The things that interested Mark most were the little metal rings that the cooks put around the hash browns while they fried. They reminded him of the little pedal that opens the trash can in his kitchen. The handle of coffee mugs. The switch that turns the light in his refrigerator off when he closes it.
He admired the simplicity of these things. He admired their accessibility. They were close to him. With these tools, he thought, I can converse. Life can only be improved so quickly, he thought, and it is safer if it is improved in front of everyone’s eyes, not hidden away.
Mark looked at his watch and saw that it was 2:10. He finished his coffee and paid his bill. His offset auditor would be at his house any minute now, so he drove a little faster than usual and continued checking his watch as he drove.
When he got there, Len was already in the driveway, leaning against his Malibu and reading a newspaper with a flashlight. He gave Mark a friendly wave and began folding the newspaper until it would fit into his back pocket. He was a tall, professionally dressed man with a bald head and a way of finding a comfortable position in every situation. Now he picked up his briefcase next to his foot and walked toward Mark, arm extended, saying “Salutations, Big Bear” with a big-jawed grin. “How’s the Misses?”
“Shut up Lenny” Mark replied, and led him inside.
They sat down in the kitchen and Mark made a couple cups of coffee. Len pulled some paperwork out of his briefcase and put it in front of him.
“Scooter, I’m sorry to tell you this, but your bill’s getting raised again.”
“Raised? To what?” Mark asked, not worried about the money, but knowing it was polite to pretend that money was a concern in any situation.
“Just about 200 more a month. You see, our deal with the white hoods fell through with that new grand dragon they got, saying something about non-profit integrity, and we just got a pretty heavy investigation thrown on us regarding our ability to independently oversee our funds. Turns out the LRA was using our capital to purchase small arms instead of replacing their rifle puppies with mercenaries. It’s all the fucky usual, but your legality is still secure. We just got to balance you out with lighter material and up the prices due to the complications of further diversification.”
“Ok, what are you looking at?”
“Well, right now we’re looking into making a deal with a major suicide hotline, possibly creating the opportunity for the terminally depressed to earn a paycheck out of not killing themselves.”
Mark imagined there was a wonderful thing to that. Most people were sad because they didn’t have enough purpose. Now their happiness would be their purpose. He wondered what that meant.
“Yup, and there’s another program we just got started for foreign heroin producers to make 15% more off selling within their own countries rather than exporting. But don’t tell anyone I said that.”
The streetlight outside flickered yellow against Mark’s cabinets. He nodded. “Sure, yeah. I won’t”
“We’re not real interested in being associated with some rehash of the opium wars, but personally I think in the long run it’s a kick in the military industrial complex, limiting as it is of the drug war and all that bullshit. Plus a place like Afghanistan needs its smack, they play rugby with a dead goat.”
Mark imagined a place like Afghanistan, and how much dust people must have inhaled when the bible was being written. How much sand does it take to fill a lung? It would be pleasant to be full of stuffing for a few hours. Maybe therapeutic.
“Yeah, that makes sense.”
“So, I’m gonna have you sign on this one,” Len said while passing over a formal looking document. “All it says is that, due to the nature of kidnapping, torture, and your claim to eventually murder, the moral offsets required to maintain your state of total legality come to the same 1500 units, whose price due to recent political complications has been recently raised by .04%. Is that agreeable?”
“Lovely. Fucking lovely,” Len said and took back the paper with another toothy grin. “Now, how is Mrs. Dumplings doing anyway?”
“She smiled today.”
“Get me a drink, Mark. I need to have a clear head if I’m to make any quantifiable observations.”
Mark opened the basement door with Len loosening his tie behind him. They walked down the long wooden steps and down to the concrete floor. Mark looked around for the switch, found it, and flicked it on. Four halogen flood lights lit up an 8 x 8 foot cage raised all the way to the wooden ceiling above. In the center of the cage sat an old woman, eyes suddenly awake but seeming not to see, mouth opening and closing like a fish.
“Sweet fuck” Len said, lighting a cigarette and passing one to Mark. “I don’t see why it’s even a moral matter anymore, she’s practically a vegetable.”
“She feels it, Lenny. I can tell.” Mark replied, motioning the cigarette away.
“I might be out of work if she didn’t”
“She’s got so much strength, you know? I admire her more and more.”
“Got a chair?” Len asked.
“Yeah, take that folding one in the corner.”
Lenny pulled out a pocket notebook and a mechanical pencil. Mark went over to the tool box, brought out the blade of a hacksaw and picked up a towel from the floor. He then opened up the cage and went inside, closing it behind him. As he walked toward the old woman her non-seeing eyes looked at him, eclipsing the bright halogen whiteness. She began breathing excitedly, shaking all over and letting wetness run out her nose. Len sat down on the lawn chair and opened up his pants. Once the screams started he closed his eyes and felt himself rising.
Justin William Evans is a poet, playwright, and performer who lives in Charlotte, NC. He is co-editor of Vanilla Sex Magazine and an ensemble member of the theatre company XOXO. He is co-founder of the experimental podcast Mystery Meat.