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COOKED RICE by Bruce Harris

Shit happens in threes. The week’s bad news began in his doctor’s office.

“Your job is literally killing you, Arthur,” she said. “Keep up this pace and your health will continue to deteriorate. If you are in a position to retire, I strongly recommend it.”

Arthur Rice knew she was right. Despite the Ambien, he couldn’t remember the last time he had a good night’s sleep. Always tired, Arthur found himself becoming more and more irritable. His diet suffered. After his wife June’s death, he promised he wouldn’t let himself go. But over the past six months, he stopped cooking. He was not only overeating, but he was eating all the wrong foods. He gained over twenty pounds and the doctor warned him about his increasing blood pressure. In fact, she just upped his BP pill dosage. The doctor attributed Rice’s all too frequent headaches and scattered skin rashes to stress. He hoped that’s all it was. He didn’t dare tell her about the increasing nocturnal bathroom trips to take a leak. Christ, what was he up to? Four times a night? Five? He tried staying away from fluids after dinner, but it didn’t help. The last time the doctor shoved her fist up his ass, she said his prostate was enlarged and that we, she emphasized we, need to keep an eye on it. His PSA number was rising more frequently than his pecker. Before he left her office, the doctor scheduled him for more bloodwork.

The second piece of crushing news was delivered two days later. Harold Johnson, Rice’s financial adviser for the past 20+ years, removed his glasses and looked away from the computer monitor.

“The numbers don’t add up, Arthur. Sorry. If you retire now, I fear you won’t have enough to sustain yourself beyond, say, seven or eight years from now. Maximum, ten.”

“What about social security?” Rice asked. “I’m eligible now for full social security.”
Johnson nodded. “I’ve taken that into consideration. You still have a lot of June’s outstanding medical bills. We could get into the whole fairness of healthcare in this country, but I don’t think either one of us is up for that now. I’m sorry, Arthur.” He replaced his glasses and checked the monitor again. “I’ve looked at all the options from every angle. It’s no good. I recommend you stick it out for another three to five years to play it safe. You’ll just have to wait a little longer to retire and buy that Aston Martin,” the smiling Johnson said. Owning and driving a silver Aston Martin had been Rice’s dream ever since seeing Sean Connery play James Bond.

Three to five years, Arthur thought. He didn’t know if he could last three to five weeks on the job. Most departments, including human resources and payroll, had been outsourced to God knows where. He was friendly with no one. Rice felt as relevant as the reams of outdated green-bar computer paper that had been tossed into dumpsters decades ago. “You’re a luddite, Arthur,” someone whose name he didn’t know said to him. He knew she was right. In Arthur’s eyes, the company had morphed seemingly overnight from providing a secure, nurturing environment into a hostile, toxic workplace.

Rice looked at his finance guy. “My doctor recommends I retire.”

“Arthur, I’m not competing with your physician. I’m simply providing you with my best guess, looking long term, regarding the health of your finances. I can’t make the decision for you. I wish things were different. I wish June never got sick. I wish—”

Arthur stood, offered his hand to shake. “Let’s not turn this into a sympathy for Arthur Rice session.” He couldn’t believe he referred to himself in the third person, “I’ll think it over, Harold.”

What’s next? wondered Rice. It’s never simply a one-two punch and in Rice’s experience, the third time was never charmed. By week’s end, it came. Or more accurately, it didn’t. Like the dog in the nighttime, nothing. Arthur stood at the toilet to pee. Nothing. WTF? The urge was there. Nothing. He thought of waterfalls, inched over to the sink and turned on the faucet. Nothing. He needed another strategy. He took slow, deep breaths and thought of Mickey Mantle blasting home runs from both sides of the plate against some shit Washington Senators pitchers. Not even a trickle. There was no way he’d agree to a catheter. Rice had watched his old man struggle with one for years. He’d take a colonoscopy without anesthesia rather than shoving one of those things into his dick.

Dusk. The remaining sunlight lost its grip. Rice finally got a break. COVID was good for something. The car salesman wouldn’t go along on the test ride. Rice depressed the new silver Aston Martin’s gas pedal, climbing higher on California’s Pacific Coast Highway. The sun dropped below the mountain tops, plunging the elevated two-lane road into darkness. Arthur Rice turned off the headlights and floored it. With only the car’s rear wheels still touching pavement, Arthur Rice pissed his pants.


Bruce Harris writes crime and mystery stories.

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