25 Hour Day By D.I. Jolly
If you were offered a potion that would make all your wildest dreams come true, but at the end of an hour you’d die, would you take it? Would you drink it? Or would you just let life keep ticking over, come what may?
For Walter, it wasn’t a hard question to answer. He hated his life and everything about it. Mid-40s, badly divorced, living on the wrong side of town, working a job he hated, for people he hated, with people he hated. His only respite was the dive bar he drank in on Thursday nights when they had a live jazz singer and the whiskey was half price. Neither the singer nor the whiskey were any good, but in combination, it made for an easy escape.
The bar was tucked away under a railway station down a little alleyway, and it wasn’t uncommon to be offered an array of things on your way home. So, Walter didn’t think twice when a man in a suit and tie leaned out of the darkness towards him. It had been a particularly bad day at work so he was a little drunker than usual, which was why when the man said his name, Walter stopped to look at him, instead of running for it.
“What did you just say?”
“I said good evening, Walter.”
“How? Hey, who are you?”
“I am a humble salesman, and I know a great deal many things.”
The man smiled and for just a moment, Walter felt much drunker than he was, which made the man laugh. Something about him made Walter want to listen to what he had to say but at the same time, he felt very much in danger. The man’s smile persisted and he said.
“What if I could offer you the best time of your life?”
“I’d say I’m flattered but not that way inclined.”
Again, the man laughed and Walter felt like it made his heart shiver.
“You’ve got a sense of humour, Oh! I like that.”
The man dipped a hand into his pocket and pulled out a small brown bottle.
“What if I told you that this was a magic potion? Not like the ones people normally sell on street corners. The real deal! And if you drink it all your wildest dreams will come true. Everything you didn’t even know you wanted will appear and for an hour you will have the life you’ve always wanted.”
“What happens at the end of the hour?”
The man leaned forward and Walter felt the air get cold.
The words came out as a whisper and join the booze to play on Walter’s mind. The man stepped a step closer and said.
“So what do you say?”
“I’d say you sound like an old school snake oils salesman. How much?”
The man’s smile grew.
“My friend, nothing. It is a gift from me, to you. Do with it what you will.”
He held out the bottle and waited while Walter thought. Live the life I’ve always wanted for an hour and then die. He reached forward and took it. Still smiling the man seemed to slip back into the darkness, and Walter went home.
He put the bottle on his kitchen counter and took himself to shower and then bed, all the while thinking about what his wildest dreams come true would actually look like.
Would some famous actress or three show up at his door, confess their love and then fuck his brains out? Would his boss die in a horribly painful car accident? Would his bank account suddenly burst into the billions? All of the above? Would 1 perfect hour be worth the rest of his life? How good would another 40 years like the last 40 really be?
He continued to think it over and over as he lay in bed drifting down the sea of whiskey into the land of nod. When he woke up, he had a hangover, a bit of memory blur and a small brown bottle on his kitchen counter.
Through the bright light of morning, he wondered why he’d taken the whole thing so seriously. Some whacked-out drug dealer just trying to get him hooked on feel-good drugs that he’d have to start paying for the next time around. Before he knew it, he’d be begging for change, mugging people or worse just to get another hit. But as he stared at it he couldn’t help but wonder, and as his alarm beeped 9 am, telling him it was time to leave for work a distinct air of ‘fuck it’ washed over him. He uncorked the bottle, tipped it into what was left of his coffee and downed it, saying out loud.
“Onward to death and glory.”
He stood for a moment in what he imagined to be a heroic pose and waited for something to happen, but nothing did. He let his mind track around his body trying to feel if anything was different, but it wasn’t. Then a sense of anxiety quickly began to form in the back of his mind, as the words, ‘What the hell have I just put in me, that could just straight up be poison.’ formed. After a few deep breaths, he grabbed the bottle and decided he was going to the hospital. He opened his front door to find a young girl standing with her hand raised as if she were about to knock. Walter jumped back, surprised to find someone there and stuttered out.
“Ca-can I help you?”
“Are, are you Walter Green?”
Walter took another deep breath and closed his eyes to steady himself.
“Yes, who are you?”
The girl blushed a little and made a face that suddenly looked strangely familiar.
“My name is Madison, and I… think you’re my father.”
The blood drained from Walter’s face taking the anxiety and fear of poison with it.
“Uummm, my mom is Rebecca Button. I believe you guys used to date?”
A flood of memories hit him and he realised why the girl was so familiar. She looked almost exactly like a younger version of her mother, but with only slight differences. She had his chin, and his mother’s hazel eyes. It took him a moment to realise he hadn’t said anything.
“Yes! I mean, yes, we uummm… Do, you, want, to come in?”
He realised that she didn’t have a bag with her, and he wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to say, but he didn’t want to have the conversation they were having in a hallway either.
“If, if that’s ok? I mean, you seem like you’re on your way somewhere.”
Walter smiled for the first time in what could have been years as he stepped aside, saying.
“I think I can be late for work today.”
She walked in and Walter closed the door behind her.
“Would you like some coffee? Or tea maybe?”
“Ok, uummm, tea please.”
Walter nodded and set about getting them drinks, his mind slowly blowing as he ran over every memory he had of his long-gone ex. The possible love of his life who had from one day to the next gone from happily in love to dumping him over the phone. He handed her a mug of tea and stared over his coffee as questions began bubbling up in his mind.
“So, why … I mean, why me?”
Her cheeks flushed red for a second before she took a deep breath and pulled her shoulders back.
“Because my mom told me so.”
Walters mind went blank and for a very calm moment, he thought about absolutely nothing.
“…Oh. … she, she… never told me.”
Madison looked down and to the side in a way that reminded him of himself, and a bolt of ice went through his veins and he instantly wanted to protect this human.
“But, hey, you’re here now, so… do you wanna do something? I’ve pretty much given up on going to work, so, breakfast? And you can tell me about yourself, if, if you like?”
Madison took a small sip of hot tea as she thought, then smiled and nodded.
Walter turned to his cupboards and started pulling things out and putting food together, while Madison watched. For a minute she was silent, then after another deep breath started trying to explain everything. She spoke about how at first her mom had simply said she didn’t have a dad, then eventually admitted that there was one but he wasn’t in the picture. As Madison had gotten older, she pushed to know what had happened and finally, just a month earlier, her mom gave her the whole story. Getting pregnant unexpectedly and panicking, worrying what to do and how he would react. Scared that maybe she didn’t want to keep the kid and he did, or she did want to keep it and he didn’t. Consumed by her fear she made a short series of interesting mistakes and found herself at her parent’s house lying about having had a drunken one-night stand with a stranger. Her parents then lied to the town saying that the deadbeat had walked out on her. Safely behind a few layers of lies, she started putting her new life together.
Walter listened with intent and had to smile at all the little turns of phrase which reminded him so much of his lost love. In a weird way he found it all making sense, everything he was being told fitted the girl that he knew and while it broke his heart a little to hear how she’d done it, he was also proud of her for making a plan that seemed to work. Madison seemed whole and mostly normal.
“And so, I talked to my mom about meeting you, and she’s in a hotel not far from here and we got your address and here I am.”
“Your mom is here?”
“Yeah, I think, I think she’d really like to see you. I mean, if, if you…”
“Yes! I mean, yes, I’d love that.”
Madison’s face lit up in a way Walter hadn’t seen before and he felt a warmth spread through him, and it made him want to be this girl’s father.
“Great, I mean, we, we can go there now? If, if you want.”
Walter stood up quickly and once again downed his coffee.
“Lead the way.”
A smile spread across Madison’s face that was the most beautiful thing Walter had ever seen and they headed out together. She led him a few blocks down and across the street, and as they got closer Walter could feel the excitement growing in him. The kind he hadn’t felt in years and it apparently showed on his face as Madison looked at him and giggled.
“Mom kinda made the same face when we left to come here.”
Walter’s smile broadened and he thought back to when they were together.
A church bell began to ring and Walter heard a faint whispered laugh on the wind. He turned to look at Madison who was rolling her eyes at the word groovy. Over her shoulder through the doors of the hotel, he saw Rebecca and she was every bit as beautiful as he remembered. Behind him, tyres screeched as brakes locked and a car that seemed to appear out of nowhere veered out of control and jumped up onto the sidewalk. Walter lunged forward and shoved Madison out of the way just as the car slammed into him, knocking him back into the street. And just before the second car hit him, he saw the face of the man in the suit and tie, smiling that smile that made his head swim and his heart shiver.