by Bosley Gravel
part 1 of 2
”It is a man. He must learn the Law.”
—The Island of Doctor Moreau
Virgil gripped his brown-bagged lunch in his hand as he took the steps three at a time up to the front doors. The doors were large, thick, made of glass — some kind of postmodern construct, Virgil suspected. A building custodian buffed the last of the streaks from the company logo. It said: Metro-Goldfiend Precision Instruments. The logo, he recalled, had cost the company fifteen thousand dollars.
His pager went off for the third time. He pressed a button to acknowledge it much the way he had pressed the snooze button on his alarm clock each morning. A young woman sat at expensive-looking desk, twisting in her expensive looking ergonomically correct chair. Tropical plants were placed strategically here and there, they seemed to thrive in the shadows.
He flashed his badge at her; she buzzed him in. Behind the great wooden doors there was little done to put up the facade of elegance as had been done in the lobby. The important guests would have gone the other way to the executive offices, anyway. Here it was a no man’s land of cubicles and derelict office equipment, of souls dressed in finery that would only make them fit for middle management. Or perhaps a funeral.
“Hey, Virgil,” said Jon, a youngish man. Jon’s ears were stretched to fit small blue artificial gems. His eyes had a vacant look that had always annoyed Virgil.
“We’ve been paging you. There’s a problem with the network.”
“A big one?”
“Then why did you page three times?”
“Marcie said so.”
Virgil rolled his eyes.
Marcie came around the corner, smiling; her lips like the genitals of a chimpanzee in heat. Her tiny eyes were the color and shape of blanched almonds. Her taste in clothing was only slightly more appalling than her misuse of makeup.
“Virgil, Virgil, Virgil. We needed your help. You didn’t return our call.”
“I couldn’t get here any sooner anyway. My cell phone battery was dead... I couldn’t call,” he lied.
“Come on now,” she said. “We’ve still got some work to do.”
He followed her, only pausing to stick his lunch into the small refrigerator beside his desk in his cubicle. His space was surprisingly bland, as if he feared expressing any sentiment. The only bits of real adornment was a small poster that said: “Everyone is entitled to be stupid, but some people abuse the privilege,” and a couple of pictures of an airplane he was building. He had taken up the hobby when his grandfather had left him the hanger and the tools. He took a quick look at his recent project, a tiny twin-engine single-passenger plane. He turned and followed Marcie into the labyrinth — the depths of undergloom.
* * *
Virgil went to the park at noon and ate from his sack lunch. While edible, it was hardly satisfying: some kind of meatless pasta salad with soybeans — or something equally strange — that Shannon had made for him. This was day ten of the new diet, and the soreness and weakness in his joints and his lethargy seemed to tell his body something was lacking. He had been ignoring the feeling, but now it was beginning to overwhelm him.
Shannon would be here any minute, he would ask her. Their lunch breaks only overlapped for a scant fifteen minutes. She worked off somewhere in the depths of the quality assurance department, where she spent eight hours a day measuring samples of precision instrument parts.
She came, all five foot nine and hundred and twenty pounds of her; a living doll, exuberant, optimistic and ready to catch a tiger by the tail.
They didn’t kiss, or show any sign of the intimacy. Metro-Goldfiend had a strict policy about inter-office dating. She sat, and the wonderful news bubbled forth: she had done so well measuring parts that they were considering having her measuring even more parts, and possibly even completely different parts.
“More pay?” he asked.
“Eventually, but not yet,” she replied.
“My knees hurt, and my shoulders,” he said, “I think it’s because of this vegetarian food. And I’m tired all the time.”
She thought for a moment. “The toxins,” she said. “Things always get worse before they get better.”
“I don’t think I can do this. I like meat,” Virgil said.
“I can’t date someone who eats dead animals.”
“God,” he said, “how about a breakfast burrito, just once a day?”
“Tell me,” she said, “do you really want to eat fried chicken menstruation with salted pig ass and cow pus?”
He considered it. “You know, I think I’m okay with that.”
She shook her head. “It’s up to you.”
“Fine,” he said, “Never mind. I’ll pick you up at eight tonight? We’ll go grazing out behind the steak house. They keep the most luscious grass there to fatten up the real food.”
“You are so silly,” she said. “How about earlier?”
“No,” he said. “Won’t work, I’m going to my hanger. I just got some of the parts to my airplane in.”
“Seven-thirty,” he said.
“I’ve got to go,” he said, and crumpled up what was left of lunch into the bag and tossed it in the near by trash can.
“Bye, maybe we’ll have a little fun after dinner,” she said.
He returned the wink. “That would be nice.”
* * *
At the water cooler Jon described how he had recently gotten the glans of his penis pierced with ten-gauge hooped barbell. The crowd of office workers stood with their mouths open in knowing shock. Marcie came, and chased them all back to their desks.
* * *
At five minutes to five Virgil left via a less-used entrance. His work day was now done. He headed up to the mesa where the small private airport sat like a tumor growing up from the earth’s skull. The wind was hot and dry, the sun orange behind him reflected in the rear view mirror as he drove. He could feel a migraine working the way from the back of his eyes, or perhaps, it was the lack of anything meaningful in his belly that was causing the feeling of disorientation. He put his sunglasses on and it seemed to stymie the pain temporarily. Nightfall would be here soon enough, he thought.
He followed the road up the hill and punched in the code at the automobile gate. He watched it open and followed the ribbon of concrete to his grandfather’s hangar — no, it was his now. The building wasn’t much more than corrugated steel tacked together with some rivets.
The sun dipped behind the mountains as he opened the door, and it drew a shadow across the room. He flicked a switch and the room flooded with bright light. There she stood, the Troglodyte he had dubbed her. The body was fully built; all that remained were some of the stabilizing equipment and she’d be ready for her maiden flight, then the forty hours of flight time and she’d be certified for a trip anywhere in American flight space.
It took little enough time for him to get to work on the airplane. Despite his budding headache he wanted music, and he wanted it loud. He found his CD of the Ramones and cranked it up. The noise seemed to work like a cool towel across his head as the vocalist lamented his Teenage Lobotomy.
He dug into the job with an enthusiasm that felt almost... almost creative. There was such a simplicity in the movements of his wrist as he torqued down the screws, and flipped switches and guided the parts into their final home.
* * *
The time passed more quickly than he liked. He had judged the hour by how many loops the CD had gone through and when he looked up to check the clock he found he had underestimated the length of time he had to meet Shannon. His stomach rumbled as he hurriedly locked up the hangar.
He paused as he headed out to his car, large moths hung around the orange sodium lights. Huge stupid things, they toppled in the air drunkenly as bats braved the glare to sweep through and devour the little beasts. A misguided insect spiraled downward and Virgil caught it in his open palm still smeared with a little jellied lubricant from a piston.
The moth fluttered in his hand. He brought it to his face... The body was plump, almost bursting. His stomach rumbled and felt his hand go to his mouth seemingly not under his control. The moth fluttered for a moment, and with one mash its plump body was no more. With a gulp he swallowed the still moving insect.
He looked at his hand and then to the light again. Had it happened? Indeed, couldn’t he still taste the powder from the wings on his teeth? Or was that just his sour mouth from ten days without meat? He didn’t know for a moment, and then decided it had just been a particularly vivid daydream — a waking reverie — perhaps caused by toxins.
* * *
At dinner he filled his belly with all manner of vegetables, seeds and nuts. The food was served as an all you could eat salad bar. He felt some strength coming back to him.
“See how good it is?” Shannon said, “Perfectly healthy and delicious.”
“How’s the IT department?” she asked.
“You know,” he said gnawing on a thickly cut carrot stick, “Marcie, she can be a real bitch. I’m up for a raise. I work from home, come in on the weekends, I’m tethered to this damn pager. I saved them a quarter million dollars this year alone using a new desktop deployment strategy. And now she tells me there is no money this year for raises.” He dug in his pocket and pulled out a card.
Shannon took it from him. “A fifty-dollar gift certificate to the Sushi Palace?”
“Yeah. My raise.”
“You’re telling me,” he said.
“Doesn’t she know you’re a vegetarian now?”
“Sushi has fish on it.”
“I know,” he said and then sighed. “Never mind.”
“We should sell it and give the money to P.E.T.A.”
Virgil scowled while he considered. “Be my guest,” he finally replied.
* * *
In the darkness of his apartment:
“No, no. Not like that, that way is degrading to women.”
“Oh? Sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Like this,” she said, and they fumbled in the darkness.
His mind wandered as she performed some kind of acrobatics over him. He only really noticed her scent. His participation was automatic, withdrawn. When they were done she declined to spend the night, citing a busy day tomorrow.
He dozed off, not even walking her out.
* * *
He found himself on the balcony; the full moon like the clue to some whimsical mystery, though he had not forgotten the physics he’d once been taught, he felt utterly perplexed. How could that great rock be suspended in the air just so? How could hidden sun render such a glow?
A gecko clung to the wall, its head cocked, admiring Virgil. He was naked, he realized. Naked and not really sure if he had stripped his clothes or never dressed after Shannon had left... something was out in the night, something was calling him...
He lept from the balcony towards the moon, landing on all fours on the still warm concrete. His muscles bunched like sausage overstuffed in its skin. He hooted his primitive question at the moon as the light penetrated his eyes to the back of his skull. There was no reply. He was off, searching into the night, galloping, letting the cool air toughen his skin, letting his thoughts flow like the eddies of a great wet river.
* * *
Virgil’s pager woke him the next morning. His body was aching again, and there was a weakness in his joints. He stumbled over to the dresser when he had left it with his keys and wallet. It had a text message on it: “Call work M.” He glanced at the calendar and made sure it was Saturday. When he confirmed that was the case, he deleted the message.
He stood, rubbing his eyes, thinking about coffee when he smelled the strong odor of asphalt. And why were his palms so tender? He turned his hands over and they were blackened it seemed with dirt and filth, he touched his palm. He realized the balls of his feet were sore, too. He flipped his foot up to look, indeed, it was a black as midnight in a grave.
He washed his hands in the sink, not surprisingly the blackness would not come off, it seemed to be ground in so deeply as if it had become a part of him. His pager rang out again, and again he ignored it. He decided he was going to go to the gym today... perhaps, if he could find the energy.
And his plane, the Troglodyte, she would be finalized, all the parts were up at the hangar. He had errands too, his car needed the oil changed, his laundry needed to washing, his refrigerator needed stocking. He’d take Shannon along to the grocery store for that.
The phone rang, and he checked the caller ID. It was Paul, a high-school friend. He wanted to have a beer tonight, and Virgil agreed. Paul was the closest thing he had to a friend.
His pager went off for the third time, and he picked it up: “u r fired M.”
His heart beat double time in his chest. It was almost a pleasure to see those words. He squared up his jaw, rubbed the side of his head with his finger, and grimaced at the pager. He considered for a moment as some new kind of unfathomable mystery... and yet it was just his pager. He was angry now, and he picked up the phone and called Marcie.
“How can you do this?” he asked forcefully.
She laughed in his ear, a sickly laugh, the laugh of a sadistic zoo keeper.
“You’re not really fired. But I do need you to come in. We have a file server down and Goldfiend has a European distributor here. You think the backups are good?”
He hung up the phone without replying. She rang back after a moment. He ignored it, and got himself ready for work. Steam poured out from the bathroom like the breath of an ancient rain forest. He put on old clothes and didn’t shave. They were lucky he had even showered.
* * *
Copyright © 2008 by Bosley Gravel