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Preparing the Return

Preparing the Return
by Jace Daniel (b. 1969)

It all started with a shoebox about seven weeks before tax day. The pink one in the garage, floating around all year from workbench to shelf to couch and back to shelf again, never finding its final resting place. The shoebox labeled with a brand he didn’t wear. A cardboard halfway house once containing a sole not his, a size numbered by a measuring system different than his gender’s own. A makeshift junk drawer with a well-intended yet vague purpose: to store tangible receipts from the previous calendar year. Stockpiled mementos validating his legitimacy. Printed records of his purchases, recognized as justifiable expenses by the institution to which he was subjected by virtue of his existence. A box packed with the kind of clutter made necessary only by responsibility.

That night, at that hour, it was time to revisit those financial mementos. Arming himself with a handful of paper clips, a stack of manila folders, and a trash can, he cracked another beverage, cranked up some jazz to occupy his nerves, and began plowing through the inevitable. Like a nosy robot of flesh and bone, he went through each slip of inked paper, examining the price and the date, isolating receipts dated the previous year. With no particular plan than to be done with it, he composed his pathetically indecisive masterpiece, sculpting individual piles from the assortment, commuting through the data like a skeptic in an amusement park’s dark ride, reluctantly attentive to the obscure montage of year-old flashbacks. A summarized pairing of last year’s dates with last year’s locations. Some of them familiar, others forgotten.

Gasoline, gasoline, gasoline, bookstore, dining, gasoline, bar tab, dining, gasoline, gasoline, Home Depot, gasoline, gasoline, bar tab, gasoline, gasoline, gasoline, vet bill, gasoline, bar tab, dining, bar tab, gasoline, gasoline, gasoline, gasoline…

…dining. With a date over two years old. A straggler.

The restaurant, barely legible behind the smeared, fading toner. A place he knew well, yet hadn’t visited in nearly a thousand days. The time. Late evening. The items. A custom cocktail he had ordered countless times by heart, yet never once consumed. The bill. Twice as much as that which would be normal today.

After first allowing it one last quiet moment to utter its final words, he executed its execution, dismembering it as quickly and painlessly as termination by guillotine, certain death ensured through a lavish asphyxiation by fist.

And so it went. Into the trash can. With the pink shoebox to follow.

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