Jim Robinson hated his life. Drinking himself to ruin each day following the same routine… Jim Robinson wanted to die.
Evading any genuine interaction with the cashier at the local Phillips 66, Jim Robinson expertly made only fleeting eye contact, and minimal conversation, with the cute brown haired girl. He had been avoiding conversation all day, and he didn’t want it to be for naught. It was 2am. Entering the house turning the key quietly he went inside. Jim Robinson was hoping not to wake his mother. The handle turned, and door swung slowly open. Choosing careful steps avoiding the creaks in the hardwood floor he made his way down the hall. His mother topped the list of people he didn’t want to talk to. Stale cigarettes and whiskey always disappointed her. Jim Robinson couldn’t handle any more disappointment. The light came on. Illuminating the most horrifying drunk mess of a man in the mirror. Jim Robinson knew he looked like shit, but he hardly recognized the slob staring back at him. How long had it been since he’d changed clothes? Probably about as long as it had been since he’d shaved or he’d showered. Saying a silent prayer for death he spat on the reflection’s face. Then off he went stumbling to bed.
Wondering why it was so bright Jim Robinson was rolling out of bed. Clumsily searching dirty jean pockets for his cell phone. It was dead. What fucking day was it, and where were his god damned smokes? Finding a crushed pack of Newports in his back pocket he pulled out a crooked menthol. He slipped out the back door. It was still too bright, but the nicotine lessoned his headache. Last nights mistake returned for vengeance. Bending over the landscaping retching he caught a glance of his neighbor Cindy. She was passing on her way to work, aghast at the sight of him. Walking around the house and flicking his cig into the bushes, Jim Robinson found his 04 Malibu parked crookedly on the curb. The window was open; giving him easy access to the fifth on his floor board. Holding the bottle by the neck, and tipping it vertically, he drained what was left.
“Jim…Jim…JIM!!” His mother was shaking him awake. She was smiling, but sadness with in her eyes. “Why are you asleep, it’s the middle of the afternoon?” Holding back tears was all Jim Robinson could manage. Lying still, quietly staring at his mother’s forehead, his shame was reaching a boil. A hundred eyes gazed upon him from their ornate frames on his mother’s living room walls. The room was spinning. Posed photographs always made him feel sick. A younger him, with bright eyes and a brighter smile, passed judgment from a wedding portrait. His sibling’s happy families mockingly smiled. Feeling overwhelmed, he closed his eyes and rolled over. “JIM, wake UP!! it’s your birthday!”
Waiving the waitress down, Jim Robinson sat in a cheesy restaurant, silently draining the remains of his whiskey glass. Chattering family members swirled around him. He was going to need more than a few drinks to make it through dinner. From across the table his sister was asking how his job search was going. Jumping in, his mother spoke for him. “Oh it’s great! He had an interview last week! Our sweet Jim we are so proud of him!!” That wasn’t the truth. He did have an interview, but it didn’t go well. Why wouldn’t anyone ever say it? Pretending he wasn’t the failure of the family only made him feel worse. Engaging with his food more than his family he sat. Ignoring talk of their successful careers and their caring families. Their happiness shamed him. He drained another glass. Nobody ever said how they really felt, thought Jim Robinson. The only thing he needed more than a cigarette was for this dinner to be over.
People came and went, and Jim Robinson slept. The only quiet constant was the drumming beat of the heart monitor. It had been three days now since the accident, and still he hadn’t stirred.
Silently laying in a hospital bed he could hear his mother’s voice. She sounded scared, but polite as ever greeting somebody. A stranger’s voice answered. The drum beat returned louder and faster than before. It sounded like they were underwater. He could only grasp bits and pieces of the conversation. He couldn’t speak up. So he helplessly heard. “… four times legal limit…smashed into a tree… outcome grim… wait and see…….” Overpowering the conversation completely, the heart monitor climbed in crescendo. Then suddenly everything stopped, and all was quiet. Jim Robinson’s world fell into darkness.
His shortcomings spun like an old film roll projecting a horror film onto the back of his eyes. A disgusting man stumbled toward a beat-up Malibu. The headlights flashed on, and the sedan swerved down the neighborhood street. The car rolled through a stop sign, accelerated with screeching tires, and rammed directly into a tree. Then he saw his mother crying over his drunken beat up bloody body in a hospital bed.
A lifetime of disappointment flashed behind his eyes. A time-lapse of broken bottles, crying mothers, vomit, and shame filled the frames. He heard every harmful word that ever left his lips. His everyday vile thoughts scored the horror film. Jim Robinson begged for it to end.
“Wake up Jim, it’s your birthday.”
An ivory walking cane found the side of Jim Robinson’s head. A skeleton of an old man dressed in a threadbare three-piece suit was standing over him. Pale leathery skin was stretched thin over his gaunt face. A golden monocle covered bottomless pits nestled in deep-set eye sockets. White strings of hair fell to his shoulders in wisps. His lips were dry, thin, cracked, and peeled back into a foul smile, motionless as he spoke in a hollow whisper. The warden suspended like a puppet by invisible strings through thin air. The old man tapped his cane on the door and it flew open with a furious gust. He floated through, and Jim Robinson followed. Behind it hid an office lined with full bookshelves and rich oak furniture. The Warden, inches off the ground, drifted around his desk to a red leather arm chair.
“Jim, Jim, Jim, by all means you, should be dead.” Standing helpless across the desk and looking down, stood Jim Robinson. In front of him was a thick leather-bound book. ‘The Worth of Jim Robinson’ was etched on its face. The raspy whisper was echoing off the walls of his skull. “Look at me Jim.” Their eyes met forcibly. “You are a wasted life. You do nothing but drink yourself to ruin. Worse than that you pity yourself. Jim, the good news is I’m here to help. I want to grant you your wish.”
Jim Robinson’s limbs moved with awkward swings and twitches so that his body was puppeted out of the room. Then his body was taken across the hallway, down a set of stairs, and into a courtroom. Domed marble ceilings rose high above a sea of empty folding chairs. Across the room stood a golden scale. The center bar was ten feet tall with a cross bar nearly as wide. On either side hanged round platforms from golden chains. He was placed in a high backed wooden chair. Metal cuffs with crude wiring bound his wrists and ankles. A metal band fastened itself around his temples.
The Warden entered the room and floated towards the scale. He was holding his walking stick in one hand and a leather-bound book in the other. He whispered into Jim’s brain, “This book will be filled with an account of what is meaningful in your life. A list of what you hold dear, and what really matters to you. This book does not lie. It’s an honest evaluation of your life.” The warden held out the book, and Jim Robinson’s hand was jerked onto the leather cover.
Sitting above a hospital bed Jim Robinson was watching his mother holding him on the day he was born. Tears of joy were streaking across her face. Something was growing in the pit of his stomach.
He watched the days when he still played with his siblings in the yard. Laughter bubbled up and burst out of him. He felt care free.
Tears welled in the corners of his eyes as he watched a young man fall in love. He felt a lover’s embrace.
He was face to face with the most beautiful thing that he had ever seen. She was so small and so warm in the palms of his hands. She opened her dark eyes and they met his. He felt like his life was meaningful for the first time in his life.
Hope was bursting from his chest, as he watched an old gray couple sit on a porch; surrounded by their children’s children.
He saw the world fading away from grayscale. Observed the sun rising above a mountain ridge, painting the sky orange. Lastly, the wind was blowing green into the trees, and Jim felt happy.
With a snap, Jim Robinson’s eyes were opened to the courtroom.
The rows of folding chairs were now filled with the faces of those he loved and those he’d hurt. The Warden pulled the book from under his hand. Turning to glide toward the other half of the scale he said, “It’s time to see what your really worth Mr. Robinson.” He placed the book on the center of the platform.
The scales tipped, and immediately electricity surged through his entire being. His screams filled the room as the defibrillator dragged him back into life. Jim looked around the room. Searching, he found his mother’s eyes. They were no longer filled with sadness. For the first time in a long time Jim Robinson was happy to be alive.