by Dave K.
Five pairs of hands let me go on Monday morning. Only one pair was needed.
My supervisor did a lot of the talking, though the other four men in the room would chime in at intervals to finish his sentences. There was no pattern to their interruptions.
Poor head for numbers. Ledgers carious with miscalculations. Antisocial personality, unfit for the camaraderie of professional life. These were their words, their nasal Ivy League voices shared like a common uniform, their faces scrubbed and shaved waxy under the lights, their ties and suspenders, their matching socks.
I sat in front of them feeling like wadded-up paper, my feet planted on the white floor. I didn’t want to cross my legs because my trousers were too short and my socks didn’t match.
Later I would pass a man whose dog was sniffing around in the bushes. All I could see of the dog was his tail, lead wrapped twice around his owner’s firm wrist. This man looked like his socks matched.
I don’t know what it’s like to be that kind of person. I am done putting on such airs.
There was a pattern to their interruptions. I just couldn’t see it.
They allowed me to collect my things before I was shown out. I knew the way, but I wasn’t the one being shown. The rest of the accounting chamber stared down the hall after me, their shoulders bent, eyes narrow and dry under their green visors and behind their bifocals.
Five days earlier, I’d passed the rummage shop near my apartment and saw a chipped plaster replica of an Easter Island head staring out from the piles of rusted mechanical parts and wormy furniture and children’s toys. I asked the proprietor how much the giant head cost. He told me. I asked who would pay so much for it. He told me he only sold what he was given. I walked away.
My supervisor did not say I was “fired.” He said, with help from the others, that I had been “let go,” which is worse. Being fired suggests a trajectory that will end somewhere. I will land somewhere. Being let go is just falling falling falling and slick stone walls on all sides and no light.
I left the office and turned left where I normally turn right. I passed rows of houses with stone porches and dark lamps in the windows. The grass and trees were green, burnt yellow in patches by the sun. The trees bent towards the sunlight and their branches drooped into the street. One house’s small yard had been stamped raw, down to the dirt. Hopscotch squares had been drawn on the sidewalk.
My father used to say that a man’s hardest fight was between himself and the mirror.
As I was being let go, my supervisor asked me if I had anything to say. I stared past him and the others at the stack of ledgers, their leather covers bruised by my fingerprints. I knew they’d been marked up by the senior accountants. Pens scratching in the margins and red ink welling up in loops of inscrutable cursive.
My mother used to say that what you will not do is what I will do. She drowned when I was nineteen. Nets dragged her out of the ocean, onto the boat where my father and I stood. She was smiling.
Two days earlier, I’d passed the rummage shop near my apartment and saw a dented suit of armor for sale. It was wedged between two brass outhouse fixtures, probably to keep it from toppling over. I asked the proprietor how much the armor cost. He told me. I asked who would pay so much for it. He told me he only sold what he was given. I walked away and wondered why the proprietor would sell it at all, why he wouldn’t disassemble it and keep one of the arms for himself.
When my window is open and the weather is mild, I can hear the drone of crickets and birds, and the distant, funereal tones of church bells on the hour and half-hour.
My landlady hates me. She says she’s a Christian.
Today, I passed by the rummage shop near my apartment. Twice. The first time, the proprietor wasn’t sitting out front in his rocking chair. The chair was empty except for a note: Back in five minutes. There was an oversized cannon for sale. Someone had painted it like a barber’s pole. I left.
I returned ten minutes later and the proprietor was there, rocking and smoking. I asked him how much the cannon cost. He told me. I asked who would pay so much for it. He told me he only sold what he was given.
When I was nine, I stepped on a fish-hook and the wound never healed properly. I think I have been slowly leaking over time, depleted by every step I take. Perhaps this is why I am a bachelor, a shelf waiting to be stocked.
I bought the cannon on credit and the proprietor offered to drive it back to my apartment for me. I rode beside it in the back of proprietor’s steam-junker, trying to decide if it would fit in my building’s freight elevator. I ended up leaving the cannon in the grassy lot behind my building.
Sometimes I dream of swimming towards a dim, vanishing shore, salty and sunblind, my mouth full of seaweed.
The cannon is a deceit. The fuse is a rope that, when pulled, deploys a springboard inside the barrel. Maybe there is no cannon. No window. No building. No street. No landlady. No me.
It rained overnight. The cannon’s gullet stayed dry and cool.
Before the rain came, I sat on my windowsill with my legs and bare feet dangling down. I swung them back and forth, my heels knocking against the bricks. My back was turned to my degree in mathematics, crooked in the frame my father bought for it, and by proxy for me. I imagined water just below my toes, even though I live on the fifth floor of my building and everyone below me would have drowned.
I will crawl inside the barrel. I will pull the rope. I cannot pull the rope. Someone else will pull the rope. Being fired suggests a trajectory that will end somewhere. I will land somewhere. I live on the wind now.