Copyright is held by the author.
SIMON IOENED the door to the stock room and turned on the light. A fluorescent surge of white blanketed the space. He had come in for some bundles of photocopy paper. His first job of the day was to check the machines that customers used to make sure they were topped up and ready to go.
He had been with House of Paper for two years. A three-year general B.A. had made him realize that his degree had been printed on a sheet worth less than the blank faces he was surrounded by. His dream of meaningful employment, something that could lead to advancement, something he could be proud of had been scuttled within six months of graduation.
There had been too much competition. The myriad of applications he had mailed or sent on-line or delivered in person had resulted in the same, if any, response: under qualified. The acronym for B.A. became Barely Adequate. He had needed a job, any job to make money, pay off school debts, get a place of his own. His parents’ basement had become stifling. Though they meant well and tried to stay out of his way, the feeling that they were disappointed, that he should have focussed on something other than a vague arts degree became evident. At 23 he had “failed to launch.” He was a fledgling still unable to leave the nest.
With an audible sigh and the slumped shoulders of one surrendering to his fate, Simon began to search shelves for the right paper sizes. It was then that he saw the fly. He might not have noticed it at that moment if not for his eyes turned upwards and the fly’s decision then to continue its inverted ceiling crawl. He watched its movements, mesmerized by its ease at gravitational defiance. Finally, he made a decision. Searching once more, he found a small box and opened it. He took out one red rubber band. The fly had met its match. With a brief vocal tribute to his favourite movie, the original 1982 Bladerunner, Simon announced his intention: “time to die.” But he would not be the victim. He was not shutting himself down like Rutger Hauer’s replicant character, Roy Batty. No, the fly was to be sacrificed.
Simon acknowledged as he took up his position that there more traditional ways to approach this undertaking. He could easily have gotten a fly swatter or rolled up some paper from the unlimited cache around him. A small step ladder or chair would add the requisite elevation needed and “bam”, it would all be over. The fly would be dribbling from the ceiling or strewn in miniscule and malleable particles across the floor. But Simon was feeling somewhat more creative. He was a hunter. This allowed him to pull back his shoulders and become someone else. It was now all about his technique.
Hooking the rubber band over the tip of his thumb, he pulled back stretching the projectile to a taut 10 inches. It resembled a miniature crossbow set for release. With left arm extended above him he was little more than three feet from his target. Devastating at this distance he thought. Like a nerdy version of a Greek hero, Achilles maybe, he braced himself for battle and fired. The snap of rubber releasing was followed instantaneously by a hit. The fly took flight, but in two directions. The winged carcass landed close to Simon while the head rolled off on a separate journey. Ultimately, the compound eye looked back at its body from a distance of several feet. “What a shot,” he chirped aloud. Simon bent down to retrieve the elastic, a dot of blood and guts glued to a portion. Miraculously, the fly’s body continued to move, its legs kicking upwards in a grotesque ballet. How long could this dance of death go on he wondered?
A distinct image began to appear in Simon’s mind. It was of a guillotine rising up above him, blade poised to descend. Somewhere he had read or heard that a head, cleanly decapitated by such a device, could still move its eyes, even mouth, for seconds after separation. Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities” opened for him. He had read the book and seen an early black and white movie version. In a character’s role, he ascended the stairs slowly step by step to the platform. All around were the compound eyes of spectators waiting with glee for the next body to be positioned. As he stood transfixed, the guillotine became a grandfather clock. His parents had had one made of beautiful wood and glass. As a boy he had loved to help his father set it, pulling on the chains that raised three weights into place. The clock face once again became a shimmering blade as hands pushed him against an upright board, then lowered him flat and moved him forward. The tic toc of time continued, a wooden yoke collaring him. “Time to die.” He closed his eyes.
“Have you got that paper yet?” Simon jerked back into the moment. Another head was bobbling in front of him, its body hidden by the door. Before he could respond, a second salvo greeted him. “What the hell’s keeping you? Customers are here. Move your ass.” The head then turtled itself back and was gone.
“Christ,” Simon muttered. He gathered himself, rubbed his neck, stretched and surveyed his handiwork once again. He had killed many flies in his day, some even grabbed with his bare hands. He thought of The Magnificent Seven. His father loved westerns. At his suggestion they had viewed the movie together years ago. A gunslinger who had lost his nerve sat at a table in a small Mexican village observing three flies in front of him. In a flash he had swept his trigger hand across the table top and closed his fist around them. Upon opening it, only one fly was there. His comment to the three young boys who had watched his attempt was “there was a time when I could have caught all three.” Simon agreed. It was personal confidence that truly made a difference. Grabbing the paper he needed, he acknowledged that his had been missing for some time.
Darryl, the store manager, gave Simon a look as he passed, but said nothing. His moment to inflict more criticism had been lost when a customer had approached. There were only eight employees at House of Paper, but Darryl was perched securely on top. His totem’s weight pressed down on the others, pushing them to ground. Simon often felt like Atlas at the bottom barely able to hold himself and everyone else up on shoulders aching for release.
Primed and loaded, Darryl could go off at the least sign of provocation. Four employees in the two years Simon had been here had been fired upon. They had dragged themselves away, actually left the job relieved, happy to still be alive. Simon dreamed of setting the dipshit adrift, marooning him on a boat surrounded by a sea of paper each inscribed in large, bold fonts with the word: “ASSHOLE!” He opened the copiers one by one and loaded them, then retreated to his next job. He had been relegated for the remainder of the morning to a cubicle at the back where he would be trimming paper and binding orders for customer pick up.
When he arrived at his station, Simon noticed four orders needing attention from the previous day. The office binding machine with its two-inch comb was suitable for most jobs up to 500 sheets. Simon could punch 20 to 25 sheets at a time quite easily keeping everything nicely aligned until binding was complete. First though, he would make sure the paper dimensions were correct for each job. If not, he would need to use the manual cutter and trimmer to his right. Just as he was checking the machines, Darryl crept in behind and slammed down a folder on the table.
“Rush order. Sixty-page document. Need it in 30 minutes. Don’t piss around.” And he left.
For a blood-thirsty moment, Simon envisioned a much smaller Darryl, a Lilliputian-sized offering lying supine on the cutter beneath him, neck exposed under the blade. “Here comes a chopper to chop off your head,” he chanted as he lowered the blade. Darryl’s head, its startled eyes popping in disbelief, would bounce, once free of bodily encumbrance, off the cutting board. Continuing to roll along the remaining few feet of counter, it would finally disappear beyond the flat world of paper and plummet into the dark receptacle of hell below. A fitting end. Simon continued in this vein, trimming, removing and binding various parts of Darryl’s anatomy until lunch time.
“Tomato and cheese.” He squeaked this quietly at his seat after removing his lunch from the brown bag and peering between slices of buttered bread. Always the same: a sandwich, the choices rotating between today’s provision, egg salad or honey and peanut butter; a piece of fruit, rotating between apple, pear or banana; a pastry, store bought, rotating between butter tart, cookie or square. A water bottle, carried with him separately, provided liquid refreshment. How had it come to this, his mother still preparing his lunches? A memory of himself trundling off to school holding mother’s hand, backpack weighted down with supplies and lunch box, appeared. Bite by bite it was removed as he masticated his meal into blood and guts swallowed one fee-fi-fo-fum at a time.
The afternoon entailed a series of similar work-related activities. Simon spun from paper stocking to customer service to trimming and binding for another three hours. He compared his movements to a second fly he had been watching periodically above him as it circled round and round the light fixture that held it enthralled. He decided that he was living in some kind of Kafkaesque nightmare where he was slowly evolving into an insect.
But a highlight to his day would soon be appearing on the horizon. A welcoming, shimmering oasis; for Simon art made flesh. Soleil would be arriving. What a beautiful name and a beautiful being. He could bathe in her presence for an hour on days when their shifts crossed. Two years younger and still a student, she worked part-time 20 hours a week after classes or in the evening. She shaped the flat inertness of his world into an intricate origami of possibilities. He was smitten, but she didn’t know it.
Romantic liaisons in Simon’s life could be counted on two fingers. The first had been a grade 12 high school dalliance. He always recalled this with anger and shame. Paula. A few weeks of getting to know her, someone who had never noticed him before, walking the halls together, clasping hands, laughing at lunch or in the library, stealing a kiss before parting after school, had led to the high school dance. He had driven to pick her up that night in the family car. His parents’ reluctance at the venture was overcome by constant assurances. Their coach would not turn into a pumpkin. He would arrive home safe and in reasonable time, footwear intact. Paula had been chatty on the drive there, but became quiet when they arrived. Inside, the gym was filled with students watching the band move through its first set or out on the floor dancing with a partner.
It didn’t take long for reality to sink in. Kent, someone Paula was truly interested in it turned out, approached them and whispered a few words in her ear. She smiled up at him, looked over at Simon and then walked off into the crowd with Kent’s arm around her. He had been set up, caught in a web, used by her to get who she really wanted. Simon, disheartened, had driven around town in a fog for an hour, then crawled home. He kept his head down for weeks afterwards until his humiliation had washed away.
The second, more meaningful encounter had lasted almost a year at university. Serena, two years his senior, had taught him all he knew about sex.
Unfortunately, he had mistaken their relationship for true love. When he spoke, after a few months, of a future together, he was gently rebuffed. “I like you Simon, but that’s it. There is no future for us.” True to her word, she informed him some weeks later at her graduation that she was leaving to travel for the summer before deciding what to do with her life. “Take care. It’s been fun” were her parting words as she walked away. Another boost to his confidence and morale had been shattered.
But now Soleil was in his life if only peripherally. They had spoken on numerous occasions, even worked for 30 minutes here and there in close proximity. Nerves, however, had made conversation on his part stilted, his efforts mired in the mundane. Words, words, words. Gibberish that got him no closer to her as the weeks passed than on the day he had first said “Hi. I’m Simon.” Here was yet another Groundhog Day about to be resurrected as Soleil made her way through the door and approached him. Not if he could help it. He was determined this time, if given an opening, a window, to ask her out for coffee or a drink or a movie. Time to take action, get his little hamster feet off the treadmill he had been on for so long. He introduced the scene.
“Hi Soleil.” (Reddening of his cheeks begin)
“Hi Simon.” (Blazing smile of white teeth)
“Looks like a nice day out there.” (Parched, dry mouth sets in.)“Oh, it is. Too bad I’m inside.” (Brush of blond hair directed behind left ear.)
(Deep breath taken and expelled to calm pounding heart) “I was wondering if sometime you might like to…”
“Soleil.Come here. Got a quick job for you.”
(Simon’s unheard aside) “Darryl. Fuck.”
(She looks away) “Right. Okay.” (Quick turn back) “Got to go. See you tomorrow maybe.” (Walks off stage left).
(Calling after a little too loudly) “Sure . . . Tomorrow . . . Bye.”
Head down, Simon moved slowly towards the exit. The outside sun shone brightly through the sliding doors of the shop. Before him on the glass he noticed the fly. Agitated, it moved up and down and across the window banging its body and head in futility.