2000 Anne Horton Writing Award
"The Perfect Life of Ben Mauch"
Another metallic gold Werthers butterscotch wrapper is tossed into the garbage can as Ben Mauch shoves the hard candy into his open mouth. The sound of loud crunching fills the small but cozy room as he munches on the creamy confection. Within thirty seconds the candy has been crushed and swallowed. It will take Ben only another minute or two before he repeats the process.
Ben Mauch is a computer programmer. He sits in a padded blue chair and types furiously, staring at the screen until his eyes resemble glass marbles. When they become so glazed that he can barely focus, he stands up, stretches, and bends over to pick up any stray Werthers wrappers that might make the room appear disorganized. This goal accomplished, he pads across the plush gray carpet and exits his den.
Once in the hallway, he is stopped immediately by three large dogs, each coveting his attention and whining in excitement. Bonkers, a hairy, gray-brown mutt whose personality fits his name, is the first one to receive Ben's undivided attention. He jumps up and begins licking his masterÃƒÂ•s sun-darkened face while his tail swirls in a motion faster than a jet propeller. After petting Bonkers, Ben turns to find Abby waiting expectantly for him. He bends down and strokes the soft, golden fur of the dog, all the while crooning to her in his soft, masculine voice. With careful movements, Ben is able to maneuver around Bonkers and Abby and head to the final dog. Patsy, who is almost as old as Santa Claus, is nearly blind and close to being deaf. Her tail wags slightly, and she whines quietly as Ben approaches. When he squats beside her, Patsy leans her head on his thigh and heaves a sigh as though even that small movement causes great fatigue. Ben stands up, removes a minute piece of fur from his clothing, and throws it in the garbage can.
Finally, Ben is able leave the dogs and head toward his goal, a steaming cup of coffee. As he trots down the stairs, Bonkers and Abby race past him and head through the kitchen to the sliding glass door in the living room. They inform Ben with loud, sharp barks that it is time to go outside. After letting them out, Ben gets a large mug from the top cupboard and fills it with hot, black coffee. He walks to the refrigerator with purposeful steps and gets out the French vanilla cream, his favorite. He mixes and pours, determined to make the perfect drink. Ben holds the cup and moves it slowly under his nose. He believes a cup of coffee is only as good as it smells. If it doesn't smell right, it definitely won't taste right. After making certain that the coffee is perfect, he ceases his inspection and drinks it, the steam framing his face like curtains on a window.
Before long, the dogs are begging to come inside. The brisk air has given them energy; now they are ready to play. Ben grabs the dog's favorite toy, and the three of them are soon deeply engulfed in a tug-of-war. Both the dogs and Ben growl playfully at one another. The three spin and jump around the room. The game calms down shortly, and Ben puts the toy in a basket sitting in the corner. He plops noiselessly onto the overstuffed love seat to check his hair in the glass pane of the fireplace. His side part is still straight. The feathered front is in such good condition that he could fly. His hair is perfect, just as it is always. He smiles. Perfection always gives him a sense of satisfaction.
Ben is ready to return to work, but turns into his bedroom rather than his den when he reaches the top of the stairs. An aerosol can of Degree sits on the dresser next to a blue bristle brush. He uses the deodorant first just as a preventative measure, unnecessary as it may be. Then he quickly smoothes his hair with his brush just to make sure that it isn't out of place. When he is satisfied, Ben strides back to his den.
He sits down at his desk and turns on his computer, knowing that he has a few minutes to wait. He needs a new computer, as his is very obsolete. It is impossible to create a perfect web site design with an old computer. Yet it makes no sense to become impatient. Instead, he lets his eyes roam over his cherry wood desk. There is never any dust on it because a messy appearance is something Ben wouldn't allow. He also knows that it's critical for a computer to be clean. The first thing his eyes focus on is a little UPS truck that his friends bought for him when he worked there. Letting his eyes continue to scan his desk, he then notices a picture of his girlfriend, Julie, on a beach in Mexico. Right next to that is a large picture of the two of them at prom, and next to that is a picture of them at homecoming. The rest of his desk is also covered with memorabilia from their relationship, such as boutonnieres, gifts, cards, and pictures. Ben allows his mind to wander while waiting for his computer.
The computer beeps, and Ben shakes his head in an effort to rid himself of the dream webs that have formed in his brain. He now has work to do. A student at DeVry Institute of Technology, he is working on a program for one of his classes. An occasional groan or gripe is heard as he talks to himself and the computer. Sometimes he shouts in joy, leans back in his chair, and rubs his rough hands together when he solves a problem that is hindering him.
The Werthers wrappers crinkle as Ben reaches habitually into the gold bag for another piece of candy. The garbage can, which is strategically placed next to the desk, is slowly being filled with the small, metallic wrappers. Finally, he finishes the package of candy, a sign that he is close to the end of his program.
Because he can no longer fill the room with the sounds of crunching candy, Ben takes a CD out of his rack and puts it in his computer. He immediately puts the case back in the same spot to help maintain his organization. Soon the sounds of the Christian group, Go Fish, are erupting through the speakers. He types unconsciously faster and moves his shoulders with the beat of the music.
The program is just about flawless now. Just about isn't good enough, though. Ben works on it until it is perfect in every way. He is finally pleased with his work, promptly saves his program, and exits from his computer. Now that his program is perfect, Ben trots down the stairs to make the perfect cup of coffee. He smiles unconsciously, thinking how nice it is when things are perfect.