Thursday, February 28, 2008

An Office Story--part 3

“I don’t believe you truly appreciate the gravity of the situation,” Felton said, raising one eyebrow and fingering the top of his crystal cigarette lighter in the shape of an onion. A crystal onion--he had received for his twentieth anniversary with the Phantom Coalition. A crystal onion shaped cigarette lighter…what the hell had the Coalition been thinking? He didn’t even smoke

“And I don’t believe you fully appreciate to what degree I do not truly appreciate the gravity of the situation,” said Krane.

Felton made a face, but it was a face Krane had seen before; a collection of calculated lines and angles he had learned in a three-day seminar entitled: “Faces That Mean Things and How to Make them Mean Things For You!” The face Felton was making now was one called: The Lion Who Smells the Scent of the Weak or Sickly.

Krane knew this; he had been to the same seminar. He had even stayed in the same hotel room as Felton--to save the Coalition money. It had been Felton’s idea; Krane had no qualms at all about spending the Coalition’s money. In fact, it was something Krane enjoyed.

Krane answered Felton expression with another one from the same seminar: The Clever Monkey Looking Down From a Tree at the Lion.

Man, Felton thought, he really does look just like a monkey in a tree .How does he do that? He didn’t even take notes.

Felton regretted having chosen Krane to come with him to that seminar, but at the time Krane had been his most promising subordinate. Now he was just another problem sitting across the desk from him. Sometimes it seemed to Felton that his weeks were just an unending loop of the same crappy days repeating themselves. It was everything he could do some mornings to open his eyes on the world he knew was waiting for him, and lately he had even taken to having a bourbon or two with lunch just to brace himself for the rest of the day. Felton leaned back—smiled sadly with one side of his mouth. This was not one of his learned expressions—this was just the way Felton smiled. He flicked the lever on the crystal onion lighter and stared at the small, bluish tongue of flame that resulted. He would need lighter fluid soon, he thought. If that’s what it took—for all he knew it needed to be filled with lamp oil…maybe something made from whales.

Krane had relaxed his own expression and was now smoothing the knee of his pants and smiling smugly, waiting to see what would happen next.

“Where were we?” Felton asked.

“I was busy not appreciating the gravity of things and such,” Krane said.

“Yes,” Felton said. “Well you don’t. And it’s becoming a bit of a problem. It reflects badly on the department. It reflects badly on me.”

“But how does it reflect on me?”

“Badly,” Felton said. “It reflects badly for you too, Krane.”

“I see,” said Krane.

“The point is we can’t just go taking people from their homes all willy-nilly like that. People tend to notice. People tend to wonder what happened to people and start making phone calls and calling the authorities. People tend to look for people who go missing. You get that, right Krane?”

And Krane said: “I left a note.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

An Office Story--Part 2

A week later, he did go to the police. He spoke to two detectives in a white, windowless room and was struck by how much the detectives reminded him of the detectives on a TV show—not any specific TV show but every TV show about police detectives he had ever seen.

One of the detectives was young and handsome and the other was older and handsome. The young one was blond and the old one had white hair. The young one’s face was smooth and the old one’s face had deep lines.

The detectives offered him coffee in a paper cup. They sat across from him at a table and drank their own coffee from white ceramic mugs.

“Does your wife do this sort of thing often?” the younger detective asked.

“I don’t know what this sort of thing is,” he said. “I don’t know what she’s doing. That’s why I’m here.”

“Does she disappear often?” the older detective asked. “That’s what we mean by ‘this sort of thing’. That’s what we’re asking you.”

“Not often,” he said. “No.”

The older detective leaned forward. The man could see the butt of detective’s gun in the shoulder holster under his arm. The butt of the gun seemed very dark and heavy and the leather of the holster reminded him of a horse’s harness. The gun looked like it was straining to get out.

“But she has before,” the older detective said. “That’s the thing, right?”

“A few times. Not often, though. I wouldn’t say often.”

“I would consider my wife disappearing a few times a few times too often for me.”

The young detective smiled with half of his mouth and wrote something down in a small notebook.

“And she’s been gone for about a week,” the younger detective said. “Is that right?”


“Has she ever disappeared for a week before.”

“No. Not really.”

“No or not really?” the older detective said.


They asked him a series of other questions, and the more they asked the more he felt as if he had done something wrong. His answers sounded evasive and unsatisfying to even his own ears, and when he felt an itch on his nose and scratched it, he wondered if that too was the sort of gesture a guilty man would make.

When they were done they asked him if there was anything else he would like them to know about her, but he could not think of anything—not anything important. So he said: “She called me old shoe.”

The two detectives looked at him.

“I called her honey and she called me old shoe.”

The younger detective looked down at his notebook but didn’t write anything down.

“OK,” the older detective said. “Duly noted.”

He went home. He looked at some of her things that she kept on the bedroom windowsill. These were the things she loved: a tiny porcelain squirrel; a souvenir crystal boomerang from a vacation to Australia five years ago; a masonry jar painted to look like a snowman. It was then that he noticed the piece of paper sticking out of the masonry jar. He pulled it out, unfolded it, read the carefully written letters several times over.

The note said: “Your wife is safe. She is comfortably ensconced in chic surroundings, so there is no reason to worry or follow. Sincerely, The Phantom Coalition.”

It did not look anything like his wife’s handwriting.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

An Office Story--part 1

He called her Honey. She called him Old Shoe. He thought about this fact during the train to work, wondered if there was a sign of further trouble in this small detail. Honey is sweet. What is an old shoe? Comfortable, at best. Foul smelling, filled with holes and needing to be replaced at worst—if that was even the worst. But what could be done? The boundary of his life had long ago been drawn in indelible ink by a youthful hand—it had been drawn in the shape of a shaky and lop-sided heart.

The train stopped, he got off, walked the two blocks to the building he worked in.

It was potluck day at the office. It seemed that every other day was potluck day at the office and he had long since lost his enthusiasm for whatever carrot and broccoli casserole or cornbread stuffing his coworkers would bring. He did not want to mingle with his fellowman at the folding table by the coffee maker, making small talk about a TV show he had not seen or explain again why he had failed to bring any contribution to the feast himself.

So he sat in his cubicle and pretended to work. He pretended to work so hard, in fact, that one of his coworkers brought him a small plate of cornbread stuffing. “You’re working too hard,” his coworker said. “It’s an illusion,” he told his coworker.

He had a forkful of the stuffing to be polite and smiled, feeling the crumbs gathering in the corner of his mouth as he did.

“Tasty,” he said, though in fact it seemed to suck every drop of moisture out of him. It was impossible to swallow, and when his coworker left him and went back to the table, he spit the stuffing out into his waste paper basket.

Work ended. He stood on the train platform again waiting for the blue line to take him home. It was cold and snow was falling, but the flakes were small and inconsequential. A man dressed in rags and plastic bags was walking the edges of the platform, asking people who were not there for money, and then spitting and yelling “Sucker!” when the people who were not there ignored him.

The train came.

He got on and found a seat by the window. He was the only one on the car and he began to think about his Honey again. He wondered what she was doing right now. He wondered what she would say when he got home. He knew he would say: hi Honey.

If she were in a good mood, she would say: Hi Old Shoe. If she were in a different mood, she might throw the statue of the Virgin Mary at him—but several feet above his head in deference to their love. The Virgin Mary had long since lost her head, but other than that seemed indestructible.

The train lurched forward and the wheels on the wet tracks made the sound of a sigh. The man sighed with it—his own sound inaudible beneath the train’s.

There was something on the tracks, and then a power failure, and then trouble finding his car in the train station parking lot and then an unusual amount of traffic on the drive home so that it was a quarter passed ten when the man finally pulled into his driveway.

The house was dark. The front door was locked and he had to fumble with his keys and even after that found it necessary to shove against the door with his shoulder because there was something against it on the other side.

Immediately he imagined it was her body, that she had killed herself in some final act of defiance, and not being even satisfied with just that, had also positioned herself so that it would be hard for him to open the door. That would be just like her.

But it turned out to be the cushions of the couch stacked in a pile and a box of old newspapers. He called out her name, but not loud enough to actually wake her if she was sleeping. He turned on a light. The statue of the headless Virgin Mary was on the floor by her favorite chair as if she had been waiting for him. The house smelled like fried eggs and in the kitchen, shells were strewn about the floor.

Upstairs, the bed was empty, as was the bathtub, as was the old refrigerator box in the basement and a number of other places she sometimes liked to sleep when she was mad at him.

He considered calling the police, but they had never been very helpful in the past and he could swear the dispatch person was starting to recognize his voice and address. So he went to bed alone—still dressed in case she suddenly needed him.

As a further token of her displeasure, she must have changed the time on the alarm clock, because it was close to noon when he woke up alone and late for work.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Act--Part 4.

The ape sat at the edge of his cot, trying to remember the dream he had just had. It had been green and pleasant and filled with large fleshy leaves, but beyond that, he could pull no details from his mind. He rubbed his eyes with the black knuckles of one hand and yawned. It was an impressive yawn, with many teeth and much red.

The ape got out of bed and nudged the man in the cot next to him. The man groaned and rolled over, so the ape left the man to his dreams and went to the mirror and basin propped up on a small table in the corner of the tent. He looked at himself in the rust and soap spotted mirror. Where those new grey hairs on his face? His left eye looked a little milky. He splashed water from the basin onto his face and left the tent.

Outside the sun was shining and the air was cool. It was morning and it smelled like morning—which to the ape smelled a little like mud and dead leaves.

Across a section of ground rutted with tire tracks, the Manager was sitting in a folding chair, drinking his last beer and fiddling with the handle of his new velvet hammer. He called the ape over to show it to him.

“Nice, huh?” the manager said. “I’ve been looking for one of these for ages.”

The ape nodded.

“It’s the kind they used to use on fugitive Gestapo guys. You know, those guys that used to hunt those bastards down after the war and drown them in their bathtubs or whack them to the death with one of these on a beach in Argentina or somewhere. You know those guys? The guys who tracked down the bad guys?”

The ape nodded again, but really he had no idea what the Manager was talking about. The ape had never heard of these hammer wielding hunters of retired Nazis, and wondered if maybe they were just something the Manager had dreamed up one drunken night or seen as a kid in one of those black and white movie serials with names like “Spy Hunter!” or “Ace Reilly, Defender or Liberty!”

“It’s a magic hammer you know,” the Manager said and the ape just looked at him blankly, wondering if it would be wise or rude to just walk away now.

“Let me show you,” the Manager said. Then he wacked the ape hard on the knee with the hammer. It made no sound. And the ape itself made no sound either when he opened his jaws wide to scream.

“See,” the Manager said smiling. “Magic.”

The ape closed his hand into a large black knot and punched the Manager squarely in the face. The Manager’s face gave some and made a noise like a peanut shell being stepped on. The ape knew then that he was in trouble.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Act--Part 3

The Manager drove through the town on the way back to the big tent. It was your usual small town, with no building over three-stories high, and faded and peeling advertisements for defunct products painted onto brick walls.

At the corner he saw a man wearing a sign around his neck as if it were a necklace. The Manager slowed down to get a better look; The man was pale and dirty. On the sign was a passage from the Bible. Something about praising something. The Manager had only a passing acquaintance with the bible from his school days. Mostly he knew it to be a heavy book with sharp corners.

He watched the man with the sign around his neck grow small in his rear view mirror. Poor sap, the Manager thought. How does a guy end up like that? How much family trauma does it take? How many lonely nights, missed proms, schoolyard fights?

He rounded a corner just as a pack of wild dogs attacked the man with the sign, knocking the man to his knees just like Christ with the cross.

It made the Manager sad and sentimental to think about it and he stopped at the grocery store just outside of town for a case of beer and bunch of bananas. Still green, just the way the great ape liked them.

While he drove, the Manager opened a beer for himself with the claw of his new hammer.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Act--part two.

The Manager went to town and bought a velvet hammer. The clerk who sold it to him said it would make a quieter bang when he used it. The clerk tapped the hammer against his own knee a few times as if proving the point. “Does it hurt?” he asked the clerk. “It’s still a hammer, isn’t it?” the clerk said, the smile spreading across his face like a red flower in bloom.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Act--part one

It was his job to wrestle with the ape. It was the girl’s job to watch and look frightened. It was Manager’s job to turn the screw. The audience was always just half a dozen locals sitting in the metal bleachers. You could not say it was their job; they were not getting paid.

After it was finished, the spotlight went out and the man and the ape stood up, brushed the sawdust from their respective knees and went into the dressing room. The girl usually followed though sometimes she stayed behind to talk to the locals. She liked to call it “working the locals,” but really it was just talking, and sometimes she ended up going out with one of them and coming back late with her hair mussed and her shirt on backwards.

“Who’s working who,” the man sometimes said while they waited for her to return, and the ape would nod in agreement. When she came back, she would not look either of them in the eye.