read by Andrew Swingler
“This is the third time I’ve called and my cable still isn’t working!”
Inside the gray room, in the gray cubicle, at the gray desk Clark’s phone lines flashed non-stop. Repair guys. Never showed up when they were supposed to and it was his job to deal with the fallout.
His office windows rattled from the battering gusts that had blown non-stop since yesterday.
“… right in the middle of Judge Judy!”
Wind made people nuts. Got inside you and stirred things up like a hornet’s nest struck by a fast ball. But he wasn’t going to let anything ruin this day for him. Word around the office was the District Manager promotion was his. Three o’clock. That’s when it was going down. The clock on his computer ticked off another minute.
“My Internet’s been out all morning. When is somebody going to fix it?!”
Fluorescent lights buzzed overhead like a fly trapped in a window.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. He’d racked up $40,000 in student debt along with thousands of other shmucks for a business degree, come out to find a fucking recession, and now the bastards were breathing down his neck for repayment.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am. Looks like we’re pretty backed up right now. How’s tomorrow – ”
His collar felt like sandpaper against the back of his neck. Too much starch. But it was important to look good today – like a winner – like Barry Bonds, whose face stared back at him from the faded photo push-pinned to the wall above his desk; jersey number 25, bat over his shoulder, ready to knock another one out of Candlestick.
“Tomorrow! I’ve already wasted two hours waiting for you people today!”
What he wouldn’t give for two uninterrupted hours to himself, and now here was this raving bitch all up in his face because she didn’t know what to do with herself without Twitter.
He should have heard something by now.
Searing pain of a jaw clenched too tightly for too long rose like flames to his temples. The room went dim, then bright again. Barry Bonds stepped from the photo, laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t let these fools get to you. I got your back, man.”
Clark grabbed a Costco-size bottle of Advil from the drawer, shook out four, downed them with the last of his cold coffee, and struggled to keep his voice even.
“Customer service. How may I help you?”
“Looking at traffic, the wind continues to make problems for your ride home. We have a downed eucalyptus tree blocking that right-hand lane on the –”
Clark laid on his horn. Sons-of-bitches trying to cut in front of him – taking his lane, taking his time, taking his turn. It had been his damn turn. Barry Bonds rode shotgun in the passenger seat:
“Fuckers really screwed you, man.”
His boss hadn’t even had the balls to tell him to his face. Sent him a goddamn e-mail: Sorry, Clark. It was corporate’s decision. Pressure to promote more women. Next time, buddy.
Clark grabbed a bottle of Advil from the glove box – empty – and threw to the floor.
He couldn’t wait to drown out this day with a six-pack of Bud and the Giants game. The Giants. He and his dad never missed a home game. He still had the bat his dad gave him when he made varsity in high school, a treasure signed by Bonds back in ’93.
“My boy’s gonna make the pros one day,” his dad had boasted to everyone.
Clark had felt his shoulders sink under the weight of his father’s expectations.
There had been wind that day, too.
Clark stomped on the gas pedal, cut off a Porsche trying to ease into his lane, and sped away down the offramp.
Remote in one hand, cold beer in the other, Clark sank into the second-hand Lazy Boy that smelled of cat piss he’d long learned to ignore, and felt himself relax for the first time all day. He pressed “power.” Nothing.
“Can I get a little help in here?” his wife called from the kitchen.
His shoulders tightened. “I’m not hungry.”
He pressed the “power” button again – two, three, four times. A metal gate outside slammed in the wind.
His wife appeared in the doorway, holding up the handful of bills. “Now they say that they’re going after your paycheck.”
“You’re not the only one let down here, you know! You think I like living in this – ”
And then Bonds was at his side, pulling the bat from its mounting on the wall, smiling in his super smooth way. “Your turn, man. Knock it out of the park.”
The explosion of the bat connecting with the TV screen and his wife’s scream as he came at her next were the last things Clark remembered.
Outside, neighbors peered from behind curtained windows, saw the police cars, saw the body on the gurney, saw the the guy in cuffs being led away by two police officers.
“What have we got here?” asked the older cop.
The younger cop shrugged. “Mental case. Says his name’s Barry Bonds.”