Kaput

      Ted awoke from a sound sleep at 7:03 a.m., a mere 180 seconds from the time his alarm should have gone off. Even though the clock’s pink bunny-sanctioned battery had given out sometime in the wee hours, Ted’s body, by sheer rote, had awakened at the desired time. He got up, thankful he’d dodged a bullet by not oversleeping, and launched into his morning ritual. First up, the blessed release of the Morning Pee. Reaching for the toilet paper to eliminate the evidence of a few renegade droplets, Ted uses the last of the roll. No problem, he buys it at Sam’s Club by the gross. He replaces it with a fresh roll and moves on to his shave.  He’s able to coax a final stingy faceful of foam from the can until its sputtery demise. A long hot shower follows during which he finishes off an extra-large bottle of Head & Shoulders (thank you, Sam’s) and ekes out the last bit of service from a pitiable sliver of Ivory soap. By the time Ted brushed his teeth with the final desperate squeezings of his fennel toothpaste, he started suspecting something was up.
     Before he forgets, he adds AA batteries, shaving cream, shampoo, soap, and toothpaste to his shopping list on the fridge then moves on to breakfast. The synchronicity of endings continues. He grinds the last of the coffee beans, scrambles his last two eggs, toasts the last of the bread, and spreads it with the last of the strawberry jam.  This, Ted decides, is getting decidedly weird.
    Still following his daily routine, he goes out to the front walk to retrieve his newspaper to read over breakfast. Ted finds it in the usual spot and notices that a post-it note from Freddie, his paperboy, is attached. It informs him that this is his last paper and thanks Ted for the opportunity to have served as his delivery person. That’s right, remembered Ted, I’d decided to let the paper lapse, but with the advent of yet another ending he has to admit to himself that he’s starting to get a tad creeped out.
     Convincing himself that dwelling on a harmless string of coincidences is counter-productive, Ted chooses to focus on the latest news in the paper. Instead of providing a helpful diversion, however, a glance at the front page has just the opposite effect. The lead story is about the collapse of Israeli/Palestinian peace talks over some real or imagined slight or breach of diplomacy. Suddenly, and to his horror, the Big Picture is brought into crystal clarity for Ted: The Mideast is a powder keg about to blow and touch off Armageddon. The shocking yet undeniably obvious fact is that the end of the shampoo, the end of the eggs, the end of his subscription, all of it, were signs from the Universe, from God, that The End is here.
 
   How to process such important information? What’s the best course of action?  What’s the most morally responsible way of proceeding? The most practical? Flee the city? Stockpile canned goods? Spread the word?  Yes, that’s it, Ted decides. Go to the middle of town and warn as many people as possible of the impending cataclysm. Not knowing if he has a matter of days or minutes, Ted hurriedly fashions a sign. “The End is Near” seemed a little too cliché, like something out of a New Yorker cartoon. “Repent” seemed too fire & brimstone. “Apocalypse Now” too film critic-y. What ended up in 18” high red and black all-caps was a single word, chosen for maximum impact: “DOOMED”. The back of the sign, in a much more subdued font, read: “Ask me about my toothpaste”. Upon finishing the sign he tossed away the used-up sharpies.
      Ted thought for a moment about the most effective wardrobe for this most crucial of missions. The stereotypical sartorial choice, of course, would be a somewhat shabby sackcloth robe accessorized with a zealot’s glint in the eyes.  Not having any sackcloth in his closet and not particularly wanting to look like a refugee from central casting, Ted decided to go with his powder blue Adidas jogging suit. If mankind is toast, he figured at least he’ll go out in comfort and style.
   Out in the driveway Ted started his car and was disappointed (but not surprised) to find that the gas gauge was riding the right edge of ”E”, probably not enough to get downtown. He decided to walk two blocks to the nearest bus stop. Ted had been waiting there for almost twenty minutes when the downtown bus turned the corner and started heading his way. Louis was the driver on that route, a veteran bus driver of twenty-three years. Ted stood up from his bench when he saw his bus approaching; Louis sees the lone soon-to-be-passenger and strains his eyes to make out what’s printed on the man’s sign he’s holding aloft. At the very same moment that Louis discerns that the man’s sign screams “DOOMED” the  supposedly long-lived battery in his year-old pacemaker quits, causing Louis to lurch in an involuntary spasm. The forty-foot city bus jumps the curb striking Ted full force, killing him instantly, and bringing Ted’s long and unusual series of endings to…an end.

© 2018 Tom Manche