Wednesday, February 04, 2004

dead little fishies

Dead Little Fishies (2nd version) need I have said UNCORRECTED? Obviously, it's in progress.(2/5)

         [On the short end of a long Wednesday afternoon, in America’s Sanitary Solutions, Inc. complex, fourth-floor, short tower No. 1, between Alexander Hamilton Park and West Montessori for the Exceptionally Challenged, Executive Suite 201B,](short/long/order) John Englestuch sat silent and still behind his desk, hands in lap folded as was his custom left over right with interlocked fingers pressed together and thumbs dug in the snug space between the leather of his belt and cotton waist of his pants.
         His eyes welled-up with thick tears, red already from hours of frustrated rubbing. Possibly, he was on the verge of crying, letting go a dense sigh into the dusky, office air and giving up any hope of productivity. He had sobbed only two nights earlier during an episode of Gunsmoke: a man on the dusty, dirty ground reaching upwards and a shot and two men grasping for each other. And the week before, he lost it over a dog jumping to lick a toddler’s face through the small, metal diamonds of a chainlink fence. John tasted aluminum, chewed foil, pained fillings, and drooled. The child’s legs pumped up and down in cadence with the terrier’s yelp: the giggling and green lawn, the afternoon and lump in his chest, the heavy mushy mess and, then, the tears. As far as he was concerned, he was weeping too much for his own good. Somebody was bound to catch him at it. His eyes welled-up thick with tears, and he excused it as a result of hours of frustrated rubbing.
         John stood, stretched, rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, and made his way to the restroom.
         His office was nothing out of the ordinary like all offices in his suite. Company policy, he figured, for standard sake, for peace of mind: four beige walls, gray carpet, nothing exhibiting taste. Employees were allowed two plants per office and most chose a no-hassle, spider plant variety. After a tedious half-hour of e-mails, John rolled his chair back from his desk, folded his hands across his belt and stared down at the carpet. He allowed his eyes to grow lazy and unfocused. [The jammy light had settled halfway between the ceiling and the floor and illuminated a spot of floor unworn by redundant daily traffic.](floor) And in that cheap, gray, carpet he discovered patterns of light-emitting nubs: bits of red and green and purple. His carpet transformed into a swirling mess of colors that set his office to twirling and that twirling blossomed into a threat of chaos, a potential for the apotheosis of bright life-song peeked in through the engineered corporate gloom and, as if afraid to bring it all down, John allowed his habituated mind once again to find focus. His eyes purposefully conspired to propose a standard grayness for the room. He agreed with its form and found it good in abandonment only. Such abandon brought forth tears. John was crying a lot lately.
          He stood, stretched, rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands to hide his sobbing, and made his way to the restroom.
         While he was gone, he imagined how a wanderer might peek into his office and find a hanging plant drooping nexuses of smaller plants ready for picking and maybe sneak in to pluck and to plant in her front yard, to watch grow during a peaceful, seventy-degree spring, slight breezes on her cheek, happy neighbors strolling by, no issues with the horizon.
          John had only days earlier moved his plant into such a position to tempt a wayward and curious voyeur into his office. He had also moved his desk as far from the door as possible so that he might catch the imagined intruder and possibly have lunch with her. Most likely, though, he figured she would stop in unannounced and while he was absent because she had probably been planning all along to take a clipping of his plant because it was so tempting. John figured they were alike in temptation and that she, like him, had been guilty of grasping for things her entire life. He was eight when he first stole: stuffed a small, bubblegum hamburger into his pants and considered a Mars Bar, too. A store clerk caught him and threatened to call his parents. He cried a lot then, too, and wondered if she had stuffed anything into her pants, things to hide or to steal or her hands simply and his thoughts turned to that. And to distance himself from that he thought about how he had seen her steal a book, skillfully dropping it into her grocery bag and leaving the bookstore smiling almost giggling.
         He made two or three trips to the restroom: once when he arrived, once after lunch, and sometimes once on his way home. This trip was an anomaly. Because he had so recently taken up crying for no apparent reason, he had not learned how to fit the jags into his routine. She might happen to visit his vacant office, of course, something she may even be used to happening upon like her job and her house and her dog. She shopped that way: always looking for something to happen. And she listens to the hum of a dial tone yearning for something to break. Maybe she has a habit of dropping things in front of others and those things break so why not this moment, planned yet spontaneous, breaking a silence and bringing up something other than tears like laughter or fear. A thing to break the yellowing mold of daily life in humming, blue fluorescence. And if not that, then she may have simply picked from the plant in his office hanging to the left of his bookcase after he left to cool his burning sight.
         He thought about her sneaking inside to pull a plant-ling from the parent plant and stopping to look out his window down below as if somebody out there was witness to her intrusion. He thought about how people looked at him. He could see the recognition of difference or likeness on their faces and wondered why nobody commented on the split-second ability for such recognition. He wanted to say to her “Hey. You know, I have seen you looking at me and seen in that look that you see we are a lot alike. You know?”
         And just yesterday the neighbor’s boy was out riding his bike, curb-hopping. After falling once, he stood and brushed the dirt from his jeans. He looked at the palms of his hands briefly and then plucked the thick, twisted cable attached to the telephone pole. The plucking produced a twangy humming sound that John can still hear. He caught himself mimicking it on the bus this morning. The boy smiled and wiggled his body with the sound and stopped and clapped. He grabbed the cable with both hands tightly as if he were about to be flung from the corner into the air above and beyond the neighborhood. He was alone. He didn’t see John watching. And then the tears. And then a rage. John stood at his bedroom window and punched twice into the wall below the sill cutting his knuckles, stopping the tears.
          He thought she might sneak into his office, take a part of his plant and look out his window for some witness to her plant theft. She would notice the window was thin and tall like him. He often stood against it looking four floors down while squeezing his narrow frame into its narrow frame. Six feet by a foot and a half smooshed into eight feet by a foot and a half. He pretended to get stuck and imagined the school children who passed noisily in front of the building each afternoon stopping and standing and pointing up, shielding their eyes, watching him flatten his face against the cool glass. He imagined falling, the glass pane opening out into the air like an ironing board from a secret, thin cupboard. He would stand unhurt, leap to his feet maybe, for effect, and draw from their surprised and sympathetic faces awe and applause.
          Maybe, she had watched John in his windowed sarcophagus giggling under his breath, waving at someone below so that she, too, would take perch in the frame finding it a rather comfortable and warm space. From there, she would wave back at him, a patient return. Would she, like him, think of fitting into lockers in high school and skunky, boy socks?
          John would have been pleased to find her standing in his office, a tiny replica of his plant clutched against her chest: pleased to find her peering out his window and sharing his view. And possibly she would see the children, today, while he rinsed his face, the line of them stretching across the building’s small lot, holding hands, swinging arms, staring up into the sun or a strong swatch of light reflecting off the building itself. Maybe, she hid behind such glares often during the week for the building’s façade turned cheek southeast so that the sun through the cathedral-like windows shone a briny, diffuse glow through the main offices into the secretarial pool. [Their counter-directed stares canceling the other through a glare through which nothing is visible.](sluggish) A silence that reminded him of a brightness in inverse proportion to the powdery chemical lifeguards chucked into the water poolside to counteract and soften the burning effect chlorine has on the skin and eyes of the swimmers like himself who spent hours in the water looking up into the day from under the fleshy skin of the pool’s surface. The sun’s light refracted into parallel lines of yellow split by blue and suddenly an opaque, white cloud descending, and for a short moment nothing but a blank sheet to float within, not breathing, not seeing, just John whispering "Hello" and John eventually coming up for air with specks of dry chemical dust in his hair. Then John crawling from the pool, running along its tan platform and jumping under again with a loud gasp.
         He reached for a paper towel and wiped his brow. He clenched the sink’s sides with both hands and looked at his face in the mirror. He wrinkled his nose and checked for longish unsightly hairs; he pulled a long face and leaned forward counting blackheads; he ran his right hand firmly across his chin and felt for midday growth; he pulled down on his lower eye lids and examined the red flesh under each eye. He considered masturbation and thought not. Still looking at his face, he pondered his left eye and made mental note to consider what it is about serious looking that prohibits focusing on more than one eye at a time. He looked into that eye, remarkably red from rubbing. One capillary stood out more red and prominent than the others. He thought he could feel it pulse under the thin-film eye-skin with blood and mischief as if wanting to see itself—a crack letting in more sight than necessary and cool, foreign air causing pain at the inner eye. It breathed. He thought about the pen in his pocket and saw himself with an Exacto-kife open that eye crack to see what would come screaming out—merely pain, eye jelly or memories whole, chunked broken reflections of secret things he had long forgotten.
         At this time, the children began their daily migration across the parking lot. They sang a silent, far-away song and made their way to Hamilton Park. A green Olds ‘88 fired to life and pulled slowly from its spot leaving a trail of thick exhaust through which they bravely marched with their teacher: black asphalt, yellow demarcations, browning blue smoke, singing and coughing and holding hands, refusing to let go. John, looked at himself in the mirror, put his hands to his face, thumbs at either side of his lips, and slowly showed and hid his palms in forward and backward waves. He made his lips form a small ‘o’ he opened and closed like a fish floating there in the blue restroom. He pantomimed for a minute longer, and then stood tall, straightened his shirt, and brushed his hair forward with his fingers.
         He smirked at himself and spoke briefly before leaving.
         John’s secretary had been in the lone stall too afraid to exit for frightening him into a paranoid state for entering the wrong room. Maybe she spoke often about John to her friends. Maybe she sat in John’s chair during his long walks hoping he would find her. Maybe they all had a habit of watching each other.
         No matter. She would tell her friends about watching him perform from her toilet seat, commenting, grotesquely, that he hadn’t heard her “going…you know.”
         They would ask, “What did he say?” And she would make them really want to hear it, work them into a frenzied group wriggling in their seats around a sticky bar table. And she would say each word with similar deadpan emphasis. Four small syllables broken in the middle like a tortured spine floating in a watered-down cocktail.

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