Saturday, January 14, 2006

Donner Party Skinny

The old lady was walking slowly up the street. The car came out of nowhere, screeching to a halt with near inches to spare. The old lady (with the initials HBS on her insanely large purse) stopped and pursed her lips, regarding the driver disapprovingly before continuing onwards. When she was safely out of the way, the car squealed its tires once again, driving off down the street.

“It's like a cop drama,” Charlie was sitting in the passenger seat. Charlie was large. Well, overweight, if you have to be picky. Ok, fine, be like that. Charlie was fat. There, do you feel better about yourself now?

Charlie wanted to be a writer. Day after day, he sat in his mother's basement and composed poetry and prose that touched delicately upon his own life-long themes of obesity and desperate loneliness. Poems so elegantly moving and breathtakingly precious that they forever altered the lives of those who read them. No, not immediately, in some kind of gauche, Disney-esque, deity-nonspecific miracle. Rather, his works caused gradual, gentle, life-affirming changes that always, in the end, improved the lives of those it had touched. These were the works that Charlie was too self-conscious to try to have published. Oh, and he also wrote some mediocre novels about elves.

“How do you figure?” Willie was thin. Like a rake thin. Emaciated. Donner Party skinny.

Willie was an activist. Which was to say that he volunteered at nature rallies to hand out pamphlets. He was very much against the burning of fossil fuels, despite the fact that he owned and operated a Buick Skylark, which is to fuel efficiency as the Great Wall of China is to moderately high fences. He was once going to go on an actual, real-life medical lab animal release mission, which was top secret, and very, very dangerous. Unfortunately, the raid was scheduled to take place on the same night he had promised to tape “CSI: Miami” for his grandmother. As the VCR's timer was kinda wonky, he really had to be there to press the record button. After all, a promise is a promise.

Together, Charlie and Willie were delivering telephone books on a Sunday. Each house with a telephone was to receive one telephone book, and only one, no matter what the customer might try to say to the contrary. Mrs. Edinhouse, the Delivery Instructions Coordinator, had given them good advice during their 45 minutes of training (with coffee and cupcakes afterwards in the staff room). She had warned them that people would offer bribes, and that people would offer threats. Some would offer you money; others threaten to have you fired.

“Don't be tempted by the money.” She stood over the class, looming like a spindly-armed bat that had lost its wing membranes. She didn’t bother saying anything about the “being fired” part. They all knew that no one could really get fired from a one-day job. “At the end of your day, all your phonebooks must be delivered, and you must have stamped the receiving home's location on your government-issued area survey map. If you do not have the same number of stamps as you did telephone books upon leaving, you will not be paid!”

For Charlie, not being paid was not an option. He had been promised $75.00, which he could cash at the NITE-BANK (Checks cashed before their pay-to date!) and get 69 bucks cash. After he paid his mom the 45 bucks he owed her, he had 24 bucks left to buy role-playing books. Seeing as the future of the elves of Starlight Dale depended upon his being able to afford the 4th rules supplement (The Elves of Starlight: How the Roh-a`queem Survive in the Poisonlands), he was not about to accept any bribes.

Willie was just as reliant upon his successful completion of today's labours. Willie's girlfriend Resela (a tall, lanky young woman with soft and gentle eyes, stringy blonde hair, and a horrid fashion sense) was mad at him for always quitting his jobs. Every job he had ever had, Willie had quit. He once lasted seven months working in a factory, but only because he found out that the place was so big he could find a spot to hide and go to sleep. When he wasn't around, everyone just assumed that some boss from another section had snagged him to work on some other side. It was only when he was found sleeping in a Port-a-Potty (“I put a fucking 'Out of Order' sign on the door! What kind of sick twerp tries to use a malfunctioning crapper?”) and told he would have to start working that he decided to quit.

His record for the shortest amount of time spent on any one job was exactly seven seconds. He had attended the interview while high, and despite this fact, had done surprisingly well. When Mr. Wender-something had shook his hand and smiled, offering him a position, Willie had smiled right back.

“I accept,” Willie said, while smiling. He then blinked twice, and continued. “It's too hot in here. I quit.” After that, he simply turned around and left the building.

“Willie, you are soooo ADHD,” Resela would swear, rolling her eyes in a way which always made Willie think of a dog watching a Frisbee fly overhead, “I bet you couldn't even keep a job that was only for one day.”

Willie had sworn that he could, and had in fact bet her fifty bucks that he could do just that. He had unfortunately been utterly unaware of the fact that Resela’s Uncle Jerry (who owned the new Ford dealership by the Gas'n'Pump) had once donated some money to Town Councilor Malone’s last campaign, and could now pull some strings to get Willie a one-day job delivering telephone books.

If he quit the job, he would then owe his girlfriend $50.00. If he could last out the entire day, not only would he get a $75.00 check, he would get fifty in cash from Resela. He could then spend her cash until the check cleared, thus saving the $6.00 service fee at NITE-BANK. As such, he was not about to accept any bribes.

“We're like a buddy cop movie,” Charlie continued as if his dialogue had not been interrupted by several long, rambling paragraphs of exposition. “You're the passionate and committed eco-cop. I'm the unknown but soon-to-be-discovered writer pulled into your investigation by an unlucky convergence of fate and destiny.”

“That is the stupidest fucking idea ever.”

“No, it’s fucking great, give me a pen!” Charlie began searching desperately around his passenger-side car seat, but was unable to find a writing implement.

“There,” Willie pointed at the sun visor.

Charlie reached up, and pulled the visor down, releasing a pen that then tumbled into his lap. He fished it out, and began looking around for a scrap of paper.

“Paper, I need paper!”

“Sorry man, can’t help you.” Willie did not sound particularly sorry.

Charlie cast his eyes around desperately, and then turned to look in the back seat, the entirety of which (like the trunk) was filled with telephone books. He reached back, lifted and phone book off the pile, and placed it in his lap. Opening the book to one of the first pages (that they always, for some reason, leave blank), Charlie began to write.

“Dude, fuck,” Willie scowled, trying to knock the phone book out of Charlie's hand. “We signed for those!” Charlie easily evaded Willie’s desperate blows, seeing since the man was also occupied with driving the vehicle.

The day passed much more quickly than one might reasonably expect, especially when these expectations are based upon the fact that I have taken this long simply to describe the first two and a half minutes of the story. At the end of the night, Willie sat behind the wheel, the car idling, as he counted up the number of stamps.

“We have 204 stamps.”

“Count them again.” Charlie seemed nervous.

“I did already. Three times. We have 204 stamps.”

“Ok, so lets go.”

“We signed for 205 fucking phone books.” Willie snarled. Charlie thought briefly about the evolution of the term ‘telephone book’ which had taken place over the day. At 8:00 am the two men had referred to the books as telephone books. By noon, the phrase had been shortened to phone books. By 4:00 pm they were simply books. By 7:30 pm that evening, they were fucking phone books.

“So we lost one. Big deal.”

“Big deal? Big fucking deal? Big deal we don’t get fucking paid, big deal!”

“So what do you want? I don’t have the fucking phone book.”

“Fuck you, you don’t.” Willie’s look was sly.

“What are you talking about?”

"I did a quick count before I carried 12 fucking phone books into that small apartment building. And hey, by the way, fuck you for that!”

“You and I both agreed on the rules. You do the odd numbered houses, I do the evens.”

“That’s before I knew there were three apartment buildings on my side of the route, and none on yours!”

“We had an agreement.”

“Anyway, fuck that. I did a visual before running into the building. We had seventeen fucking phone books. When I came back there were only sixteen.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying you stole a book.”

“That’s a … serious accusation, Willie.”

"I don’t like saying it any more than you like hearing it. But I can see its outline, there, in your backpack.”

Charlie, blushing, reached into the backpack and slid the fucking telephone book out.

“Give it to me, Charlie.”

“I can’t Willie!” Charlie was desperate. “It’s got my ideas in it! Some of my best ideas! I need them! I can’t remember them all!”

“I’m sorry Charlie,” Willie was honestly saddened. “But we both got to get paid. What would your mother say if you came home broke?”

******************

Harriet Beecher Stone (“Only one letter and a whole boat load of talent away from a career as a writer” as the elderly Miss Stone herself liked to say) picked up the phone book from her front porch, and took it inside, setting it down on the coffee table. She always liked to check the new book to make sure she was still in it. She had convinced herself that the day she looked into a new phone book and did not find her name listed was the day on which she was destined to die.

She flipped past the first few pages quickly, and then stopped. She had spied a flash of red ink, like … could it be handwriting? Yes, there it was, handwriting in her brand new telephone book. Of all the things! Nothing like this would have ever happened when she was a girl. No, back then, people still had respect for other people’s properties. Why, if this had happened when her father was alive, he would have raised holy heck with the phone company, to be sure.

Harriet fished her reading glasses out of her cavernous purse (monogrammed, a gift from her son before he went off and died of the AIDS), and placed them on their customary perch at the end of her nose (where they were affixed firmly through some form of arcane quantum adhesive force known only to the elderly), and started to read.

As she read, she realized that the handwriting was a story, of all things. Imagine, someone writing a story in her telephone book! It was a story about an elf. How silly. However, the young elf did sound absolutely lovely. Harriet, as a young girl, had often dreamed of becoming a ballerina. And what was an elf, really, if not the fantasy-world equivalent of a ballerina?

The story was breathtaking and evocative, and it lead her down into the darkened vales of Everwood, the Virgin Forest Primeval. She read of Elrohna, the beautiful yet sorrowful elven maid, daughter of Woodspeaker, and soon to be wed to an evil Dragon Lord.

Then, a strange thing happened. To Harriet, not to Elrohna. Sorry if that wasn’t completely clear. The story began to fracture and skip. It devolved into short form, quick points and incomprehensible shorthand, as if written by someone desperately trying to get ideas down on paper. It ended up with a reminder to buy some more weed off of some gentleman named “Moth”.

Harriet leaned back into the couch slowly, her mind awash with visions of Elrohna’s platinum locks, tales of forced marriages, unjust husbands and dire treachery. She experienced a pang of deep regret when she realized that he story had not been completed. She sighed, saddened by the fact that that this particular story would likely never be properly told.

As an after thought, Harriet reached over, and flipped a few pages … down to the Smiths and Spencers and Stapletons. There, near the bottom of Page 247, were the Stones. There was Bobby. Harriet was happy to see he was still ok. Then Franklin, Greta and Gary. Then Lawrence. She skipped back. Gary, then Lawrence. It was true. For the first time in more than 68 years, Harriet Beecher Stone’s name did not appear in the telephone book.

A knock came at her front door. At this late hour, it could only be death.

3 comments:

REK'd Productions said...

Very enjoyable. Kudos!

Craig said...

Lol! Twisted! Love it.

C

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