THE MOST BORING DAY OF THE 20TH CENTURY – a short story

I have a story for you. It’s 2600 words and I haven’t been able to conjure up a picture for it yet so I don’t have it as an eBook just yet. I’ll try to get that done later. In the meanwhile here it is.

THE MOST BORING DAY OF THE 20TH CENTURY

A computer was fed over 300 million facts about history, people and places and the date that it chose as the most boring date in the history of the 20th century was the 11th of April, 1954.

I’m 83 years old, but on that date I turned 20.

In a way I guess what this computer did is telling of how my life turned out. If they fed the same computer with facts about all the people who lived during that century I’m sure my name would be very high on a list of the most boring lives led by people of the 20th century.

That day was different though. That day was anything but ordinary. I received a record from my mother as a birthday gift. It was Ella Fitzgerald’s Ella Sings Gershwin, and I spent the whole morning sitting in my father’s lounge, listening to that album.

It was unusual that I was home during those hours even on a Sunday. I was hard working at a young age and my father saw it as his role in life to teach me all about his practice. I went to college and later to the University and I became a lawyer just like my him, took over his practice when he died and didn’t even have to change the name.

That day I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do. It was Sunday and I was my own man, although I still lived with my parents. My mother made me pancakes for breakfast and my father gave me money, some to save but told me an amount I was allowed to spend. I already had a car I’d bought with the jobs I’d kept but I wanted new hubcaps. For a young lad there were rules, but on that day I was allowed a lot of leeway with the rules I was to keep if I were to stay in my parents good graces.

So when I’d listened to the wonderful voice of Ella Fitzgerald and dreamt myself away into the arms of my very own Ella, who was blond, wore trendy dotted dresses with wide skirts and sometimes put on hats that made her look very sophisticated and out of my league. I had plans to meet her.

Everything was right with the world.

When the afternoon came I took my car and drove to pick up my lady. Ella was beautifully clad in a red dress and her hair all made up in a complicated bun and she gave me a tie nicely wrapped. This was turning out to be a splendid birthday.

We drove to the diner and had hamburgers. Afterwards we had an ice-cream at the Dairy Queen. It was a perfect birthday and when I left Ella at her house I kissed her, smack on the mouth, gently and firmly and told her I thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world. She smiled shyly and kissed me again and then she wished me happy birthday again and vanished into her house.

Her mother was in the window. She was a stern woman, but had accepted the fact that I was three years older than her girl as she considered me to be a good husband material. When I got back in the car I wasn’t in the mood to go home so I drove down to the beach and sat down to watch the ocean for a while. It was already dark and a new week about to start. I worked hard in school and at work and it was an obligation, not something I longed for necessarily so I wanted to make this evening a little longer.

What I really wanted to do was to play the guitar. I had a guitar, but my father frowned upon the arts. He thought it was something women were supposed to do, something to entertain and not real work and so I had no means of learning. I tried to pluck it on my own, had even bought a book, but it was hard to get better without the help or some intellectual stimulation.

I went out of the car and threw pebbles into the ocean. I was a master at skipping stones, had a lot of practice at my parents country house as a kid and so I threw a few good ones out into the waves, taking my time to find just the right stone.

She came from behind. An angel in a white dress, with her high heels hanging by her fingers, tiptoeing, barefoot between the rocks carefully. Her hair was raven black and straight, came down to her hips and when she shook her head the hair danced around her head beautifully. It was hypnotizing. Her red lipstick, her dark eyes. She tread forward like she was very aware that she was being watched, like she was counting on being watched at all times. It sounds pretentious, but she reminded me more of a tired actress, who knows very well how to behave, despite tiredness.

She walked directly to me, sidestepping only to avoid big rocks and sharp seashells. She pointed her red fingernail at my chest, before she said anything and let her fingernail run down my shirt, flipping the shirt buttons as if she was proving to me that she could easily unbutton my shirt with one finger if she wanted to.

“I have a propositions for you Mr. Johnson,” she said to me. “One I hope you cannot refuse.”
I looked at her, smiling politely, but to be honest I felt a bit overwhelmed, a bit shy. So I didn’t say anything. “You are a hardworking man, a young man with ambitions and longings of your own, right?”

I just nodded my head, said nothing.
“You do have longings that are yours alone? About the girl you like? About your guitar?”
I was speechless. Here was this gorgeous creature, and not only was she talking to me, a rather plain fellow who wasn’t much to look at, she seemed to know everything about me too.

“How do you know that?” I asked her. I believe that to be the only time in my life that I ever stuttered. The words just wouldn’t come out of my mouth.

She walked around me. Threw her shoes in the sand and walked into the ice cold ocean waves. She glanced back, her dark eyes seemed to glisten in the light from the moon. I could see the world in her eyes and it seemed to be about to go up in flames.

She blinked one eye at me, the way women do seductively. I had never seen anything like it and she whispered, as if she was talking to the sea and not me, “I have my ways.”
“I have wishes,” I told her, trying my best to play it cool, but that’s something I’ve never been very good at. “What can you do about it?”

She laughed at that, turned in a circle so her skirts flew around her, as did her hair. It was a beautiful display, then she walked towards me and cocked her head. “I can make all your dreams come to, the wildest, the craziest dreams, the mildest and the worst, even the goody-two-shoes dreams, but you need to promise me one thing first. But before we get to that. If you were to get a wish, what would it be?”

I hesitated. I honestly didn’t know what to tell her.
“I guess it would involve my guitar,” I told her. “I’d really like to be much better at playing the guitar, I-,” I stopped there because she looked at me, a vicious grin on her face.
“You get anything you want in the world, and you’d like to be able to play the guitar?” she came towards me and stroked her red fingernail over my cheek. It felt like an aggressive move, her fingernail not piercing my skin, but definitely pushing so I could feel it.
“Not women? Alcohol? Success? You want to be able to play the guitar?”
“I wouldn’t mind having a better voice too, to be able to sing. Not that it matters.”
“You don’t believe me?” she whispered and snapped her finger.

It was a shock to the core seeing the change. It shook me so deeply that I stumbled backwards and fell on my ass. I’ve always been clumsy and why would the single most frightening moment of my life be any different?

She changed. Instantly she was no longer a raven haired beauty, but my Ella with the blond hair and then POOF she was my father, strongly telling me that I shouldn’t be out frolicking too late and then POOF she was a figure I care not to describe at all. It was, as I stated, the single most frightening experience of my life, much of it was due to the way she changed so quickly, but a lot of it had to do with that creature. I care not to scare you with it.

Then she was the raven haired girl again, told me she preferred this look, said she revelled in it. “Everyone wants me like this, even the most straight women can’t help but to gaze at me in awe when I look like this. I love that.”

I just nodded, still ass down in the sand, trying my best to gasp for air.
“So you believe me now?” she asked. “That I can do things, make dreams come true?”
“I think maybe you’re the devil my mother keeps warning me about,” I mumbled and this created such a laughter with the creature that she sat flat down in the sand opposite me.

When she’d managed to get a hold of herself she shrugged her shoulders. “Would it matter? I get your soul after you die and you get whatever you want in this life. I can make your wildest dreams come true. Isn’t that a nice trade off?”
“And what happens afterwards? Why do you want my soul?”
“Oh, those are the secrets of the universe, secrets you’re not entitled to know yet. It could be good, it could be bad,” she snickered.

I sighed and stood up.
“As far as you’ll know after tonight, you will live your life in luxury, with whatever you want and afterwards you are mine.”
“My mother always says that such things are too good to be true.”
“Your mother, huh?” she mused. “Your mother knows how to dance on tables, Did you know that? She had her fair share of fun.”
I try my best to avoid thinking about my mother dancing on tables. I know it must be a lie, that’s what the devil does? Sows these seeds in your head, lies to you subtly, to get what she wants. That is what the devil does?
“I don’t want anything from you,” I told her.
“You know you’ll be mediocre all your life if you don’t go along with this? You’ll get that degree of yours and you’ll follow in your fathers very boring footsteps and you’ll marry a mediocre woman with brown hair and blue eyes and-,” I stopped her there, because my Ella didn’t have brown hair. She was a blond.
“Goes to show what you know,” I said, feeling redeemed, “Ella is a blond.”
“You don’t think she’ll stick with someone like you? She’ll become a superstar, she wouldn’t hesitate to take me upon this offer. She wouldn’t give it a second thought, because she’s going places that Ella of yours, she’s going places and apparently you’re not.”

I swallowed hard. I didn’t want to believe her, but I did. I believed every word and during that moment I struggled with myself. I loved Ella deeply, I didn’t want to lose her.
“So what will it be, mediocre boy? Will you rise out of the dust and become something, or are you going to let people tell you what to do for the rest of your life?”
I looked at her and for an instant I was about to tell her yes. That I’d give her my soul at the end of this if only I got all my wishes. But then my mother’s words echoed in my head. The devil always lies. The devil always as a trick up his sleeve. The devil is never truthful, everything out of him is a lie. And though my mother would never be able to imagine the devil as a woman, I choked.

“I can’t take you up on it,” I said in a low whisper.
“Are you sure about that? Last chance.”
I shook my head. “I’m sorry, I can’t do it.”
“Your loss,” she said and stood up. She danced into the ocean again, kicking at the water so it splashed all around her.
“You know, I’ll tell you a secret, now that you’ve told me no. I guess I do this because I hate to lose, but the truth is that they never let cowards into heaven. Has it ever occurred to you that your mother is playing for the wrong team?”

She said this, turned and walked towards me. Kissed me on the cheek. I can still, all these years later, feel the burn on my skin. It was a mark. It was an invisible mark that I’ll always carry. A mark that I’m playing for the ‘wrong’ team, whatever that means in this world. I told her no. I did and I walked away. Got into my car. Went to bed and woke up the next morning ready to take on the obligations I’d been handed.

It’s not fair, but ever since that happened I haven’t been able to listen to the big talents without getting the image of her in my head. Elvis Presley became big two years later. Golden voice and I don’t doubt for a second that he was born the real deal, that he didn’t need any help or push to get there, but I sometimes wonder what would have happened had I told her yes.

The 11th of April maybe have been the most boring day in history, but for me it was everything but. It was the best day of my life, the day I had all the opportunities in the world and lost them too.

I didn’t marry Ella. She changed her name and became an actress. I’m not sure her life became better for it. My wife is happy, I know that by the way she looks at me, even now when I’m 83. And it may have been mediocre and bland, and I may sometimes regret what I lost out on, but I don’t regret the mediocre life I led. Not for a second. And if I were to live it all again, even that day on the beach on the 11th of April, 1954? I would do it all the same way again, with my mediocre wife and my mediocre children.

What puzzles me still is what she meant by her last words to me, that cowards don’t get into heaven and I sometimes think maybe that she was feeling spiteful and that I wasn’t the coward that evening. That I wasn’t the coward who didn’t take this wild opportunity like I thought for so long, but that maybe it was brave of me to walk my own path. For me the 11th of April was the best day of the 20th century and all but boring.

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