Abuse of Power

Nightmare
mice

Earlier in the day, a call was placed that concluded with a general agreement on the need for traps with better bait and bigger snaps. We had an ongoing pest problem that strangely existed in one unit, in spite of our best pest control and extermination efforts.

It could only be assumed that the biggest and brightest of the mice had formed a gang and randomly set up headquarters. While the gang prepared for an all-out war/building take-over, they had to first increase their numbers and somehow co-exist with the original tenant.

“Lars, we know about the mice in your apartment. We aren’t mad, although, I’m not sure why you didn’t tell us there were so many.  Not to worry, we will take care of it for you.  The maintenance man will be setting traps tonight.”

Lars did not respond; he clutched the sides of his chair with both hands. His heart fell from his chest and splashed into his stomach.  Bile rose into his throat, displaced by his heart crashing into the sea of his organs.  He swallowed hard, forcing the acidic juices back to their original reservoirs.

“Are you ok?” I asked.

It appeared that Lars was a second away from throwing up or passing out; he swayed back and forth in his chair, pale and still silent.

“Why are you doing this?”

Lars pleaded with dark eyes to forget about the mouse droppings on the table, countertops and stove. Ignore the Tupperware dishes on his bed with a half-eaten hotdog left behind, with very tiny nibble bites taken from both ends.

“The mice are going to take-over if we don’t intervene. Did you know they have figured out those sticky traps and the “special snacks” we set out in your unit?  I don’t know how, but I think they are actually getting bigger.”

He proudly nodded his head in agreement, “Yes, they are getting bigger.”

“Right… and that’s the problem so we are going to use bigger traps and better bait, starting tonight.”

He thoughtfully considered this for a minute and counter-offered, as though this was a business deal on the table with negotiable fees and contingencies.

“I need a week to make arrangements.”

“For what?”

As soon as the words left my mouth, and I knew it was for the mice.   Clearly, he was their accomplice and advocate.  How else would they be able to not only outsmart the traps, avoid the poison but also to grow, be fruitful and multiply?

“Lars, they cannot be pets. They are pests.”

I hoped that he was not harboring these fugitives but knew that he was doing more than just allowing them to take up residency with him. I imagined the late night dinner parties with Lars surrounded by at least 57 very fat and happy mice eating ice cream and potato chips. I envisioned him sleeping with a mouse on either side of his pillow and a few around his feet.  I could see them watching tv, lined up on the couch, shaking their heads at the evening news.

He shook his head, these terms were unacceptable. He tried to explain that the mice were his friends and so on and such forth.

“Just another week and I will have them taken care of,” he begged for time, practically on his knees.

“No deal. The traps are going out tonight.”

A job well done

Guest
cat at w

“Do you need anything else?” I asked sweetly of our visitor.

I had just dropped off a towel, washcloth, and still boxed bar of soap. The sheets were clean and there was a working ceiling fan. Just shy of a little piece of chocolate on the pillow and the offer of a happy ending, the set-up was pretty luxurious for being free.

A cat sat on either side of me as I stood facing the man, their white whiskers twitched with mischief as they silently watched.

“No, thanks for everything. I should be fine for the night.”

A sly smile tugged at the side of my mouth knowing the terrors of the dark that he had yet to face. It was unlikely that he would “fine” by morning.  No matter, I bid him goodnight and shut the door.

It was not long after all of the lights were off and everyone was tucked into bed that the cats went to work. They started out as they do every night, with a song of their people, meowing back and forth between one another and sometimes all at once.  Occasionally, they harmonized but mostly tried to outdo each other with creative riffs and scats.

Once satisfied with the beautiful music that they created, they left to greet the newcomer. They knocked politely on the door with a soft paw and then more forcefully with both paws.  Perhaps they feared that he hadn’t heard their knocking as they started mewing demands to be allowed entry in addition to banging at the door.

I believe they stand on their hind legs to gain more leverage in their pummeling of doors.   This goes unconfirmed since I have only been on the receiving end of the knocks, on the side of the door to which they desperately wanted without really knowing why.

Like most of us, the cats are pushed and pulled by a current of life towards unknown destinies without any understanding other than this simple truth, there is no other way.

The next morning, our visitor appeared with dark circles under his eyes and his bags were already packed and waiting by the door.

“Leaving so soon?”

“Turns out I have things to take care of back home that just can’t wait.”

We waved goodbye from the door, while the cats supervised the departure from the window with pink noses pressed to the glass, most pleased with their night of work.

Warranted

Grain
hc

Three men in green uniforms stormed the building today.

By stormed, I mean they respectfully walked down the hallway with heavy, black boots. They stopped in front of the designated door where they knocked and politely announced themselves as public servants ready to serve.

Like bloodhounds on a scent, they knew they were close when the front door opened. The men in green had to be calm and patient or the little bunny might just scamper out the backdoor as she had done in the past.

“No reason to look inside,” the man who answered the door explained. “She is gone, like I said. She left out of here about three days ago and I haven’t laid eyes on her since then.”

The men in green were smart and hated to waste gas on a fruitless trip. In fact, they brought an extra roomy vehicle so the bunny would be comfortable as she was transported to her new home.

It took some creative coaxing and a teensy, tiny threat and the men in green got inside where they witnessed a miracle, performed more frequently than expected, especially in their line of work.

Lo and behold, the sudden and unexplainable appearance of the missing woman!

After the woman was gently apprehended and assisted to the backseat of her pre-arranged transportation, the man who answered her door came into the office. He spoke with gratitude that went against his grain, perhaps misdirected or drug induced, but nonetheless genuine.

“Now she’s safe,” he said over and over again.

“Thank you.”

Ice Time

Phase

ice

After a minor disagreement, my only coworker, Earl, stopped talking to me.  I thought he was in a meditative state, reflective and quiet.  Perhaps he was dealing with a health issue or his aunt died seven years ago on this date and he was remembering the cinnamon apple muffins she used to make. 

Then I asked him a question about office supplies and he ignored me.  I asked him another question about the mail and he still ignored me.

Ah-ha, he isn’t wearing his hearing aid, I assumed.  No need to make a mountain out of a molehill. He simply cannot hear me.

I walked by his desk to drop off an extra pack of staples as a good-will gesture and he spun his office chair away from me towards the wall.  He pretended to study the blank calendar.  From his new position, it was clear that his hearing aids were both firmly in place.  Suddenly, I realized what was happening.

This was the silent treatment.

I thought the mostly unwarranted punishment would end by noon.  Much to my surprise, it did not.  In fact, it grew worse as he refused to eat lunch with me. I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich alone, remorseful of whatever thing we argued about earlier in the day.  The silence of the office was deafening until he started watching videos of old stand-up comedians, starting with Richard Pryor.

As I struggled with the peanut butter sealing my tongue to the roof of my mouth, I flashed back to grade school.  I sat alone with a PB&J at the end of a long white table, unfolded from the cafeteria/gym wall with a bunch of confident, athletic, and well-adjusted kids.  In retrospect, I see that they were actually mutants and I was the normal one.  

I wished for a carton of cold chocolate milk to wash down the pangs of childhood loneliness but more so for the all- natural peanut butter as it clung to my throat.

It was only at the end of day that the ice melted and Earl began to communicate again.  I breathed a sigh of relief, it was just a passing phase.  We were both in the parking lot and Earl raised his hand to wave as I got into my car.  I waved back, humming Hakuna Matata, when I realized he was waving to the police officer who had pulled up next to my car, likely investigating a 911 call in the immediate area.

Too bad throwing shade isn’t considered a crime. 

I drove off a little sadder and certain that life is too short for a grudge, even if the grudge is only for a day.

The Fall

Dream

rosie

Falling makes you feel some kind of way, as my friend Mika would say.  It’s a feeling of disconnecting with the ground, going from upright to stretched out flat, and then wondering what happened and if your hip is broken that lingers long after you stand up again.  Falling is unnatural, uncomfortable, and overall, a brutal reminder of our mortality.

Someday, its ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

After a festival this year, my hubby and I walked behind another couple, we were equally overserved and unbalanced.  We laughed and sang and danced and gasped when Ann fell to the ground.  Her body tipped forward and she moved unrestrained through the air and reconnected with the ground in slow motion.

“Noooooooooo,” we yelled from behind her and grabbed the air, interrupted by a lack in depth perception and delayed response time.

Ann hit the ground with a force, and fortunately, her chin slowed the momentum of the rest of her body.  The woman came to a complete stop and lay motionless on her side; red beads of blood started to form on her face and shoulder.  She stared up at her partner, Mark, in disbelief.  He stood over her, wide eyed and open mouthed.

We followed his eyes further down to his clumsy feet, one of which stood firmly on a black flip-flop.  It was obvious, the fall was the flip-flop’s fault, clearly.

Tears blurred Ann’s eyes and she blinked hard, hoping the fat drops of salt water would disappear, reabsorb, and retract back into the depths from which they managed to escape.  The sharp pain in her skinned palms and the red blood gathering on her face and the crushing disappointment in her head assured her that this was not a dream.

“You were supposed to catch me,” Ann said as she looked up at her fiancé.  Her voice accused and questioned at the same as she came to terms with his lack of action.  She was establishing was what real from the ground up.

She was no longer certain that this was the man she wanted to marry.  The fall shook her sense of security in her uprightness and confidence in her destiny.  The world felt a little less safe, less predictable; it was something she might learn to accept someday.

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

Exposed

Pensive
A woman wearing a soft red beret on a mess of grey hair clutched her plastic bag of precious things to her chest. She leaned against the window as the bus rolled away from the stop.  Beads of sweat popped out on her forehead and trailed down her face.  The windowglass cooled her feverish cheek and temporarily grounded her thoughts which were racing high above public transportation.  Her heart skipped two beats and returned to its normal rhythm.

Good, it still works, she thought about her old ticker, grateful for the reminder. It was the answer to a pending question that the woman forgot to ask.  She felt a strange relief in the occasional proof of her vitality. She wanted to get home but still had two more transfers to go.

A young mother with a crooked wig sat across the aisle from her, distractedly holding a fussy baby. The overwhelming smell of a soiled diaper permeated the air.  It was impossible to ignore for the other patrons of the bus, yet, the woman stared out the window with blank eyes, nodding in and out of consciousness.  Every once in a while, she remembered the weight in her arms and gave it a jiggle before her head fell backwards or forwards, overcome again with sleep.

Another child stood on the seat next to the young mother and hopped back and forth from one foot to the other. He wore shorts and a dirty Superman t-shirt stretched tight over his round belly.  He looked at the woman next to him and licked the back of the seat in front of him.  He looked at her again and he licked the window.  He looked closely at the woman as she dozed with the infant in her arms and still saw no reaction; he grabbed hold of the seatbelt strap and started licking the metal attachment.

The woman with the soft red beret watched from across the aisle as the boy explored his world by taste and begged for attention. She stopped herself from yelling at the young mother, “Wake up! Your boy is going to fall or catch a terrible disease.”

Maybe the licking is a part of a terrible disease that he already has, she wondered, probably caught from licking the window on a previous ride.  She pursed her lips and bit her tongue; it wasn’t her place to say something.  You don’t tell other people how to take care of their kids, she reasoned.  Guilt made knots in her stomach as she nervously watched and hoped her next transfer would come before disaster struck.

The boy continued to lick the seatbelt, perhaps absorbing some necessary minerals otherwise missing from his diet. He was a little deer at a salt lick in need of mineral nutrients or in this case, bus goobers.  Then the baby began to move about.  She reached up with a pudgy arm and grabbed at her mother’s blouse; her chubby fingers surprisingly strong.  She pulled the edge of the shirt lower and lower, and exposed a single sagging breast, indecent even by the standard of bus culture.

And still the bus rolled on.

bus

 

 

Man to man

Ralph had been missing for two days. He had not come in for bus passes, canned goods, or dish soap.  There were no requests for leftovers from lunch or burned DVDs.  Not once had he stopped by the office for a cup of coffee and a separate cup of sugar and creamer filled to the brim.

Something was definitely wrong.

After reviewing the facts of the situation, or lack thereof, I left the office to further investigate the situation. I envisioned a car accident or beating, he was likely hurt and holed up in his apartment, too weak and injured to come out for help.  It was time to check-in.

I jogged up the creaky stairs and down the hallway, dodging dust bunnies as they rolled across the dusty hardwood floor. Worry and dread propelled me towards Ralph’s apartment door more quickly than my usual leisurely stroll.

I tapped at his door and waited. Hearing no noise from within, I tapped a little louder.  Shave and a haircut, two bits.  I put extra emphasis on the two bits.  Still no response.

“Ralph,” I softly called. “Are you in there?”

Suddenly, the sound of footsteps started up the stairs. My co-worker, Mr. Jay emerged from the stairwell and proceeded towards me and the unanswered door.

“Still not answering?”

I shook my head. He pounded on the plain, white door.  Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang.   The sound reverberated down the hallway, triggering a sprinkle of plaster chips to fall from the ceiling.  There was no mistaking that someone was at the door.  One might even think it was the police from the aggressive knocking.

knocking

A chair scraped across the floor and someone limped towards the door. My suspicious were about to be confirmed, I grimaced and braced myself for the worst.

“He’s in there all right,” Mr. Jay said with a knowing nod and left to return to the office.

The door knob turned and the door opened a crack. A dark eye peered out, recognizing his visitor, the door opened a little wider.  A sliver of face appeared through the crack.

“I’m sick,” Ralph whispered.

Long fingers wrapped around the edge of the door and a bare shoulder appeared; it was the same smooth brown as his face.

“Are you hurt?” I asked.

“It’s just an old injury,” he said, evasively. “I haven’t been able to walk for the past few days.  Sorry I haven’t been into see you,” he apologized.

“How did this happen? I asked.

He looked off and away, “It’s just an old injury. I’ll be better in a few days.”

“Did someone do this to you? Tell me who did this to you. “

I demanded names. He naturally refused with a sad giggle.

“Could you send Mr. Jay back up here? I need to talk to him about something.”

“Of course,” I agreed, “I will send him right up.”

I left, certain of a break-through in this mysterious case. We would get justice for Ralph.  Whatever crimes had been committed again him would not go unpunished.

“Mr. Jay, Ralph wants to talk to you, man-to-man. I think its something important.”

Mr. Jay stood with a stoic face, already understanding the importance of this request, “I’m on my way.”

He returned no more than eight minutes later. It was enough time to go up the stairs and down the hallway, knock and wait for Ralph to answer the door to reveal a terrible secret and to return.

I met him just inside of the door in the office.

“Well, everything ok?”

There was a lot of buildup to this moment, I felt anxious and excited, ready to spring into action. Some things can only be shared man to man. I respected that space and stepped back to let the mutual sharing take place.

“He asked if we have any extra pizzas,” Mr. Jay said in an irritated voice. “He just wanted pizza.”

And so it goes.

Thanks Vonnegut for providing the only possible phrase to end this short story.

von

Who brought the cake?

cake

The woman felt self-conscious as she took a bite of the cake. Her co-worker kept coming into her office each time she tried to eat it. It was weird, like he was trying to catch her in the act of eating cake on the clock.

I’m on salary, damn it. If I want to eat cake on the clock, I can eat cake on the clock.

Her co-worker waited outside of her door, listening for the crinkling sound of aluminum foil.

Ah-ha! She is eating it, at last!

The man peered into the office where the woman sat with a Styrofoam plate in her lap. She sensed his silent, peering presence as he waited for her to eat the cake.

Aluminum foil was peeled back from around the white plate to reveal a generous slice of moist and rich chocolate cake.

“You brought the cake, so stop trying to catch me eating it.”

The woman glanced at the man and laughed. A dark cloud crossed over her face; it passed as quickly as it arrived. Something was definitely weird.  This was his third cake-related time in her office today, starting with the delivery of “Just a little treat for later” first thing in the morning.

Its no stranger than his usual day-to-day weirdness, she reasoned. I am sure its just a kick he’s on and its kind of nice. He must know how much I love cake.

“I wanted to make sure you liked it,” the man explained, feigning an air of innocence that the woman found hard to believe.

Earlier, the man stood in her doorway, triggered by the crinkle-crunkling of aluminum foil. He saw the plate in the woman’s hand, it was half way unwrapped.

Butterflies released from his stomach, the woman was about to eat the cake. He could hardly stand his excitement and then the phone rang.  His heart fell into his orthopeadic shoes. The woman placed the plate on a stack of papers on the side of the desk and answered the call.

The man crept further into the office, “Just checking for a fax for someone down the hall,” he said with his eyes downcast.

The woman remained on the phone, covered the mouthpiece with one manicured hand and whispered, “I’ll let you know if something comes though.”

He left, heavy and weighed down with disappointment.  Perhaps, she will never eat the cake, he wondered. I must have faith, he reminded himself in an effort to steady his nerves, jangled from the phone call.

Now the time was the right. The man felt relief watching the woman dig into the cake. She forked a massive glob of cake into her mouth and smiled.  Her teeth were brown from the chocolate frosting.

“This is really good, thanks so much for thinking of me especially after I called you a creep.”

The man did not feel bad about what was about to happen. In fact, he felt nothing at all other than an incredible lightness. He took a deep breath and filled his lungs.

“Agree to disagree,” the man said without any expression. His eyes sparkled as he clung to the door frame watching the woman swallow bite after bite.

“We simply have to agree to disagree,” he repeated.  He looked at his wrist watch and noted the time.

Now he just had to wait.

Scammed

“I just got this in the mail and I won $5000.”

The man who stood in front of me was ecstatic. He wore his usual flannel pajama pants and dirty collared shirt, turned inside out.

“This is for a car dealership and you can’t drive,” I said.

I looked over the flyer more closely; it was addressed to Preferred Customer or Current Resident. The prize could only be claimed during the “event” described as a HUGE VEHICLE SELL-OFF in all capital letters.  The prize winnings were to go towards the purchase of a vehicle which would be a problem since he didn’t have any money for the purchase of bread and milk, let alone a vehicle, and again, he couldn’t drive.

“I already called the number and gave them my confirmation code. I’m definitely a winner they told me.  They are holding my prize downtown.  I just had to give them my address, name, birthdate…”

This was beyond smelling fishy.

df

“You gave them all that information?” I asked in disbelief.

“I’ve never won anything this big before,” he said, ignoring me. “Let’s go pick it up on Monday.”

He handed me the flyer, “You can go research this but I’m keeping the ticket.”

Just like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he held the ticket tightly in his fist, not about to give up his claim to something magnificent.

Earl

 

toe

“Nope, I can’t make it,” the maintenance man flatly refused without offering a reason.

“Earl can do it,” he continued.  “It’s easy, just tell him to… Is he there? Let me just talk to him.”

I handed the phone over to Earl with a shrug, “He won’t come out and he wants you to do it,” I whispered with a twinge of guilt in the pit of my stomach.

Earl is a tiny, old black man, made about ten years older due to his health.  He wore the same self-assigned uniform of a black pants and a collared shirt every day, pressed and ironed, with pleats sharp enough to slice a blade of grass in half.  He walked slowly with heavy, thudding steps that announced his presence before his actual arrival.  Orthopedic shoes make it very difficult to sneak up on someone.

Fortunately, Earl was not a one to sneak, steal, lie or cheat.  He kept a demanding moral code and held tightly to the training he received in the military, meaning that he never shirked responsibility or refused an order from a superior.

The maintenance man, on the other hand, received no formal training other than from the School of Hard Knocks and had no moral code.  He had no scruples about assuming a superior position to which he had earned no right and making Earl do his work.

“No problem, I can do that,” Earl said after thoughtfully listening to the maintenance man on the phone when he should have been saying, “No, that’s a problem,” and “I won’t do that.”

Without complaint or hesitation, Earl hobbled away with a strange new limp.

Something was wrong, but what, I wondered.

“Wait, let me do it,” I shouted after him and raced across the room to cut him off at the door.

“No, I’ll do it. It will just take me a minute and I’ll be right back.”

Earl pled with his eyes.  Please, don’t take this from me.

And I let him go.

Over an hour passed before he returned, perspiring and covered with cobwebs and grease. He dropped into a chair and pulled a plain, white handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his forehead. If he was in pain, it was a mystery to me.

It was a little later that I discovered the origin of the new limp and the teeny, tiny feeling of guilt exploded into that of a massive fireball and my admiration for Earl grew at the same rate.

I learned the following things about Earl.

  1. Earl’s toe was just amputated one day earlier.
  2. The stub was wrapped in gauze and stuffed inside of his orthopedic shoe.
  3. Earl refused all pain medications so he could come to work in spite of having lots of PTO.
  4. Earl needs a vacation. And a new third toe.  He really misses it.