The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder:
Out of habit, Robert checked his watch, but failed to perceive the time. He looked up, squinting into the shabby light of Carl’s projector. How is one to live? When Robert helped his wife prepare a nice meal, he invariably thought of all the dishes they would have to wash later. When he loaded the car for his family’s summer vacation to the beach, he thought of how unpleasant it would be to unpack the car a week later. Even if the family vacation was “fun”—and often it did contain pleasurable moments for Robert—it would soon be over. While it was happening it was ending. As soon as the vacation began, it was eroding. How do you enjoy something that has, by virtue of beginning, commenced its ending? How, for instance, do you put up a Christmas tree? (All those fragile ornaments, wrapped in tissue.) There was in fact no beginning, or middle. It was all end. How silly, then, to load the car, to drive eleven hours for something that was just going to be gone. Wouldn’t it be easier to remain at home? That’s where they would end up a week later, with their sunburns and sandy towels and a thousand digital pictures of that time—which year was that?—that they went to the beach. Everything that had happened to Robert in his life was over, and the things that had not yet happened were on their way to being over. Some would be over sooner, others later. He often looked forward to watching a game on television, but when the game started, it was ending, and so he could not enjoy the game. Robert glanced at Charles, who was scratching his armpit. He wondered whether Charles was respected by his peers. When Robert heard a song he liked, he was aware that the song was dissolving in time, second by second. I like third verse, he would think. Here comes the third verse. Here it comes. Then the third verse just evaporated. What did it even mean to like a song? There was no song. The song wasn’t there. It was just like that cocktail in the screened-in porch after a day of hot sun at the beach, the happy pink children eating watermeln, the handsome and serious wife reading a frivolous magazine, her feet propped up, her toenail polish flaking, a breeze coming through. It wasn’t there, either. Anything good that would happen to Robert would be converted instantaneously to something good that had happened. And something good that had happened was, because it was already over, something somber.