I’m all peopled out.
The mental staples holding up the corners of my mouth are losing their grip, and the disc spinning out my laugh, my positive affirmations and my platitudes, is now worn and splintered.
I had somehow got swept up in this wave that pulsed around the office in the afternoon. A leaving get-together for Tanya in contracts. I knew Tanya, she was nice. No reason to not wish her well. But outside of work? Outside of the office? Outside of the walls I had deliberately built in my head to protect me from this shit in the first place?
When work people intruded into my private life, my personal time, they were but apparitions, phantoms, for the soulless careerists that they were. Go talk about climbing Everest or charity work in Africa to your Linked-In profile. You only regain meaning to me when we’re back in the office on Monday, and that’s when I note your location to avoid you on my way to the coffee machine.
But here we were, outside of work. Patting me on the shoulder, asking me about some banal crap that had been mentioned in a pointless teleconference before the Sun had had even a chance to yawn. My nerves prickled, and I felt myself becoming clammy, still in my work clothes.
A green beer bottle was thrust towards me, and a hand gripped my shoulder. Someone’s loud and chicken wing-ed breath was in my ear.
“I think Aquaflux are our best option. They’ll give us want we want much faster than Blue Seas.”
I stood up.
I had had far too much work today. I had given far too much of myself to these bastards already; it was like being stalked by a slot machine.
“I have to go,” I declared to no one and everyone, and I had to finish it up with something definitive and conclusive. Something that couldn’t be questioned and that wouldn’t rope me into more frivolous conversation.
Clubbing baby seals, court-ordered highway clean-up, masturbation, necrophilia, irumatio.
“I need to pick out a casket for my grandmother. Those things aren’t cheap.” I hurried to the door and threw it open, leaving the inferno of pitiless self-promotion and office clichés behind me in the black hole of their own corporate filth.
My mind instantly cleared in the absence of voices and I could finally hear my own again.
A date. Victoria from the comic-con. She had dressed as Hawk Girl, and I as Green Lantern. We’d waited in line for five hours to see Mark Hamill, and chatted extensively about why humans fantasized so much about other humans with super powers. Her smile had been alluring, and her laugh hypnotic. Two things I’d been looking forward to as we’d remained in touch, reading each other’s fanfiction.
Both my stroll and my breathes deepened, and the anxiety working my nerves finally let go. Cars passed me by down Main Street, jiving to the euphoric beat of a Friday evening.
I was heading to a frozen yogurt place that had jut opened up on the corner of fifth street. Victoria had suggested it and I was willing to go along with whatever; could’ve been a park bench for all I cared, but it was probably best one of us kept the date within social norms.
The bright pink and green lights for Dysgeusia punched through the night and for some reason I was reminded of Japanese pornography. The line at the counter was already growing with people from off the street, but only a few seemed to remain behind in the booths.
I crossed the street and pushed open the turquoise doors with the slightly darker half moon handles. The smell of sugar immediately swirled up my nose and circled my head, stimulating every single neuron whose job it was to bathe my tongue in saliva. I swallowed and stepped to the side, curious to see if Victoria had arrived.
She had. And was sitting in an empty booth by the window with a small pastel green tub, heaped with a rainbow of small candies. She looked up and waved at me. She now had pink bubblegum hair and black lipstick, and was wearing a purple dress underneath a white baseball jacket. I wanted to lick her.
“There you are!” she grinned, reaching ot as she stood up.
I hugged her back. “I wasn’t sure if you’d make it.”
Victoria put her hands on her hips. “I always keep my promises,” she said. “Now, go and get your yogurt. This shit is awesome.”
I joined the line and listened to the requests being made ahead of me. A series of orders, delivered with and without pleases and thank yous. Sounded like I was back at work.
“What would you like, sir?” asked the young women behind the blue and green apron. I thought taking a breath to buy myself some time would help. It didn’t. “Oh, just,” I waved my hand. “Surprise me.”
A smirk warmed her young greasy skin and she held my gaze for a moment. “So, just…”
“Anything,” I finished for her, “Yes.”
In a series of well-coordinated scoops, she filled my tub and passed it back to me. I moved onto the cashier, gave him ten dollars and didn’t wait for my change. I saw his lips move, and immediately shot him down. “Keep it.”
I was starting to realize that when you stop giving a shit, you don’t really have to make any more choices.
I stepped out of the line and joined Victoria in the booth.
“I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to this date,” I smiled, this time without mind staples. “Work is just so boring, and my evenings are just a series of coping mechanisms to power through to the weekend.”
Victoria seductively cleared her white plastic spoon and dropped it in her now empty tub. “I’m sorry you feel that way,” she said, and reached over to pinch my shoulder. “I love my job, but it’s my dream job. I work in a library.”
“Do you mind if I ask? What is it about your job that you like?”
“It’s just what I’ve always wanted to do. Just surrounded by knowledge, and fantasy worlds. Even the stupid questions and noisy children don’t bother me.”
I pressed my head back against the cushioned headrest and sighed. “I’ll have to hang around you more. It sounds like you’ve found the secret to getting through life.”
Victoria shrugged and her toe ran up and down the side of my shinbone.
Her deep brown eyes sparkled and I saw the gateway to an entire universe.
“Have you thought about…” she stopped and jarred her head to look out of the window. There were now flashing blue lights in the street, and the sound of a siren rose and fell.
The sound of feet shuffling and gasps made me turn my head, and without warning both Dysgeusia’s doors were thrown open and three police officers entered.
Victoria’s face darkened and her brown irises were swallowed by her pupils.
One of the officers saw her and immediately pounced to our table and drew her gun. “Hands up,” she yelled, pointing at Victoria. We both raised our hands and my breath got stuck in my throat.
The female officer advanced, took hold of Victoria’s arm, gun still pointed, and pulled for her to follow out of the booth. Once she was on her feet and facing the table, the officer guided her arms behind her back and immediately cuffed her wrists.
“Victoria Ritter, I am arresting you for the kidnap and murder of Nathan Walker. You do not have to say anything, but anything you do say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney before talking to the police and the right to have an attorney present for questioning now or in the future. If you cannot afford an attorney, one can be provided to you by the state.”
Victoria squinted and flicked her eyes towards me. Her teeth unsheathed from behind her black lips. “The secret, Chris, is don’t get caught.”
The police led her away and left me sitting in the booth with my hands still behind my head. The customers in line at the yogurt counter continued to glance at me, wondering why the police hadn’t taken me, too.
I was all peopled out.
And I suddenly wanted to be at home, in the dark, masturbating to the sound of silence.