Monday, August 18, 2008

Headaches

This is all what they told me. I was out on vacation but I guess the whole mailroom smelled like sun-baked trash. All day and more and more the later it got. Like how, even if you breathed through your mouth to avoid the reek, you’d still taste it in the air. That bad.

The box it came from was something about 18 inches cubed and waiting to be shipped out for an overnight delivery. And as I said, I never saw this but what I was told, Dino went and sliced through the packing tape with a pair of scissors and pushed away a few handfuls of Styrofoam peanuts and had a look inside. That he totally shouldn’t have done. Like the absolute best way to lose your job. Wrap the box in a plastic bag or store it in another room or just throw the bastard out or anything. But opening the mail, totally not cool.

So then this. Dino straightaway vomited all on his shoes. What I heard, like five gallons of noodle soup. And the poor guy looked up to the ceiling and his head kept going back like trying to look directly behind and he fell hard and was out. In the box, a head. Mostly a skull but still a few clumps of flesh like beef jerky and a dried black tongue. Of course, that’s just the way I got the story.

* * *

The Monday next, starting back up after my break, I’m called to the Manager’s office. I wait in a nice plush chair while he finishes up important business on the telephone. A whole lot of “uh huh’s” and a couple “certainly’s” and once even a “let me run that by some people first.” Every couple minutes the Manager holds up a finger to ask more patience.

“As maybe you know,” he says once the phone is on the cradle. “Last week we had something of an issue involving one of the packages in your area.” What he meant was, you heard some crazy shit went down in the mailroom while you were out. And I had.

“Of course, there is a completely satisfactory explanation for the macabre happening, which you may or may not be familiar with.” This too I’d heard. Supposed to be, the skull was on its way from some county office to a university anthropology department upstate. Had I been in that week, no way something of that sort would go off without dry ice. Those shipping forms, I check like a handicapper reading box scores.

“Our friend and coworker, Mr. Pennington, will no longer be employed at this site.” Again, he meant to say that fool Dino screwed the pooch big time when he opened the package. Still, to keep everything on the down-low, the higher-ups were totally willing to let him stay, long as he didn’t drum up a ruckus. But the kid was like completely shell-shocked. Couldn’t but look at a box without dry heaves and tears. So they let him go with a three-month severance package. No hard feelings.

“Finally, if you ever consider opening an article of mail, you will be terminated without any benefits. We can’t have these situations becoming the norm.”

Okay, I say. You have a point.


* * *

“In our line of work, we tend to get very comfortable. Gather the outgoing, rate the postage, deliver the incoming. Everyday a routine with no variation. We take for granted this security of the mundane. Then out of nowhere comes an occurrence—better still, an accident—and we are forced out of our womb of safety, birthed into an alien world of risk. Of hazard. It’s fucked up.” Peter strokes his goatee with a thumb and two fingers while he explains this to me, what’s up with Dino.

Peter, I say. I feel you but maybe it was the smell. Like Dino couldn’t get past that smell. Or maybe he was embarrassed over puking all on himself. You know, that’s probably it.

Shaking his head and clucking his tongue and giving me a look Peter goes and says, “No, no, no. You forget my friend, I witnessed the entire event. It was neither odor nor humiliation that did Dino in. And truly, it wasn’t even one single head in one single box. The realization that we live in a world in which boxes can contain heads, it was too much for him to accept. That tomorrow he might happen upon a foot in a crate or a finger in an envelope. The wave of this reality breaking right over his head, that was what happened to Dino. I could see this with my very eyes.”

Okay, I say. You have a point.

* * *

Outside I catch Marty mid cigarette break. Two thick darts of smoke fly from his nostrils. He flicks ash at me. “Dude,” saying this but more like, Doo-ood. “A pleasant week off, I presume?” Not a real question because he keeps on talking. “Missed the real craziness, dude. Old Dino finally got some head.” Laughs up a plume of Marlboro.

Cute, I say. From what I hear the guy’s pretty shook up.

“Naw, you kidding? Fuckface made out like a bandit and don’t he know it. Didn’t even make him mop up his own lunch. Shit, just last night I was having beers with the dude. Made him buy though, asshole’s getting paid for nothing.”

But unwrapping a rotten dome is going to leave an impact, I say. He must be a little spooked.

“I guess dude. But he seemed cool to me. Says he’s working on his dream job. Writing reality television shows.”

Yeah, how goes that?

“Well he hasn’t made any money yet. Says that’s not how it works. First he’s gotta write a proposal, then he sells it to the studio. What he ran by me was called something like Historical Injustice Olympics. Competitions between teams from different countries but they’re handicapped based on the ways they’ve screwed each other over. Like check this out. If it’s Japan versus the U.S., the American team would get a big jolt of radiation before they play.”

That’s absurd. You can’t tell me Dino ain’t a tad gone.

“Yeah, sure. The dude would run out of change if he tried to give you his two cents. But he had some whacked ideas before the jack in the box. Remember the night he challenged us all to a tequila contest. Dude held it down after the both of us coughed up every last shot. That’s just Dino.”

Okay, I say. You have a point.

* * *

The floor of Jimmy’s Tavern is covered with peanut shells trampled so thoroughly they’re pretty much sawdust. A good thing when one must clean the spilled contents of stomachs. I see Dino down the bar scribbling ferocious in a marble composition book. He doesn’t look up when I approach, just speaks while he writes. “Tell me something, my man. Would you be tempted to watch a volleyball match between Germany and Israel if first the German team was…”

Why all the trouble, I say. Like, if you wanted out, just quit.

Finally, looking up from his masterwork, “What are you saying now?”

Got it all figured, I say. Somehow you discover this, this…thing’s shipping out. Me on vacation, you decide nobody will catch the missing dry ice request. Then you make sure that dramatic shithead Peter is watching.

“And?”

And you force yourself to puke. The night you drank Marty and me under the table, you boasted complete control of your gag reflex. When I remembered that, it all made sense.

“Yes, yes.” Dino closes his notebook and swivels on his barstool. “Noodles, they come up easy and look impressive. So what now, you go tell the Manager of my evil scheme?” There was some kind of dare in all he said but right now I wasn’t looking to cause trouble.

Just out of curiosity, I say. Tell me, why all the effort?

“Why? Because I was stuck in a nine-to-five, paycheck-to-paycheck shit-cycle. Couldn’t interview for a new job being I was always at work. And just quitting? How would I pay my rent, my bills while I hunted new employment? They had me, my man. So I found a way to free up a little time and income. A way to better my position. A way to get ahead.”

Okay, I say. You have a point.

3 comments:

"Hanging on a Hyphen" said...

Your work is impressive. And it's quite a tough job you put on yourself having to put out one short story a week. But with your talent, I know where the confidence is coming from. It was a blessing to find your blog. Mind if I drop by once in a while?

cemeteryswing said...

Loved the story. I have to point out something though. You keep mistaking the word "loose" with "lose". "Loose" is the opposite of tight, while "lose" is the opposite of win.

Derek Tench said...

Damn, that's amateur status. Thanks for the heads up.