Rounding Numbers

Jankowski was an odd fellow.

He locked his house at night like everyone else, except when five minutes lapsed—to the second, mind you—Jankowski made an extra trip downstairs to check each deadbolt, twice. Permanent markers stained his bathroom sink so he knew how far to twist each knob; red for hands, blue for teeth. Every third Wednesday of the month a package arrived with his household supplies and paper goods, and when he recycled, his bin was filled with the same three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle that waited for trash day.

Food for Jankowski was ritualistic, and controlled. He bought groceries once a week and prepared most of his meals on Sunday nights for the work week ahead. Lasagnas and casseroles were frozen in his basement icebox; chicken seared and sliced for salads; veggies cleaned and prepped ready to be reheated; egg mixtures sat in milk quarts for scrambled Thursdays or omelet Tuesdays. These were his comfort foods, passed down by parents whom never understood computer programming or how one could work out a bedroom every day.

Eating out was reserved for twice a week on Fridays and Saturdays, divided into his favorite authentic cuisines that hit his palate’s desires. The first and fourth Fridays were of Asian tastes, Thai and Chinese. Never sushi, though. Burgers filled the second and third dates, cooked well-done from the same corporate chain with unsalted fries. On Saturdays, he’d roll an eight-sided die and chose from a prewritten list of circumstances; one and two, his friends decided; three and four, he decided; five and six was a re-roll, and seven and eight was pizza.

He only ordered pizza dictated by his rolls, and he stuck to this rule.

Jankowski would convert the lid of the box into plates equal to those whom ate with him. Most of his friends thought he was a loon, and that was quite fine with him.

And Jankowski never tipped more than the total rounded to the nearest five-dollar interval.

There was a knocking on his door. It was abrupt, and loud like the strikes of a framing hammer on stubborn two-by-fours.

“Must be dinner,” said Jankowski.

Harold did the math for him, and proclaimed without reassurance from a calculator that a twenty would cover the bill, minus the tip.

“Do you have a few ones to throw in?” He asked while fishing in the pockets of his tight jeans for crumpled bills. “Least we can do.”

“I would, but it’s against the rules,” said Frank.

“Rules? What do you mean?”

“It’s Murray’s deal. He’ll tell you when he comes back.”

Frank admired Harold for scoffing, and even more for insisting.

“That’s absurd,” he checked his watch. “It must be the last order of the night and I know that I would feel insulted—deeply insulted—if change was offered. I can’t believe it, I have to say something.”

He rushed to the door, still wriggling a bony hand to produce more cash from his pockets. Frank moved from the couch to the recliner, sticking his head to the hallway like a giraffe observing a mild ruckus nearby. The doorway was crowded by Jankowski’s husky frame and Harold’s wiry attempts to offer the deliverer money.

“Nah, I got you, asshole. Keep your damn money.”

The door slammed and the female shriek continued outside.

“Eighty-six cents isn’t much of a tip,” said Harold.

Jankowski nodded, and shuffled his feet across the living room carpet, disappearing to the rear hall. A vicious click of the deadbolt filled the home.

“Locking it up early tonight?” asked Frank.

“Something like that,” his voice quivered. “I feel sick all of the sudden. I think I need some air.”

Headlights streaked outside and tires wailed their rubber-on-tar frustrations. He checked the blinds on each window with a systematic flick of the blinds, and once satisfied that she left, he stepped outside to his porch.

“I’ve never seen him get angry before, let alone slam a door,” said Frank.

“That wasn’t him, it was the delivery driver,” said Harold. “Where are the plates?”

Frank explained the lesson in maximizing the pizza box and dissected the lid into thirds. I could’ve prevented this he thought as he slid two slices onto his cardboard wedge. A medium would’ve been fine for us.

Jankowski joined them at the breakfast bar of the open kitchen. “I’m fine, I’m fine,” his stout nostrils flared when inhales that skipped like a drummer who failed to grasp basic timing. It was early spring and the nights remained chilled, yet his face and pits stained with contrary splotches of sudden perspiration.

“I’m fine, I’m really fine.”

Hunger grabbed the reigns, and Harold folded the crust while Frank used two hands; one cradled the bottom and the other guided from the rear. Jankowski sat and stared at his makeshift plate, breathing calmer but still, strained.

“You alright?” Frank asked in between chews.

“I hate myself sometimes,” he said. “I hate that I can’t break away from my stupid obsessions and now I made her cry.”

Harold mumbled with a mouth full and Jankowski exploded.

“She was crying!” His fists slammed with an unmatched rage that Frank, nor Harold, knew Jankowski to possess.“She was destroyed, all because I can’t break away.”

“It’s okay, man. And I’m sorry, she is beautiful,” said Harold with a shrug and a wink.

“Do you want us to leave?” Frank asked.

“No, no. I want to apologize to her. I want to find her and give her what she is owed… I just don’t know what to do.”

“Call the pizza place and explain that you short changed her by accident.”

Jankowski was out the door after he spoke with the manager of the store. He explained that he meant to give her an extra five and felt awful that she left upset. “I told him it wasn’t her fault that she slammed my door. I made her upset, and I need to make this right.”

Frank and Harold endured ten minutes of  white-knuckled silence until Jankowski swerved from the main drag and onto the store’s lot.

“He said he would tell her to stay and wait, but he didn’t know if she’d stick around, because he had to talk to her about something. I know I can make this right–I have to.”

“Okay man, just don’t get us killed in the process.”

Breaks squealed and bodies rocked as he forced his four-door to a stop in the dirt parking lot behind the store.

“There she is,” he said. “Oh my, there she is. Now I can make this better.”

He took a five out of his wallet, pressing it down to make it flat and closed the door behind him.

“Roll the window down,” said Harold from the back seat. “I want to hear this.”

Jankowski approached. Luminescence, feeble and yellow flickered from the stores outside lights, creating a void of darkness around the lone car and the meager frame of the pizza delivery girl.

“Hi, my name is Murray and I just want to say that I am sorry for—

She bent her fingernails forward in malice, cutting his face when she smacked.

“I got fired because of you. Not only are you retarded, but you’re a damn rat. I don’t want your money, or your apology.”

Frank couldn’t giggle like Harold was. Mild horror crept over his nerves and muscles like cynical frost bite, striking him feeble.

Harold giggled from the backseat but Frank shook his head with mild fear when Jankowski stalked forward.

“Please,” his voice raised to an angered shake. “I’m not like this and you have to take the tip.”

“Get away from me, you prick.”

When he stood upright, he towered over her and she never once backed down. When he placed his hands on her, she didn’t cry. When he covered her mouth with a sweaty palm to hush her, she bit down. Jankowski never noticed pain nor blood. He shook her like a loose body pillow limp from losing too much down and he didn’t stop. The back of her head cracked against the top of her car over and over until her neck lolled to the side.

“What do we do, what do we do? Jesus he’s killing her,” said Frank.

Harold dialed on his phone, whispering to the emergency service that he witnessed a murder, and Frank thought there was maddening beauty when Jankowski shoved the five in her shirt pocket, kissing her head goodbye before he ran in front of the semi barreling down the main drag.

© Copyright John Potts Jr 2016 – 2017. All rights reserved.

I round my numbers sometimes. Not like Jankowski, though. Working in restaurants taught me to never short change those who handled my food in anyway, shape, or form. It’s Karma, I guess. That feeling of “what goes around, comes around,” will surely catch up if you eat out enough while failing to reciprocate gratitude. Luckily I have avoided shortchanging servers or delivery drivers, and I have tipped the minimum regardless of work quality. 

I bump my bills to the nearest five or zero so I can save a little money as I go. It equals out to be a gain of twenty or so bucks every month, and over a years time, that makes out to a couple of date nights or something for the kids, maybe some books or graphic novels. Either way, I save some loot for when I want it.

When I write (or read) I try to hit my goals for word counts at the end of the week. Sometimes I surpass and bank them for later. Sometimes I fall short (like this week), and realize that I need to work overtime at some point in the near future. I personally avoid beating myself up over lost productivity, and instead, I instill appreciation to the fact that I was able to write anything at all.

I an article last night that talked about forcing yourself to write even when you don’t feel that it can be beneficial. It makes sense, really it does. Writing is a job that pays off later with financial gains, but has instant gratification on your mind. But what if this was a gig that supplied an immediate paycheck. Would I want to show up and not put in the effort? Or should I at least try, and gain some ground along the way?

I’ve had jobs that I didn’t like. I worked them to pay the bills until I found something better, and trust me, I always found something better that would fit my drunk lifestyle at the time. I get restless or complacent, easier than most, and sometimes I just like to start something new or something familiar that may seem fresh at the time. I have to repeat this insanity with writing to keep my energy level at a high whenever I can. I try to minimize this though, as taking on more than I can handle is counterproductive. It’s about finding that happy medium to keep the sparks flying, and hen you are a scattered-brain-goof like myself, it can bite you in the ass if you haven’t mastered balance of workload.

Like myself. 

Damn, that was quite the ramble. 

I am reading Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House”. Great story so far! I am a third of the way through it and I see myself finishing it this weekend. I just finished some Sarah Langan and I am going to read some more, but I need to mix it up a bit so I don’t make her horrific writing stale. I am also delving into “The Strange Case of H. H. Holmes” for a short story that I am working on. An episode of Lore Podcast turned me onto America’s first serial killer, and I knew I had to learn more.

His title is arguable though, since there may have been more before him that remain undiscovered.

Ghoul is continuing his Ice Skating shenanigans, and I have decided to make this a three-parter. It’s fun, and his undead antics fills the void in my body like cheap fiberglass insulation jammed around plumbing fixtures. It itches and warms simultaneously and is ever compliant to building codes. 

Or something like that.

Thanks for stopping by, and until next time!

John Potts Jr

Author: John Potts Jr

I write horror and dark humor... and that's about it. Come on over and give a read sometime! Thanks! K bye!

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