Part One: Not so Fast
The night was warm and moist, and a smooth rainsmell lingered on the air. No one saw this. Suburban silence, all distant cars and cricket calls, hushed through the sprawling neighborhoods of the town. Breathing a tired sigh, the soft hum of tires and concrete wound out from the highway and through the community—whispering through white houses. Warm and soft Virginia June blew gently under the door of 1111 Hanover Avenue, where Adam wrestled with his bed sheets. Something was bothering him, and he knew exactly what it was. He hadn’t slept all night. He never slept after those phone calls.
Adam finally stopped his thrashing, still uncomfortable, but less so than he had been, half-opened eyelids leaden in his exhaustion. Like most of the city, he had to be at work in three hours. Adam slid his feet to the cold, hardwood floor—I should buy carpeting—and lurched to the bathroom. Standing in front of the sink, he looked at his sagging, pale face in the mirror. Poisonous insomnia darkened below his eyes. Tussled in all directions, his hair apparently judged the sheets the victor of the earlier wrestling match. Adam smiled—well fought, linens; thou hast vanquished me. Adam stopped smiling, and walked over to the toilet. Basically the same treatment she gives me. He opened the floodgates. He smiled again—an imagistic metaphor packaged in vulgar pun wrapping paper. Fat lot of good that knowledge does me, I’m still pissing all over the seat. He didn’t flush. **** flushing. All this pisswater swirling around at top speed. I’ll let it breathe. Doesn’t smell any worse than the rest of the apartment. Adam went back to his bed, inhaling the ammonia stench—aromatic.
As he shut his eyes again, trying to trick himself into falling asleep, Adam thought of the first call, the first in ten years. No. It was a text message. Getting married will you come? Email me. Efficiency incarnate, instant and cheap, they sure beat the hell out of traditional invitations. The message sent him floating through the memory of their parting, bubbled in the powerless paralysis of an anesthetized voyeur. He didn’t like to remember. Still, he had gone to the wedding. It was a quick ceremony, which was good. Adam had never been very skilled at holding fake smiles for long. Probably that’s why I’m not married, he said, and smiled. Yawning, Adam felt sleep smokeslip, smooth, around his mind, and his thoughts disintegrated into welcome darkness.
But now the sun seeped over the horizon, soaking the buildings with a raw color. No one saw this. The city changed during the day. Morning stretched out through the early dawn, and the highways and tunnels flooded with travelers on their way to work. Driveways pumped car after car onto the roads, and thousands of suited men and women barked and snarled into their Bluetooth headsets, the engines of their cars growling and yelping. In the houses, children jumped out of bed, after much urging, and checked their schedule for the day. School, soccer practice, homework, dance class, karate, scouts, music lessons, homework. Pre-planned rhythms pounded in their minds as they prepared to rush through town. Parents rushed through town. The commute, the Starbucks drive-thru, the workday, the overtime, the book club, yet another TV dinner, the cell phone ringing all the while, the emails bouncing back and forth between them. They needed to be at work now.
Adam needed to be at work now. Jesus, he was late. This was the fifth time in the last two weeks, and this time something was bothering him. Oh, why did she have to call last night? Mr. Kronovier was going to kill him. As he dressed, he thought of the last time he was late, thought of that red, ballooning face, livid and shaking, as it had gaped open its wide, white-toothed mouth and ripped through the air around it, screeching about company time. Adam wasn’t smiling. God dammit, that phone call! Mr. Kronovier’s teeth would grate together between words, sparking and spittleflicking, and he rushed through his sentences as he shot each word into Adam’s chest. You think that’s some kind of excuse!? Five minutes is five hours! It doesn’t matter how late you are, don’t you know that!? What is your obligation exactly? Adam had wondered how Mr. Kronovier could make his skin ripple like that; his whole face would rumble and shiver with anger as the rage-ignited oil flamed through his arteries to color it. You don’t even know, do you!? I...I... Your obligation is to get here on time! I have been very patient with you, Mr. Thompson, and if you don’t shape up! He had slammed his massive hand onto his desk and cracked the wood. ****ing hell, he’d actually cracked the wood.
Adam jumped into his car and powered out of the driveway. Thank God they’d raised the interstate speed limit to 85 last year or he’d truly be done for. The nerve of her. She knows what she does to me. It’s ok. I’ll sneak in through the back. No no, he’ll be there. He’s always there. Dorris likes me. Yeah, that’s it; I’ll go by the front desk. Dorris won’t tell him. Who am I kidding? It doesn’t matter. He’ll be standing over my desk, looking at his watch. Panicked, sweating, Adam took his normal exit. Traffic. For the love of
Mr. Kronovier was sitting at Adam’s desk when he arrived.
—Hello, Mr. Thompson. He said, looking at his watch. It appears you’re a bit late. Again.
—I’m so sorry, Mr. Kronovier, the traffic was—
—You’re God damn right you’re sorry, Mr. Thompson. Five times now. And if it happens again, I expect your desk to be cleaned out and fast.
—Oh, God, please sir. No, I promise, I won’t be late again.
—Mr. Thompson, I’ve given you plenty of chances
Mr. Kronovier’s voice reverberated in baritone solemnity.
—Adam, everyone else arrives on time every day. Everyone else is at his desk exactly when he needs to be. Everyone else is integrating his clients’ finances onto the network by the deadline. Everyone else is on the phone all day and even on the commute, trying to get his portfolio together as soon as possible.
Adam turned his head to look at the cubicles. Everyone else. Sitting at their desks, chattering into their Bluetooth headsets while typing up some response email while placing a business order online in preparation for the office party coming up. A cold grind from the kitchen, where the refrigerator was humming, presided over the scene, and machinery buzz from the street wreathed itself through the noise of the office, weaving the pop-and-click downtown symphony. Adam listened while Mr. Kronovier conducted his variations on the theme.
—Adam, we’re rushed here, and we need things done immediately.
The Bluetooth chatter continued behind him. He heard snippets of the conversations: “yes, you can reach me anytime at,” “don’t worry, we’ll get you that information immediately,” “well, you can always contact me at,” “let me give you my cell number.” As they typed and rambled, Adam thought about his job and theirs. College-assembled finance machines—this is what expendability feels like. Information lit on wires and waves, data and sound, via internet and cellphone connections, reaching its destination as close to immediately as technology could manage. It wasn’t fast enough.
—Yes, sir, I understand completely. I promise not to be late in the future.
—Remember this, Adam: the future is overrated. So is the past. What matters is now. I’d like to say that’s exclusive to this company, that we’re special in that somehow, but it’s not true. No matter where you go, Adam, they’re going to rely on you at that moment, not before, not after. When you do finally get your work done, it’s quality work, high quality, but I’d rather have an employee who gets things done on time. Much rather.
With that, Mr. Kronovier turned and walked to his office, and Adam sat at his desk to work. The chatter continued. Even though no one else had heard the exchange, Adam’s face boiled with shame. Mr. Kronovier had actually chewed him out in public. God, out in front of everyone! The embarrassment mixed with something else in his stomach, making him queasy. Something was still bothering him. He was still shaking when he pulled into his driveway that same evening. Five fifteen, and the city was a fugue of doorslams. Garage door, car door, front door, car door, back door, garage door. Point, counterpoint, variation, counterpoint. A city plopped down in front of their televisions. Four hundred channels and nothing was on, thank God for Tivo and internet streams. Waiting was for soup kitchens, welfare lines, and retirement homes. Adam switched his TV on, then instantly off. Now was not the time to dissolve in the culture of immediacy. Something was bothering him.
His thoughts turned slowly, focusing on something. Something bothering him. Back to something. Back to the day when they’d both stood outside the clinic, he pleading, she crying. Please, he’d said, I’ll help you. I know we can pull through this. For God’s sake, think of our child! She’d looked up at him. A ghoul’s face, pale, hungry and impatient. No, Adam, I want it taken care of now. He wondered how long she’d taken to come to that decision; she’d only found out that same day. It was just an inconvenience to her. I’m going to have to tell my father, she’d moaned. Adam had looked at the other girls going into the building, their hearts rent in two, the decision even now ripping their minds apart. Turning, he’d looked back at her, wailing about her father, impatient for the procedure to begin, and felt an oily disgust oozing into the wells of his soul. Slowflowing. Heavy. She didn’t care then, and she didn’t care now. Mr. Kronovier was right. The past was overrated.
She had turned, then, and proudly walked into the building, he following close behind. Until the wedding, that was the last he’d seen of her.
I want the bomb
I want the P-funk!
My band is better than yours...
I want the P-funk!
My band is better than yours...