy come, easy go.”
Jack wanted to say something at the front of his mind. Phil could manage nothing, but swearing under his breath.
McNeil laughed. “You miserable creeps, you’ve come crawling back to the garage. You want back in. Poor old Cynthia.”
“No,” McNeil continued. “Tomorrow I’m taking my expensive rental back up to the airport, flying first class, back to a place I hate to a son I have no relationship with. So, get the hell out of here. I’m not staying and neither will you.”
“It doesn’t have to be like that,” Jack said.
“It’s kind of like a band fighting. We’re finally having a fight,” Phil said.
McNeil stared at them both. “You’re dumb… both of you. Talking like we’re something when you and I and Jack here have come to nothing.”
The once-friends departed. Phil got in his pickup truck full of the hollow bones of his profession and drove off a fugitive into the next part of his life, and McNeil retreated back to people – the mourning Baptists in the house – he would never see again.
Jack walked away alive and wounded but no more than any other day, sustained in the great tradition of men who gave their identities over to their religions. For him the stories were real, and had the opposite effect – the failure of Adam, the circumcision of aged Abraham, the deviousness of Jacob – they opened the inherent lack of man to Jack so that the truth released him from fear, most days. He saw himself in each man. He was everyman and only himself, fearless and restless.
For his life was a slow and controlled burn from which he would not, could not divorce himself, an incremental pouring out of his life, a soreness in the back of his eyeballs, a pinch in the corner of his eyes, an ache in the lower part of his back. So he left McNeil’s and returned to it, pulling away from the curb, out of the neighborhood, and onto the expressway for another part of Jacksonville. Back at home, he went into his own backyard with a three-ring binder of his financials three years past. Tonight called for this annual routine: financial records squirreled away for three years at a time, each year he reached for the binder on the upper shelf of the closet, his wife and kids asleep. The three rings held statements – bank, utility, credit card, medical – and in the corner of the backyard he built a fire just like he used to when he was a pyromanic kid – but now with calculated skill and control, the log cabin style with twigs on fours sides surrounding the kindling. And for about thirty minutes he burned away (instead of shredding) sheet after stinking sheet of yellow smoky life, his life in numbers of debts and assets but mostly debt. That night, there in the fire he had visions of the other men: McNeil in the prison of a skyscraper where eternally-long streams of ticker tape adorned in strange glyphs bound him who struggled against the leviathan ribbons. Alien screens flashed green numbers, lighting the dark like strobes. And in another vision: Phil screaming an indecipherable language, racing in his truck, bed full of bones, down a highway full of only mannequins. He swerved and mowed down the naked plastic female bodies that shattered into a dozen dumb limbs. Again and again they exploded until he lost control and the truck flipped away into the darkness. In this way, with humility and fearlessness, Jack communed with the ghosts of his friends who lived like dead men.
After the visions, in the fire, Jack indulged in the fantasy of a new beginnings, a rebirth by fire. The fire consumed and did not consume, just as the burning consumed not the bush, but the life of Moses. So, with intent did Jack gaze into the fire, for comfort and solitude, as a refugee, hiding from the electric hyper-mania of the holidays, while certain he could bring all the accounting down to a smoldering zero, and then reemerge changed. And all that was left was himself and the mute darkness which could speak nothing except what he allowed.
The fire went out. He went back into his home where he gently stalked the hallways as only a father can, and in his bedroom, the smoky musk on his skin, his hair, he stripped off his clothes, slid again under the covers, and placed his unburdened body against his wife. He wrapped his arms around, her lungs expanding, she inhaling the life and the smoke and the cancellation of everything; her ribs poked his biceps that lifted her up so that he slid behind her fleshy legs, her head tilting back on his shoulder and resting there like a shelf.
She often wondered where he came from. She would speak faintly, incompletely, and he would hear, falling outside his own body, feeling he wasn’t himself and more than himself. And she, the same. They were not who they ever professed to be, only themselves in the quiet and the dark.
Chad Senesac’s work has appeared in Fiction Fix (now Flock), Typishly, and Amazon (self-published). He teaches and coaches runners in Jacksonville; with some time off, he goes fishing in the salt-water tide marshes at the mouth of the St. Johns. When the bite is off, he casts on a story or two, like this one.