When Jeremy was ten, he grew a lot of facial hair. His parents ignored it. His brothers ignored it. But children at school whispered, and wondered: what’s wrong with this guy? Close to eleven, Jeremy fell off his bike. A car ran over his leg, breaking it. It took him four months to recover. When the cast came off, Jeremy went to the bathroom. He took his father’s razor and stared at it. Then he cut his arm open and bled into the sink.
High school. Seriously. Who tells stories about what happened in high school? What would be the point?
In college, Jeremy sat in a dark dorm room. Outside, people played music and drank. He tapped at his computer, the window closed, headphones on. Sometimes, he sat back in the chair. Stared at the screen. Stroked his beard, a wild tangle that was already starting to go grey.
So that’s twenty-one years gone. What can you get done in twenty-one years if you really try?
Jeremy is in a basement. Red fabric covers a window. He taps at his computer. He weights three hundred and forty pounds. When he goes up the stairs, they creak. When he walks down the road to the corner store, he huffs for air. In the store, there’s a video game machine. He pumps quarters into it, mumbling at the screen. Goes back to the basement with a plastic bag full of ice cream and chips.
Twice a month, his parents send him a cheque. Every year, he goes to the dentist. Once, he went to the library and walked down the aisles, unable to find the bathroom. He shat his pants and hid his underwear in the long grass outside. He brought two books home with him, and never returned them.
August 8th, Jeremy’s birthday, he saw a bunch of celery in the small, dark produce section of the corner store. He took it home and put it in the fridge, next to five jars of jam.
At his computer, a story was breaking about a terrorist bombing. People were dead. The ringleader’s face showed up on the screen. Jeremy studied it, and that night, had dreams of being lean and trained, the type of person who could infiltrate a villain’s lair and take out the bad man. He woke up sweating. It was dark outside. He went to the fridge and reached for jam, but took the celery instead. He broke off a piece and there, at nearly four in the morning, chewed on the stalk until it was gone.
The next morning, words popped up on Jeremy’s screen: the terrorist ringleader was dead. Somehow, his lair had been found, and a bomb had been dropped on it, killing him and his compatriots.
A week later, a newsflash passed across Jeremy’s screen as he ate ice cream. A gunman had taken hostages in a public school. The building was on the screen, police outside, parents crying behind the barricades. Two children and a teacher were already dead. Jeremy watched the footage into the night, and fell asleep in his chair. Dreams came of Jeremy with swords in hand, entering the public school. He walked the hallways. In a classroom, an angry man brandished a gun, but Jeremy was fast. The swords flashed, cutting off the man’s arm, then stabbing him through the neck.
Jeremy woke and went to the fridge. He was sweating. He was starving. His fingers found the celery, and ripped off a stalk. Wilted, it tasted like muddy water. But he ate it all.
In the morning, news came that the hostage taker was dead. He’d had a massive stroke and died in front of the children. No one else had been harmed.
In the darkness of the basement, Jeremy scanned the world for news. No longer did he play his games. Or watch his movies and shows. Or stare at women he could never have. A story appeared of a famous drug dealer in South America, and the wars that raged around him. In his dreams, Jeremy was in the jungle, in camouflage gear with a sniper rifle. In the real world, he tore a hunk of celery off a stalk, as he sat on the toilet and emptied his bowels. The next day, the drug dealer was assassinated. Overseas, a politician decided to imprison people of a religious minority, calling them invaders. In the parliament of this country, Jeremy dreamed of the speech he would give, the moral cleansing he would deliver. The next day, the politician hung himself in his office. On the screen, a documentary about a serial killer who had murdered native women. Dozens of them. That night, Jeremy was on a lonely highway, as a car approached a woman, but before she could be taken, he’d been there. Under the watch of headlights, he fought with the killer. The next day, the man died in prison, his body opened with a knife, his arms tied to the bars of his prison cell with the remains of his bloody clothes.
So that’s a couple of weeks gone. What can you do in a couple of weeks if you really try?
It’s so strange, said the screen. All these bad people suddenly dying. Is this karma? God? Inevitability? Revenge? In a dark basement, a three-hundred-pound man said no: it’s just Jeremy. Eating chips, he scanned the world and killed a child molester. A white supremacist. A cult leader who abused his disciples.
The bunch of celery diminished. It was brown, dry. Every night, he took a small nibble. It slid down his throat, washed with chocolate to kill the taste. It was the healthiest thing he had eaten in years, and he felt good for it, save for the taste. He could not handle the taste.
Days passed. People died. The world recoiled, took notice. Bad people recanted. Gave themselves up. Found religion, and repented of their evil ways, before the invisible thunder bolt could take them too. Lines of bad people appeared at police stations, confessing their sins. The churches were full, the pews warm with sweaty asses as nerves jangled with the proposition of justice that had no form, no voice, no mercy.
Jeremy sat at his computer. In the basement. A drunk driver killed a baby, and so the driver fell down a flight of stairs and opened their skull on the concrete. A nurse provided the wrong medication to an elderly person, and so the nurse overdosed on heroin. A story appeared of an executed man who had in fact been wrongfully convicted of his crime, and so the jury of twelve expired in different ways the next day, an unholy coincidence that could not be ignored, or explained. But it doesn’t stop once you start. Once you have the taste for it. So there goes the bigamist. The fraudster. The drug addict breaking into a pharmacy for a fix. The woman who aborts a baby. The parents who terminate their comatose child because there’s no hope left, and you have to wonder: what’s hope, anyway? It’s nothing, not when you have power.
Jeremy walks up the stairs, huffing. He feels healthier for the celery. Outside, it’s bright. He’s wearing a white t-shirt and stretch pants. At the corner store, he buys a jar of jam, a box of sugary cereal, soda, gum. And lots of chocolate. Then he plays video games, mumbling at the screen.
When he’s done, he goes to the produce section. But there’s no celery. “Where’s the celery?” he asks the clerk.
The woman stares at a magazine. “No one likes celery.”
“Go to the grocery store then. They’ll have it there.”
Jeremy pays for his food. The clerk, Jenny, smiles at him. “You want celery when you’re buying all this other stuff? Maybe cut this stuff out and you’ll be healthier. Happier.”
“I am happy,” he tells Jenny.
That night, he dreams of her. Jenny’s breasts. Her golden hair. Her youth. The mocking little smile on her face. Things he can’t have, and the things he doesn’t want. He goes to the fridge in the middle of the night and eats the last piece of his celery – chews it furiously, and then goes back to bed. The next day, he calls the corner store and asks for Jenny. But Jenny didn’t show up for work, he’s told. She got off her bus that morning, and got hit by a car that had jumped the sidewalk. She’d died immediately.
Days pass. What can you do in a day if you really tried?
Jeremy sits in his basement. He scans the world. Everyone is wondering what will happen – this great, invisible hand, whose neck will it choke next? People are trying hard to be good. But they slip up. They fail at times. And Jeremy watches them. He notes their actions.
He orders food from a grocery store. Bags arrive, filled with produce. There’s no chips. No ice cream. No jam. One bag is full of celery, which he arranges on the top shelf of the fridge. That day, he snacks on carrots and bananas. Peels an avocado and nearly chokes on the pit.
The night is coming. Jeremy stares at his screen. A buzz is moving through his body. It’s a type of energy, an awakeness. He scans the world, and finds so many problems. So much bullying, so much name-calling, so much poverty and illness. There are many places to put the blame for these things. So many places.
Jeremy falls asleep in his chair, and the dreams start. All the things he has seen during the day flit through his head, but they’re pushed aside. His dreaming mind sees a house in a suburban neighborhood. Upstairs, a family is asleep: parents, two children, a dog. In the basement, a single light is on, and a fat man is sitting at a computer, scribbling names onto a growing list. He’s filthy, sweaty. Food is crusted into his moustache and beard. His facial hair is completely grey now, and utterly tangled.
When Jeremy wakes up, his heart is thrumming. He goes to the bathroom and takes out a pair of scissors. He cuts his beard, chopping most of it off. Then he takes out an old razor. He doesn’t remember why he bought it. It’s never been used. He slices it across his arm, cutting himself.
As the fridge opens, light shines in the basement. Jeremy reaches in, dripping blood. Purged of junk, the fridge is full of vegetables and fruit. The smell is overwhelming, the colors unreal. His eyes settle on the top row, where six bunches of celery sit by themselves, fresh and ripe, the stalks lined up as though someone had built these things carefully, putting thought into each strand, and every moist little bit.