Flash Fiction by Zac Locke
By Zac Locke
Consulting: Parts I – IV
I. My supervisor at Envencerate was an avid golfer—he wore khakis and polo shirts emblazoned with various course names and equipment logos to work every day—and often spent minutes staring out of his window at the empty municipal golf course through the north side windows. He never invited me to golf with him. Once, he invited Mike, the stocky contractor from Atlanta who also wore golf attire to the office, and they had arrived to work at ten o’clock after an Oh-Seven Hundred tee time and breakfast of flapjacks and coffee.
II. There were no sharp objects in my office, not even in the kitchen. There was a vending machine in the kitchen, but Envencerate’s Western Region HR Manager had discontinued free sodas and snacks in a cost saving measure. In rebellion, my supervisor, who was a former college football player for North or South Dakota and who suspected Envencerate’s Western Region HR Manager of being a homosexual, had taken the entire team out for happy hour, and by the time he had thrown up on himself in the pleather booth and somebody had to reach into his pocket for the corporate credit card, the bill had come, including tax and tip, to $780. This would leave the door open for Envencerate’s Western Region HR Manager to retaliate by purchasing ergonomic chairs for each member of the team and to institute a twenty-dollar per head limit for group happy hours.
III. The best view was from the north side of the building, where my supervisor sat. You could see the golf course, and beyond that the hills dotted with houses. Outside of my portion of the window, on the east side, I could see a large ditch, like a moat, that would sometimes fill up with water after a real rain, and stay that way for a long time after, and next to that, an outdoor parking lot with an ALL DAY sign listing a price that would increase seventy-five cents per year.
IV. Even if you wanted to slice a birthday cake, you had to use a plastic knife, which proved to be impractical.
V. I don’t work for Envencerate anymore. When I was asked to leave, the price to park in the lot next to the moat was $10.50.
Two Men Walk Into A Bar
The first man’s nose is bloodied, his shirt-collar caked crimson like lichen clinging to a redwood.
The two men move deeper into the bar, daylight nodding through the padded door, then waving see you later. The bar is red leather. Dark. But even through the forced murk, the bartender, Vito, notices the man’s bloodied nose. After a while, working in Vito’s profession, you notice all the salient details. The lights could be turned up, they are on a dimmer, but why? It’s a comfortable place to drink. It’s not a clean, well-lighted place, but the murk is well-maintained and the bar is tastefully appointed.
The non-bloodied man orders two beers. All we have is Peroni, says Vito. That’s fine, says the non-bloodied man. Vito opens the beers, pop, pop, and sets them down, one in front of each of the men. The men are roughly the same age as each other. They are grown men, but they could be Vito’s grandchildren.
Vito goes back to talking with the lone patron at the end of the bar. This guy is middle-aged, still younger than Vito, though. He wears a periwinkle dress shirt, one too many buttons loosed, bulging at the sides.
The bloodied man and the non-bloodied man listen to Vito chat up this middle-aged guy about the Yankees. Vito hasn’t lived in New York in thirty-four years, but he’s still more Bronx than the new Yankee Stadium, is more Bronx than the Yankees, with their no-name millionaire players and no-name millionaire fans, Vito’s saying. Billy Martin was tougher than nails, Vito’s saying. Rizzuto too. Both of them small as a firecracker but just as explosive. Mantle made less in a year than a middle reliever does now. Hell, there were no middle relievers back then, Vito’s saying. The middle-aged guy is nodding.
The bloodied man takes the bottle of beer and holds it to his nose. Vito doesn’t stop his conversation and doesn’t so much as glance in the bloodied man’s direction but from the backs of his eyes he looks on disapprovingly. This is not that kind of bar, he thinks, but hadn’t he himself bloodied some noses back in the neighborhood, and had his nose bloodied a few times? Martin sure as hell bloodied some noses. Think Jeter ever bloodied a nose? Think A-Rod ever bloodied a nose, other than his own? So Vito lets it slide. The beer bottle is sweating down the bloodied man’s nose, small drops pooling on his lower lip.
The other man, the non-bloodied one, wraps his throbbing right hand around his beer and leaves it there, letting the coolness transfer into his bones and ligaments. You shouldn’t’ve suckered me like that, the bloodied man mumbles. The other man stares at his beer. You shouldn’t have done what you did, either, he says. More silence. Then the non-bloodied man speaks again.
Every action has a consequence, he says. But I consider you a friend.
The bloodied man grunts.
The other man continues. Anyhow, he says, I’m prepared to let it go. But dude, you’ve likely got some more serious hangups here. I mean. I mean, there are deeper issues at play, right?
The bloodied man grunts.
The other man takes a swig of his beer, looks at the bottle, then takes another long pull. Half the bottle disappears. He sets the bottle on the bar and flexes his hand in and out, watching it while he does as if it were a jellyfish spawning right there in the dusky silt of the bar’s lighting.
So, he says, are we good? We’re good, says the bloodied man, and he takes a sip of his beer, too. They finish their beers like that in silence. Vito says nothing about the condensation dripping onto his crushed leather bar bumper.
I ask myself: What’s on the other side?
I tell myself: Only a fool would ask such a question.
I tell myself: Only matter.
I tell myself: It doesn’t matter.
I notice I am sitting hunched on a low bench, my knees propped almost level with my shoulders.
Between us is an expanse. If I take a step toward the other side, I could plunge into icy waters. I could disappear into thin air. It doesn’t matter. It’s only matter.
I run a hand through my hair. I do it again and it doesn’t feel like it did the last time I stood, contemplating an expanse. It is thinner; I mean both my hair and the expanse.
The last time I stood contemplating an expanse there was no mirrored glass or wrought iron or stained wood. Only rocks and grass and sky. I stood on a tall escarpment above it all. And the expanse was enormous, enough to hold a lake. And no one had inhabited that expanse for centuries, until me. And no one would inhabit it again for centuries after.
Now the expanse and my hair are thinner, although below me and through the expanse does rush an entire ocean. Not all at once; just little by little, but it is flowing, and it cannot stop, because it is pulled by the moon and the sun. And we are pulled by the moon and the sun. And we cannot stop this flow.
And the expanse is getting smaller.
And I am starting to see what’s on the other side.
I take a step toward the other side. The waters rush through the narrowing expanse and beneath me and over me. I take another step and I am completely absorbed by the expanse. I take yet another step and I am swallowed by the icy water, just as I knew I would be.
I hear myself ask: It didn’t matter what was on the other side, did it?
And I tell myself that like I said, all it ever was was matter.
Zac Locke’s novella, Beverlywood, was published last year in serial form by Boston’s Novella-T, and his short stories and poetry have been published in Drunk Monkeys, No Extra Words, New Flash Fiction Review, Tiny Lights, Yay! LA, and PushPen Press.
Image courtesy jaymantri.com