Copyright © Courtney Josephson
For two boys in middle school, their favorite after school activity was to follow Mr. Sprout home from work.
They would follow him from his job at the local gas station, trailing about 20 feet behind the older man. In their minds, they were as stealthy as special ops, but in reality, they made a great deal of racket: laughing, shoving, and whatnot. They took delight in calling him Mr. Sprout, thinking they were exceedingly clever. The man’s name was actually Spraught; but the way that copious amounts of hair sprouted from his nose, ears, neck, back, and knuckles gave rise to the new moniker.
They kicked stones behind him down the dirt road that lead to his unkempt house: shutters leaned heavily away from their windows, the lawn rivaled grassland in the savannah, the roof appeared to be balding, and the gutters had saplings growing out of them. The boys had initially been surprised that Mr. Sprout did not hear their approach, but upon following him for days into weeks, they realized he was constantly muttering to himself, and mostly unaware of the world around him.
To the kids’ delight, the muttering was full of the coarsest swears their young ears had ever heard. They were hilariously over the top, but acerbic, and all directed at any customer whom Mr. Sprout believed had slighted him throughout his shift at work. He remembered each customer in exquisite detail, recalled each word of their interaction, and would repeat the phrases over and over, switching words until he finally had a fictional account of him dominating the conversation.
Mr. Sprout reached his front step after charging through the wild lawn just as the kids were running around the side of the house to take their positions atop milk crates outside of his office window. They leaned against the moldy vinyl siding and jostled each other until they could all see into the window.
Mr. Sprout poured himself a drink from a corked bottle into a coffee mug; he liberally filled the dirty mug and flung the bottle into the trash. He grunted a greeting to his sickly wife down the hall, and retreated into the office, closing it quickly and firmly as he heard her quavery voice ask how his day was.
He wet his lips and then fired up his computer, clicking over to his favorite pornography site. The boys had their eyes glued to the screen, from such a distance they could just make out what was happening. It never occurred to them what Mr. Sprout did with these videos was unusual.
He did loosen his belt and ease down his fly, but only to allow his girth to spread out more easily as he sat. He sipped and scowled at the men and women, slamming his hand on the desk. He critiqued their bodies, their technique, the camera angles, music choices, and dialogue. He commented on obvious surgeries and enhancements, he would notice when the women or men seemed especially doped on some kind of medication to get through the scene, and he snorted and laughed at what he believed to be lackluster performances.
The boys didn’t care about his SportsCenter-esque criticisms; they filled their heads with grainy images they would not soon forget, and left in separate directions to go home, not speaking a word.
Sprout refilled his cup with a new spirit, after he had quietly opened the door to not alert his wife. Easing back down in his well-worn chair, he rubbed his hands over the arms which were smoothed down and darkened from grease from his hands. The pornography was just the warm-up; he clicked over to HeadJournal, to peruse the lives of his relatives, friends, family, and acquaintances. Eyes but mere inches from the screen, he chuckled over their misfortunes, angsty statuses, and noticeable weight gains. He took offense to every comment on news articles and spent a lot of time to write biting replies to every person on the post.
Wiping his mouth on his sleeve and his hands on his chair, he stopped as he scrolled across his son’s account. There were photos of grandchildren he had never met, vacations he didn’t know they had been on, and school photos he did not have in frames around his house or hanging on the fridge.
He smiled wistfully at their gap toothed faces, but when his eyes began to blur, he took a deep draught from his mug and stared at the ceiling, willing the feeling to go away. The light from the screen glistened off of something in the desk drawer beside him, and true joy spread across his face when he saw it was another bottle of spirits. He didn’t bother to pour it into the mug, but drank straight from the half empty bottle of amber liquid. He sucked his teeth at the power of the drink and smiled a ferocious full toothed smile.
Mr. Sprout renewed his interest on his son’s page and dissected everything about his life loudly. His son’s job was a dead-end bore of a career that he would probably be fired from within the year, the car was ugly and the make was an inferior foreign job, the house was a split level atrocity that would have no resale value, his wife was vapid and had ballooned after locking him down in a loveless marriage, and the kids took after her looks and dim intellect.
Mr. Sprout’s wife, awoken by his drunken bellowing about their son and his family, cried piteously, the sound of the oxygen machine punctuating her breaths. Mr. Sprout whipped his office door open and told her what he thought of her bellyaching, slammed the door shut, and sat back down in his chair, all the while sipping and scrolling.
“Pathetic.” He muttered; his eyes dilated from the drink, and aglow from staring at the screen.