The Martian

This page focuses on the stories of people that have become stranded in their own worlds like Mark Watney and I hope to get the idea across that all people are outcasts in their own way. It is through doing what is familiar and establishing a daily routine of this familiarity that people are able to overcome the feeling that they might not belong or that there is little hope for them in the future. These things that we grow familiar with become a sort of time loop turning every day into a slightly different re-shaping of the next day. Ultimately, every day turns into a routine in which we find a slight joy or normality in completing and with this routine comes the ability to live almost fully in the known world and away from many potential problems. I wrote a few stories to try and explain how I view the time loops found within our daily lives and just how similar our lives are to Mark Watney despite the fact he is alone on Mars.

Steak and Eggs with a Little Side of Ketchup

Picture Credit- Creative Commons

My tongue hung to the side of my lip, like it always did, as I flicked today’s tip money through my fingers making sure I hadn’t miscounted. The flicking again came to an end at the sixty-third dollar and I let out a sigh and sunk back into the dining booth. What did I really expect from a Tuesday morning in February? Who in their right mind would’ve stopped by to get overcharged on a pie that had been sitting in the case since Thursday? Maybe people would stay if Maurice considered taking a bath or removing the permanent scowl from her face. And as a gift from the universe for even thinking of Maurice I caught a whiff of Maurice’s odor snaking towards me. A greasy finger flicked my ear as Maurice wobbled himself past me and with a great deal of effort, into the seat across from me.

“I heard you giving the poncho guy lip again”, he said. “I don’t care if he makes the seat smell and I surely don’t care if he smacks you on the ass when you’re not looking, he pays half the bills around here and you need to treat him like it.”

The picture of that snaggletoothed gremlin of a man forced its way into my brain and I shuddered thinking of how many women had found themselves with an ashy handprint on their dress. What I wouldn’t do to smack that lopsided grin off his face. I smiled as I looked him in the eyes and said, “So you’re saying I shouldn’t have rubbed that iron wool I found wadded up in the sink all over his corned beef too?

He scowled and I could see the anger bubbling up in his clenched shoulders before he used all his might to get up, adjusting his apron and his raggedy excuse for a chef’s hat, and said, “I can’t remember for the life of me why I ever hired you. All you’ve ever done is nag me, complain about this, complain about that, hell you’re not even good looking any more. Put on a happy face, let loose a few of those buttons on your blouse, and pretend that every man is the funniest person on the Earth. This is a business and I’m not paying you for your attitude. I’m paying you because people are suckers and I want you to suck the life out of them.”

He turned around oblivious to his asscrack hanging out and shuffled himself back to the kitchen and I could tell I was losing it. I grabbed the tip money and stuffed it into my purse and fished for my keys as I ran out the door, barreling through a man staring down at his phone. The man peeked a glance at me and went quickly back to his phone when he saw my “I’ll kill you” eyes. I clambered into the car and felt the tears running down my face. What kind of life was this? I’d sacrificed my dignity to that hairy troll and for what?

I knew why, I’d been reminded why every day when I came to my mother in her chair waiting to pounce at me. She was the reason that I woke up at 5 in the morning nearly every day, I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t make sure she was taken care of. But that too I had begun to question, how far can one person push your nerves until you can no longer justify giving up whatever aspirations you had for your life? In my case, I suspected that I had been morphed into a volcano upon her arrival at the house and any day I could blow. I realized that I’d stopped crying a while ago and that I’d been sitting in my car with the engine off and blankly staring towards the window of the diner for at least ten minutes. God, I needed a Xanax.

I stumbled into the house to see her bent over in her chair, her brow furrowed in a tight focus on a multi-colored scarf she was knitting. Her hair was tied up in a bun which only meant she was ready to berate me about something or maybe she just needed to focus on her knitting, but who was I kidding. “You smell like a slice of bologna covered in rat turds”, she said not even looking up from her knitting.

“That was our top seller today, how’d you know? Old age may have took your youthful vigor, but nothing could take your keen sense of smell, you old bat.” I retorted, while digging through the mail. She was quiet after that, perhaps I’d defeated her for once, but I knew the only reason she hadn’t gotten up to finish the battle was that she was nearing the end of her scarf and could care less about anything else at the moment. I took the early shift to spend time with her, as she mentioned more than a few times that my previous schedule had made me a mole person who’s sole purpose in life was to work and then veg in my bed. Now, I regretted it wholeheartedly, as my former vegging had been transformed into another work shift in service of her. My once grateful and guilt filled self was what enabled me to give in to her and now she had me locked into a vice.

Food was my respite through it all and now that I think of it, it was probably the real reason I put up with my mom. The woman could make one hell of a grilled cheese. I’d wait for her to finish grilling, staring at her from the dining room table and tapping my feet on the floor like I was seven years old. Today was a two grilled cheese day I decided, and with a bit of nagging I got her up from her chair and found my spot at the table, but not before grabbing the jugunda bottle of ketchup to prepare for the double the cheese. She finished quickly and barely made eye contact with me before grabbing her scarf and going back to work. The silence would change when she heard quite a few loud squeezes of ketchup make its way to the grilled cheese, “Amy honey, how’re you ever gonna find a man if he sees you and your ketchup addiction on the first date. Not every man is like Mark, a few of them even have standards”, she said making sure to twist the dagger upon its entry.

I sat there smiling as I crunched into the grilled cheese with ketchup squirting everywhere and said “You better hope most men don’t have any standards or you’ll be stuck in that chair for the rest of your life” and finished chewing, satisfied I wouldn’t be talking to her for a few days after that. She used Mark’s name just to throw salt in the wound, she knew I was still hurting even years after has passed away. It was silly to expect that she’d let me forget that I used to be happy. She was supposed to make my life better when she’d come to live with me after his death and at first it seemed like she might as she was surprisingly nice to me for the first few months, but then she threw off the motherly guise and reverted back to herself. I went to bed that night and just laid there with my hands on my chest fully ready for an asteroid to come and smash my crappy little ranch.

It must have been morning because there was a dirty hand grabbing my ass and a raspy laugh coming from its owner behind me, this time I snuck him a flirtatious wink and kept walking, making sure to look Maurice in the eyes as I did. My next customer was thankfully showered and wearing a shirt instead of just a poncho.

I read him through the specials unenthusiastically and only looked up from my pad when I heard him say “I’ll have the steak and eggs, but make sure to absolutely douse the whole thing in ketchup. Thank you, that’ll do her.”

“Right away, Mister”, I said with an unforced smile on my face.

I strutted my way to Maurice and gave him the order to which he retorted, “Tell that asshole that he won’t be ruining my steak with no ketchup. If he wants ketchup he can do it his damn self.”

“Oh, but Maurice we have a whole bottle of ketchup right here, it wouldn’t be any trouble for you to put some on, would it?”

“Would it be any trouble for you to get off my ass and go do your job?”

“No, and it wouldn’t be any trouble for me to do this either.”

“Do what?”

And that’s when I unloaded the bottle of ketchup all over his droopy face and ran out of there, stopping for a second to wink at Poncho man again before smacking the shit out of him as I left.

A Newspaper A Day

Picture Credit- Creative Commons

Sunday morning meant the neighbor kids would try to steal Mr. Pfeffer’s newspaper again. He had a plan however, those little buggers could try some more thievery, but they’d find themselves meeting a new friend and one who wasn’t too friendly. His new Rottweiler served to give a good scare to those little nuisances and it gave Mr. Pfeffer a good excuse to get out of his chair in order to show the arthritis that it had not won yet. He still hadn’t decided a new name for the dog, Mr. Pfeffer was much too preoccupied with his devious plan to consider that the dog might be worthy of a name or an actual collar beyond the ratty loop of rope he’d found in his garage. He angled his chair, the one chair in the house in which he called his favorite, towards the door and looked out the front window with a little grin on his face as the kids tried their best to sneak towards the paper only to jump and scream when greeted by the Rottweiler. They were gone in a few seconds and Mr. Pfeffer let loose a chuckle as he hobbled towards the door to let the dog in and began his morning ritual of reading the newspaper in his set order.

He fixed the white hair that drooped over his glasses and crossed his legs as he sat back down his chair to read the paper. He began with the commerce section just to make sure he was up to date on what was happening in the city and if there was anything worth gossiping about when his nurse came to visit in a few days. Next, was the sports section and surprise, surprise, the Sabres had lost again. That was about enough from the sports section and now was as good a time as any for some laughs and so Mr. Pfeffer opened up the comics page. He found his way through a few re-runs and landed on the Pickles cartoon, as his eyes scrolled down the strip of the grandpa and his grandson sprawled out on a park bench he shuddered and couldn’t help but look at the picture on the wall of a young and smiling boy with a few missing teeth before quickly averting his gaze. His face contorted as he did his best to suppress the tears that clawed their way out of his tear ducts. He tossed the paper on the floor and gathered himself before inching his way out of the chair and beginning his morning stretches that he’d only started doing after practically being begged to do so by his nurse.

As he reached down towards his toes he forced the images out of his mind, all the giggles, the hide and seek, and the silly questions drained out of his thoughts and were shoved into the back of his mind to be hidden for as long as possible. He absorbed his focus into his stretching as each quick turn or reach was greeted with a sharp crack and a hearty grunt. He’d forgotten it all within minutes and found himself back in his torn and frayed orangish chair to begin another day of sitcom re-runs and the increasingly boring “The Price Is Right”, he hated what his life had become and even more so the cheesy smile that never seemed to leave Drew Carey’s face.

His dinner was the only type of frozen pizza he allowed to be stored in his fridge, the Wegmans’ Bacon Chicken Ranch Pizza which often found its way to his plate and later his trash can. He struggled through each chew of the pizza and felt the tide of the battle he fought with his memories turn against him, as he saw his daughter smiling at him from across the table curling her hair with her fingers and giggling at all of his corny jokes. With a blink she was gone and he looked back down at his food unfazed and no less apathetic. He’d come to terms with what happened long ago, but his memories wouldn’t let him live in peace. Each day was a fight against the everlasting sentimentality he had once known and the hard nosed and cold man he was today. He decided the Rottweiler needed a walk and tossed the pizza into the trash trying his best to ignore the lingering pain in both of his knees as he walked. He made it outside after a few anxious glances from the dog and decided arthritis had won the battle, instead choosing to tie the dog to the post on his porch and watched amused as it failed spectacularly at chasing the birds flying overhead. He only then noticed that the dog was almost all brown and only had a few black spots on its backside as if someone had inverted what a Rottweiler usually looked like. He decided to call the dog Yang and thought back to his days in China and all that he and his wife had learned from the peasants of China in their journey so many years ago. He longed for the time when he could spend years of his life without a sniff of technology and all the years where he’d spend the night thinking of what to write in his journals about his trip to China. He hoped the dog would bring some light back into his life, as it settled next to him panting its heart out. He pet Yang and smiled like he had when he told his corny jokes without being ashamed of himself.

He brushed his teeth in a distinct pattern, first up, then down, and finally in a circle before the cycle started back up again. This went on for almost exactly two minutes before he slipped under his sheets and turned his lamp off ready for one more battle with his thoughts. He thought of his wife’s caress on his shoulder each night before bed and how she’d kiss his forehead and say “I love you” for the fifteenth time that night just to make certain he knew. He thought of how his daughter wedged himself between them on what was far too many nights and how he pretended to be angered by it, but secretly longed for her to pitter patter her way into their room every night. His feet tingled as he saw his daughter tickling his toes to wake him as she begged for him to make her pancakes with Mickey Mouse ears as he always did. He turned on his side and squeezed his eyelids shut trying his hardest to just think of nothing. Yang snuck his way on to the bed and Mr. Pfeffer objected at first but felt at ease with the dog laying next to him as he finally drifted off to sleep.

There were no thieves the next morning and Mr. Pfeffer settled into his chair and reached for the commerce section as his eyes caught the headline and this time the tears faced no defense as they welled in his eyes and down his wrinkled cheeks. There sat the faces of his family with him in the middle smiling unabashedly as the headline ran, “Today marks five years since the devastating fire that took the lives of the Pfeffer family, leaving the Grandfather, Martin Pfeffer as the sole survivor, a look back at the cherished lives of those lost on that day”. Mr. Pfeffer grabbed the rope and heard the rapid tapping of Yang, as he could do nothing to stop the tears that had wetted the pajamas he was wearing. He put the newspaper back into the wrapper and stuffed into his coat as he guided Yang out the door, ignoring the pain in his knees. He hobbled himself over to the house next door and knocked on the door and was greeted by three frightened children. “This is yours now” he said, as he handed them the paper before turning around and walking past their house with Yang at his side, his tail wagging as fast as ever.

The Train Box

Picture Credit- Creative Commons

Maria watched as the rusted yellow bus took her son off to school. She wore a night gown and her hair was up in a bun with strands of dark brown hair dangling from it. She frowned at her finger nail as she saw how mangled she’d left him this morning while she was preparing Joey for school. He’d be fine she told herself but a feeling in the back of her mind told her he wasn’t ready for Kindergarten, but it was that same feeling that told her Joey wouldn’t make friends in Pre-school and that had hardly been true. The sheer number of play-dates she been a part of had driven her up the wall and she realized that she was secretly relieved that Joey moved up to Kindergarten.

She walked into the house and felt the couch calling her name and feebly resisted until she was fully prone on the couch and nearly asleep, but that was when the pesky worries worked their way back into the fold. What if he gets lost? What if he wants to go home? Had she really potty trained him well enough? He hadn’t had an accident in a few months but she couldn’t rule out the possibility of a nervous poop, she’d been a victim of that more than her fair share of times. She felt a prodding pain in her side and rolled over to find a toy train smiling up at her. She picked it up and threw it in the train box as they called it, but a more accurate description of the box would be a giant mix of crappy toys inside a chest that should have made its way to the curb, only surviving due to her husband’s inability to throw anything out.

She felt an urge to build the track that Joey would always leave out as if he secretly waged a war against her toes. That was what they’d done every morning over the summer and despite the banality of the same old story in which Thomas the Train managed to rescue Sir Topham Hatt by some miracle each and every time she couldn’t help but help but go along with it just to see how seriously Joey took his rescue missions. His face would scrunch up and he’d start yelling at whatever train he decided would be the villain as if they’d been his mortal enemy. Each train would work together and follow the commands of what was always a far too bossy Thomas until they eventually discovered Sir Topham Hatt who almost without fail was hidden underneath the couch in the evil lair of random toy parts Joey had made. That wasn’t all, apparently each of these trains had mastered the art of jujitsu and would absolutely go Roadhouse on the assortment of McDonald’s toys and whatever other garbage Joey had suckered his parents into buying him. Now that Maria thought of it, she began to realize that Joey’s daily adventure had been some of the best times she’d had in the nearly five years after his birth. That realization stung, she had essentially become a soccer mom without realizing it. But it was worth it to watch Joey grow up, she had been so afraid she would screw him up and turn him into an emotional wreck, she had her mother to thank for that persistent fear.

She needed to get her mind off of Joey and more importantly, her mother because that was a boat that no person should ever have to jump into. Maria walked into the kitchen, which was strewn with cheerios from Joey’s careless eating and crumbs from her husband’s equally careless eating, and let out a sigh. Cleaning was not something she found a hidden joy in doing, as her family was an absolute mess and an oblivious mess at that. Yet, she discovered that the feeling of control she got from turning the house from the pig stye it usually was into something she had organized and cleaned to her own liking was liberating, almost as if she was the ruler of her own castle for a few hours of the day. She hated cleaning as a child, as her mother would force each of her children’s rooms to be spic and span at all times and that wasn’t including her constant assertion that the each and every room in the house was to be made spotless. The penalty for the crumbs and some cheerios on the counter would have left the culprit shunned for a few days as her mother stewed in her room somehow shocked that her children didn’t have the same appreciation for cleanliness. In fact, cleaning had been the one thing that Maria had almost always refused to do in college and now she may not have enjoyed it, but her daily cleaning often left her feeling fulfilled and “worthy” of living in her home.

Maria scrubbed the counter three times with quick back and forth motions and stopped as her eyes caught another mess left by Joey in the bathroom. The bathroom had become her mortal enemy these past few years, as Joey never appreciated that tooth paste did not belong gobbed up in the sink and that his toothbrush didn’t just go anywhere. Today’s toothbrush location was the floor next to the sink hidden underneath a towel she could only assume was from the night before. After a half hour of meticulous organization, the bathroom yielded to her as everything found its place in the exact locations that she had told Joey no less than one hundred times about before. But what did she expect from Joey, the kid could hardly tie his shoes or stay focused on one thing for more than ten seconds and again she felt the worrying urge take over her body as she wondered if Joey’s inability to focus had made him a source of trouble in the classroom. He wouldn’t act out, he knew how he was supposed to act she and her husband had made sure of that, but then again that’s what her parents had thought about her brother Broderick for so many years until they learned of his massive drug problem and compulsive lying, which I couldn’t help but feel they were at fault for. Maybe she needed to have a bigger role in her son’s life, maybe that was the key to having children who weren’t screwed up on the insides as adults, but that was just wishful thinking.

The sound of the bus stopping at the house awoke Maria from an unintentional nap with a bottle of windex still in her hand. A few seconds later, Joey came running in with a little boy and they darted for the train box working together to live it up and dump all the toys on the floor to begin another grand rescue of Sir Topham Hatt. He set up his lair and instructed the boy, who was apparently named Jace, of the many rules he had to follow in order to complete their rescue mission. Jace seemed to be disillusioned with the plot against Sir Topham Hatt’s life and pouted before asking Joey if they had any video games in their house and adding the cherry on top that these toys “sucked”. Maria figured she might have to try and parent a little bit as she snapped out of her stupor and asked Joey if Jace’s parents knew he was coming over today. Joey gave a quick nod and began a search for his father’s PS4 which had been neatly stowed away in little cubby Maria had deemed suitable. The boys dragged the console out of the cubby and began tag-teaming the set-up of the t.v. and Maria watched dumbfounded as the boys had the PlayStation running in less than a minute.

Had she ever let Joey play PlayStation before or was she delusional? No, she’d never even told him where it was hidden, how the hell did this kid learn all of this without her even knowing? It had been her husband, she quickly realized. Even after their agreement that Joey was far too young for the violent games, he’d went behind her back seemingly without a care in the world. She couldn’t open her mouth to yell at Joey as the shock still lingered over her body. Her eyes darted to the heap of toys that had cascaded out of the train box and she felt compelled to go and clean it. She got up and made her way to the box and bent down on her knees as her hands began to move frantically from one toy to the next. Her face contorted into one of absolute terror and her body began to shake rapidly as she blocked out everything else and focused solely on the cleaning. She felt her thoughts fade away as an intense focus swept over her face.

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