These Are The Stories Part VII
The narrator cut the packing tape on another cardboard box.
He opened it, then after a moment, began rifling through.
He tossed out a dusty stapler, a roll of tape and pair of scissors.
He pulled out a picture frame and held it in front of his face.
Then he began again.
Curtis filled up his Dilbert mug with coffee on a gloomy Sunday afternoon in the employee break room. Over the splashing sound of the dripping coffee, Curtis thought he heard voices. He looked over his shoulder into the main office area. It was still dark and nobody, not even the janitors were there on Sundays. He listened closer. It was like a distant chatter. He stopped filling the mug for a second and listened. He heard nothing. Just the usual sound of twenty computer fans humming together. He resumed filling his mug.
Curtis walked back through the rows of cubicles to his desk, listening to the collective hum of the computers. He thought about how they all seemed to be a slightly different pitch.
He put down the mug next to his keyboard, sat and brought up last month’s reports.
“Okay,” he said to himself. “So this is…”
Curtis scrolled through the spreadsheet, paying particular attention to rows ‘C’ and ‘E,’ ‘Balance Forwarded’ and ‘Debt Received On’ respectively.
“Right,” he nodded to himself. “And this is…”
Curtis scrolled back up to the top of the spreadsheet, paying specific attention now to row ‘G,’ ‘Interest Accrued.’
“Yeah,” he smiled. “This is probably the one that…”
Curtis clicked the icon to print the selected portion of the spreadsheet. He got up and walked to the printer, a few rows of cubicles over.
The printer hummed on and began spitting out the pages of the reports. Curtis noticed how the high-pitched hum of the printer went above harmony of the idle computers, as if it were taking the solo in some office appliance choir. Then he heard the chatter again, separate from the computers and the printer. He looked around the office, but there was no movement or anything to indicate that he wasn’t alone, just like always, doing the reports on Sunday afternoon.
Curtis grabbed the stack of papers from the repository and headed back to his desk. He didn’t hear the chatter anymore.
He sat down and placed the corner of the stack in the stapler. Curtis pounded the top of the stapler with the heel of his hand and placed the stack on a clear patch of desk.
“Hey Curtis,” said the stapler.
Curtis looked around his desk quickly, then under his desk, and then stood up and surveyed the office.
“He’s not ready,” said the scissors. “Don’t do this.”
Curtis looked at his computer screen.
“I say go for it,” said a roll of Scotch tape.
Curtis looked at his chair.
“Hey Curtis,” said the stapler. “Hey man, right here…No, right here…the stapler.”
Curtis looked at the stapler.
“Yeah, that’s it,” said the stapler.
Curtis shook his head.
“Hey Curtis,” said the stapler. “Sit down. We need to talk to you.”
Curtis sat down. Then he picked up and sipped from his mug. He shrugged and shook his head. He reached for the mouse again.
“No! Curtis! Don’t go for that mouse! Just listen, man!” cried the stapler.
“Alright, Curtis,” began the stapler. “I’m gonna speak at you right now, bro. It’s about this little arrangement we’ve got going. We want to expand it-”
“We?” said Curtis.
“Yeah, the crew of us,” said the scissors.
Curtis’ eyes widened.
“We want you in, Curtis,” said the stapler. “We’ve been talking and we want you in.”
“We want you,” said the scissors.
Curtis brought his hand up to his forehead and wiped the cold sweat off.
“You’re not crazy,” said Curtis. “This is just the stress.”
“See, the crew of us, we’ve created, kind of like, a family,” said the stapler.
“You’re not crazy,” said Curtis, sipping his coffee. “Don’t fucking lose it, man.”
“We’ve all been spending so much time together that it was inevitable,” said the scissors.
“So for obvious reasons, we’ve never included you,” said the stapler. “But we still talk about you all the time.”
“You’re a big deal around here,” said the Scotch tape.
“A major deal,” said the scissors.
“There isn’t any history of mental illness in the family, just keep that in mind,” said Curtis.
“You’re like the crux of 95% of our conversations lately, man,” said the stapler.
“Just go home tonight and take it real easy,” said Curtis.
“And we want to bring you in,” said the stapler. “In, like part of the family, one of the gang. All that, bro.”
“We know that you’re lonely,” said the scissors. “We know you don’t have friends. But you should. You could.”
“Us,” said the Scotch tape.
Curtis cradled his head in his hands.
“There are just a few rules we’ve come up with to make sure that nothing goes awry,” said the stapler. “Like, for one, we’d like to keep this arrangement secret. Nothing personal, just…we’ve got our reasons.”
“Yeah, and two, we want you to hang out with us more when you’re here, not just work,” said the scissors.
“Get yourself a bath, rent a movie, and call Dr. Finkleberg tomorrow morning,” said Curtis. Curtis paced quickly in front of his desk. He mumbled to himself. “A bath, a movie, Dr. Finkleberg in the morning…a bath, a movie, Dr. Finkleberg, first thing in the morning, no putting it off anymore…a bath, a movie-”
“Three, and this is a big one, bud, we want you to record our histories,” said the stapler.
“Fine,” said Curtis. “I’ll bite. What histories?”
“We’ve been other things besides office supplies,” said the Scotch tape.
“Like people?” said Curtis.
“Yeah. People and bugs and animals and loads of stuff,” said the scissors. “Stapler was a pig that emigrated from Ireland to the United States. Almost.”
Curtis looked at the stapler.
“Pirates,” said the stapler.
“You might be wondering why we can remember it and why you can’t,” said the Scotch tape.
“I am,” said Curtis.
“It’s because as inanimate objects, we’re not dealing with all the distractions you deal with as a person,” said the Scotch tape.
“Oh,” said Curtis.
“Yeah we couldn’t remember anything either when we were human,” said the scissors.
“We can offer you friendship,” said the stapler. “And you can record some of the greatest stories from the past. Forgotten stories.”
“Well that sounds interesting,” said Curtis.
“Wonderful!” cried the scissors.
“There’s one more thing,” said the stapler.
“What?” said Curtis.
“You can’t bang me anymore.”
The narrator burst through the door and ripped his coat off of his back.
“Ignore me, will you!?” he yelled before slamming it against floor.
He kicked shut the door and began again.
Bernard flipped over four NY strip steaks. Gathered around the grill and scattered around his backyard were his friends and neighbors. The commercial break ended on the classic rock station, the DJ transitioning to “Beast of Burden.”
This was Bernard’s early retirement party. After what had happened to his wife, Bernard had decided to take the buyout, surprising everybody. The Post Office had reminded Bernard of his eligibility for retirement numerous times. Bernard had always politely declined, always saying, “Why should I retire? I like my route. I like the exercise. Plus, it gives me a break from the missus.”
Occupying a folding chair by the deck was Pierre, new to the neighborhood and holding one of the Hoegaarden’s that he’d brought. Seated in folding chairs around Pierre were Pierre’s wife and her new friends, Mrs. Foder and Mrs. Jones.
“So Bernard,” began Howie, standing over the grill holding a Coors Light. “I guess we’ll be seeing you more of you at the poker table.”
Bernard looked up from the grill quickly.
“Hey…Howie,” said Bruce, shaking his head.
Bernard shot Bruce a look, then his lips seemed to soften into a half smile. Bernard sighed.
“It’s okay, Bruce,” Bernard said, turning to Howie. “You just meant because I’m retired now, I know that.”
“Yeah, Bernie, that’s all I meant,” said Howie, a relieved grin on his face. “Sorry, Bernard.”
Bernard shook his head. “No, you’re right. I’m gonna be rolling in dough pretty soon. Making way more money off of you guys than I did down at the Post Office. Maybe I’ll host next week.” Bernard gave Howie and Bruce a sly look, then refocused on the grill. “I’ll get mirrors in place.”
Bruce and Howie grinned. Bernard took a swig off of his bottle of Bud.
Laid out on the grill were the strip steaks, three All-American burgers, six Ballpark franks, three Cheddarwursts, and the cut of rabbit that Pierre had brought. Bernard flipped the burgers, rolled the franks and then looked at the rabbit, which was starting to burn. Bernard looked across the yard at Pierre, who was laughing and chatting with Mrs. Foder from down the block. As Bernard turned to look, so did Howie and Bruce. Bernard closed the grill, leaving the rabbit unturned.
Howie, Bruce and Bernard plopped down in the empty folding chairs next to the grill.
“Too bad the Tomlinson’s moved, huh?” offered Bruce.
“Yeah, the new neighbors seem alright, though,” said Howie. “Where’d they move from again?”
“Come on, Howie,” said Bruce, looking at Bernard. Bernard turned to Howie.
“Montpellier,” said Bernard. “The south of France.”
“Oh, are you familiar with it…I mean, did you go there…on your trip, I mean,” stuttered Howie.
Bruce shook his head.
“Uh, no. We didn’t make it that far south, Howie,” answered Bernard.
Bruce nodded supportively at Bernard, then shook his head once again at Howie. Bernard took a large chug off of his bottle of Bud.
“Hey Howie,” said Bernard.
“Uh, yeah?” said Howie.
“You feel like grabbing those Montecristos you said had. I could go for a ‘gar right now,” said Bernard.
Howie nodded, said “yeah, I’ll grab ‘em from my bag,” and headed off towards the house. Bernard swigged.
“He’s not thinking, that’s all,” said Bruce, nodding. Bernard nodded back and swigged again.
Bernard had been just as reluctant to use vacation time during his forty two years working as he had been to retire. Eventually, with over six months unused vacation stored up, management decided that Bernard had to use up some of that time, or forfeit it. It was decided that Bernard and his wife would take a two month vacation in Western Europe. Bernard’s wife, Lorraine, had always wanted to travel there.
“Beast of Burden” ended and “Michelle, My Belle” began playing.
“Yeah, it’s fine, Bruce, don’t worry about it,” said Bernard. “I’m fine. I’m hangin’ in.”
Bruce punched Bernard on the shoulder lightly. “Okay, chief. Forget I brought it up.”
Bernard finished his Bud with a loud gulp.
“Hey Pierre,” called Bernard. “You mind turning the station? I don’t like this song.”
Everyone in Bernard’s backyard seemed to hear this, looking up from their conversation or shifting in their seat. That is, except for Pierre who continued laughing with Mrs. Foder and the others.
So Bernard and Lorraine booked accommodations and car rentals. They were the talk of the neighborhood, Lorraine the envy of many of her friends who had never seen Paris. As a courtesy, Bernard informed all of his postal route customers that he would be away, although many of them already knew. A week later, Bernard and Lorraine flew into Paris, holding hands and looking out the window as the aircraft circled DeGaulle. Lorraine experienced her first jolt of culture shock their first night in Paris, the way foreigners many do, out to dinner after ordering the Beef Tartare. After a meek attempt at trying to eat the uncooked beef—to avoid the embarrassment of having to admit she’d had no idea what she’d ordered—Lorraine gave in and asked the waiter, who spoke some English, what would be a good meal to start out with, their first night in Paris. The waiter informed Lorraine that the Lapin a La Cocotte was a good choice, distinctively French, and that she might enjoy it. Lorraine agreed. After finishing the meal Lorraine had enjoyed so thoroughly, she was pleasantly surprised to find out that the tender meat in the stew was rabbit.
“Hey Pierre,” called Bernard. “Hey Pierre, can you change the station? Si Possible?”
Pierre still didn’t seem to hear, his attention focused on entertaining the women seated around him, which he was doing successfully, all of them laughing together boisterously.
Bernard looked at Bruce as Paul McCartney ran through the chorus.
“Ils sont des mots qui vont trés bien ensemble, trés bien ensemble,” sang Lorraine and Bernard, as they zipped their rented Peugeot back and forth across the French campagne. Each day, Lorraine happily delved deeper into the rich French cuisine. While Lorraine indulged in Pâté de Foie Gras, Escargots de Beurre-Blanc and Canard de Confit, Bernard mostly stuck to L’Hamburger au Fromage et des Frites.
“Hey you want me to go change it, bud?” asked Bruce.
“Nah, I gotta grab another beer anyway,” said Bernard, getting up.
Bernard walked towards Pierre and the radio.
Paul McCartney sang, “I love you! I love you! I looove you!”
After a couple of steps, Bernard’s walk broke into a run. He grabbed the plastic handle, swung the radio over his head and then down onto the brick patio in front of Pierre’s feet. Paul still sang so, he did it again.
Pierre only stared as Bernard brought the radio up above his head and then down onto the brick, over and over, until Bernard grasped only a plastic handle.
Hands on his knees, Bernard gasped in heavy breaths.
Lorraine convinced Bernard to extend their two weeks in France to three, so that they could explore further south. Changing around their accommodations wasn’t too difficult, given that it was the off-season. So Bernard and Lorraine left their hotel in Nantes, bound for Bordeaux, with all their travel possessions loaded into their Peugeot. The small exception being the bottle of Lorraine’s blood-pressure medication capsules, forgotten on the bedside table.
Bruce was at Bernard’s side, his hand on his back. “Easy buddy. You okay?”
“Bernard, I think I know—” began Pierre.
“Quiet!” ordered Bruce.
Bernard stood up, looked at the rubble of electrical parts, and then at Pierre.
“Bernard, have I done something to offe—” began Pierre.
“I said quiet, goddamnit!” said Bruce. Then turning, “Bernard, you all right?”
Nobody else in the backyard spoke. Howie reemerged from the back door with his bag, then froze.
As Bernard stared at Pierre, his breaths slowed, and his face became less flush. He bit his lip, nodded, and then said, “Hey man, I’m sorry,” offering his hand.
Pierre nodded, rose and accepted Bernard’s hand into his own.
Bernard turned to the silent crowd of his neighbors
“I’m sorry everyone,” Bernard announced sheepishly.
The crowd nodded reflexively, still seeming a little stunned.
“It’s okay, Bernard,” Bruce projected. “Right? It’s fine, I hated that boombox anyway. Let’s everyone go back to enjoying yourselves, okay? Howie! Get down here with those Montecristos. Somebody tend to the grill for a minute!”
Then Bruce turned to Bernard. “Hey, it’s okay man. Let me grab you a Bud.”
Bernard nodded, turning to look at Pierre, who hadn’t moved. “Hey Pierre, you need a beer?” Then, he turned back towards Bruce. “Hey Bruce. Grab Pierre a beer too. He drinks those…just grab him one of my Buds.” Bernard turned back to Pierre. “Bud okay, Pierre?”
“Uh, yeah. Bud, let’s have a Bud.”
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED