My Love Affair with Leonard Mulsh in Reverse
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Vision"
Originally featured on 10-23-2009
As part of our series "The Words That Seem to Justify Anything"

The wind careening off the back bumper of Lisa’s pickup truck knocks on my face with the brim of my baseball cap—the one I borrowed from Leonard when we went camping last summer and wore ever since, to keep my hair out of my eyes—knocks all the way from our house on Dockwood Drive to the merging of highways I’ve never driven on. The wind on my face does not have any way of understanding the fact that nobody is home. Leonard will be introduced to the fact that nobody is home when he comes home to our house on Dockwood Drive, sees the empty bookshelves, the scrubbed floors. The vacant bathroom cupboard. It’s because I was fast and I was industrious and all of my stuff is in boxes in the back of Lisa’s pickup truck. The same boxes I am sitting on, and nobody’s home in my face, I’m on a highway passing cars, holding onto the boxes and I will not go back to the house on Dockwood Drive and Leonard will be surprised. Leonard will throw down his briefcase and slam his fist down on the table and yell my name, walk through all the rooms in the house yelling my name with grit accumulating in his voice, alternating between my name and goddamn it because Leonard likes to say goddamn it, but he won’t like what he sees, and before he enters the bedroom he’ll pick up his phone and call me, knowing I won’t answer because my bags are packed and I feel nothing. Nothing but the steady monotonous knocking on my face by the wind careening off Lisa’s pickup truck.

It’s better this way. You can’t tell another person that something is not working out, because if it’s over then its overness is long overdue and they know it too and it’s better to just climb in the back of Lisa’s pickup truck and go north, while Leonard is at work thinking about our dinner plans. Surprise. Surprised? Are you really, Leonard?

There was no last fight. No big fight. We didn’t make each other cry. There was nothing to apologize for. That is how come it’s better this way.

Leonard Mulsh once overheard his father on the telephone say, If you were to know one thing about me, you should know this; I value two things in life. One: Money, and two: more money. If you wish to know me on a more personal level, here’s a confession I usually keep to myself; I value the second item a hell of a lot more than the first. Leonard was ten when he heard his father say that, he does not know who his father was speaking to but he remembers those words word for word and when Leonard impersonates his father, he sounds exactly like his father. I’ve never met Leonard’s father but I just know it anyhow. Leonard’s father was not a successful businessman. Not like Leonard, anyhow. Leonard is the president of a multi-million-dollar corporation. He used to say I’m too simple to understand his work so I’d do better not to ask. There’s a tiny pool in the corner of Leonard’s right eye when he imitates his father. It makes him look older. The night before I left Leonard forever, he told me what his job is.

His business conceptualizes, designs, markets, manufactures and distributes nothing. Its employees drink coffee in front of blank computer screens. The twist is that the so-called employees are actually the customers.

I remember working in an office, and I remember what unnerved me the most; it was the instances when I’d completed a task and was awaiting my next assignment, and the lag time between the completion of the first and the initiation of the next left me several minutes of discomfort in which I was morally compelled to be useful but given no direction, and if I bothered a coworker to voice my dilemma in hopes of jumping to their assistance on a micro-project befitting my expertise, then I’d be bothering someone who’s time is too valuable to be bothered by me, and if I pretended to look busy, I’d be pretending, and if I went to the bathroom I could only spend so much time in the bathroom, and I’d be neglecting my dharma of being creative and self-sufficient enough to always intuit how I could best make myself useful to the company at every given moment, and while I’m contemplating what to do, I can’t let anyone walk by and see me doing nothing, because that would be so flagrantly inappropriate, they might as well see me crying hysterically in my underwear or masturbating with a stapler.

The ticking of the clock is an unconscious sound that’s heard as the ticking of money and felt as the ticking of guilt and fear and their worst fear is the fear of doing nothing. Which, as Leonard explains, is transformed, via synapses in the superhighway of the diseased modern psyche, to their greatest thrill. As it turns out, people pay good money to dress up in their most immaculate business suits and spend a day in a simulated work environment wherein they actually do nothing, to have nothing to do, and to go about the doing of nothing without the possibility of consequences. Kind of like when married couples role-play a seedy love affair fraught with the constant (fantasized) danger of being caught.

There are no bosses, the phones connect to no phone lines, the computers link to no database, and there is no work to do. It’s an amusement park for adults, and it’s the most lucrative rollercoaster ride in history; like Disneyland subdivided into cubicles.

Come to think of it, the last time Leonard and I made love was prior to him telling me about that. I didn’t ask him how he came up with the idea, although I’m sure he probably told me in great detail and I was sure it was inconsequential whether I was listening.

I always wanted to have two daughters and one son, not necessarily in that order. Leonard was undecided, and remained undecided. We didn’t talk about it very much, but I thought about it when we lay in bed. There was a distinct moment in the middle of the night when his shoulder twitched and knocked against my chin and woke me up, but it never woke me up enough to open my eyes and look at the clock, so I don’t know what time of night it happened, but I figure it was the same time of night every night. It made me smile and clutch a body’s worth of blankets to my stomach as I drifted off.

We went on six camping trips every summer. He used to hide my sweatshirts so that I’d have to hold him close, shivering while we looked at the stars and he rambled about the stars we were looking at. He liked me shivering, and he liked to determine the proximity of body mass that warmth required. Especially after I went for a swim.

We have two cats. Pumice and Misty. I adopted them both on the same day without consulting Leonard. He came home, saw one run across the living room, and then the other, and hung up his coat, never commenting on the fact that we now had cats. He never did mention it, but he continues feeding them and buying kitty litter, and pets them when they climb on his lap. Sometimes when I’m walking to the grocery store or to the salon, I think about how Leonard cares for the cats but doesn’t notice the fact that we did not own cats, never talked about owning cats, and then one day they exist in our house and we’ve never talked about not owning cats, and when I think about that, tears push outward from my throat through my eyes and I try not to swallow them.

Leonard and I had one thing in common. When I was a kid, the teacher quizzed us on the safest place to be during an earthquake. I said in an airplane. Leonard gave the same answer to his teacher when he was little. The difference between me and Leonard early on was that when he gave the answer, he knew he was being a smartass. The way eight-year-old Leonard actually worded it was probably more to the effect of, in a fucking airplane, where do you think? When I told him I had thought of the airplane before he did, that was when he put his arm around me. It was the first time he touched my shoulders and his arm felt heavy, like the seat cushion of a car against your back when you accelerate to seventy miles an hour.

With his arm still around me and my shoulders accelerating faster into his arm, he told me a lot about himself. He was just like his father on the phone, but he kept talking and I sunk deeper into his arm until I kissed him. I kissed him because I didn’t understand what he was saying anymore and it was all I knew to make his mouth stop moving because I had to make him stop talking, it was like suffocating. I hate not understanding.

That was back when Leonard still loved hearing himself talk more than he loved kissing me, so he kept on talking about himself and his childhood. In my neighborhood, at least four times a day someone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grow up. I swore I wouldn’t be one of those kids who changes their answer every time, from an aspiring astronaut at breakfast to a doctor in training come lunch. His hand slid down my shirt and stumbled for my bra. I wasn’t no flip-flopper, not Lenny Mulsh, no, I was proud of my steadfastness, and when people frowned at my answer and exchanged glances, I was quick to point out that I gave the exact same answer when I was four and nobody frowned at it then. Grade school, high school, same. And, well, here I am. Heh.

Leonard’s imitation of himself as a kid was far less accurate than his father impersonation, and it took so much effort he lost interest in thumbing my bra strap when he intoned in his best kid voice, thank you for asking, Miss Walker, I plan to be a mad scientist when I grow up, and I’ll resign myself to whatever educational track that, my loftiest aspiration entails. He went back to his regular voice. I stopped looking at him. He did not like to touch me after I stopped looking at him, but he did still love hearing himself talk. From my bedroom whenever I overheard my parents tell a dinner guest that the boy fancies himself a scientist to be, I would abandon my Legos, burst into the dining room and correct them: NOT a scientist. I don’t know what a scientist does, and I never said I wanted to be one. Mad scientist. Mad scientist.

At that point he was looking off into the trees. He was not talking to me anymore. I almost felt like I should probably walk away and let him talk to himself in privacy to be polite, and rejoin him for dessert when he was finished. I simply could not allow them to think that I had respectable goals, that I would grow to be the kind of guy you take home to mom. The approval of adults was abhorrent to me. That one syllable was an important distinction, and it appalled me that my parents neglected it.

Leonard was scratching himself while he talked. He had a bug bite on his forehead. Cerebrally, I knew I was destined for nothing short of an encyclopedic countenance in the realm of data collected on the natural world, coupled with a passport to the nether reaches of mathematics where travelers abandon ship…and more importantly, my life’s work had to be something as wretched and perverted as…my image of my future self was akin to the villain behind the villain in a superhero comic, who patents not weapons of mass destruction, but instruments of conscious deception wielding mass hysteria like a paintbrush and the community as a canvas. I told him he was an idiot. He was.

It is entirely a good thing that I’m in Lisa’s pickup truck heading north. Pumice and Misty are languorously staring at the walls and whining cutely from the middle of the hall. I can picture them now. Leonard’s multi-million dollar company will continue to make millions on the doing of nothing. Literal nothing. He tried to explain it to me in ways intended to make it sound ingenious, but I didn’t understand it.

Now understand an empty house, you fucking weirdo.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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