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'Murder' is Just a Word.


by Smiley McGrouchpants


               "I call 'em 'lids,'" he said, grinning.
               He waited my response.
               I hadn't noticed he had finished it took me by surprise.  "I what?"
               Bad answer.
               He scribbled something down on a yellow legal pad (pencil!) and, irritatingly, acted like it didn't matter that he had done this in front of me.
               "May I ask why . . . ?" I continued, grappling for purchase on this conversational precipice, but he just grinned, a faux-deft mix of We're above all that! and You don't get to know! that left me feeling in-and-out: if I was too petty to ask, or too much of a sucker to roll over for it, either way, I was lost.
               I drummed my fingers on the table, a tacky response that I couldn't help doing.  He picked up on it — and, rubbing my face in it, like his every action was a billboard in my vision-scope, jackrabbit-quick, he glanced down and let a smirk cross his face, full well.
               "You know, we could take our business elsewhere . . . "  It was corny to say, but a fair proposition.  The market wasn't exactly glutted with his kind, companies who could take on an order of this magnitude, and manage it even passably well, but . . . well, for some reason, they sent this joker as their representative, seeming polished and professional from the word 'go,' asking me how my flight was, my hotel, my thoughts on the future of the derivatives market, my thoughts on the future of futures (we both had a good laugh about that), where I liked to dine in Chicago, how I was finding Atlanta, what the better Athletic Clubs were like in each city, etc. and ad nausuem, all through the elevator ride to the fifty-first floor and the entry into the meeting room which wasn't just better-than-adequately furnished (for this level of venture and/or capital) but equipped and being taped taped! as I was told at the last second with no room for thought than other to comply.  Then all pretense shattered and fell away, and I'm stuck with inane conversation, as though the meeting wasn't booked for a slim 20 min. out of both of our busy days, to begin with.
               "In college," (leaning back in his chair, here; putting his hands behind his head), "I went to a place where you just walked right in, 'non-competitive' it was called," (he chuckled at this, so long ago now, so ironic), "and hung out with more people from my high school, whom I had known" (he rapped the table, as if to say he wanted to be sure I got this) "but not that well" (bobs his head) "and, for the first time in my life, I found my center of gravity, feeling comfortable, perpetuating stasis"
               I didn't know where he got that from.  It seemed oddly damning.
               Then, the lights went out.

               I found myself strapped to a gurney, rapidly traveling down a hallway —BRIGHTLIGHTthennn . . . BRIGHTLIGHT!thennn . . . — with swinging doors banging into, what appeared to be, an O.R. (I couldn't really see).
               "Doctors, do something!"
               I felt fine, which was the weird thing.
               Then a nozzle was fitted over my face, my breathing canals were filled with putrid, medicinal, antiseptic———.

               I'm at a board meeting.  I don't remember how I got here — but, vaguely, behind that, there's a "buffer" of memories of how I've spent my morning (and the past few weeks) that feels shoehorned in — like something, oddly, out of a Philip K. Dick science fiction novel.  It's irritating, and I resent it.
               "I propose . . . " (I'm getting the words out; it's like my mind grasps and grasps at alternatives, but they all fall away, so I'm left with this one course, unable to say anything else, like a dotted line on the road in front of me, try as I might, why bother? seems to predominate in terms of selecting another course and my will is exhausted by turning to-and-fro, and I resent the prescribed course, whatever it is, left open for me, because I didn't choose it, because it's like I don't know — or can't control — or can't point my own mind, and keep deferring out of tiredness.  It's frightening.) " . . . that we . . . accept . . . these terms & conditions . . . "
               Everyone looks up, from the table.  People I've known for years, people I've known for less than that, men and women whose reputations proceeded them, people I've joked with, chatted with about their families, slaved away into the dead of night to finish a project with, weathered small-but-pivotal downturns in our company's fortunes with, when our future seemed far from bright.  I've betrayed them, one and all, through a voice that is not my own.
               Still, to do otherwise is too tiring.
               It's like my uppermost self is pinched and alarmed at what I'm doing, but my lowermost self is yearning just to get it over with as quickly and as painlessly as possible — which still means not missing a single step — and going home and going to sleep.
               I walk them through it, taking every lob like a skilled tennis player, 'till the morale in the room shifts irrevocably, and all they're left with is different forms of Resigning Themselves To It, they'll table it for later, whatever their dissents are, right now they're just grasping with their mental hands around this big hole that's opened up — more they acknowledge that is daunts them, the more they lose their footing, and their normally well-reasoned arguments sound foolish and empty, more like peep! in the face of the changed terrain.
               I steer them further on.

                                                            THE END
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