When at Home

When at Home

            Eyes blinking awake. The apartment is quiet, only the rattling hum of the air-conditioner in the window. The light outside, blazing through, golden as wheat. I feel an aching for life.

Earlier, while at work, I was dying, now I’m looking at my reflection, vertically, in the standing mirror and starting to feel better. Same bed-head but no longer a zombie. The open wounds are scabbing, the eyes less bloodshot, my skeletal-self and withering muscles wrapped in gray skin improving from the sickly color to a sun-touched look. I’ve been off shift since 5 AM. I can’t explain much of what has gone on at these shifts, only that the hours were long like time was at a standstill, and I did a lot of dreaming about where else I’d rather be, like on a boat or at a beach, smelling sunscreen, and reading a book feeling beads of sweat running down the temples of my head, glistening in the rays and the reflection off the water. But autumn has come swiftly, the summer ending before it began. Those dreams have to be put on hold. The last doctor I saw said I was crazy to blame my condition on work. She told me she’s seen worse and I thought to myself, that makes my condition invalid? I’m not one to complain. That’s the unusual part. I asked if she had any pills for my condition. She said, close your eyes and picture the end of the world. I didn’t close my eyes. I didn’t express any protest. I didn’t fully understand and I only stared at her as she stared back. That was over seven years ago. And that wasn’t such a horrifying experience where it’s the sole reason for not going to see a doctor since. It’s not that at all. My parents both met an early grave by the hands of a doctor. And there’s the cost. I’m struggling with covering the rent, car payments, and car insurance. I had health insurance once but could no longer afford it and lost it. At least I have work, I guess.

I’ll be 39 in December. I question my life choices and decisions. It gives me bad dreams even while I’m not sleeping. I look at my phone. It is now 2:33 PM. Hoping someone arrives and invites me out to lunch. Looking back into the mirror, I need to comb my hair.

I need a lot more than that.

            Sometimes I hate you.

Then why not kill yourself? 

I feel an aching for life.

I stop looking in the mirror as my head begins to spin and lift myself out of bed with the motivation of grabbing a beer from the fridge. I put on yesterday’s shirt.

 A gray mass, a twisting nimbus cloud, floating across my mind, I was divorced young but was married younger. We dated before the beginning of high school. My ex-wife only has one leg but it is one beautiful leg. She had two but the one was blown off during her third and final tour in Iraq. She joked around once that all of her love for me was in the leg she lost. I didn’t laugh at that until I finally signed the papers. Moving with her over the years, from Rhode Island to Alabama, to California, to Texas, to Washington, I cooked, tended bar and got my hands into random construction jobs across the country. We were never homeowners. The plan was to make the last move where we’d build a forever home and have kids. Our last move together was to New York near West Point. There we found an apartment and I found a steady job at a local pub. Then I lost my job after the pub burned down. I never had a career. She never got pregnant. Our dream eroded by exhaustion. Then I lost my wife. She moved. Disappearing, slipping into cold water silently like a submarine. She’ll reach out depending on how long she stays up at the surface for then dive back down into the depths. I stayed. I’ve been working odd jobs since. Filling in for others when they don’t want a shift. The pay is decent and it’s all in cash but there are no benefits, no security. I thought we were gifted. We had the ability to scale the heights. What held us back? How did we fail?


I check my phone. No messages. The only missed calls are from debt collectors. No one is taking me out to eat.

That’s okay.

Hunger causes impatience and I burn toast and spread butter on it.

Sitting on the couch in front of the TV while eating, bites of crumbling black bread peppers the plate, back and forth between a sip of hot coffee and a gulp of cold beer. Cold beer seven days a week with all the channels in the world and all the different streaming services, scanning aimlessly, but I don’t have a favorite show and it feels more like losing time. Telling myself what I need to start doing to make this apartment, my life, more livable. Lift the gloom from this place. The toilet needs to be replaced. The shower needs to be cleaned. Everything needs to be dusted, the carpets need vacuuming, the cupboards need to be emptied to check for possible mice infestation and take the air-conditioner out of the window. I need to go to the dentist. I need to see a dermatologist. I need a job with benefits. I need. I need. I need.

I need to stop.

All these needs are overwhelming.

I wet a finger and pick at the crumbs on the plate, standing taking the empty coffee mug and bottle to the kitchen sink, reminding myself of the job prospects. There are options but I can’t pursue them all. And I don’t have time and have less money. I should only pick one, the one I’d be most happy with.

What if it doesn’t work out? I can’t afford the risk.

What I can do is swallow my impatience and hope I’ll find the courage one day to make a change or change will make it for me. That’s what keeps me going, the hope of finding something else, trying harder, being better. Rise somehow.


Sometimes I really hate you.

Then why not kill yourself?

I feel an aching for life.

Back in bed, the apartment is quiet. Only the hum of the air-conditioner in the window. I read a book and put it down for another but can’t concentrate, the words shaking like loose gravel during an earthquake in between my eyes. It’s exhausting. I go back to the kitchen, grab another beer and wash the pile of dirty dishes. I look out the kitchen window at the golf green grass that gives way to a parking lot filled with cars and more cars pass by on the snaking roads leading to the highway. Trees dwindling with the visibility of the stars. I wash her souvenir coffee cup from Disney World, one of the many things she left behind. Outside it is dark. Time is in acceleration mode because I’m not at work. I swear Time is aware of when I’m not at work, working for the system.

I finish the dishes. My reflection is in the window. Looking better than before, the gray of dead flesh lingering in small patches, more greenish-white now. Improvement.

There’s a text from my boss telling me that Kenny called out and I need to cover his double. It’s no longer quiet when the voice of a void shouts over the air-conditioner rattling in the window. I’m listening but can’t make out what it is saying. If only I made better choices maybe I’d have an easier time understanding. Now, I’m unsure if I’m really hearing anything. At least I’m home, at least here.

 I feel an aching for life.  

Mitchell Flanagan

Mitchell Flanagan is a thirty-two-year-old, struggling artist, writer, and musician. His poems have appeared in the magazine The Chronogram in August of 2010 and December 2011. He has no MFA or other publications. He's currently working on short stories, novels, and a chapbook. He also writes songs, plays bass, and sings with his band Cold Heaven. He lives and works as a bartender and sleeps occasionally in Newburgh, New York.  


  1. Might be the best fiction I read all year.

    1. Thank you for reading and for the kind words everyone!

  2. Jason Molere -- Not a bunch of fiction the net worth a damn. This is excellent material.

  3. strong work and would like to read more.

  4. It was an interesting read! I am very impressed after reading several of your posts. Keep writing, don't stop. You do it well. Thank. Great and interesting work.

  5. You are a wonderful storyteller, your words will surely be close to any person because you write in good, "live" language. Magnificent!

  6. I believe, that almost all people feel comfortable at home. As for me, I always feel such a warm and cozy atmosphere at home.

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