the short story project


Joseph Pooler

Thursday October 13, 2011

     The 4:34, glanced at casually, on the somewhat-quickly-running analog clock hanging from the wall to the west of his cubicle, signaled to James Bartholomew Patrick McDevitt that it was about time to mentally quit his somewhat-more-dreary-than-usual workday. It wasn’t, James quietly consoled himself, an awful day. In fact most days weren’t awful for James. He quite liked his job. As the reasonably-well-compensated director of affirmative action in the human-resource department of EnviroGo, an international company, which sold components of solar paneling, James truly felt that nearly every day he participated in something, which might, in some true sense, be good. He didn’t live any kind of radically eco-friendly lifestyle, of course. James wasn’t even a vegetarian. But he did like nature. James liked going to the beach and on hikes with his boyfriend, Giorgios Papadakis, and he liked going to the farmer’s market on Saturdays when he didn’t have band practice, and he really liked watching nature documentaries narrated by David Attenborough. Thus, in its environmentally friendly aspect, James quite liked EnviroGo. James also entertained the idea that his participation in and his skillful wielding of affirmative-action policies made his workplace, and maybe even Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, and maybe even the world, a better place; though, regarding this he wasn’t usually unfaltering.

     Thoughts of that nature, on his work, on its good, and on his relative weariness nonetheless, zipped around the matter in his skull in a matter of moments. Neurons snapped other thoughts out of the grey into existence, preoccupying James for moments further. Some thoughts of Giorgios, with whom he had dinner plans that evening, arose. James could smell Giorgios’s hair, despite the overwhelming smell of carpet cleaner and decaffeinated coffee, which occupied the office atmosphere. He always pictured Giorgios’s hair somewhat greasier and somewhat longer than it ever actually got. James didn’t care where they had dinner later, but he knew that his own indifference, and the indifference anticipated from Giorgios, would provide for a complexity he wasn’t sure his psyche would be able to handle after this somewhat-dreary day. He strove, and strove, and exerted real time (nearly forty-five strained seconds!) trying to think of a moderately-to-slightly-above-moderately priced venue where he’d really enjoy eating, where he’d really enjoy sitting, where he’d really enjoy talking with a man he quite nearly, in some real way, thought he might love. Nothing came up; nevertheless, moments wasted in reverie at this critical period of the workday meant all the sooner he’d at least be able to put away until tomorrow morning his labor.

     The day, Thursday October 13, 2011, in no way differed from any other mid-fall day for most people in the Bryn Athyn administrative headquarters of EnviroGo. Some dreamt of Halloween with their children. Some thought admirably to the particularly inordinate exorbitance they planned for the weekends. Some had promising first dates to which they were looking forward. Some had divorce litigation to which they were looking forward. This Thursday was indeed business as usual. But after spilling his black coffee on his favorite blue-white shirt and favorite brown corduroy pants, immediately as he walked into the office at 8:05, according to the somewhat-quickly-running analog clock to the west of his cubicle, James’s day continued its gentle negative descent. Sometime around 9, a text came through to James from his mother, Gianna DeLuca McDevitt, as he finished his second cup of (this time unspilled) black coffee and perused not uncarefully some reasonably interesting correspondence with one of the company’s faceless lawyers. He worried that the text might concern the state of his father, James Matthew Patrick McDevitt, now lying in some hospital bed in Philadelphia, coughing blood and pissing through a catheter, eating taxpayer-provided tuna sandwiches with some late-stage diagnosis of metastatic esophagus cancer, the product of hard—“but fun!” James the first had always admonished—living. A worsening condition would’ve been no news to the young man. James, his mother, their large extended family, the doctors, the nurses, James the first’s first favorite bartender, and James the first himself, had all anticipated as much for nearly a month now. They were just waiting on some deterioration, as if their man was a fly, bound tightly in the old web of a recently dead spider, cavalierly buzzing in place, waiting to die, or for the web to give. But, rather surprisingly, “no news” came. Gianna was simply searching for some solace from her son.

     James regularly, and rather dexterously avoided conversations he didn’t want to have. But in this case James felt, rather sincerely, that some concrete duty pushed him to engage in a pitiable rally of textual lamentation with his mother. And so he answered her serve with a gentle lob, “how are things over there?” She verbosely volleyed. The game continued, love-love, for some time. Gianna was gratified by her son’s participation, uplifted as well as a soon-to-be widow could be. But Gianna’s son was brought down by the affair. James thought hazily about how funny it had always seemed to everyone else that he had taken the same confirmation name as his father, and regularly included it in his full title, in the manner of his father. Since 6th grade James had always been James Bartholomew Patrick McDevitt. The smile on his father’s face, upon discovering his son’s patronymic choice in his Christian coming-of-age ceremony, came sharply into cranial focus, not in some exaggerated sense manipulated by false, exaggerating nostalgia, but as James truly smiled, and as James truly knew it. James wasn’t visibly upset. But James felt the full emotional onus of a 28-year relationship, complex, as these things often are between father and son, crash down upon his skull and through his viscera and drag him down three floors to the basement. This deflation happened in course of several moments during and following his scoreless textual tennis with his mother. This deflation happened all while a certain perceptive Heidi waltzed by his desk and noticed nothing emotionally out of place, Billy in the next cubicle to the south casually beat his high score in solitaire, Vanessa from accounting was gleefully informed her raise was to be a whopping 3%, something like 15 people around the world died of preventable starvation, a boy named Charles fell off his bike and broke his arm a block away, and James’s boss let loose unhealthily pallid feces into a toilet approximately 50 feet from James’s desk.

     James, over the course of the rest of the day: had band practice canceled on him by his often-truant drummer; lost a dollar to a vending machine for a bag of Fritos, a second choice already to the out-of-stock Bugles; forgot a signature on a prematurely scanned document, necessitating another hasslesome use of the wonky scanner; worded embarrassingly, to his judgment, a email sent hastily, by pressing necessity, to one of the more-important faceless lawyers, who must likely, by now, be laughing facelessly at the indelicacies of the foolish and faceless human-resources drone’s use of his own native tongue; and tripped in front of Billy from the next cubicle to the south. Tripping in front of Billy—though James would never admit it—hurt James the most. Billy said nothing, but curled his lips in a way that might as well have indicated to James the screaming laughter of some maleficent jester who, having captured the whole affair in high-definition video, was ready to hold the film ransom for every last farthing in James’s coffers, or otherwise send it off, first class, to some perverted internet gallery, roughly imitative of America’s Funniest Home Videos. James often became markedly irritated at what many a washed-up peddler of CBT or REBT would scoff at as some minor and utterly irrelevant roadblock to a happier and healthier life. James was aware that he did this. And so, a positive-feedback loop ensued as he raged and reflected and raged some more on his post-trip venture to the bathroom at 4:40, according to that briskly ticking clock.

     James sat down with a furious plop on that same unfortunate porcelain stool in which his boss had much earlier dumped a load indicative to the medically initiated of well-developed liver disease. James and his boss each remained regrettably or fortunately oblivious to this pathology. Meanwhile James’s boss, blissful in his ignorance, shuffled papers around, putting on a believable and industrious act for nobody in particular. The man craved that looming moment when something which seemed to be 65% of his employees had left the building, which would allow him to contractually go home to see his recently-born daughter, Rachel, and his reasonably-happy-and-healthy second wife, Rachel. James, on the other hand, maintained in his Charybdic mental revolutions and regurgitations regarding the, to his perception, embarrassing display of moments prior. James tried to get his raging mind off of it. He pressed hard. He searched his feelings for something more magnetic for his attention. He tried to think about: his sick father; his sad mother; his funny confirmation name; his boyfriend’s hair; dinner that night; his recently deceased cat Francesco Bartholomeow Carter; the relatively-uneventful ordeal of coming out at age 17; the whirlpool of new job candidates, which he’d have to review the next day; traveling to Ireland one day; his low-fiber diet, and how this diet made it difficult to fully clear his bowels; his tufts of scraggly body hair, and how they sometimes embarrassed him; how he sometimes quietly wanted to die; that ungodly catastrophe involving his then-girlfriend’s talent-show performance in high school; The Cramps’ song “She Said”, which had been stuck in his head all week; his most recent hypochondriac menace, a small discoloration he seemed to see in the back of his mouth; and those sometimes arbitrary and meaningless, to his accounting at least, vocalizations: “good” and “bad”. James thought, and thought, and strained, and deposited another reasonably healthy turd into the toilet bowl; yet, despite his mental efforts and his intensely focused mechanical procedures of manual cleansing, he continued to seethe in embarrassment at his trip. James was conquered. “But if so”, he thought to himself, “let me be conquered!”

     James’s brain began building aggressively upon its misery. He boarded a deviant train of thought, fantasizing that Billy might say something snarky and unkind, loudly to him at a crowded Skeeter’s Tavern, a popular-but-murky Bryn Athyn watering hole, frequented often by many employees of EnviroGo. James fantasized that he would’ve, by that time, imbibed 4 or more Yuengling Lagers, and maybe even a shot of Tullamore Dew. James’s fantasy climaxed, with his slow-motion, cinematic punching of Billy in his scrawny fucking face, as the Guns N’ Roses blaring from the façade-of-a jukebox was drowned out slowly, and quite sublimely, by Strauss’s “An der schönen blauen Donau”. His ghostly egoistical projection, stood victorious over the fading, bloodied ghost of Billy. The Strauss continued. Ghostly Giorgios bought another round. The ghostly horde occupying the bar went back to their drinks, approving in unison the morally just outcome of the squabble. Flesh-bone-and-blood James felt some catharsis, he supposed, as he washed his hands carefully with three-squirts of that commercial pink soap, whose smell he loved so well. Perhaps he was still embarrassed and annoyed and uncomfortable with this somewhat-more-dreary-than-usual workday, and with his stumble before Billy in particular. But he no longer felt like enacting real violence against Bill. And, anyway, a post-lavatory glance at the time suggested that his rage and his shit had, despite any yet-unresolved struggles, chewed away 14 more minutes of the day.

     It should be noted that the analog clock hanging to the west of James, for as long as any of the employees of EnviroGo had been employed there, had always been a little fast, give or take a few minutes; yet, it had been consistently the golden standard for time in the office, despite the watches of fastidious watch winders, the large and largely accurate clock in the office-park plaza in the sight of which EnviroGo’s administrative headquarters sat, and the cell phone of every employee screaming its silly contrarian temporal opinions. These factors created, right here on Earth, a peculiar time vortex of sorts, which would confound any scientist who dared enter. But it certainly confounded not James. 4:54 in office time, whenever the rest of the world was, justified leaving. James, shutting down his computer, felt at ease. He was glad to be rid of the day’s drama. The whooping chorus of “She Said” was now being healthily whooped in his head, rendered in some conflation of his own singing voice and Lux Interior’s. James strutted to the doors of the office, and thought that he’d ask if Giorgios might prefer to order pizza from Chuck’s and start the new season of House. James felt lukewarmly towards medical dramas of any kind, but he knew Giorgios quite liked the show. As James opened the door to his 2006 white-opal Buick Lucerne, he uneasily thought that perhaps he wasn’t being nicely considerate of Giorgios’s interests, but rather seeking some sort of social capital from the man. James banished the notion as well as he could, before any sequential thoughts came.

     Adele’s “Someone Like You” was on the radio when James started the car, heedless of the dubious dashboard time of 4:43. He was already free; there was no turning back now. James thought no longer about the time, but that the rather-catchy song was of a type about which one might make uncomfortable conversation with a coworker, regarding its prevalence on the airwaves as of late. “Man, I’ve heard this song like six times today!” James nearly said to himself, smiling, as the song climaxed and he pulled out of the parking lot onto Huntingdon Pike, southbound.

     James embraced the speed limit, wistfully cruising by Bryn Athyn College, thinking on his own college years. An image of an indistinct wood-paneled room, surreally colored and populated, in some ivy-strewn building, pungent with the smell of ancient books, floated abstractly for a few moments, and was then jarred out of existence by a trice of an all-encompassing fight-or-flight reaction to a red 2010 Mazda 3 careening out of the northbound lane. Impact occurred at approximately 5:00:26, office time. There was no time for fear, and less for pain. James’s neck snapped as it penetrated the windshield, leaving a lifeless body to suffer the following mutilation. His dearth of fiber left fecal matter inside him while he lived. His rapid and traumatic death released what it could, loosening once and for all James’s bowels. In addition to the solid and semi-solid excrement, the remainder of the fluids consumed in the afternoon flowed out into the shredded remains of James’s favorite brown corduroy pants. And that pinkish-grey matter, which once floated safely in James Bartholomew Patrick McDevitt’s skull, sprayed unceremoniously, inartistically, and to the regret of a great many, onto the ground, amidst boney bits and fleshy pieces of the rest of him.


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