By JohnCarl McGrady
Every day at 6:00 AM, Howard Douglas woke up, stumbled blearily free of his thin cotton sheets, kissed his pale, sallow wife on the forehead, grabbed his tin lunchbox and walked to the Amazon warehouse.
In the plaza outside the warehouse stood a tall statue of an angel, marble wings outstretched, arms raised in salute to heaven. The angel stood upon a marble plinth with a gold-lettered plaque that read “Micheal Ascendant” and it was from this epigraph the town of Ascendant, Minnesota had taken its name in 1831, when the statue was white and pure and coal flowed from the ground like black gold.
Now there was no coal in Ascendant, and Howard was glad he did not have a mining job, because then in addition to his chronic back pain and undiagnosed depression, he would also have lung cancer, like his father had died from in 1973. The statue was no longer white, either, because decades and decades of crushing and incinerating thousands of pounds of coal had blanketed Ascendant in ash, and the ash had stained the marble a dull grey.
Every day, on his way to the Amazon warehouse, Howard would stop and stare at Michael, and imagine what his glorious wings had looked like in those halcyon days of their youth, when they were brilliant and fair. Now they were dun and looked like dust, which was how Howard felt, and he figured he shared a certain kinship with Michael. See, he too had once been brilliant and fair. He had wanted to be an explorer and travel the world, but his dying father told him there was nothing left to explore and he was right, so Howard worked in the Amazon warehouse.
This was Howard’s life. Home, with his sallow wife. Work, at the Amazon warehouse. He made enough money. He could afford Broadband internet, and Netflix, and healthcare, as long as he didn’t get cancer like his father, but he couldn’t afford to live. It was always home, and then work, and then home again.
One day, in early December, when people were starting to decorate the street in preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ and American Consumerism, when the Amazon warehouse had too many packages to sort and Howard always worked extra hours because he did not want to be fired, his best friend was laid off. It wasn’t that Howard was particularly close to this man. He did not know anything meaningful about the man. He did not know the man’s hopes or dreams, or what he truly loved that made him smile or cry, but then, Howard was not sure he knew these things about himself, either. What were his hopes and dreams? What did we want from life? It wasn’t the Amazon warehouse.
The two of them ate lunch sitting next to each other, and they talked about gas prices and polling averages and the weather, which was always too-damn-cold or too-damn-hot. So the man was Howard’s best friend.
Howard doubted the long metallic claw that replaced him knew much about gas prices. The metallic claw did not think the weather was anything, damn or not. But the metallic claw also did not need to be paid 18 dollars an hour or be given any vacation days. The foreman had announced that it worked twice as fast as a human, which was why the warehouse had purchased 50 of them.
Howard stared up at Michael, hands in his pockets, and he knew that the angel was not ascendant. He was descendant. He had fallen, and that marble block clinging to his ankles would never let him rise.
A cloud passed over the cold December sun, and the grey of the statue darkened as it tumbled from heaven. Lucifer, thrown from paradise. Howard tore his eyes away; he would be late for his shift.
Leaving Lucifer behind, Howard walked into the Amazon warehouse and grabbed a green box-cutter. Somebody said something to him, but he wasn’t listening. He walked to the metallic claw that had replaced his best friend and he stared into the soulless metal. What was he waiting for?
There was nothing to explore. There were no angels. There was no ascendance. There was just a hundred years of coal ash, a stained statue, and the lies of the warehouse. Howard was not living for broadband internet, or eighteen dollars an hour.
He was not living.
Howard lifted the green box-cutter and he slit his throat.
Maybe his blood would stain the claw, and the foreman would have to buy a new one. Or maybe they would just clean it off and keep using it to sort packages, the dull stains on the arm just as pointless as the stains on Lucifer’s wings.