My eyes darting around the dark of the bedroom. My heart jolting at every passing schuss of the cars on the street below. The whole building shifting, creaking, under the weight of my neighbors in the adjacent space. I close my eyes and focus on the steady, invariable sound of the air purifier. I breathe in, and out. A muscle going lax jerks in a sudden spasm, and my whole body reacts beneath the sheets. My eyes spring open. Drift closed again.
Breathing in, and breathing out. Back, and forth, sweeping, breathing in and out. But light leaks out of the bottom of the movie theatre doors. I look, catching just a glimpse of something moving beyond, and follow its trail as if entranced.
The crackle of electricity, a brief static, interrupts the words only once. It came in a large cardboard box, a bit battered around the edges goddamn post office , but otherwise intact, taped efficiently and cleanly around all the edges. It was about the size of a small suitcase, and it had the same sort of weight, when I lifted it up to carry it inside my apartment. Finally, I open it with the use of a letter-opener. The blade flashes, dips, flashes again, as I saw open the top flap.
The envelope is not sealed, and all I have to do is slide open the flap and ease out the folded letter inside. Please note that this package is uniquely tailored to you as an individual, acknowledging that, while you were with us, you were a small cog in a big machine, but the machine knows who you are. The letter was not signed. It was typed in plain font on a plain white piece of paper, with no letterhead. Despite my incredulousness, I was intrigued, and before I knew it, my apartment floor was littered with the white squeak of packing peanuts and my severance package was revealed to me as ….
My jaw dropped before I could control it, in a hilariously cartoonish reaction. I drew out the articles of clothing, one by one, feeling a weird sensation of nostalgia cascade over me. It was like receiving a tie from a loved one, or a pair of socks from an aunt, at Christmastime. I instinctively felt the need to thank the gifter, through clenched teeth and pasting on the fakest smile that I could - until I returned to reality to further inspect what else lay inside the box.
At least five shirts, two pairs of pants, even down to socks and boxer briefs new, from what I could tell - there was no odor , and two pairs of shoes in the bottom of the box, wedged into one another as though cuddling. It was really too good to be true, the ultimate punchline to the ultimate joke. They were easily two sizes too big for me - XL and even XXL shirts, with pants ranging from waist-size 36 all the way to The sneakers were even obviously pre-owned, with small tells in the cracks of the shoe where the previous owner had worn them in.
But who in the world would have this … as a severance package? Idly, I reread the letter. And now there was the matter of cleaning up the mess. The peanuts, scattered by static electricity, had seen fit to colonize my apartment. The clothes themselves I took out of the box and laid in piles on the sofa.
They were a lot brighter than I was accustomed to - just seeing them in my space was kind of jarring, as I usually took to black, or earth-tone colors. Muted darks, to blend in, to be unnoticed. These were blazons, clarion calls of color, demanding attention be paid. I kept finding more in the box as I cleaned and sorted - a couple of tank tops, wedged into one of the sneakers, a fitted hat with the Jordan jumpman on the front in bright, searing crimson - and just laughed again. Once the laughter wore off, I was confronted by the pile of clothes and just felt weary as hell.
The reality of being unemployed was sinking in. My brain started spooling out catastrophes of finance, employment, needing assistance - I shook my head and sighed. The clothes had a strange odor to them - kind of overpowering, as I noticed it - as though someone drenched in cologne had brushed by me on the street, imprinting on me with its warm miasma…. Click on the title to read the full story.
During his smoke break, he wandered over to the stoop and tilted his head at me. Oakleys, I think, from the big O where the arm of the glasses met the lens frame. He laughed and rubbed his arm along his forehead.
You wanna card? I almost laughed out loud, but swallowed it at the last minute, realizing how rude it would sound. He shrugged, took a drag off his smoke. His eyes were a thick, almost artificial-looking green, like a forest. I could swear things were moving in the circle of his irises. Or a paper-pusher? Naw - lemme guess. Spend your whole life in a white room with white walls and your very own cubicle. We all had people in our lives who thought they knew better than we did. And look where you end up. His voice was as compelling as his argument.
It was making me a little uncomfortable, the degree of passion in his voice. The directness and continued weight of his eye contact. Doing what you do? Like, when someone at a party, or the bar, asks you what you do - what do you say? It sounds small. As small as when I say at a party, or at the bar. I understood what he meant, even though what he said made no sense.
I felt myself flinch a little, as though invaded, but found myself immediately standing to shake his hand. My hand disappeared into his grip. He shrugged. I know how it feels, trust me. He tilted his head at me, like a dog hearing an out-of-frequency whistle. If you want, you can join me. Payin it forward, and all that shit.
See you tonight. My jaw dropped. First of all, there was no way. A guy like that. Ripped, blue-collar, crazy handsome. Was he flirting with me? Was he gay, too? There was no way he was into me. But fuck it, I thought to myself, crazily. Maybe the sun addled my brains. Maybe he was just a nice guy who knew the trauma of being unemployed, someone who wanted to, like he said, pay it forward?
I could explain the massive boner I had inside of my khaki cargo shorts. But what I could not explain were the chill bumps racing themselves up and down both of my arms. Indeed, there are places that make these - but even the ones you scroll by pale in comparison to the uncanny realism of your face. Well, not your face, of course. The face you found. The face that sits crumpled on your desk, almost forlornly. You reach over, tentatively, and rearrange it so that it looks a bit more like a face.
You could get one of those mannequin heads to put it on. Talk about a conversation piece! You decide then that this face must have been lost by a filming company.
Your heart starts pounding with a weird, sickly thump, not unlike the same pattern it beat on the night prior, in the dreams after the night prior. Your palms become slick with a sweat that you chalk up to excitability. It feels so, intensely, real. You spin out of your desk chair and run to the bathroom mirror, to see -. In the dream: they grow from the shadows. They clump against the walls and seethe in the corners.