Virtual Reality by D.I. Jolly
“I don’t get it.”
“On Mondays, everyone’s tired from the weekend, on Friday they’re fed up from work. Wednesday is hump day and Thursday is mini-Friday. So I guess the only work people do, or at least the only good work people do, is on Tuesday. But you see, I’m always hungover on a Tuesday, so it makes no difference to me.”
He took a few more large swallows to empty his bottle before signalling for another. He had once been told the barman’s name but didn’t care enough to try and remember it now.
“Everyone seems to be living for the weekend, desperate to get to their free time which just passes by in a drink and drug-addled haze until they’re back to work on Monday. It’s like they’re all waiting for the time to come when they’re going to be happy. But the trick is, you see, I already know I’m a miserable old bastard and I’m never going to be happy, so I feel like I’m an outsider looking in at this insanity, this fake life people seem to be living, as if they haven’t realised that this is actually their real lives, right now! It’s not just a tester life, or a practice run to learn the rules before the real thing begins. Do you know what I mean?”
He looked up at the barman who had just put the fresh beer down and was only half paying attention.
“Ah what do you know, you’re just a kid like all the others. Like the ones who tell me I should get with the times, and not be so serious. Well, I tell ya, I am with the times, and they suck! But everyone else just seems to be ignoring it and pretending it doesn’t affect them. They should get with the times! And finally realise that if we don’t start actually doing something then it’s all going to end, and soon… and badly!”
The barman looked at Frank quizzically for a few moments then picked up a glass to polish.
“So, what are you doing about it?”
Frank arched an irritated eyebrow.
“Me? I’m complaining to you is what I’m doing, you little punk.”
“Hey, easy there old man. We don’t want a repeat of last time. If I have to get you thrown out of here again the management won’t let you back in. Then who will you have to complain at, in your attempts to save the world?”
Frank let out a snort in way of laughing and raised his bottle in respect. The kid had a sense of humour and he appreciated that. But he couldn’t stop thinking about his realisation about life and the way people, or at least, the people around him seemed to react to it. Because that’s what they were doing, simply reacting to the situation they’d been presented.
“You know what the real problem is?”
“The problem is none of these people live on purpose.”
The barman stopped what he was doing and looked at Frank, waiting for him to clarify his latest profound statement.
“None of the guys at work wanted to be office workers when they grew up, they just accepted life as it came to them and never once have they tried to follow their dreams. They just go through life like they’re playing a video game, like the only options are the ones that come to you and never once have they gone out and look for options on their own.”
“Is that how you got there?”
For the first time in the weeks since Frank had started drinking in that particular bar, the barman saw his face turn genuinely thoughtful, and it made him wonder if the reason Frank spend so much time looking forward was to avoid looking back. After a long pause and a few more sips of beer eventually, Frank all but whispered.
“No, I know exactly how I ended up here.”
He then let out a long deep sigh and finished the rest of his beer quickly before looking at his watch.
“Well that’s enough for today, I’m sure you’re tired of listening to armchair philosophers reminiscing about the future.”
The barman wanted to say something to try acknowledge the moment but wasn’t sure what, so settled on.
“Good night Frank, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Frank waved a drunken hand at him as he staggered out into the night and thought for a moment about how he might help the people he worked with. How he might save them from their pretend lives, and then bundled up against the cold to walked home.
In the morning he resigned and gave a loud speech where he lied about how he’d spent his spare time working towards his dreams and how they’d finally come true, and how if he could do it so could any of the rest of them, how it wasn’t luck but hard work and how he hoped they’d all find their own way one day. He then went home, packed his bags and move on.