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The Ten-Minute Super-Quick Store-Boy

Shopping cart rattling down buffed up shiny floored aisle in great big greatest of all toy store in this brand new state of the art wired up and wireless you take your pick shopping complex. Leave for Bern in three more days. Eight years in. Janie eight; just snapped from seven, but no discernable behavior changes. The left front wheel is rattling, the cart is not too easy to push and here and there the steel is rusty. Now, if this store is brand new which it is and the carts were all brand new a week ago when the consumer sucking complex was opened, why are the carts all beat up this this? Why indeed. This really nagged at me Jamed, it kind of seeped in and plugged in and—yes, yes—it was just like some Claymation monster was slowly formed before me and each rattle of the wheel was a command to the monster to throw out a tendril, and plug it deftly into and to the bottom of a pore in my cheek. The wheel rattled and rattled so fast that I finally stopped, because the thicket of twisted tangled writhing tendrils had popped out and plugged in my face and became too thick and bulky and uncomfortable that I had to stop the cart which stopped the wheel rattling which dried up the mass of twisted tendrils and they unplugged from my face and dissolved into thin pink dust all gone even before they were able to land at my feet and mar the perfect nearly new, precisely laid, buffed, swept and polished ceramic very ceramic yes ceramic; the most expensive materials and workmanship the entire complex smelled of the smell of brand-new top-notch building materials knocked nailed and built together to make the great store that had come in and over and around me and stopped me dead in the toy section devoted to children seven to nine and since Janie is eight, it is the exactly right spot to release the cart handles and slowly take in the items their prices and even maybe to find out that there are some slashes of prices and here and there an item marked down in some deep discount. Yes, let me see look see what look you—
Can I help you ma’am?
Oh! Turn no turn yes there’s a sweet-faced store-boy of about twenty or around that spiral of ages that range yes see I am a judge of age ought to have taken up guessing ages and weights and all, on the boardwalk for several consecutive summers in a row, developing several consecutive suntans and here and there some very mild twinge-spots akin to real sunburn and—
Ma’am? Can I help you? You looking for toys? Is this the right age group? Or can I show you to another section? Tell me what exactly you are looking for, and I will find it for you.
Oh, yes—I said through my jagged fingertips pressing to the plastic and steel cool of the defective shopping cart’s push handle—Me and my husband and our eight year old Janie are taking a trip to Switzerland week after next, and I want to surprise Janie with some neat new toys to bring along on the flight and also to play with after Ma comes home and then we can get up and go, could even sleep a while in the plane if Janie is busy making little friends attracting them with her neat toys as would some old-school ventriloquism midget of two or three or five days in a row outside laying food traps all rotten and stenchy with maggots hatching and knowing like I do that poor greedy creatures of all kinds will come and grasp and feel, Wow what a sky above and what slimy skunk cabbage below but our parents you know were too careless with climbing their rapidly dissolving to vapor corporate stepladders, to think to plan and do an assessment of anything they were too busy to snag down away from the great thick heavy crushing tsunami of a continuous eternity of the future pouring over now and then back to the wide astonished but unaffected face of the store-boy who had asked if I needed help because, as always in bustling places like this, I stood alone frozen lost and forlorn—having thusly thought his question over, I said to him, Yes, what do you recommend? Toys for five to eight days, some in close quarters like a plane seat or waiting room standing to the side forest green tall garbage cans in the office we need to stop by and visit for a few which is okay because I really am supposed to be in the office now, anyway but this needs to get done get done yes get done now! So—can you help?
Oh, yes, no problem ma’am. Let me pull a few items from the shelf. Here.
He moved as a thin slippery lizard and pulled down a very minor tiny imperceptible slide of colorful small toys in boxes and bags each of which I look at I cannot understand what you do with each one but it seems like kids today are you know they’re—hey! What are these?
Those? Oh. Those are Koosh balls.
Huh?
Koosh balls. Kids love them—and see, you spotted them in the bargain bin, everything in there is buy one get two free. See there?
What? Oh—yeah. I see that. What do kids do with these?
Play catch, pretty much.
Huh? He stood waiting to get an answer but the answer would have to be, God, that is ridiculous you can’t play catch to keep busy on a plane where once in a while they’ll let Janie play in the aisle but where most of the time she’ll be between me and Jamed, plus so what they’re soft and all that, number one; you can’t play catch good with less than a solid hard ball, and, number two; so what they’re soft and won’t hurt anybody they go off course go askew from a bad throw or whatever, nobody in a cramped airplane on an intercontinental flight will take kindly to being pummeled at random intervals by a featherweight yucky little wisp of a ball, no matter how cute the players, because on a long flight everything around everybody turns black-hearted ugly—
What about it, ma’am? Like the Koosh balls?
Not sure, spit from my lips, as the final and worse problem with playing ball in tight crowded spaces full of bad air and bad vibes broke all surf-like and foamy, obliterating the store-boy fully, erasing his fairly unimportant question, flowed down and down showing its reason for having appeared to me; yes, it needed to come and tell me, curving down before me like a scroll, upon which words came in great black block letters, yelling up into my face there is one more problem about playing catch for air travel amusement, that being that it assumes you have friends to play with; and no, yes, we don’t know for sure if we will; it’s a not too much of a logical stretch to think her happy manner brand new toys and the smiles her parents, yes her parents, in the real world outside this loopy thought-stream being me and Jamed, will go out of our way to coo and ahh and grin and nod and make the other parents crammed in on the plane sure that their prayers have been answered and here is a way to get a break from the twenty four seven strain of minding unruly children, yes, unruly and slow to learn like unsocialized young adult dogs, a strain to train indeed, and the strain varying by breed and it’s not like choosing a breed at the shelter since people-breeds come out and what you get is the deck you’re dealt, it’s like saying at the pound to the pound people give me a dog any dog any age my eyes are closed I will conceive this child and take the roll of the dice, even though if the possibility exists that I may receive a dog too large too evil non-housebreakable stinky drooling noisy super-shedding hard-to-handle and no good actually at all. Is not conceiving like a Russian roulette spin? Here, we put one in the chamber go on and spin and spin and point to your head and click the orgasmic trigger and hang on through what seems the eternal nine-month wait to see if your head blows off being given a child with the genes of a serial killer, or with the hollow click and the pee-in-your-pants relief that you will give birth to a smart honest healthy trainable maybe even already trained blasted from Zeus’ blood-splattering forehead as-goddess style fully formed and perfectly perfect Athena-like ball of effortless and perfect and no work at all child—you know—the couple in the seat two rows back on the other side of the plane will nod to their perfectly trained Jesus-like superclean in body and mind, child fit to play with Janie, to come over to play.
Or maybe not. You can’t tell a serial killer at first sight. Love at first sight doesn’t work out, either. Haste makes waste and all that too. The answer is given. The store comes back from the surrounding pondering hard-thinking mist, and I tell the slithery-slick super-skinny store-boy if I’ll go on and buy the Koosh balls, without looking at his gleaming white shirt whiter than white he looks like he is standing at the superhot focal point of the world’s largest new BrightSource solar power plant in California’s Mojave Desert that burns birds down from the sky like some god-damned real life world war two last resort super-secret Nazi death ray—sure look it up if you don’t think that’s true, look it us yes up and yes up yes—then for some reason, everything went scalding hot and I recoiled and saw the store-boy again, and ran for safety in the cool gap between us throwing out words to grapple the cool back and over and around me, to survive. I listened to what I found myself saying as the scalding peeled away layer on layer cooling down and down.
No, I don’t think that’s what I want. I’m sorry.
Oh?
Right—but what else would you recommend?
Oh, yes, well then right here right here yes here it is yes, wait—
He grabbed out into the blur around us, and brought out a hazy item somehow hazed over like people in a true-to-life COPS show get their faces blurred because they are unwilling to be identified for some paranoid reason, it was not definable until a surf of words foamed all splashy out over the blur and made it so any footprints in the sand could be seen clearly at the beach, at least until the next wave foamed out over to erase them all—I said the name of the thing in his hand quick, before it would be washed away and be gone, never was, forever.
Ah, Playdoh. That’s Playdoh. I see. Yeah, that’s a good idea—Playdoh. Only thing is, are you sure that’s not too young for an eight-year-old?
Oh, no. It would be fine. And also—
What also?
Also, studies have shown it will occupy a child on a plane for at least forty minutes.
Studies?
Right.
Okay, wait a second, let me think; Sure, take your time; I blinked away and pictured little Janie sitting in a cramped airliner seat with a postage stamp sized tray table folded down before her, puzzled as how to get lost in Playdoh-play on a surface almost as small as a three by five card, but my hand went to my face and tilted down, smacking me silly with the sudden sight of a stain in the linoleum floor at the tip of the store-boy’s pointy shiny loafers, shaped roughly like the state of Texas; any thought of how Janie would handle the Playdoh sank onto and into and past the stain until it was gone—the stain was the important thing; one does not see this kind of thing every day; but, roughly the shape of Texas is not good enough, no—as somewhere in a pitch-black compartment way back in a corner of my brain, little Janie continued struggling to play correctly with a dozen round containers of Playdoh, that once the Doh was removed from them, there was nowhere to put them aside to make way for the play with the actual Doh, without them rolling away toward a fall to the floor followed by a quick sharp roll under the airplane seats. Remember round smooth cumbersome children’s toy items have embedded in their DNA the instinct to not stay where they are put, to always strive for an excuse to fall over, roll away, and drop off the play surface—just as surely as someone with skill and taste and time and tools would have to get down and define underline outline and boldface the stain on the toy store floor, in an effort to make it into a perfect tiny Texas, so that not just I, who has been solely quite focused on the stain for nearly a full minute now, would see; like the pain in my belly from trying to squeeze down to reach a dropped object beneath an airline seat with no legroom to begin with and with a seat belt strapped on because round plastic children’s toy items strive always when rolling to come to rest in some jet-black place where it would be an extremely difficult effort to bent down twist around grunt and groan to retrieve them, and—sure enough it hits me again and again like a jackhammer of dismay that Texas being an interesting scuff-stain in the floor when it’s only nearly shaped that way, is not true at all. The stain yelled at my face, No, yes, pay attention, I have a purpose, yes, I do, yes, I do, I must be known I must be noticed—I must be more a really sharp Texas one glance at me should spear them with Texas—must try to get it where did they roll all but one rolled ugh must bend down pain pain—I need to catch my breath, and I straightened to see a sweating fat bald man’s face above the seatback that said, Ma’am, could your child play with something else? I did not buy a ticket to have little girl’s playthings rolling under hitting my feet and taking my legroom—droplets flew off from his quivering cheeks, I had never seen anyone sweat so much, but it must be made so that every person passing by the stain growing from the airplane’s complaining fat man slinging down his impure string of pearly sweatdrips all spattering the floor, who knows what Texas looks like on a map, would stop and gape and get hit with a club in the mouth to say, Hey! That stain equals Texas! Sure, see there, I was right! That over, good. Yes—and I say back, I am glad you agree; the little cheap Playdoh jars are open and Janie’s smallish but nicely tapering hands worked the dough into some unrecognizably unique shape she had in mind, and—the uneasy need to doublecheck something pushed my hand down an inch from my face again, and up came Texas. Texas! I was testing the concept, and yes; it’s Texas yes, it is yes. It. Is. Woof!
But, Ma’am, excuse me please, could your child play with something else?
No! I shouted back in his face, too busy to care when such a show played out before me; watching and waiting to see how this odorless and colorless and whitepressed supersinnning store-boy, who probably pleasures himself three or more times a day down in the basement thinking he’s hiding thinking no one knows his secrets, would secretly do next; all while the parents’ thundering footsteps booming down a mere yard or two above his hiding place, as he sits in the halfdark quivering and pounding hurrying doing it too fast and too painfully, his youth not realizing that all he needed to do to avoid discovery, was to altogether ignore the urge, push it down minimized to the right bottom corner of his mind and look elsewhere at something also most exciting but the physical manifestation of it is perfectly acceptable to be done out in public in the light of day no hiding no rushing the job rushing, ah oh, no rushing which is necessary for any young man ah oh hiding in the basement doing pain and pleasure simultaneously as fast as possible with himself to himself and yes—ah oh—
Ma’am, please answer, could your child play with something else?
No, no no—no! It is too much already to be tangled up with this other show playing on some kind of screen and not screen where the store-boy strove not to extend the time required to complete the act oh ah the time must not be extended to overlap the time required for Mom or Dad to ultimately come down racing to the wide freezer for icy pops for the tinier upstairs children, whose pitter-patter stepsounds stitch the floor up with each childlike run this way or that or around and around, et cetera, stitching the always ready to collapse floor and intact tying the whole building together and tight again and again, but; no one realizes that when they stop being children, and the running and pounding noises they make will also stop, cause the house to stress and strain and finally completely fall over a period of years just a worthless pile of nothing—and so, he—
Ma’am, I am being nice, I must ask again. Could your child play with something else—
Well, Ma’am? What do you think. Want the Playdoh?
Ma’am, could your child please play with something else? If you don’t answer I will ring the stewardess!
What? Who? I, uh, no. No. No was the safest answer when the last thirty seconds or so of pondering the answer cannot be remembered and thus must be thought over again to make sure, is, in the interim, as I finally stated quite crisply and clearly, No.
Why not? said the store-boy. I’m curious to know?
Ma’am, could your child play with something else? Answer now!
Because it’s messy. Goes all over. Plus, there’s not enough space on a seatback fold-down tray on a cramped no-legroom plane to really be able to let loose and play right. And there’s more I knew but just because I can’t remember what it was doesn’t mean it isn’t true I wish I could tell you, but—the reasons exist. I just don’t know what they are. Understand?
Not really, said the young gleaming store-boy, but that’s okay. There’s more ideas I have for you. Just wait a second. There’s something back here—
He twisted and reached displaying a huge underarm sweat-stain for the first time, but though I used to think him clean, something somewhere that I’ve also forgotten makes me unsurprised that he is really quite unclean. He’s very good at hiding it; he had me fooled good, ‘till now. He repositioned the Playdoh box on the shelf with the other dozen or so, then somehow on a lower his quick hand transformed the Playdoh box into another box of an entirely different color shape and size which when pulled up said across the side, Lego; which I then repeated aloud, yes thusly; Legos? That’s great. That’s perfect. I think I’ll definitely buy that. Sure, why not. Everybody’s okay with Legos. I’m too worn out, it’s already a long day, sure what the hell; I’ll take them. What else you got? I need a lot more by the end of the day.
Oh, there’s plenty more. I’ll pick out more things like that. But, I can see you’re tired. Go rest a bit at that desk over there where all that paperwork’s spread. Nobody’s going to use it today, you can sit there nobody’s going to say it’s wrong so stay there and take a breather. Let me shop for you for a little bit. But first, tell me. How long is your flight? You need enough toys to keep your daughter busy through the whole flight. How long is it?
It’s about ten or eleven hours.
Great—so you’ll need four or five playsets to make it through. You okay to buy that many? It will probably wind up costing between almost a hundred dollars, but definitely no more than that. That sound all right?
Oh, sure, I said.
Great! he snapped, so loud hard and fast it hit the wall across the room, splatted over all and everything, and recoiled him spinning away to find toys for my child. He was trying so hard to impress me; he obviously cared for the wellbeing in the airplane tomorrow of my sweet child Janie, so I sat at the desk he’d pointed out and laid my head gently down on my arms folded out on the desk. The cushion pushed down under me pressed out all around saying Lord, God, Wendy Wendy dear little one, you are so worn out. You need to get some sleep tonight before tomorrow comes all hot tight flamed all up horribly dreadful, swallowing us gone in one earsplitting Rolls-Royce powered fastgulp of a planeride, carrying us now forward to tomorrow in and about the People mover warship that had fired and fired and ultimately worn the shit out of me here in the store all hollow like I am. Sheeeeit. Probably thoughts of the long dreadful day tomorrow that’s doomed for quick swallowing by the horrid creepy greedy signed and sealed trip to Bern Switzerland we’re being forced to undertake. It’ll be Hot. It’ll be Sticky. Smelly. Shitty. And it’s only necessary because we paid tons of money to ensure that we’ll be euthanized at age fifty-nine, on a gamble that by then we’ll be able to be revived and live a whole ‘nother life and et cetera in a very extreme sense. What a hell of a plot! Plus, little Janie will get euthanized and revived for free. What deal, my sweet dear, can top that? I had cold feet sure, I told Jamed a couple of times let’s quit, let’s cancel, let’s knock off the whole thing. I told him before we left for the first trip to Bern, and I told him after the shitty knock-knock kind of trip and visit and trip back with nothing at all that makes sense accomplished that I could see anyhow anyway that we ended up having; but Jamed just told me have faith, hang in there, we’re together and we’re committed. We need to be bigger than the lives we’ve been dealt. What’s bigger than living forever? Nodding and looking away like I did, told me telling him yes was way easier than to argue. But the trips to Bern every ten years or so, to maintain our membership, will be more and more exhausting. Yes, my head leaned on my hand whose elbow leaned out of the desk that held a great big sink to wash up in after this next long Journey that somehow I can’t remember because it hasn’t happened yet, but I know that the store-boy is working hard to make sure Janie is occupied through the whole trip and that much at least, will be covered. That will calm us a bit and we’ll probably nap and get there wide awake and freshened up; and, just like the first trip, we are required by contract to go to the Resurrection club’s headquarters to sign whatever needed to be signed immediately, without any delay. We really ought to rest until tomorrow, but we must do it, we signed the agreement. It’s a stupid rule and who knows why, but that’s what they want. Go immediately upon arrival or they’ll dump us, we were told. So after checking into the hotel we arranged for their free babysitting service, because Janie at least must go to bed immediately because she’s totally conked-out from the flight during which the toys we bought were totally right and absolutely exceeded our expectations. God bless that store-boy the other day; thank God I went to that store, which I considered avoiding because its name contains words evocative of those involved in my lifelong battle with onomatophobia; we tucked Janie in and waited for the sitter, who turned out to be an extremely small pale extremely old person, who could have passed for either male or female, whose face was no more than a mass of deep wrinkles and who wore a shiny jet-black beehive hairdo wig that smelled faintly of mothballs and looked as old as the sitter itself. The sitter just came in and said nothing and glided somehow not really walked to an easy chair against the far wall, and sat and pulled out a great black book and opened it, and said, I will just sit here and entertain myself. You two kids have fun; and a smile or perhaps more like a flicker of a smile-shape pushed out its wrinkles, glowed at us, reached us and was perceived by us, and then was gone. Then it seems some massive plates in the geology of reality shifted several yards at once, because she finished her sentence saying, What about Loom Bands? These are very popular this year. Price is only sixteen dollars. Like these?
All right, I said—who knew why but I said all right and rushed Jamed ahead out of the room into the nice fresh hall, and down the elegant old-school elevator, brought up to modern code as the whole world-famous Bellevue Palace hotel has been, from peak of its fashionably slightly crooked and very honestly antique lightning rods to the richly fossilized bedrock its colossal foundations rest on. We went across the gleaming marble floored and walled and ceilinged lobby, vast and airy as brand new but actually very, very, very antique like a body stretched on an embalming table waiting to die so it will finally be where it belongs but we didn’t pause we rushed out to the street, and were hit by old Bern, just like last time, which Jamed had explained nothing was destroyed here because Switzerland was neutral, which actually seemed to just have said because somehow this new trip is our last trip at the same time, joining the Club de la Resurrection, which is to enable immortality, has made us both grow to see what immortality really means in a loopy sort of wild nonsensical way, hah, that being that all time past and future is really just one time that’s around us all the time and for things to make sense to our backward limited minds, the notion of time was created to prevent mass insanity of the entire race—and—Jamed yelled look, look, I turned, he was paused and pointing.
What? I said—he stood smiling beside a tall old Kiosk ragged with obsolete faded and tattered notices of gatherings and functions long gone to the fading past. He said, look here, there’s some information posted up here about what tourists should make sure not to miss in Bern. Let’s stop and give it a look. We ought to get to know the place a little. After all we’ll be coming here three of four more times. Check it out.
I scuffed up and pretended to read the tourist information, though I was much too tired from the flight, and the final check in here for euthanization won’t be before we’re nearly sixty. Lord, God, that’s so far away. It’s like so unreal. Like the meat we process through the joint we run to get money to stay alive. It’s unreal actually to do what we do. But if you do it long enough, it becomes real. But, it will take until our final moments on our deathbeds to really see how real it all is, but; then it will be too late, no way can we know what life can be when it’s all really real to us; mortal, we just get slid in a hole and that’s that, might as well not even have lived, but—immortal, you get to start over after revivement, I mean, hold it let’s stop here, I got a problem. I’m sensitive to words. The way they sound when heard, the way they taste when spoken. Words you don’t say ever in your whole life probably. Like revivement. Revivement is not a medical procedure performed to clean up a wound when a ghastly gash of an injury is all muddy full of stones or a degloving thing. The proper word there is debridement. It’s also not to be mistaken for deployment dismemberment development environment unemployment establishment et cetera go et cetera, no, that that washed up music guy whose name sounds like sounds like sounds like sound here comes the deeptanned wideshouldered lifeguard to save us from continuing to the inevitable end. The lifeguard grips us and drags us to some shady place where we’re handed by who knows who what does it matter who saves your life anyway, uh—the lifeguard becomes a gang of the same their job is to save it’s legal that they stop you first and it’s legal we demolish anything and everything that might distract you like any landmarks either ancient or new that contribute to the fact that the old town in Bern was listed amongst the five hundred UNESCO world cultural heritage sites in nineteen eighty three. Now, here’s what’s wrong. The heritage site title was given to the neighborhood around the same time the Patriciosilva dental practice we walked to will walk to was given the clean mouth clean mind award by a large-scale jury of Patricio’s peers most whom are now in cemeteries and not just any—but why was Jamed into saying in some different voice, Usborn Activity Cards! She will love these! Only eighteen fifty-six. What about it?
His eyes pulled out an answer of, Yes that is great from me because the eyes somehow also rung in my head saying, Humor me, humor me, I’ve done so much for you Wendy, the least you can do is humor me—I had yes I had, but being dog-tired almost in a trance, I had to ride this out stay on track oh yes, cemeteries, cemeteries what was it about cemeteries here, yes it’s about bigwigs being laid down in not just any old cemeteries no, but only in expensive ritzy big cemeteries because these were top-notch high-income old-money world-class dentists who truly lived the job and were never handed a fucking thing in their lives, unlike me and Jamed who had the Davis Funeral home silver spoon jammed so far down our throats that our gagging has grown to be less troublesome through the years since but still attacks with a vengeance but subtly so sneakily stealthily it times itself to when we accidentally open the densely packed bowels of this or that fat-fed corpse who’s really pissed inside at being abruptly demoted from all the way alive and on top to corpse all cold and naked on a frigid stainless steel slab—such corpses eject mass quantities of poop stained gas flush flush spray peppered with moist flecks all around spattered out good and thoroughly; yes it is at such times that the gag is thrust up from all the rotten shit deep down below the dark which is the corpse, to remind us that this is no way the best way to make a living, there’s other stuff, but—it’s late I think I need to sleep now yes no yes see yes wins I must rise seek out a salad to shove in followed by a dozen frosty cold bottles of Poland Spring bottled spring water, chosen because years back that the rumor was that Evian water was not spring at all but was manufactured from a blend of acidic suds and slop cream and the leavings of those we’ll never know actually because things that stop fall back in time more quick than we can hold our attention on them straining to read their label or whatever passes for their label until they’re too far back to be heard any more. A thirty-year fold back of the warp and woof of time like that well I, myself—could never remember what theme song to pick as commemoration so no music will be played in honor of these brave men and women and this is why they’re all forgotten today; yes, something as simple as the malt shop juke box not being properly updated by the vendor firm whose name old Ted forgot anyway, so he said to himself what he dared not day aloud—I don’t really give a shit fuck shit hey, hey. The past’s so gone it’s really never was. Hic, hey, we got there fine. Go in is what’s generally done when one gets there unless it’s a corporate picnic in which case some stuffy-nosed worm sneaks you in all the way in yes under the ex-big top’s rental-tent, and you’re in. And nobody even noticed you’re nude from the waist down—hey, no, only kidding—made you look! Hah, anyway, here we’re in and there she is with time to spare but somehow weird it’s not we just got here it’s like we never left the first time and this is generally cause for alarm because some kind of top secret hypnotism may be at work here yes, no. Hey! But lord God I slept all through reading the Kiosk and walking the short twilight walk to 1 Kochergasse, and the entry into the Patriciosilva dental office and the step up to the check-in window, waving and flapping and grunting and groaning our step by step way through the thick super-clean unnatural dental office air as the last time we came ten years or so back. The air’s a drug to slow us down the rewinding time slide we’re into backwards is how it’s explained in the Resurrection Club’s boilerplate literature, and there we stood again bellied up to the receptionist tapped the window and the receptionist’s face rose again out of her still jet-black hair and it’s the same woman the same age it seems as last time, saying, okay, decided to come back, did you—did you go to get paper and pen I told you, you need? I hope you got it this time, I truly do indeed! Got paper and pen paper and pen ah yes! I really and truly hope you do indeed! Ah, yes, I—I thought you were leaving—what else do you need? I remember thinking you needed pen and paper before you signed the signature sheet. But you already signed the signature sheet good that is great—oh yes and here, check this over, Ma’am. A magnetic travel game. She’ll love it! Only eleven dollars. This one okay? Hey hey—
Just a blip it was in my head, probably from fatigue, I snapped, Sure, but that one word drowned dissolving under Jamed’s wide open firehose shotgun-spray of words.
Hold it, wait, slow down. We didn’t sign any sheet for today. What are you talking about?
Oh yes, Mister Davis, I’m afraid you did. Look—look, here—see?
The large frog green binder slapped up from the dark wide open and she pointed to one of the lines and said, See here sir, it’s signed. Yes, it is—I told you.
Wait, sniped Jamed. That must be the one we signed on our first visit—what’s the date look at the date, here—and, leaning forward, he pushed his finger toward hers, more than a push, actually a jab, more than a jab, actually a stab; and he must have been sorry to have reacted so roughly, because he seemed to come to somehow like he’d been in a trance but he’d not been in one so I did not understand. No, he said. That’s not what we signed before. That’s today’s date. Where is the one from last time, but—hey! Why is the one with today’s date signed?
Because you just signed it before, before you started to leave. I saw you.
No! Who signed for us? An imposter was here pretending to be us! Who was it? Where did they—wait, how many were here? Two like me and Wendy are now? Or, a variable quantity not greater than one thousand but not less than one? Not less than one because people-presence cannot he counted negative. A negative number of people would be—well—quite abnormal. Did you know that see I know that—as I say, what you’re saying is absolutely abnormal.
My foot shuffled over. Some kind of different Jamed had spoken. I stepped back as he waited for the receptionist to reply, breathing quite heavily; I thought of agonal breathing; years back I heard agonal breathing for the first and only time, when at two a.m. we got a call that a client’s father had just passed down at Wildwood hospital. Wildwood hospital did everything in the hospice ward for free. That is because more than one hundred years ago, the founder, the Very Reverend Monsignor Henry S. Wildwood, a renowned Jesuit, and a larger cross-time thinker and imagineer than any others in the order, which is saying a lot, decided that the homeless and otherwise poor, should no longer pass on in alleys full of garbage cans, or in abandoned cars beside abandoned Victorians, which virtually litter the deserted street of the rough tough side of this county’s urban centers, but—
Excuse me, said the receptionist around past Jamed. Mrs. Davis? Mrs. Davis, there’s a phone call for you. It’s Dr. Patriciosilva. Here—oh she did push a telephone into the edge of my perception. But who would be calling me here? It made no sense so I went on all about the story of what happened in the hospice unit down at Wildwood. We got to the hospital only to find that the loved one we’d been called to take had not passed yet. God had made him seem dead but had given him a five-hour reprieve, and—
Mrs. Davis, please! Take this phone! It’s Dr. Patriciosilva and it’s urgent. Mrs. Davis, what is wrong. Can’t you hear me?
—the telephone started rattling very hard now in the envelope of my sealed off fatigued airspace but not enough to not finish what I am saying which is, to get right to the point, that we arrived way too soon and we waited around because the nurses said he had probably less time to live than it would take us to go back to the funeral parlor, and then turn around and come back again. We stayed and waited and then we watched the man die. It was fairly quiet and peaceful most of the time probably due to the Morphine drip, but at the end we witnessed around fifteen minutes of agonal breathing. Ask Jamed, that’s where he learned to do agonal breathing yes Ma yes Pa that’s what he is doing now working this signature sheet issue that’s it he’s trying to make her think she is killing him maybe with her lies or maybe a combination of lies and brute ignorance, he is doing it, he manipulates some of the casket company salesmen that way—what do I think? Here’s what I think; I think that dying man who passed with us present let go his spirit and on its way to the pearly gates it paused because its appointment with Saint Peter was not for another hour and it’s—what? Dear God no. Now she’s stuck her head in my space saying some nonsense like, Look, this is perfect—A toy Aquadoodle. Quite the rage right now. Only sixteen and a half dollars. How about this?
Damned stubborn subhuman. So stubborn oh stubborn much to stubborn—I humored her with a yes that had already proved to dissolve that nonsense a few times, where was I yes it is always rude to arrive at a party of any kind way too early, because the hosts are not yet ready the dogs are not kenneled the children are not at the babysitter’s just like Peter Pater’s snot ready to see this man’s spirit soul so it swooped through Jamed, wound up tight some secret spring in his brain that has waited all these years all real tight and ready to let go, until this day when it got triggered and it send him on a modified path grew him up a slice sure injected him with old fart juice of the male variety, and is now powering him to repeat over and over to the receptionist, Who signed this? I demand to know! Do you know who we are, Miss? Do you?
Yes, I do sir, but wait, just wait—Mrs. Davis, please listen! Last chance, take the phone, it is the doctor who is second only to the Great Founder in the Resurrection Club. His time is precious, you are wasting his time! Take it now!
Wait no! I asked you a question, yelled Jamed, but I pushed my hand out in front of him, grabbed the phone, yelled back to her, Jesus, Jeez, don’t yell, you don’t have to push it out in my face like that, here hand it over here, right here, yes, yes—all right, here I am. What is the problem?
Mrs. Davis? This is Mrs. Jamed Davis? Is it—
Lady, listen, yelled Jamed behind me, blasting out loud to the Receptionist. Don’t be stupid, the question is simple! Who signed this? Tell me now—
I turned away, took a step, and said into the phone, Yes, I am Mrs. Davis—but please speak up, my husband is talking really loud to your receptionist about a big problem we just ran into, maybe you should come out and fix it, it’s the important thing right now.
No! Block it out! Now! You and I are what’s important right now!
What? Listen, there’s a problem out here, do something! My husband is very upset! If he gets sick, I swear to God—
Mrs. Davis, I’m sorry but your husband is on his own right now. If you mention this problem one more time, or you tell me to speak up one more time, you will both be denied membership in the Resurrection Club, and the money you have paid so far toward your membership will never be refunded. Since we are in Switzerland, you will find it difficult if not impossible to afford winning a long-drawn-out court case to get your money back. Do you understand? Take a deep breath before you answer. There is nothing else in the universe while we are on the phone, but your voice and intellect, and my voice and intellect. Is that clear? You are just a single hairsbreadth away from being denied eternal life. Are you clear? Or do you wish that the two of you should be condemned to death, with no return?
My hand clapped to my free ear to shut off Jamed, and what, yes, a gulp a large gulp too large much too large spit the damned thing out yes you understand say it gag choke on it but do it—spit! The word condemned definitely got my attention!
Yes. It is clear.
Then seconds tick forward one by one, quiet, too quiet so quiet oh no—did I say the right thing will I live forever will Jamed and our baby little Janie too or have I fucked up really dark scary and final, God the answer please the answer I can take it oh God, here he is, quiet listen lives are at stake—here he comes, I am ready it, won’t be good no it won’t call me silly but it feels like the feeling before mounting a scale during a diet—all right, here it comes it comes, step, go on I am focused tight yes quite tight—
Good, he said warmly. I am glad we are on the same wavelength now. It is happy for your whole family that we are. Believe me.
Doctor, I was scared to death! I blurted, waving aside the sudden flood of light. To death!
All right Wendy. That’s all in the past, calm down now. I will now teach you. Listen. Are you listening? The lesson is simple. It is just eight words. Here it is—ready?
Yes—here the surf once more though foamed over yelling oh no yelling, Finger Puppets! Look at this, Ma’am. Perfect for the plane, and only fifteen dollars. We’re up to seventy-seven dollars if you want this too Ma’am. How about it—fine, but go away, you have been humored no not now go not now, tell him—thank God he’s still waiting it’s quiet yell to the quiet—
Yes, I am ready.
In the forever life, it is always now. Say it back.
In the forever life, it is always now.
All right Wendy. Now we are level and connected. Listen; what has gone on up to now upon your arrival here, is all carefully scripted. Today we are beginning the final test of your husband to make sure he is suitable for the gift of eternal life.
Testing? What kind of testing? You’ve got him all pissed off. That’s all I see.
That is what it might seem like I know, but our methods are tried and proven. We must test and test and test again, because being immortal in the wrong people can lead to a complete mental breakdown and the need for permanent euthanasia. If this is going to happen it will be two or three lifetimes down the road that the breakdown will occur. We are beginning a long-term test of your husband to see how much stress he can absorb over time. He will be almost constantly angry, frustrated, and depressed for the rest of his present iteration of life. If he does not break down before you both report for termination at the end of the whole process we’re leading you through, he will be judged acceptable to be gifted with immortality. Now. Do you have any questions at this point?
I—uh, no—oh wait; yes, I do. In other words, you are saying that you intend to pile enough stress upon Jamed in an attempt to ensure he won’t end up with a nervous breakdown?
That is exactly correct. Why did you choose this as a question?
It’s really going to be hard to watch him go through this. Really hard. But, I’m glad you told me I will help him through all the stress and strain, I will help him to know he is only being tested—
No! No. Absolutely not!
What? Absolutely not what, exactly?
You will not tell him that we told you this, and no matter how great his suffering might be, you must never give in to the mounting pressure to cry out to us that we should stop, back off him, we need to stop, or anything like that. And, if you tell him about this information you are being given now, both of you will end up in Hell and have your eternal futures shut down in an irrevocable way. This is your test. You’re both being tested. Your test is if you will be able to see Mr. Davis enduring Hell on Earth until the day you both die, without noticing it, speaking of it, or breaking down and giving up and pleading for us to stop it. Again—now that you have been told the whole plan—what questions before you’re released from this phone call? You’ve a right to have questions you know. Go on. There’s no time limit.
I—is this really going to go on for the rest of our lives?
I already told you, yes.
I really don’t know if I can do this. It’s really much too hard.
To live forever requires that you be hard. Take it one day at a time, Wendy.
I—I—Life is all different now—I did not know this would happen.
You should have asked more questions when you first sat down with me to talk over the contract. But, that is water under the bridge. Wendy, you are released from this call. And, remember.
Remember what?
This call never happened. Good day.
Wait, no—
The round plastic blazing red phone pressed a hard hung up knock-rod into my ear, I nearly dropped the phone, and turned to hand it back but I guessed I already handed it back because it went away and then I forgot it and I sat with my head down in my arms someplace in-between then and now and yesterday and someone touched my arm, and thank God it was Jamed thank God, Jamed, you were straightening out some—
Sticker books! Ma’am, these top the whole thing off. Just ten dollars. How about it?
—fine but don’t bother me any more please, Jamed, I was saying it looks like you got the problem straightened out what was the problem how’d it turn out please don’t torment me any further—
Snap!
What?
Lord God, the store-boy blew up came back snatching everything from before me, I jerked wide awake and wide alert as his monstrous wide tall face cut away smashed down every single though I ever had or ever will, and pushed into me like a hand into a glove filling me out blowing me up with, Okay Ma’am, everything is in this cart. And everything totals up to eighty-seven dollars—that is, of course, no including tax. Is that all you need Ma’am?
—stand up wake up bat lashes rush blood back in face and say smiling something no stupid or wild answer him now be awake waken—
Oh, I said, rubbing my finger across my hot eyes. I am sorry, you did all this work and I slept right through it, I am sorry I usually don’t do that. My God, what—I am so sorry I’ve been sleeping, how embarrassing. Oh. So. Anyway, I’m awake. Tell me what toys you picked. I’ll tell you if I’ll take each one or not.
What?
What do you mean, what?
I asked you about each one already, and you kind of said okay. But that’s all right I can go over them with you one last time.
When did you ask me? I was sleeping.
You were only sleeping on and off. When you looked wide awake I asked you about the toys.
I—uh—
—shut up! No don’t say you don’t remember don’t seem too odd or crazy or off—talk—
No. That’s all right. I’ll take them, of course—
—he seems a bright straight store-boy he would not lie or gyp but there’s a risk no there is no risk move on, get out, just to be here so long is odd very odd—talk say—
I’m sure little Janie will love them all.
That’s fine, Ma’am, he beamed. I’m glad I could help. That’s why we’re here, Ma’am, he replied with a tilt of his tight round little cute clean head. Customers first.
Thanks. This has been great. Bye.
Bye Ma’am, have a great trip.
Smiling, I turned the cart handle that appeared in my hand, I turned away from the store-boy my wheels all rattling and rattling, and yes, I was leaving, but something what?
Texas!
What Texas?
Oh, that Texas, yes Texas; very important quite important; I turned back scanned the floor stretching clean bright shining deep deeply all the way to the store-boy, like just stripped just buffed superclean, and; no Texas.
I turned rattling and rushing back to the store-boy, who’d begun to leave the area but I called hey and his small for a head but large for a medium grade necklace pearl face turned to catch me, So I said at him, Hey—did someone come by cleaning the floor while I was sitting at the desk?
No. No one. Why? Did you drop something what’d you drop I’ll find it what—
Oh, no, I’ve got all my stuff, but; it’s just there was a big stain on the floor before. It’s gone now. I’m—surprised, but—hey, I’m sorry I know it’s a silly question, but what the hell. Why’s the stain gone when nobody cleaned?
The store-boy’s face turned to shadow. It had been wrong to come back and ask but what’s done is done, so I listened politely as he said, What it is, probably, Ma’am, is that since all the materials used to build this great store are the best money could buy, every single thing in here, including the floor, are so beautiful and glowing that even if they get dirty, the quality of this wonderful place pushes through the dirt and just overcomes it to ensure its beauty is never marred. How about that?
I smiled. He smiled. My God what crap. That just has to be something he was forced to memorize in some un-airconditioned summertime weeks-long store-boy training class, but no matter. Forget. After all the question was so nothing, I don’t even remember why I asked it. I instantly turned away to forget him and get home as fast as possible. The next three days are going to be rough. Somewhere inside I just knew it. I tried not to start it off on a sour note, by realizing I had spent eighty-seven dollars for a little sack of toys. And that is still minus tax! Lord God, what a cool head of a salesman this store-boy was. Between that and the place aggravating my onomatophobia, I doubt I’ll go in that store ever again.

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