February 29, 2008

The Weeping Maw (2 of 11)

Thread: Mission

why humiliate my bleached animals, in their dimensionless lives of fatty deposits and sleep deprivation, suffering your hare-brained schemes. one month its ten commandments, the next its devotion to brahman. sickness weeps from your jaws with a bark no worse than its bile

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2150

January 22, 2008

The Weeping Maw (1 of 11)

Thread: Mission

The letterbox. Already jam-packed with other pamphlets and junk mail, it was clear that no one lived in this house. The faded fence and the peeling paint confirmed it. He looked inside his hold-all. It was still full of flyers.

Henry tried to force feed one into the letterbox, but it was like trying to feed a dead patient: the leaflet crumpled against the door’s lips, no longer hungry. Folding the leaflet over and over to give it a fighting chance against the existing paper residents didn’t work either. Push, crumple. Push, slide, shuffle, crumple. He released it, hoping it was ensnared anyway; it fell to the sodden, broken stone doorstep.

His tummy rumbled but he was determined to see his flyers through today. Another day bringing flyers back and he’d be out of a job. Mum was so cross when he was out of work. Back to the fortnightly trip down to the dole office, facing either disinterested stares or accusations of being the one and only thief of “taxpayer’s money” until proved otherwise. Lancashire hotpot. Mmmmm. Potatoes. Mmmmm.

He knew his boss was watching him from somewhere. His boss always knew when Henry had discarded some of the flyers into a wheelie bin or a drain. He had to make sure these flyers were delivered to each and every address in his sector. He grabbed hold of the paper gag in the door’s maw and pulled. The mass was jammed in there tight; he increased his grip and leant backwards.

With one final almighty tug, a wad of paper ripped away and scattered into the air, fluttering around him like dazed, dirty moths. He swatted at them, worried they’d stick to his clothing and Mum would shout at him for getting so mucky. But he’d only manage to peel off a surface layer of the paper mass. What he’d revealed was congealed solid, stunk like a skunk, and also pretty nasty.

Henry surrendered.

He looked at his leaflet now wet and dirty on the ground: “Want to earn extra *MONEY*? Phone the number below to take part in an exciting business! All materials supplied! Work outdoors! *EARN* as hard as you work! Get *RICH* through your OWN EFFORT!” The number was that of his boss’ office.

He was delivering leaflets to advertise the job of delivering leaflets. Then he wondered if he had been duped into hiring his replacement.

Henry kicked the door in frustration, grunting. The door swung ajar, creaking like only an abandoned house could.

The stench that erupted from the gap made his eyes water and he tried holding his nose. Horrific. It smelt like urine, lots and lots of urine. Maybe this place had squatters. If they did, he thought, then they really ought to check their mail more often.

He held his nose, but the smell penetrated his defences. He hoped it wasn’t getting into his clothes. Mum would freak out.

Although he had no intention of going into the piss pit itself, he did at least want a peek. He gave the door another feisty jab with his foot and it swung the rest of the way open.

Henry then got out his mobile and called Mum, to tell her about the dead woman he had found.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2156

December 11, 2006

The Promise in the Cellar (12 of 12)

Thread: Mission

“I am Professor Plum with the candlestick in the study,” said the curtain. A cat behind her continued to growl.

Mizzy replied, “Uh, okay.”

“I am Reverend Green with the rope in the library.”

“Uh, look…”

“I am Lizzy Borden with the axe.”

Mizzy began to back away, noticing in the gloom that a pair of shoes was poking out from the heaped curtain on the floor. A cat attacked her leg, screeching. She yelped and kicked the creature away, which raced off into another room.

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, they say,” said the man behind the curtain who stepped out into view. “What did you leave Kansas for Dorothy? The lion’s courage? The tin man’s heart? The scarecrow’s brain? You had them all, didn’t you? You already had them all. This is your tragedy. It is the criminal tragedy of Western society, having everything and crying as if you have nothing.” He repeated one word in a menacing tone, “Criminal.”

She couldn’t make the man out clearly, a silhouette against the dull glare of the dirty windows. He wore something over his head, muffling his words and obscuring his identity. What had she walked into? She had told everyone her problem and one of them had turned it against her. A trap!

“Julie beat you,” the hooded stranger said as he advanced. “She beat you and took your man. She then took his child. Maybe they were happy in the end, you never thought of that did you? Little Miss Worst Case Scenario, aren’t we? What have you contributed? You helped an old man make tiramisu that no one ate – was that the sum total of your good works?”

She tried to turn around quickly but fell backwards over another cat onto the hard floor, slick and wet. Mizzy was frightened and felt alone and abandoned. There was no god here. She was on her own, betrayed by her own dream. Stupid stupid stupid! Blind!

“You are on your own, Mizzy. Betrayed by your own dream. This is what God is, he is Reality TV. Prizes for a few lucky ones, and to the gutter with the rest. Doesn’t that make your mad? Doesn’t that get your goat?”

Mizzy scrabbled backwards into the dark corner of the room and she knew there was no escape, pinned there. Heart thumping, sweat pouring, a few tears emerged and slid down her cheeks. “What is it you want… God?” she asked, hoping that there was some way out. The stranger was looming over her and she saw that something like a potato sack was over his head, with cut-outs for eyes and mouth.

“I am not God, Mizzy. You should have asked me for my name. But let me apologise, little lost Michelle, this isn’t really about you. This is about a greater good. This is about the abandonment of mankind to its own devices. A confrontation must be provoked. You are my first – he will be my last. This, I promise.”

Gloves reached down and tightened around her throat. Unable to speak, whining through constriction, struggled, legs lashing out slipping across floor, scraping out arcs. Cats stood by, watching, light fell, world sinking losing. Tighter, legs more slowly. Then smaller arcs. Smaller still. Then short, rapid twists of feet. Sunk, lost. No movement.

Click stop.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2305

December 7, 2006

The Promise in the Cellar (11 of 12)

Thread: Mission

In her minimalist, inebriated awareness, Erica understood that she was lying on the couch. She called out for her daughter and demanded more to drink. Today was going to be a long day. Everyday was a long day. Life was one goddamn long day without end.

Michelle did not reply. Michelle should have been home by now and was probably playing a game, deciding to teach Mom a lesson. That little bitch. She could have been Mom’s little running angel and the talk of the town. What a waste. What a waste of her time. It would have been better if they had aborted the tramp in the womb like Erica had wanted instead of turning her life upside down to become a mother.

“Michelle!” she shouted and then started coughing. Her throat was dry and hoarse, more proof that she needed a drink. Michelle didn’t appear. She held up the stopwatch straight up into the air and clicked it a few times, thinking it might get her stupid daughter’s attention.

Her husband called out from another room, perhaps the kitchen. “For God’s sakes, she’s gone to England. She’s back in a few days. Can’t you think of anyone but yourself? Goddamn, if only divorce wasn’t so expensive. Christ.” There was a pause and then he shouted again,  “Chriiiiiist!” He did nothing but moan about how divorce was so expensive. She was sure she’d heard him say once that contract killings were actually cheaper in the long term, even if you took compound interest and inflation into account. He was spineless; words that would come to nothing. She was still interested, though, in seeing the spreadsheet where the calculation had been done.

Erica cursed. It could only mean one thing, she’d have to go down to the basement and grab a bottle herself. That useless daughter never did anything. Thanks a lot Michelle, thanks a goddamn lot, you stupid, brainless girl. Erica got up off the sofa and then noticed she was lying on the ground. Something had happened between the two states, but she couldn’t recall it.

She pulled herself to her feet and lurched over to the basement door, buzzing with the kind of warmth that only the finest wine can provide. More drink, yes, was needed. Erica tugged at the door a few times and, as it didn’t open, she tried giving it a shove. The door yawned open and something slipped from her grasp, bounced down the stairs, sparkling in the half-light and clattered against the concrete floor at the bottom. She couldn’t think what she had been holding and rushed down the stairs to find out. She had intended on using her feet to descend the stairs but the first step shifted position as she aimed for it and she fell, sliding down the wooden steps on her butt instead.

As Erica rubbed her butt on the basement floor, she spotted what she had dropped down the stairs. The stopwatch lay there, smashed, bleeding cogs and springs. Erica reached for it and scooped up its shattered body. She tried starting the stopwatch, but nothing happened. No clicks, no rotating hands. Lifeless.

Suddenly, tears streamed from her eyes and Erica found herself crying with heaving, painful sobs. She hugged the stopwatch with an emotional intensity that she did not understand, weeping with loss that could not be expressed in words, only in choked cries of despair. She doubled up, howling and whooping, tormented. She slapped the floor with several cries until the palm of her hand became painful and red.

Her husband was standing over her and shouted, “What is it? Are you okay? Did you hurt something? I told you to quit drinking, I told you.”

Erica looked up and could barely see him through the film of tears that stung her eyes. “She promised,” she screamed, holding out the stopwatch’s remains. “She promised to get me a drink, she promised!”

Larry knelt down and held her without asking any questions. She sobbed in his arms for a long time.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 0041

December 3, 2006

The Promise in the Cellar (10 of 12)

Thread: Mission

At first she couldn’t see anything at all inside but gradually objects and borders coalesced from out of the darkness, giving the interior form. The smell of its squatters overpowering her, Mizzy covered her face with the arm of her sweater and began to make out feline blots drifting across the stone floor in furtive, wary movements away from her.

One blot hissed; another wailed. The hissing blot pounced on the wailing blot and together became one liquid cloud of blackness, spinning and bouncing off the walls. The black cloud screeched and bubbled with energy and Mizzy wanted to back out – there was no way she would be able to find the stigmata-cat in this darkness.

“Mizzy,” a powerful, albeit muffled, male voice called from an adjoining room. He knew her name. She should have been frightened, but she was now more sure than ever that she had been right to follow her heart. Faith had carried her through. She was a little perturbed that God was British, though. She identified British accents with big movie villains. It just didn’t seem fitting.

“Who’s there?” she replied.

“The maker of all things is everywhere,” the voice replied. “Come.”

The cloud continued to seethe and howl, but Mizzy ignored it, advancing to the next room.

The next room stank just as much but better illumination had endured through the muddy, brown windows at the back. She could make out the cats more clearly in this room; one growled at her, warning her not to approach. No furniture was evident, just bits of cardboard and broken wood were scattered around in almost deliberate disorder making it resemble pretentious, modern art. A curtain of some kind was draped over half the window, designed for a much taller frame, its excess heaped upon the floor.

“Welcome,” the curtain said with the same muffled voice as before. “I am what you have sought.”

“God?” Mizzy asked, unsure whether that question was perhaps too direct for the mighty creator of the Universe.

“The maker of all things is everywhere.”

Mizzy felt deflated. After all this wondering about the meaning of her vision, this did not exactly match up to her expectations of a revelation. A scummy old house, full of city cats that churned out rivers of piss. Congratulations, Mizzy, the prize is behind door number three.

She could only think of one question with which to challenge God. “So, you’re a curtain?”

“Is this so different from a burning bush? I am everybody and everything. I am the meaning that is sown into the fabric of the sub-atomic. I am the hymn that sings in the wind of hurricanes sweeping the land to clean it of Man. I am the bullets in the gun that assassinate Kennedy and create myth. I am the HIV virus that lurks silently within, justifying sexual purity. I am the planes that kiss the World Trade Center and nudge the world over the edge into the precipice of insanity.”

It was a nice, lengthy answer and Mizzy thought on it. After weighing it up, she said, “But… a curtain?

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1928

November 22, 2006

The Promise in the Cellar (9 of 12)

Thread: Mission

Mizzy ran across the road and a white Transit van blared its horn at her, screeching to a halt just a couple of feet away. She waved her hands, mouthed sorry and continued across with speed. The driver waved back obscene gestures and mouthed an alternative response. When she reached the other side of the road, the cat was gone.

Red, misshapen paw prints led into a dilapidated house beside her; the cat had dived through a small broken window in the basement.

Mizzy heard the van take off behind her, but the driver shouted a few more insults to indicate that she was in the wrong for taking her life and putting it in his driving hands. She stepped back to get a good view of the house.

No one lived here anymore. It was an old three-storey house, probably about a hundred years old, although to be fair Mizzy was just guessing. Although it looked old, it was rather bland, painted in a single colour – white – from top to bottom, save for the fuchsia front door. Paint peeling from the window frames revealed rotting, sodden wood beneath. The roof was missing a few slates and a bird nest or two was likely to be found sheltering there. Wooden planks barricaded the front door, forcing intruders to attack the windows, each of them smashed and penetrated at one time or another in a sort of property gang rape, every accessible entrance defiled and spoiled. A rusty gate sitting at the edge of some miserable-looking railings pretended to be the first line of defence; beyond lay two sets of slate steps, one that ascended forwards to the front door, the other descending to the left.

Mizzy kicked the gate and it wobbled and screeched, shedding rust like brown dandruff as it swung open. The cat was her priority not a graceful break-and-enter. She rushed down the slate steps towards the basement door. She hesitated by a small, smashed porthole-type window that the cat had escaped into, but could only make out a dim, stone floor inside. Little sunlight survived down to the basement level on this cloudy day.

Turning to the basement door, Mizzy wondered how she was going to open it, but was then both relieved and concerned to notice it was ajar. The lock had been busted open. In recent times or days long gone, she had no idea. She just hoped there was no one inside. Then again, maybe she was being told to enter because there was someone inside. Someone she was meant to meet, that would clarify her whole sorry mess of a life. Whatever – time to trust in the vision. There was purpose to be found here, she knew it.

The door creaked as she pushed it open and the stench of cat urine barrelled into her. Oh my God, she thought, I am going to gag. It was going to be difficult to find purpose in cat urine.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2231

November 19, 2006

The Promise in the Cellar (8 of 12)

Thread: Mission

The following morning, she left the hostel early. It was her final full day in London and she felt desperate. The answer to her problems seemed so far away and this little pilgrimage could be filed under the category of Complete Failure. Mizzy had tried talking to every type of person she encountered about her troubles.

A Polish guy in a café in Canary Wharf, whose English was actually better than some of the locals, grinned and declared he loved tiramisu too. A Caucasian black cab driver in the West End, listened carefully to every detail and then said she owed thirty pounds, but retracted the demand quickly when Mizzy got a bit weepy. A homeless man on a bench, somewhere amongst grand white facades of the Pimlico streets, was silent and smelly through her tale and then cast some coins on the ground and asked her if she knew what they foretold. Some handyman on a side street in Stoke Newington told her to get her “tits” out and wolf-whistled, but when she tried to talk to him about her life story, he told her to “fack awf”. Then there was the imam who, just like Tom, saw Mizzy as American and nothing but American. He kept telling her, over and over again, that he had nothing to do with 9/11. There were others, of course. She couldn’t remember any of their names. It was a form of promiscuity; telling secrets to strangers without protection. Yet she didn’t feel unclean, just unfulfilled. No climax, only urgency, need.

Public transport was too expensive and she had quickly learnt to walk everywhere. So she kept walking that morning, an American tourist with nothing to tour. She crossed over the Thames to the South by Blackfriars bridge. She paid little attention to the river view with St. Paul’s Cathedral struggling to be noticed amongst the growing skyline, despairing that she was going to leave London with nothing to show for it except for the meaningless memories of random encounters. She left the well-trodden districts and ventured into the urban maze of the local. Places tourists did not go, because they had no reason to visit. Nothing of interest happened there.

The meandering streets welcomed her with indifference, offering up nothing of consequence. There were corner shops with conspicuous cameras, discarded Metro newspapers jammed into drains and hooded youngsters who were not in school probably because it was boring and no one had convinced them that an education was good for them. Too much Pop Idol, nurturing dreams of immediate success without a mountainous climb of endeavour and experience. She wondered about that climb. Had Tom been right? Was she simply suffering from responsibility vertigo?

She was willing to surrender the cat, return it to its rightful owner, and call the whole affair a bad dream. Perhaps its purpose was merely to shake her up and force her to reflect on the failures of her life and root around in the soil for buried truths. She still wasn’t sure. She needed more time to think about all of this, but the money had bolted from her wallet fairly fast in this foreign land. The return flight was tomorrow. Game over, girl. Game over.

Mizzy was surprised to find herself back at the street with her hostel. She had been so deep in thought, that she had let feet carry her in any direction they wanted to go. They had brought her back to base camp. She closed her eyes, breathed deeply and decided to prepare for departure. This grimy city held no secrets.

When she opened her eyes, bloody paw prints lay on the path before her. She turned her head slowly, following the trail across the road.

On the opposite side walk sat a dusty grey cat, tail curling and beating the paving stones with uncertain rhythm. It looked disinterested and unlikely to be killed by any over-stimulated sense of curiosity.

Mizzy stared at its snow-white paws, tinged with blood.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1909

November 12, 2006

The Promise in the Cellar (7 of 12)

Thread: Mission

“So?” asked Mizzy. “What does it all mean?”

Tom was deep in thought beside her on the pew, glazed eyes, staring deep into infinity and beyond.

After a minute of silence had elapsed, Mizzy prompted again, “Well?”

Tom shook himself out of his stupor. “Oh, Mizzy, I’m so very sorry. Was a bit lost in thought there. We’ve got a little meeting being arranged here this evening and I wasn’t sure-”

“So you weren’t listening to me?” The excellent acoustics made her allegation sound a lot stronger than she intended.

Tom looked a little uncomfortable. “No, no, no, dear, that’s all wrong. I was listening, to everything about the running and the tiramisu.”

“The tiramisu is not important. It was incidental detail to convey an impression of my life and the people in it.”

“Well, Mizzy dear, if you mention it, it must be important. If you think there are signs everywhere, then surely the tiramisu is a sign too?”

Mizzy looked at him with unsatisfied eyes, slouched. She had travelled all the way to Europe to get away. She had wanted to solve the riddle that had been bestowed upon her. She wanted to know if that was why her life was screwed up; was there a fundamental reason why her life had been benighted so. This English idiot of a minister thought that the tiramisu was the key component.

“How do you find a compass for your life if you don’t have a compass to find it? God wants me to do something! The cat! Aren’t we supposed to follow God’s commands? Do what he tells us?”

Tom was suddenly galvanised. “He doesn’t want automatons, child. We are not meant to be robots awaiting instruction. We were given mind and soul not simply for the purpose of resisting sin.” His face was stern for a moment but soon lapsed back into a friendly smile. “I really should get some cushions for these pews, they are a little uncomfortable, aren’t they?”

It had looked like she was about to get some decent conversation out of the minister. Now he was back on cushions. “Tom,” she started, disenchanted. “Do you have any advice for me? I don’t have much time left.”

His blue eyes darted towards the fresco-less ceiling and then back to Mizzy. He put his hand on hers and cleared his throat. “Don’t you see Mizzy? Every chance for becoming something greater, to realise your potential, has been squandered and sabotaged. This is your answer. Stop worrying about what might come to pass, stop worrying about failure and try to be. Go out there and be special. You’ve gifted, talented, I can tell from your story. But every time you find some way of destroying yourself. Promise isn’t meant to be bottled up in the cellar like some fine wine. It doesn’t ferment, it just spoils. This is the real message contained in your life story.”

Mizzy leaned forward and stared intensely into Tom’s eyes. She wasn’t sure what she was trying to find in them, but looked nonetheless. There was nothing but honesty in them. Wait, no, she also found goodness and compassion. During this analysis, she considered his take on her past.

“Tom,” she eventually concluded, “I don’t think so. I think it’s about the cat.”

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2120

November 5, 2006

The Promise in the Cellar (6 of 12)

Thread: Mission

Mizzy wasn’t certain she actually believed in God, but the House of God sure had a lot of nice and friendly people in it. Everybody seemed to like Mizzy at the church and she was fond of them too. She spent most of her free time at church because her parents never spent any time there, which was good enough a reason as any.

After losing her previous job, she had returned to the family enclave, now somewhat upstate after the Gardiner debacle. Mizzy never told any of her new friends about the scandal but as she had been such a young thing with fluff for a brain at the time, there was no doubt that she would be forgiven for doing something so juvenile. There was no sense in volunteering the information, though.

Mizzy had great organisational skills and organised anything that the Baptist minister took a fancy to. The Holyween evening, the local school choir and the Christian Sports Parade. When the minister ran out of ideas, Mizzy offered a few of her own. When the minister was too busy to listen to her ideas, she went ahead with them anyway. Mizzy was busy.

She subsisted on part-time earnings from working at the Bains Street store, tapping numbers into the cash register and sometimes helping out the old man from Pauli Avenue get the amaretto liqueur from the top shelf. He liked to make tiramisu for his wife, explaining that they had eaten tiramisu the first time they had sex, after which they got married because she got pregnant with a son that had turned out so well he had not bothered to visit for twenty-odd years. His wife had been six feet under for some time and Mizzy wondered where all this Italian dessert ended up. Perhaps the obesity of his black Dachshund was the key to that particular mystery, that not so much walked as dragged itself around behind the old man.

A low cost of living was maintained by living low with her parents. She only had to put up with Mom’s occasional jabs like “you could have been in the Olympics now, honey” and “you could’ve been married and had children now, honey” and “get me a goddamn drink, what kind of daughter do you call yourself?” Life was sweet.

This illusion of contentment was revised by an intrusive nightmare.

She was wandering out of the store at which she worked on Bains and a grey cat with snow-white paws was staring at her from the road. There was something wrong with the feline, something shocking; it took her a moment to realise what it was. Human eyes. As soon as she noticed, the cat stood up on its hind legs, like a human would and opened its fore legs like a human would stretch out his arms. Blood seeped from its paws. She recognised the signs – this was the stigmata, the wounds of Jesus Christ. Why had this cat been chosen? Why here? Now?

The cat opened its mouth to speak, with sharp, erect whiskers, and she waited for its words. She knew its words were a warning and her heart began to race. She knew that whatever it said was going to be very important. She felt intense fear of whatever truth the cat was bringing her. All she could say was, “Oh God, oh God, oh God.”

The first sound from its mouth smacked her awake. Dripping with sweat, she found that she had urinated in the bed. After all this, she was still a little girl and there was no getting away from it. The warning was incomplete but she had to tell someone. She tumbled out of bed, put on some pants and raced out the door in the middle of the night, time unknown.

She felt cloistered by the cold air. She ran for the church but was careful to avoid Bains, as her night terrors were still vivid and at large, preventing her from taking that particular route. She passed by the cemetery on the edge of town and spied a couple of dessert trays resting beside one of the tombstones.

Reaching the church, she banged on the door, rapping as hard as her fists would allow and pleaded for the minister. The minister came, looking shocked at the sight before him, having never seen Mizzy in a tizzy. He took her into the hall and asked her what the matter was. She told him all about the dream and the single word the cat told her. She didn’t know what it meant but she felt it was important. She was concerned that she had been sent a divine message but she had woken up before it had finished.

The minister asked what the name of the cat was, but she said she didn’t know and asked how that was important, and the minister explained that names were extremely important to get right. Without knowing the cat’s name, the minister seemed at a loss and just reassured her that it was probably just a bad dream. He made up a story about a bad stomach blight going around the town recently.

It wasn’t enough for Mizzy though. She started to tell everybody about the dream and because it was very important. She told the women who ran the cookie stall in the market. She told all of the children in the choir. She told her parents several times, even when her mother was clicking the stopwatch at her over dinner. Eventually people started to talk about Mizzy in a different way. When people start talking about someone, any small fact that they know becomes part of the general knowledge of that person. Soon enough, everyone had the full Mizzy picture, the one with the Gardiner debacle.

She couldn’t stay much longer after that and obeyed the only word from cat she had heard. That word was “go”.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1417

October 19, 2006

The Promise in the Cellar (5 of 12)

Thread: Mission

The nameplate almost ran the width of the desk, because whoever had made it had a love for a large capital typeface and also disliked the use of multiple lines. It bore the unpunctuated legend “MR TRENT GRAYSON 2ND ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF TERTIARY SUPPORT COMMUNICATIONS” and Mizzy got dizzy turning her head a full 120 degrees reading it. The only other feature on the desk was a clock that made an irritating not-quite-but-almost-inaudible tick every second. As Mr. Grayson’s office was soundproofed like some Presidential nuclear bunker, the ticking made the silences and pauses of conversation unbearable, like a weird itch beneath the skin that she couldn’t do anything about except whack it with a plank of wood, hoping to convince it to stop.

“What gives, Mizzy?” Mr. Grayson said, tanned and lean with hair gelled to resemble an oil slick. He wore a brilliantly white shirt that was split in two by a black tie that was too long for his short torso. A black jacket hung on an anorexic coat rack behind him, with a pair of shades protruding from one of the breast pockets; the man had obviously watched Reservoir Dogs more times than was good for him. Gold-coloured cuff links in the shape of some unrecognisable animal adorned his wrists.

“You’re one of our best – pardon my language, Mizzy – goddamn people here and I am tearing – I say, tearing – my hair out trying to find the reason why you are flushing yourself down the john. The john. Yesterday you came in drunk. Today you’re trying to set fire – I mean, really, fire – to my office by lighting up here. I can’t be seen to be approving of this behaviour. As I said, what gives, Mizzy honey?”

He obviously didn’t use his desk, Mizzy observed, he might as well give it up to someone who needed it. Every cubicle she had seen was awash with paper, printouts and masochistic stress reliever toys that begged their owner to hit them, squeaking in response. Her own toy never made her feel any better, yet it always looked happier and smug somehow after punishment. It taunted her that it was capable of taking abuse and bouncing right back, which was precisely what she had hoped it would enable her to do when she had bought the damn thing. Some days there was an informal squeak-a-thon, at which the women would deliver a collective strike at their squeaking toys, an underground, subversive event that managers would only ever hear about through whisper and rumour. It might not have been Fight Club, but it served a similar purpose.

The ticking was driving Mizzy insane and she had to answer her manager to drown it out. Mizzy sucked on her cigarette momentarily and blew smoke out so fast that she whistled. She was still a novice when it came to the art of smoking. “I’m sorry, Mr. Grayson–” she started.

“Please, Mizzy honey, call me Trent.” He opened his arms in a laid-back style, but only succeeded in looking like he was about to pounce.

“I’m sorry, Trent, sir, but as my responsibilities keep increasing I feel that I’m doomed to fail. Did you ever hear of the Peter Principle? That people get promoted into positions of incompetence? I worry about that all the time.”

“Yes honey,” Trent said. “I’ve heard of the Peter Principle.” The smile on his face vanished and his gaze drooped into the nameplate, a border to his spotless desk. It only took him a moment to bounce back like Mizzy’s squeaky toy. “It’s nonsense, made up by bitter people who weren’t successful. Forget about it.”

“But I worry, Trent, sir. I worry all the time. Just today another pile of documentation arrived on my desk and I wanted to push it straight into the trash. You know, I can’t do it, I just, I just can’t do it anymore.”

“This wouldn’t be anything to do with your fiancé problems last year, would it? I heard something about that.”

“Absolutely not. I’m over that terrible, terrible episode of my life.” Mizzy whistled smoke again. “No, no. I’m over that. Right now is an altogether different crisis. Maybe you should just fire me. Get it over with, put me out of misery. Drown me in the river with a bag full of unwanted kittens. You know it makes sense, Trent, sir. I know you can do it.”

Mr. Trent Grayson straightened his back and cleared his throat. One of his pep talks was being downloaded, she could see it in his eyes; he was a corporate robot, make no mistake. “Mizzy, I am not about to fire my best – pardon my language, but the situation calls for it – fire my best damn employee, now am I? I’m going to give her the warmth she needs, keep her well fed, make her chicken soup when she feels a bit sick. I’m going to make sure she gets all the best breaks she can get, because damn it Mizzy, I like you. You’re a shining example to the rest of them. I’m not saying anyone is a bad employee, of course, I’m just saying they could be so much more. They could be just like you.”

He paused for Mizzy’s reaction. Mizzy made a point of not reacting. He waited some more. Mizzy continued to not react.

“You can go far, you listen to me now, listen. I’ve never seen anyone file those tertiary communication reports as quickly as you can. That’s just hola-hello amazing. Look at me, now, look at me.” He pointed two fingers of his right hand at her eyes and swung them around at his, directing her, she surmised, to stab his eyes with a two-pronged fork. “You get back out there and do your job to the best of your ability. I won’t say anything about the drinking and the smoking if you just quit those things right here and now. I can’t be seen to be approving such self-demeaning activities, especially in a positive, healthy work environment such as we all share here.”

He hesitated, apparently to drum up some excitement for the coup de grace. “Mizzy, work is family. We’re a family, Mizzy, and you’re my wife, that’s what it’s all about.”

The pep talk, full of energy and focus, was complete. It hit every note perfectly. It dotted every ‘i’ and crossed every ‘t’. Mizzy was depressed.

“Yes, Mr. Grayson, sir.” The last thing she wanted to be right now was anybody’s wife.

She persisted at work and tried not to smoke or drink. At least not simultaneously. The stress was ever-present but she repressed it with quiet dignity as she filed the tertiary communication reports into the correct sorting repositories with efficiency. Red reports, yellow folders; blue reports, green folders; black reports, transparent folders. Alphanumeric sorting, reverse chronological ordering, version indexing. Memoranda, memoranda, memoranda, the office sang.

She didn’t want any more responsibility piled upon her because it was all bound to go wrong one of these days and she didn’t want to be there when it did. A mis-filed report here or an unsigned request there could mean the difference between appreciation and depreciation of a team player’s value. All of this danced in her mind one evening as she drove out of the office car park after having only one drink or two, or possibly three because the afternoon was hazy to be perfectly honest. Her second-hand Dodge Neon then veered all by itself into an obstruction that collapsed upon impact. She broke hard.

There was a moment of reflective tranquillity as she sat in the car seat, heart pounding, feeling grateful to be alive. Phew. The downed obstruction then raised a single, gnarled hand into her field of view, hovering over the hood. It teetered there, suspended for a few seconds as if trying to get the attention of a teacher to ask a question, but fell out of sight with the question unrealised. When Mr. Trent Grayson sir awoke from his coma a few days later, he had a distinct change of heart regarding Mizzy’s career.

Fortunately, the bumper of her car was merely scuffed by the episode.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2105
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