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The Cycle

By Daniel Groves


Sam Jackson hated his job, primarily because his name was Sam Jackson. Everything about him was completely different from the Sam Jackson that everyone knows, yet somehow his coworkers insisted that everything about him and the Sam Jackson that everyone knows was the same. And this unfortunate tragedy extended beyond his job; all his friends and acquaintances since the beginning of time made the same comparison.

“I’m really sorry,” his mother would always say. “I liked the name! And you know I don’t watch movies.”

Sam would grumble and shake his head, swallowing the disdain.

“There’s probably a million Sam Jacksons out there anyway,” she continued, assuming that telling her son he was in no way special would lighten his hostility.

Sam worked in an office. He filed paperwork, compiled reports, collected debts, prepared invoices, and answered phones: all of which he loathed.

To get to work each day, he walked one block north, two blocks east, and waited impatiently at the bus stop for the rolling pack of wild humans to arrive. He would smash his way aboard, swipe his city bus card’s fading magnetic strip, nod thanks to the driver, and push through the mosh pit—rocking and rolling as the bus sped along—to grab a wobbling hook. The importance of these hooks could not be understated, as they allowed the standing passengers to maintain their tiny remaining bit of dignity and avoid falling to their deaths. To be trampled on the floor of a city bus is no way to exit this world.

The passengers never changed. Sam noted the faces—how they looked, how they moved to different seats depending on the first people’s choices and the following domino effect—but did nothing more. He didn’t care. The other passengers were the enemy, and they all fought for the same small pieces of real estate.

Upon exiting the bus, he would walk two blocks south, enter the office building, stand in line for the elevator, pancake himself inside with all the other people, then fight his way out once he reached his floor. He worked on the twenty-third floor, which meant approximately twenty-two stops before his exit.

After finally arriving, he would perform his tasks. Some time would pass, then Sam would repeat the entire process in reverse. By the time he made it home, he’d felt like he’d gone fifteen rounds with the champ.

Sam usually ate two boiled hot dogs smothered in ketchup and mayonnaise—on regular sliced bread instead of hot dog buns—and some potato chips for dinner. He liked salt and vinegar. He watched the same shows he always did while he ate, cleaned up his dishes as he always did, and went to bed early to recoup the necessary strength to do it all again the following day.

This was Sam’s cycle.

Same work, same days, same nights, and, sprinkled between it all, the same shit about his name.

One morning, Sam squished onto the bus, already fed up with the day, and decided enough was enough. He had to do something different.

He battled for a vacant hook, took it in his hand, and looked at the man standing next to him. The man had a massive mustache which masked much of his mouth. When the man’s eyes finally met Sam’s, Sam saw recognition in the man’s expression, and exasperation washed over the man’s face. Sam persisted.

“What do you do?” Sam asked.

The man pretended not to hear Sam. He sniffled, wrinkling his nose and bunching up his mustache above half his lip.

“Hi,” Sam croaked, deciding to begin again.

This time, the man decided he could no longer reasonably plead ignorance, so he gave a curt, upward nod, hoping it would appease Sam. It didn’t.

“What do you do?” Sam asked again.

The man sighed heavily. “Banker,” he caved.

“How’s that treating you?”

“Great.”

For a moment, their eyes remained locked, giving birth to a silence so profoundly uncomfortable that having to scratch out a shaky signature on the Declaration of Independence and try again would have been less awkward.

“I’m Sam.”

The bus began to slow.

“Well, this is my stop,” said the mustache.

Sam knew it wasn’t, because he saw the man on the bus beyond this stop before, but he made no comment.

And that was that.

Back into the cycle Sam went.


The following day, something finally happened. But first, it’s important to know that not only did Sam Jackson hate his job, but he also hated his love life. Particularly because it did not exist.

“You got to find yourself a nice girl,” his mother would always say. “Clock’s tickin’. Soon all the good ones will be gone.”

Sam would grumble and shake his head.

He tried and tried, and tried again, but things just never went his way. He tried all the different forms of dating—going “out” to spend an evening in an agonizing mental misery; speed dating, only to watch others find success, being set up by coworkers though not being able to overcome the deficiencies provided by his horrible, awful name—but nothing ever worked out. Nothing stuck. Eventually, he just quit trying.

But on that particular Tuesday morning, with the sun finally peaking through the clouds (it was the middle of summer, though Sam only then noticed it for the first time), someone different was on the bus.

Sam squished his flabby body into the crowded bus as usual, forced his way through to find a hook, and took hold. As his eyes scanned the space, they fell onto a wonderful sight. Across the way, seated, with a phone in hand, sat the most beautiful woman that Sam had ever seen.

Actually, it was the most beautiful top of a head Sam had ever seen, because her face was buried in her phone, masked by her radiant, black hair. But he extrapolated that onto her face, drawing the assumption that she was, in fact, the most beautiful entire woman he had ever seen.

At that moment, the world around him transformed. The bus’s drab colors sharpened and intensified; the hanging, torpid odor turned to flowers; and the squealing cars passing beyond the windows sang like spring birds. Hustling pedestrians began to skip, dancing their way to their destinations. As if commanded by Moses, the bodies between Sam and the woman parted, providing him a clear path to approach her.

Sam understood the stars had just aligned, and he intended to capitalize.

He strode confidently up to the woman, the seat beside her uncharacteristically vacant, and sat down.

At first he just looked at her, like the mustachioed man the day before, until she finally felt his eyes cooking a spot on her skin, causing her to lift her head.

“Hi. I’m Sam.”

The woman sat up, straightening her shoulders and neck, and beamed at Sam.

“Melody,” she cooed. Her soft voice exhaled vanilla mixed with strawberries.

“I’ve not seen you here before.”

Melody raised her eyebrows. “Nope. Just arrived.”

Sam smiled encouragingly.

“Moved in from Philadelphia,” she explained.

“Ah, yes, Brotherly Love.”

She laughed softly, knowingly.

“Well, I ride this bus every day,” Sam continued, “and you certainly are a light shining through the darkness.”

Melody popped her lips, happily surprised, a spark flashing in her large, blue eyes. “You know, I’d heard people in this town are sweet, and here you are already proving it true.”

“Just being honest,” Sam said, holding up both hands.

And they were off.

Sam’s next stroke of luck was that he and Melody exited the bus together, walking in the same direction. It turned out she worked in the same building three floors below him as a volunteer coordinator and fundraising expert for a non-profit organization. She previously worked at the Philadelphia location but had transferred.

Sam and Melody began riding the bus together both to and from work, ate their lunches together, and spent their evenings touring around the city.

Sam introduced Melody to some of his coworkers, and she introduced him to her friends. With this new development, the ridicule Sam took about his name nearly vanished entirely.

They would spend their weekends enjoying the city’s offerings and exploring the surrounding areas. After three months of dating casually, Sam asked Melody to be his girlfriend, and she accepted saying very much she would like him to be her boyfriend.

Sam’s spirits soared, his productivity at work skyrocketed, and his popularity within his social circle exploded. He received a promotion to be the head of his department, earned fancy bonuses like a company car and vacation reserved for upper management only, and used his position to greatly improve his and Melody’s lives.

They moved in together, taking a large apartment on the northwest side, complete with a spectacular view of the water. They became the hosts that their friends only wished that they, themselves, could be. Along came marriage, success, family, and happiness.

Sam and Melody’s big, happy world.


Of course, none of that actually happened outside of Sam’s imagination. The bus rolled to a stop, and the woman lifted her head. She was, as Sam guessed, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, but the bus came to rest at her destination, and she dashed out the door without even a glance in Sam’s direction. He never saw her again, henceforth assuming her to have been simply a tourist.

Sam Jackson—the man who hated his name, his job, and his love life—missed his opportunity.

And that was that.

Back into his cycle, Sam went.


About the author:

Daniel Groves is a writer from Ohio whose work has been accepted by Roi Faineant Press and Coffee Filter Zine.

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