The Politician (Sketch Writing for “Statues in the Cloud”)

*The following is sketch writing for the character of the politician in a novel-in-progress tentatively entitled “Statues in the Cloud”

 

The salt still clung to his suit. The politician had ignored their advice and continued to wear the salt covered suit. He couldn’t get past the idea that he wasn’t just a few steps away from his office. He was sure that if he stepped back into the ocean, he would magically reappear in his office and he would wake up as if from an afternoon nap.

 

“What is this place?” the politician asked. “You seem to know something the other one doesn’t.”

 

The young Japanese girl didn’t even want to answer him. She wanted to continue on, to find the other four and forget about the politician altogether. He was the one that didn’t belong. But she couldn’t think of a way to convince of this.

 

The young author stood aloof from the young girl and the older Japanese man. None of it made sense, but he knew better than to try to make sense of it all with one conversation. A young Japanese girl maybe a year or two younger than him, seventeen or eighteen, and a Japanese politician, maybe in his late forties all of them soaking wet, having just stepped out of an ocean onto an island.

 

No, a single conversation wouldn’t make sense of it.  

 

The politician, however, didn’t have the writer’s instincts.

 

“Where was I? I was going outside to have a smoke. I’d just given an interview to the reporter from the Asahi Newspaper and then, I lit a cigarette…there was something in my pocket, something heavy.”

 

The young girl was silent, but she wanted to scream, What are you doing here?

 

“Listen, you’ll just have to believe me when I say that we’re on a larger mission. There is much at stake. We’ll have to find the others. They should be washing up on the beach pretty soon and they’ll be just as confused as you two are. You just have to be quiet for a moment.” Of course, he was going to ignore her. She knew this because she knew him.

 

The politician pointed at the young writer. “And, you. You’re American, right? Do you know anything about this?”

 

The young Japanese girl turned to the young writer. “You don’t have to answer him. He doesn’t run anything here.”

 

“Oiy, young girl,” he said in Japanese. “Who made you in charge?”

 

“I am in charge. You’re not. Here you’re small. In fact, you’re the smallest most pitiable thing that lives on this island. And you’re a danger to all of us. Your racism and selfishness…everything about you could get us killed here. But this island knows something that I don’t. For some reason, it chose you, just like it chose us.”

 

“Stop talking this nonsense. Start making sense. Speak in concrete terms. How did I end up here? Who are these people you are talking about? How do I get back to my office?” He stopped as if suddenly struck by something. The brain hemorrhage that killed his father. He was dying. That was it. Something had happened to him and he would wake up in a hospital bed…or not wake up at all.

 

The sun was shining but there was the sound of thunder in the distance.

 

“What was that? I can hear something.”

 

The writer and the young Japanese girl exchanged confused glances.

 

“It’s calling to me. You don’t hear that.”

 

“Young girl. It’s the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard.”

 

“Don’t listen to it.”

 

“It’s my father’s voice. He’s seen the light. He’s calling to me.”  

 

The writer came the politician’s side. He put a light hand on his shoulder. “I think it’s time we rested for a bit. If she’s right there will be more people with more questions. Maybe when we’re all together and safe we can start trying to figure out answers.”

 

The politician wanted to slap the American’s hand away from his shoulders, but then he saw the young Japanese girl and decided again to smile. “Yes, of course. There are people that need our help.”

 

The young writer suddenly realized what the Japanese girl knew. The politician was a snake.

 

Chicken (a short story)

So, this obstinate elderly lady takes the chicken from my hands. Actually, more like snatches it.

 

My manager had sent me to the meat department to get it because another customer hadn’t known that it was buy one get one free. She says to me, “Go to the meat department and grab me the biggest one you can find.” I do as she says, grab the biggest one I can find and as soon as I do, I get this mean stare from this lady in her late fifties who literally starts fighting me for it.

 

Now, she’s snatched it from me. Whatever. They don’t pay me enough to wrestle some old hag for a package of chicken.

 

So, next week this same lady is giving me the evil eye. She complains to my manager that I pack her grocery bags too heavy.

 

Whatever. I’m over it.

 

A week later, she complains because she says I didn’t offer to take her groceries out to her car. Next week, I do just that. No tip.

 

Several days later, there we are in the same parking lot. It’s a hot day and I’m pushing these fifteen carts in all at once. I’m pushing them towards the store. For some reason the parking lot is kind of at an incline so I have to push uphill just a little to get them into the store. And what should I see?

 

This old lady is coming right at me — the chicken snatcher. She gives me that look of hers.

 

What is she doing? She keeps coming right for me. I’ve got these fifteen carts for crying out loud. She‘s only got the one. I motion for her to move just a little. Now she looks really angry. This lady really won’t budge an inch. She’s playing a game of chicken.  

 

She doesn’t even slow down.

 

When she crashes into my fifteen carts, she kind of slips and then she goes under the carts. I got to keep pressure on the carts or they’ll all start to roll downhill, but I don’t see her come back up.

 

Finally some other people in the parking lot come to see what happened.

 

I didn’t realize it immediately, but I’d just killed Mrs. Schwartz.

Tequila, 4:20

His arms on the cheap wooden table work hard to keep him upright. He looks across the table at her. She’s impossibly young and beautiful.

“What am I drinking?” he asks.

“Tequila.”

“What time is it?”

“4:20 in the morning.”

“Who are you?”

This is complicated. Too complicated for her to explain in his current state. She wants to explain how she had once dreamed of a future together, of wandering the globe as two lovers on a spectacular journey. In this bar, at this time, it’s all she can do to hold out hope that a future together is still possible.

She wants to explain all of this, but can only manage, “Don’t worry. I’m a friend.”

He looks down again, disoriented.

“What am I drinking?”

“Tequila.”

“What time is it?”

“Still 4:20.”

Statues in the Cloud – Tease # 2

Intro

I’m still hard at work on a new novel, tentatively titled “Statues in the Cloud”. My best guess is that it will take me until 2020 to write (if life doesn’t get in the way, which it always does).

I thought it was time for another tease to prove to myself and the world that progress is actually being made.

If you’re interested, the first tease is right here:
https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/13818659-statue-in-the-clouds-the-tease

And now for the second tease. This one comes from Chapter 3 of the novel.

Tease # 2

“When I was in middle school, I stumbled upon this play,” Aiya explained. “It was about all these Christians. It’s called ‘The Head of Mary.’ The Christians have to go around collecting the pieces of the statue. If they can assemble all the pieces of the statues, then the statue would come to life and grant the wishes of the believers.”

“It’s a beautiful story,” I said.

“There are seven pieces we need to find,” she said.

“Aiya, that statue is made out of wood.”

Then it occurred to me. She wasn’t talking about the Virgin Mary statue I’d just seen. She was talking about another one.

“You can see it in your mind?”

“I’ve seen it in my dreams. The rock I found was a sign.”

“How are we going to find these other pieces?”

“I don’t know,” she answered.

“Maybe Tommy Donnelly knows,” I said, referring to the character in the story I’d just written.

Dame! Kitanai!

The boy was trying to get his mother’s attention. The small child, wearing a sun hat and a shirt that matched his mother’s dress wouldn’t stop pointing. The mother, however, just wanted to be left alone to her novel. It wasn’t often that she had time to read, not like she did when she was a high school student.

 

The child pointed vaguely in the direction of a man. But she wasn’t interested in the man, she was interested in her book. More importantly, she was interested in the dashing hero and what he would do to the vulnerable female protagonist. Then the child did something very unusual — he started rubbing his nose.

 

“Dame! Kitanai!” the mother said. (Don’t! Dirty!)

 

Then the child started pretending that he was surfing.

 

Couldn’t she just be left alone for a few moments? In the novel, the heroine was at an intimate dinner with her prince charming. The child pretended that he was surfing. That was safe enough. Finally, the child was getting to the age where she didn’t have to watch him every second of the day.

 

That’s right, she thought. Play freely now while you still have the chance.

 

She managed to get through a page without interruption. The child was bedazzled by the actions of a man just out of view. What was the man doing? It didn’t matter. What all men do on Fujisawa beach — dry off on the shore, wax their surfboards, brush salt water from their hair.

 

“Dame! Kitanai” the boy said pointing to the man. “Dame! Kitanai!” the boy said louder.

 

The mother put down her book and scolded the child. “Don’t point and yell at other people,” she said.

This confused the boy since he was always being yelled at for just about everything.

 

The boy just stared at the mother for a long time. She couldn’t help but smile. He was so handsome, just like his father.

 

Then the boy jammed his finger into his nose and at the same time said without thinking, “Mama, boku kitanai!” And then he started laughing.

 

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Waltz with Behemoth (excerpt from Sage and the Scarecrow)

 

Project Summary: The following is an excerpt from Chapter 6 from my 2004 novel The Sage and the Scarecrow. At the moment, I am revising the chapters from this book into 3-4 page short stories for posting on my blogs and in literary magazines.

 

This chapter is a continuation from the last chapter “Enter Behemoth.” 

 

The Novel in Short: Six months after his father has died from cancer, Pierce finds himself in a state of anxiety and crisis. The book follows Pierce through a journey to find his best friend and the only person he thinks can “cure” him.

 

*

 

He took Jennifer’s book from me—it was a kind of violation. Unknowingly, Brian had crossed a line. I tried not to take it personally. I tried really hard.

 

I watched him walk off with her book in his hands. I couldn’t think of anything to say that would bring the book back or hurt him the way I wanted to. I guess he was used to abusing me this way.

 

I sat for a long time in the food court, considering my situation. Angie was either looking for me right now, or she had found some other guy to unload her burden on. My final paper was coming up, along with my psychology final, and my history final. Somehow, though, I couldn’t get over Jennifer’s book in Brian’s sweaty hands. The same hands he probably used to masturbate.

 

I picked at my food and thought about the Tao Teh Ching in Brian’s sweaty hands, him tossing it around, misplacing it, flipping through it with mild interest, general disregard. Brian had no respect for anything. I could hang out with Brian, just as long as I didn’t have to take him seriously. He could do or say whatever he wanted with me. I just regarded him as the punchline to some joke nobody else was getting. The funniest thing about the way people interacted with Brian was that they took him seriously—that both bothered me and humored me at the same time.

 

I thought of Jennifer painting at her college and being treated with as little regard as Brian had for the Tao Teh Ching. One fine piece of “ass,” “pussy,” “tail,” all the objectifying words in the vocabulary—regarding her as a thing, just as he regarded the book as a thing. And he would use the book to get what he wanted from me, and in turn, he would use me to get whatever he wanted from some girl. The girl wasn’t Jennifer, but it could’ve been.

 

*

 

The Republic is the heaviest of the five. I had already committed much of it to memory. Horrible, fallible, memory.

 

Beware the one book, the professor’s voice says in my head.

 

Shut up. Shut up.

 

The other voice is whispering from the shadows. I rip a few pages out of the Republic. I fold them and put them in my satchel with the other books.

 

I lift the book like a weapon.

 

I would kill the thing in the shadow. The behemoth.  

 

*

 

I imagined what it would be like fighting with Brian. It always ended the same way, getting in a first punch and then losing badly.

 

He was bigger. I couldn’t beat him the way I wanted to, but I could beat him. I was sure of it. I thought about his fancy car, his women, the wing of the dorm named after his father: all these things pointed an unequivocal finger toward my objective, and Brian’s demise. When it came down to it, Brian’s luxury bred a very specific type of weakness.

 

But I couldn’t think about Jennifer anymore. I finished my turkey sub and orange juice. I cleaned up and went for a walk. I took a longer path toward the dorm just to cool off. I walked by the lake at the edge of our school and sat on a bench for a little while. I was pretty sure he wouldn’t leave without me.

 

After I waited long enough I went to Brian’s dorm and knocked softly. He opened the door. He was with one of his frat brothers. He introduced me. Said something dumb. Laughed with his frat brother. I didn’t. I didn’t say anything.

 

“There’s no way you’re going like that, are you?”  

 

I told him that I was going, but that first I needed to return the book before I left or else the girl would be mad at me. “Come on Brian,” I said. “You wouldn’t make me look bad in front of one of my ladies, would you?”

 

I saw that he had just left the book on his table like a dumbass. I took it and then left without saying goodbye.

 

I went back to my dorm, an Angie-less dorm, thank goodness, and closed the door. I opened up Jennifer’s book, began to read.

 

I waited.

 

*

 

I pretend for a moment that I’m not the weakling I am, waiting in the shadows, hiding. This time, I’ll be the hunter. I take a small piece of magic mushroom. It doesn’t take long before its magic begins to work.

 

My suit is now shaded the color of a lion’s skin. The heavy copy of Plato’s The Republic is strong enough to fashion into a spear: gold, silver, and bronze.

 

“Gold.” “Rationality.” “Born to rule.”

 

The Republic is my weapon. I would use it as a spear.

 

*

 

A year ago I would have tried to fight Brian. That was before last summer, before my dad’s cancer had gotten really bad. Before I had to deal with things like the will, and medical bills, and my dad’s violent spells of vomiting.

 

“What the fuck,” he said, when he entered the room. “Why’d you have to disrespect me like that in front of my friend? You’re still mad because I took your book?”

 

“What, you mean this book?” I said, holding it up so he could see it.

 

He just looked at me. He thought I was his best friend. He acted like I was his best friend.  

 

“The book with the inscription on the back cover. I’m sure you didn’t read the one on the back cover. It’s from a girl named Jennifer. Do you have any idea who Jennifer is? She doesn’t go here because she’s dead, Brian. I have talked about her probably a million times, I just don’t think you’ve been listening to me.”

 

I said this nonchalantly, the same way he handled Jennifer’s book. It was a lie of course. I had never talked to Brian about Jennifer, or anything else that was important to me for that matter.

 

“Jennifer’s a girl I knew in high school. She was my girl. I fucked her rotten, Brian. Man, I lost track of how many times I fucked her. I had her and then I made her make me breakfast, just like you said. Let me tell you something, she was one solid piece of ass. I would lend you her number, but you see she died of cancer, you colossal, worthless fuck. Have you ever known someone with cancer, Brian? Have you watched someone’s hair fall out, and their skin dry up, and their cheeks hollow out. I don’t think you have. And I don’t think you’ve been listening to me. Because the girl’s name on the back cover died a horrible death. Much worse than you’ll see in your lifetime.”

 

This was a lie. Jennifer never died of cancer. My dad had died of cancer, not Jennifer. But I was not a nice person anymore. I made him feel worse.

 

“My senior year of high school she was in-between hospitals. I was in-between girls, because let’s face it, who would ever want to date a girl with fucking cancer? I tell you what, though: if she could have been only half the fuck she was…sure couldn’t cook afterwards, though. Don’t you hate it when the bitches whine and moan like that? All she could do was give me this fucking book. See, look, she even wrote all over the pages. Poor bitches with cancer are the worst, don’t you agree?”

 

He was crying by this point. I’d never seen a grown man sob like he did. When it came down to it, he was really very weak. I was crying a little too. The things I said hurt, even though I didn’t want them to. It helped my cause, though, because Brian was about to break down. At this point, I just wanted to make him hurt. I wanted him to rethink any ideas he ever had about using women like Jennifer. I wanted him to suffer.

 

“See the picture inside?” He wasn’t looking. “Look at her, fucker!” I showed him the picture, but he wouldn’t look. “I want you to go out tonight and think of her cancerous body while you fuck whichever girl you’re going to fuck!” I was yelling at this point. I threw the book at him, purposely missing. He walked out of the room, sobbing like a baby. I wiped the tears from my eyes and tried to get a grip.

 

Originally, I hadn’t meant to be that cruel. I thought maybe I should’ve just hit him, and lost a fight. It seemed like a much better solution afterwards.

 

Something had happened to me. I had lost control. I picked up the Tao Teh Ching and tried to smooth out the pages. I felt like throwing it away. I felt sick. I went into the bathroom and threw up. I felt like tearing up the pages, but this was not Jennifer’s fault. My losing control was not her fault. I kept telling myself this. I put her picture back in the book and smoothed out the pages. I thought about going to find Brian. But then I thought about people like Brian sitting next to Jennifer in classrooms and at frat parties (even though I knew she would never go to a frat party). I decided not to.

 

*

 

When I find my prey, I plunge my spear deep into its bowels.

 

Perhaps at one time it had been a behemoth. But when the mushroom’s magic wears off, I am just a hollowed out man in an old tattered suit.

 

My behemoth is just a decaying corpse in a decaying office.

 

My copy of the Republic is nowhere to be found. There is nothing in my hand, but my stomach feels lighter. I imagine that in my fever-dream I must have eaten it.

 

“Gold.” “Rationality.” “Born to rule.”

 

It was my own voice echoing from my head into the world. The hollow mantra of a world that had destroyed itself.

 

Enter the Behemoth (excerpt from Sage and the Scarecrow)

Project Summary: The following is a chapter from my 2004 novel The Sage and the Scarecrow.

At the moment, I am revising the chapters from this book into 3-4 page short stories for posting on my blogs and in literary magazines.

 

The Novel in Short: Six months after his father has died from cancer, Pierce finds himself in a state of anxiety and crisis. The book follows Pierce through a journey to find his best friend and the only person he thinks can “cure” him.

 

Manuscript Note: The parts in the text that are in normal fonts take place in the world we know. The parts in italics take place in an apocalyptic landscape that is either in his imagination or in an unspecified time in the future.

 

*

I lost track of time for a little while, not thinking.

 

Now, looking back, my mantra should have been: Brian is an idiot, a dope; or Brian is a selfish prick, an egotistical man-child, who in two more years will have an overpriced degree and no education and will latch on to his parents’ money like a leech.

 

Something like that.

 

So there I was, in the food hall, in a state of tranquility and peace on an otherwise shitty day when he arrived, bursting with narcissistic joy. He sat down and slapped me on my shoulder, awakening me from my trance. He slid the Tao Teh Ching away from me and then turned it around on the table so that he could read it.

 

“What is this?” he said, looking through the book. “What kind of weird crap are you into now?” He flipped through the book, and then asked me, “Is this your handwriting?” referring to the handwritten notes in the margins.

 

“No,” I said. “I’m borrowing the book from a friend.”

 

“Is it a chick?” he asked.

 

“That’s right,” I told him.

 

He looked through the book some more, then said something like, “Listen man, I need your help. I’m supposed to meet some chicks at a frat party tonight. I figure you and I can go take them clubbing. I’ll foot the bill, and you can woo them with your conversational skills and innocent charm. It’ll be just like old times. I know you haven’t been laid in forever, and I’ve heard that Susan chick in your English class wants you. She’ll be there. I guarantee you it’s a sure thing, dude…”

 

He went on and on like this for a while, and it was pretty easy to get bored, but not so easy to interrupt. Brian liked to hear his own voice, and, when he got going, he never shut up.

 

*

 

I am alone, fatigued, and have horrible bowel problems. I am close to the city now, though. Or at least the ruins of the city.

 

I need to find food. The rice I had taken from the university is almost finished. I need to find shelter. It won’t be long before the rain starts. The shitty, rancid, nuclear rain.

 

The rains could kill you. 

 

*

 

The first time I met Brian I asked him why he was a business major. He looked at me, in all my naivety, and answered my question as if there was only one possible answer — “I like money.”

 

I had helped Brian get through his Finite Math class. It was weakness really, but, also, I didn’t know anyone around campus and I thought getting to know him would help me integrate into university life—not that I cared all that much, but it really does get lonely being around so many people and not knowing anyone.

 

He took me to a party with him one night and discovered that with the right amount of alcohol and motivation I was actually a pretty good conversationalist and could be quite entertaining. Ever since then he’d been hounding me into going to parties with him or clubbing. I went because I liked the experience of meeting new people. It got me out of my routine and pulled me away from whatever I was into for a little while—whether it was studying, reading, or lately my obsession with the perfect society.

 

Since I had started working two jobs, I had seen less of Brian. I had barely heard from him since I was so busy. But ever since I’d quit my job at the restaurant and cut my hours down at the library, I’d been seeing more of him. I think Angie taking an interest in me also had something to do with this sudden attention, but I can’t really be too sure.

 

Angie used to be Brian’s girlfriend. I think it ended in some horrible way, and I think this had fueled Brian’s misogyny—pieces of ass, cunts, pussy, and the rest. I also think that he wanted some measure of revenge. But it’s hard to tell, even from hindsight, because Brian really didn’t talk very much about his relationship with Angie. It must have been a sore subject.

 

*

 

I find sanctuary in what is now the empty, dead husk of an office building. I walk up the stairs of the building. The windows are blown out, but I am able to find old, stale crackers and other things to eat in some of the cabinets. I also find alcohol. Expensive alcohol. Brandy. 

 

*

 

“Sorry Brian,” I said. “Unfortunately, I’m busy studying tonight. I was just taking a break from reading my psychology notes. My final is on Tuesday and I still have three chapters to go.”

 

“You have plenty of time to study. I don’t think you understand what you’re doing. Susan wants to fuck you in the worst way.”

 

“She wants me to cosign her car loan?”

 

He paused for a moment. I think it took a full minute to realize I’d told a joke of sorts. He gave something that might be described as a laugh.

 

“Come on, Pierce. Tag that shit…” and he went on like that for a while. I had trouble paying attention to Brian once he got going.

 

I’m stuck, because I’m trying to figure out an explanation that won’t provoke ridicule and will make him shut up and leave. Once he stopped, my excuse went something like, “I don’t know, it just seems that I have better things to do. Besides, I’d rather not flunk out this semester.”

 

*

There are signs of life in the building. Someone is living here and it isn’t just one of the thumb-movers.

 

I hear someone in the office rattling around in the shadows.

 

I want to say something bold and normal like, “Show yourself.” But in reality, madness has crept in. The fringes of my mind are like Japanese o-mikuji papers — wishful thoughts, twisted and tied, left to blow in the wind.

 

So I say, “Neee! Neeee!”

 

The rains start and their acrid smell reminds me that I am close to death, or that I am already dead.

 

I pull out one of the five books in my satchel: Plato’s The Republic. I start reading passages from it.

 

When I try to read out loud, all I can say is, “We are the knights who say, “Nee!””

 

I consider the bottle next to me and wonder if Plato will go well with brandy. 

 

*

 

Brian liked having me around because it helped him feel good about himself. Brian was crude and very clumsy, socially and intellectually clumsy. Because of this, I was sure he had become ingrained with a deep sense of inferiority, which he shielded with a ridiculous amount of bravado. It was embarrassing and magnificent to watch at the same time.

 

I was pretty sure he hung around me because it made him feel smart. He told me this once, sort of. He told me that it made him feel good that he had someone he could talk to that had about the same level of intelligence. Sometimes he asked if we could talk about something “intelligent” because he was tired of the talks he had with his frat buddies. Sometimes he even brought girls with him to listen, which I thought was humorous, amazing, and sad.

 

I humored him. I had all sorts of ways to pass the time with conversations. I had done it so often, with so many people, that it had become a chore.

 

All his frat friends did was drink, swear, and brag about how they fucked women. Whenever Brian had problems with something he came to me because I was supposed to be sensitive, or a good listener, or something. Lately, though, I really hadn’t felt like putting up with his shit.

 

Brian was the most materialistic guy I had met in my life, but the problem was, he wanted it both ways. He was ruthless when it came to possessing things, but when his dad forgot to send his money, or one of his girlfriends told him to fuck off, he cried to me about things: he’d whine about things not being fair and women being bitches, even though the foundations for his success were built on the premises of hierarchy and domination. He couldn’t take being someone else’s object, the victim of power relations—it was this paradox in his thinking that bugged me more than anything.

 

*

 

There are voices in the dark telling me to put on the suit. What suit? In the CEO’s suite there are a number of suits that are still wearable. (In other words, the holes from rats weren’t too large. The part of me that isn’t telling me to wear the suit tells me to eat the suit).

 

There is no reason to wear a suit in the apocalypse. As far as I can tell the apocalypse is not a formal occasion. But then again, there is no reason to do anything in the apocalypse, except perhaps survive. (Eat the suit!)

 

My radioactive mushrooms can take me places without suits, but the voice from the shadow keeps saying, “Put it on.” 

 

*

 

I had lost track of our conversation. “What were we talking about again?” I asked him.

 

“I want you to come party with me so that you can get laid,” he said, succinctly.

 

“Oh, right,” I said. “Sorry, but I have all this studying to do. You understand.” He didn’t, but maybe if I assumed he did, he would just leave.

 

He began to read the inside cover of the Tao Teh Ching. This really made me angry. Jennifer had written a note on the inside cover that was very personal.

 

“Would you mind not reading that?” I asked. “That’s really very personal.”

 

“What is she? A girlfriend? Was she your first lay? Let me read,” he kept reading the book, which had me peeved. There really wasn’t anything for him to make fun of in the note, but I didn’t like the idea of Brian just invading my privacy like that.

 

“Shit, it sounds like you have this bitch wrapped around your little finger.”

 

I had had enough. I thought about the easiest way to offend him.

 

“You don’t have to swear. No one else is listening to you,” I said.

 

“What?” He looked kind of startled (success). He couldn’t comprehend what I had just said to him.

 

“Nobody else is listening to you. You don’t have to put on your act,” I said, nonchalantly. “So just cut out the swearing.”

 

This bothered him. He wasn’t enraged, but he suddenly became self-aware. I had never quite been so straightforward with Brian before. I had mentioned a couple of times briefly that I thought he had a deep sense of inferiority, and that sometimes he came on too strong, but I never made a case of it. I never told him what I really thought, which was that he was a phony.

 

*

 

I’m sure that I’m not alone in the office building. Something lives there. Something terrible. It whispers to me in the dark.

 

Wear the suit, it whispers.

 

But I am already wearing the suit.

 

When had I put it on?

 

I read passages from Plato’s Republic.

 

From the shadows, I hear the voice whispering. “Gold.” “Rationality.” “Born to rule.” 

 

*

I had put it to him very straightforward now. I was pushing toward conflict because I needed it.

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, fucker.” His face was turning red, more with embarrassment, though, than with anger. He knew he was becoming red too, and he was trying to hide it. I could see his embarrassment turning to anger.

 

I decided to ease up. Why get into something I didn’t have to, especially with Brian, who despite his crudeness, meant well.

 

“Fine, you’re right,” I said. “Besides, you know I just get jealous when you swear like that, my being the product of a strict Christian upbringing and all.” He was confused by this last remark. He couldn’t decide whether I was giving ground with an apology or making a joke. Either way, it disarmed his anger, and thus, worked the same as an apology. He still held my book, though, which bothered me.

 

We looked at each other for a long moment.

 

He finally said, “Are you coming tonight?”

 

“No, I’m not. I already told you that.”

 

“You have to,” he said. “I told Susan you’d be there. It was the only way to get her cute friend to come along…” He spent some more time trying to convince me, but I really couldn’t concentrate on anything he was saying because he was holding Jennifer’s book in his grubby little hands. Eventually, he said something like, “Take Susan and ask her to cook breakfast when you’re done. That way if the sex is bad, you can at least get a decent meal out of it.” It was getting pretty bad, and I didn’t really want to listen to any more of his crap.

 

“I need my book back,” I told him. He didn’t give me the book back.

 

“Why are you so mental about this book?”

 

“It’s not mine, I told you this already. My friend gave it to me. I can’t let it get messed up. See, look, your sweaty palms are already soaking the pages,” I said.

 

“Fuck you.”

 

We just looked at each other for a long time, again. The whole situation was becoming annoying, but I could see that he was bent on trying to get me to go with him. I was pretty sure that he actually had promised Susan that I would be there, and he was worried he would look bad if he didn’t deliver. I wasn’t going to go, though. Simply put, I didn’t like hanging out with Brian anymore. And I certainly didn’t want to be a pawn in some scheme to satisfy his sex drive, or social drive, or any other drive.

 

Then he did something that was pretty incredible, but which I thought was so much like Brian. He simply assumed that I would go, and then he took Jennifer’s book as leverage. He said, “I’m going to hold onto this. You give me a call on my cellphone. I’ll be up in my dorm getting ready. Be there in about a half hour.”

 

He walked off with her book. I guess I hadn’t wounded his ego as much as I should have. When I had the chance I should have embarrassed the hell out him. I should have just called him a phony, a tool, a douche bag, snatched the book out of his hands and left.

 

*

In the executive suite of the office building, I can see that the acrid, nuclear rain has stopped. It has cleansed some of the finger-twitching-zombies and made a rich landscape for mushrooms that could send me to far off places, make me forget about food, and expedite the end of my existence in this world.

 

I am also, now, wearing a suit listening to whispers in the dark — “Gold.” “Rationality.” “Born to rule.”

 

The Tao Teh Ching. Is that one of the books in my bag? I want to look inside my bag but find myself drinking brandy instead.

 

“The behemoth…” I whisper. “He’s here. He’s hungry.”

 

The whispers echo in my head louder. “Born to rule.”