Oblong

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Chapter 13

Double A exhaled as she finished reading the story. A moment later TF let out a long breath as well.

“Before this one, I’d sort of thought the morning stories were nice with the animals and all,” he said.

“Yeah, that was some weird Watership Down shit all right.”

“I thought the blank space stories were troubling, but—”

“But those are all set in the abstract,” she interrupted. “This one, if you substitute people for mice and office for kitchen, might as well be about this place.”

“What should we do?”

“I don’t know...part of me feels like we should run for our lives and the other part thinks we should ignore it and hope nothing happens.”

“We ought to do something,” TF said. “I mean Oblong isn’t particularly friendly, but I didn’t get a bad read on the guy. We should just go talk to him.”

“And say what? ‘Hey, we’ve been invading your privacy by reading your very strange stories that make you seem like a psycho—but you’re not, are you? Because you’d have to tell us if you were.’”

“We don’t have to phrase it like that, but a friendly chat doesn’t seem out of line.”

“You just told me you didn’t think he was a friendly guy.”

“I wouldn’t invite him out to play beer pong or anything, but he didn’t strike me as some deranged misanthrope either.”

Double A shook her head. “Deranged misanthropes always seem sane right up until the moment they go crazy. He’s clever and scary and has an axe to grind, which he maybe keeps at his desk. And you want to do what exactly...match wits with him to assess if he’s really one bad day from becoming an active shooter? You’re smarter than what maybe some people give you credit for...you have to be smart enough to know that having a heart to heart with a heartless psychopath is a really bad idea.”

“That would be a bad idea, but I don’t think that’s what he is. He’s the narrator—not the mouse. A good storyteller has to have empathy for his characters, disturbed or otherwise.”

“No, a good storyteller has to have a good imagination, which could be indicative of a psychotic break. I say we copy his story, email it to HR, and let them deal with it.”

“No, we can’t,” said TF.

“Yes, we can. Remember, we found our mentor’s password on a Post-it Note underneath his bowling trophy. We could log into his account and send it from his email. No one ever has to know it was us that sent it, and anyway they’d probably be grateful for the tip.”

“No, I mean look at the screen. We can’t because Oblong already deleted the story from his desktop. Listen, there’s no need for you to be involved. I’ll invite him to take a coffee break or whatever and talk to him man to man.”

“Then I’m coming too. It’s been my experience that man-to-man conversations go better when a woman is involved.”

* * *

TF and Double A made their way to Tom’s desk in the accounting department, but they found his cubicle empty.

“Should we wait for him?” TF asked.

“That might come across as a little ambushy.”

“You two looking for Tom?” An accountant leaned back in his chair just outside the threshold of his cubicle. “He’s on his lunchbreak.”

TF checked his watch. “It’s only 10:30.”

“I thought he usually ate lunch at his desk,” said Double A.

“That’s right. He eats his lunch while he works so that he can spend his lunch hour meditating or ideating or some damn thing down in the supply room.”

* * *

Double A and TF had worked out their plan. They would enter the supply room together under the pretext of needing supplies and then act surprised when they found Oblong—foolproof.

Double A opened the door. “It’s dark in there.”

TF followed her in. “Then turn on the lights.”

“I don’t know where the switch is.”

“Me neither.”

Double A felt for a light switch on the wall near the door. “Weren’t you in here before?”

“Yeah, but the lights were already on then.”

“The switch is over here.” Oblong said from the darkness. “That’s why they usually keep the lights on.” He turned on the overhead lights to reveal himself sitting atop a box of copier paper against the far wall. “The door to this room used to be right behind me.”

“Oh, we’re surprised to find someone else in here,” said TF.

“You don’t seem surprised.”

“We’re looking for supplies,” said Double A.

“You’ve come to the right room. What do you need? I know where everything is kept.”

“Uh,” Double A began, “just a little of this and that.”

“Well they keep ‘this’ over here.” Oblong pointed to a shelving unit near him. “And ‘that’ you can find over there, though it looks to be in short supply.”

“Okay, we were actually looking for you,” said TF.

“Oh, now it’s me who’s surprised.” Oblong sounded decidedly unsurprised.

“We talked to a fraternity brother of mine yesterday whose father was killed years ago when he was in the junior executive training program here. Did you know him?”

“Richard Roberts...yeah, I considered him a friend.”

“Were you also a junior exec trainee at the time?” asked Double A.

“That’s right—me and another guy.”

“Do you know how my friend’s dad died?” asked TF. “We found an article in the paper, which reported that the company called it a mishap.”

“You could characterize it as such...if you were attempting to assuage yourself of guilt and absolve yourself of any responsibility.”

“So what really happened?” Double A asked.

“Do you know why the door to this room was moved? Where I’m sitting now is where the double doors used to be—right off the elevator. They removed the grand entrance and traded it for a single door off a half-hidden hallway. Care to guess why this supply closet is nearly the size of a swimming pool? It used to be the boardroom. They moved it upstairs after the ‘mishap’—painted these periwinkle walls white to cover up the blood spatter and then all but abandoned this room so they could forget about what happened here.”

“Was it some sort of hazing incident?” TF asked.

“That’s as good a way to describe it as any. Had all the hallmarks of a hazing—it was callow and stupid. Back then the executive training program culminated with Assignments Day, which was when you’d get assigned to your permanent department. Unlike these days when you’re assigned to a department on your first day and you don’t have any say, it used to be that you’d compete for the choicest assignments—prove yourself by how hard you worked...but by the time I got into the program, the competition had turned ugly and mean. It was no longer enough to arrive at the office early and stay late; you also had to run little errands for the senior executives...perform pointless tasks that didn’t have anything to do with learning the business. I’d heard rumors that some of the previous junior execs had even worked weekends at the senior executives’ houses doing what were euphemistically referred to as chores. So when my cohort’s Assignments Day arrived, me and Rich and a third guy whose name I’m not even going to mention were brought into this room blindfolded. The exercise was meant to assess how well we could follow directions—the final exam before we were assigned to our permanent positions. This room was redolent with the stench of booze. The executives were wound up like spectators at a cockfight. They shouted orders at us—jump up in the air, crawl on your knees, slap the junior exec closest to you—and we did as we were told. I was glad to have the blindfold on when they started spitting in our faces. Then some drunk exec—I never found out who—had the bright idea of having Rich and the other trainee act out the knife fight from Rebel Without a Cause. He was incensed that neither of them had ever seen the movie. He gave them each a letter opener and tied their hands together, instructing them what to do next. From what I could hear the execs yelling, Rich was only halfheartedly playing along but his opposing trainee was slashing away like a madman. I don’t know whether he meant to or not, but he sliced Rich’s throat open. Rich never even screamed...just collapsed to the floor with a gurgle and started bleeding out. The other trainee was out the door before I even got my blindfold off. Instead of trying to save Rich or chase after the guy who’d just slit his throat, the senior execs started clearing the room of liquor bottles and cleaning themselves up. The first ambulance on the scene was actually dispatched because someone from the lobby had called 911 to report that a body had fallen from the roof. By the time the EMTs were sent up here, the boardroom was empty except for Rich, who had died alone in a pool of his own blood.”

“What happened to you?” asked Double A.

“I was rushed out of the building and dropped off at home by an executive who lived in my neighborhood—the type of community where every house has a piano and they’re always in tune. He told me it’d be better if I weren’t at the office when the police arrived—explained that he was shielding me from what would likely be overly aggressive investigators...especially since I wouldn’t be able to help with the investigation anyway because I’d been blindfolded when it happened and so literally wasn’t an eyewitness. Believe it or not, at the time I felt grateful that the senior executives were looking out for me. Now of course I realize that they were only trying to save their own necks.”

“Then they demoted you?” asked TF.

“No, in fact they offered me any permanent assignment I wanted, and to their surprise I chose to become a rank and file accountant, which is what I’d majored in at college.”

“But why move down the corporate ladder?” Double A asked.

“I couldn’t be a part of their world anymore. From the outside it might look like the winner’s circle, but from the inside, as you two will undoubtedly discover for yourselves, if you haven’t already, they’re all frightened and desperate—terrified they’ll be found out as fakers who’re interchangeable instead of integral and that everything they have will be taken away. That’s how you really scare people...give them exactly what they think they want, let them live in it for a while and get comfortable with it, then threaten to take it all away—that’s living in fear...that’s the life of an executive.”

“So why are you still here at all then?” TF asked.

“I suppose partly as a self-imposed punishment. As I told you, Rich was my friend. We used to joke that come Assignments Day, the senior executives would give us each a gun and tell us that if we wanted to stay with the company we’d have to prove our loyalty by shooting a stranger...if we wanted to advance, we’d have to shoot a family member. It was meant to be funny, but I don’t remember either of us ever laughing. That whole last week our situation here felt precarious, like it was on the precipice of becoming out of control, so I should’ve been ready when it finally got out of control. I was a kid fresh out of college like you two, but I was also an adult, you know. I could’ve done something...I should’ve known better. Of course, the company culture changed after the ‘mishap’—for a while at least, but I’ve felt the pendulum swinging back over the last decade as old executives have retired and new ones who weren’t around when Rich Roberts was killed have been hired to take their places. They’ve heard the story, I’m sure, but to hear it isn’t the same as having experienced it. I’ll work here until I retire if need be to make sure that cautionary tale never again occurs.”

“Is that why you threw shade on those executives in Monday’s meeting?” Double A asked. “Were you pushing buttons and testing for reactions?”

“Something like that.”

“And what of those studies you cited about offering scholarships costing less than raises?” asked TF.

“Completely fictive. I have no idea if what I suggested will save the company money or not. My hope is that it won’t and that the line workers will take advantage of the opportunity. The old man likes to hear my opinions when he can’t make up his mind, because I’ve seen the company on its worst day, and I’m still here. He heeds my advice when he thinks it’ll save some money. I don’t expect we’ll know whether it will or it won’t until after he’s gone anyhow.”

“You say that staying on here is part punishment,” said TF, “so what’s the rest of it, if you don’t mind our asking?”

“I do mind.” Oblong stood to leave. “I should get back to work; I don’t have time to answer all your questions.”

“What’s the matter?” Double A asked. “Drawing a blank space?”

Oblong stopped in front of the door and turned back toward the pair. “Okay, so that’s the other part of it. I know the execs are curious about me...about why the old man calls me into their meetings now and then. I know they have access to my company computer, so I write my little stories, and maybe they read them and maybe they don’t. I write for me—not them; it’s sort of like therapy, but if they want to be the readership of my daily stories, then perhaps they’ll get something out of them too. That’s the second reason I stay...this job offers something more important than money—time. I split my days here between working for them and writing for me. They know I could do more work, but as long as the old man is around, they’ll never get rid of me. So half of my day is spent crunching their numbers and the other half finding my words.”

“But why do you delete your stories after you write them?” asked TF.

“If you’ve been reading them all week, I’m sure you’ve noticed the pattern. Every morning I take a walk through a wooded area near my home to mentally prepare for the monotony of the workday, and then I come in and write my morning story about nature. After I finish, I come down here for a while and think of a story to write in the afternoon about my time spent within this blank space inside this moribund office building—that’s the yin and yang of my process. If I ever write a story that I’m satisfied with, I print it off and file it away, but it only rarely happens, so I write on...sometimes I’ll rewrite the same story several times in a month, changing each version slightly until I get it just right or decide to move on.”

Double A nodded. “And whenever you’re given work that might interfere with your writing, you simply say ‘I would prefer not to,’ like Bartleby the Scribner who once worked in a dead-letter office.”

“That’s correct, though instead of dead letters, I work with living numbers.”

“It sounds like you’ve got this place wired,” said TF. “And you even have a ground floor parking spot.”

Oblong opened the door to leave. “It’s a living.”

“One last question before you go,” Double A said. “Did you know that Snap, Crackle, and Pop are elves?”

Oblong paused for a moment as he processed the odd question. “I did. Did you know that for a time there was a fourth elf named Pow?” Then he exited the room before either of them could muster a response.

“That was your last question?” asked TF. “You should’ve asked him why he goes by the name Oblong.”

“He already answered that one. During that horrific moment in this room, the perfect circle of his life became misshapen—his view of the round world distorted...and perhaps broadened.”

* * *

TF closed the door to their mentor’s office. “That’s one peculiar individual.”

“I thought he was peculiar yesterday.” Double A took a seat on the corner of the desk. “Today I think he’s downright uncanny.”

“It’s hard to imagine how an experience like that could change your whole outlook.”

“Certainly a watershed moment that would alter one’s perspective.”

“If that had happened to me, I think I might give up the rat race to become a hermit and live in a cave—but to stick around the way he does...that’s really something.”

“After going through what he did, I could understand becoming an anchorite and retreating to an ashram, but to become a recluse and go into seclusion in plain sight—quite extraordinary.”

TF took a seat in the desk chair. “I feel like you’re echoing everything I’m saying, but just making it sound smarter.”

“Sorry, I’m rephrasing—it’s how I process.”

“I don’t mind that you keep saying what I say differently; I just wish you’d stop saying it better.”

“My bad...how about we go to the breakroom for some lunch?”

“Can’t,” TF answered. “I have a meeting with the old man.”

“Interesting...you’ve been keeping a secret.”

“Not much of a secret since I just told you.”

“So what’s it about?”

“You’ll have to wait and see.”

Double A crossed her arms. “I can hardly wait at all, though it’s kind of rude to schedule you for a meeting over your lunch hour.”

“I set the meeting when I got in this morning. It’s the only time he had available.”

“I can’t tell if you’re being cryptic or cagey...you’d better not spare any details after it’s over.”

“I promise—not a one.”

* * *

The old man’s secretary announced TF’s arrival through her phone’s intercom. After the old man replied, “Send him in,” TF thought he heard him add with a sigh before lifting his finger off the talk button, “this better not take more than a minute.” The secretary informed TF that he could now enter the inner office, as if he hadn’t just been standing there listening to the exchange.

“Thanks.” TF opened the office door.

“What can I do for you, young man?” asked the old man without looking up from his desk.

“I promise not to take up much of your time, sir. I appreciate you seeing me on such short notice.”

“Have a seat and tell me what’s on your mind.”

TF sat in a wingback chair similar in style to the guest chairs in his mentor’s office, though he quickly realized that this chair was considerably more comfortable. “Well sir, I’ve been thinking of your offer to transfer me to the Dearborn plant.”

“I’m not sure I’d characterize it as an offer per se, but I can understand your reluctance to go. I was about your age when I got my marching orders to ship out to some country in Asia that most Americans couldn’t find on a map, but we take the assignments we’re given and try to make the best of them. If you do well over there, maybe we can find a position for you back here at headquarters in another decade or two.”

“Right, it wasn’t so much the geography of the assignment that got me thinking but rather the intent. As I understand it, the purpose of me going to Dearborn is to help facilitate Obl—that is Tom’s plan to build a relationship between the local junior college and the plant, fostering goodwill among the line workers as well as within the community.”

The old man nodded. “Yes, goodwill is what we want.”

“I actually called the factory manager first thing this morning, and it seems they have a line worker who received an associate’s degree from that very community college a couple of years ago, and since then he’s been taking university satellite courses there and just earned his bachelors in business.”

“Most impressive, though it begs the question: what’s he still doing on the line?”

“My thoughts exactly. It seems to me there’s far more goodwill to be had if we promoted that worker here to take part in the junior executive training program and then returned him to Dearborn, thus showing his fellow workers at the plant that we do indeed take their future with the company seriously. I’m sure a success story like that would make its way through the community. Maybe in the years to come, we could expand access to the executive training program as well as offer scholarships to other plants. Perhaps we could generate some further goodwill by naming those scholarships in honor of fallen colleagues, such as my mentor...or even names from the past, like Richard Roberts.”

“I see you’ve been doing some research.” The old man picked up a file from his desk. “I did a little of my own and had my secretary print out you and your fellow trainee’s executive access log. It’s long been part of our company’s culture to keep tabs on the underlings, no matter who they might be over. It seems you two have taken quite an interest in a member of our accounting department. That’s all well and good...Oblong has a most creative mind that has proven rather useful on several occasions; there is much you could learn from him.”

“Our mentor expressed that same sentiment to us on our first day.”

“Quite so, but as for your proposal, I’ve recently come to the realization that we have too many overpriced executives as it is—in fact, after our Monday meeting I decided to terminate one of them straightaway, but then I was reminded that it’s always better to fire on a Friday. My point is that we don’t need three executives in training at this time...I’m not even sure we need two.”

“I respectfully disagree, sir. I think you definitely need two, and I think this gentleman from Dearborn should take my place. His manager speaks very highly of him, and he’s more qualified than I am, as he has a business degree as well as four years of experience with the company.”

The old man leaned back in his chair. “That’s mighty big of you to step aside in favor of this fellow you’ve never met.”

“I care about this company, sir. I’m confident that in time I’ll make my mark and move up. It just so happens that the inside sales position I originally applied for is still open, so I could start there, if that’s agreeable and amenable to you.”

“Young man, you have some interesting ideas. If it’s your desire to remain here at headquarters as an inside sales rep, I’ll respect your wish...you may start in that capacity on Monday. As for the rest of what you suggest, I’ll take it under advisement.”

“Thank you, sir.” TF stood to leave.

“Wait a moment, won’t you? I don’t know whether this course of action you’ve decided upon is wise, but I want you to know—for whatever it’s worth—that you’ve impressed me today, which I’ve discovered becomes increasingly more difficult to do as the decades disappear. Let me ask you a question whose answer I’ve found helpful over my many years as the head of this company: do you know what Bad Apples and Slippery Slopes have in common?”

“No sir, I don’t.”

“The world is full of both of them, so tread carefully to avoid stepping on either.”

* * *

Double A heard a knock at the door as she ate crackers at her mentor’s desk. She quickly chewed her mouthful of stale saltines as she wiped crumbs from the desktop. “Come in.”

The giraffish executive entered the office with two takeout salads. “I saw your co-junior exec upstairs waiting for a meeting with the old man, so I thought you might be in want of some lunch company. I ordered a couple of salads from the restaurant in the lobby, so which would you like—Chicken Caesar or Cobb?”

“That’s very considerate...sure, I’ll have the Caesar salad, please.”

He slid the salad container and a plastic fork across the desk as he sat in one of the wingback chairs. “I remember what it was like during my first week as a trainee about fifteen years ago, though it was different back then...the older execs weren’t quite as friendly.”

“That’s surprising.” Double A uncovered her salad. “Everyone’s been so nice.”

“As I mentioned, it was a different time.”

“How so exactly...was it more competitive?”

“Somewhat...but also, and I don’t want to talk out of turn, there was an expectation that the junior execs pay their dues, if you take my meaning.”

“I don’t think I do. What sort of dues?”

The tall exec poked at his salad, attempting to spear an egg slice with his fork. “You know, little favors to show your appreciation for the opportunity to be a part of the executive team. Thank goodness all that foolishness is in the past.”

“That’s for sure. Speaking of the past, the other night at the bar we never got a chance to finish our conversation about Tom from accounting?”

“I thought we did. What else do you want to know?”

“Hmm...our mentor mentioned something about how he likes to write short stories. Have you read any of them?”

“Oh those?” The executive let out a dismissive chuckle. “Yeah, he fancies himself some kind of writer, if you can believe that.”

“So then you’ve read some of his stories?”

“I used to read them, though they kind of start to repeat themselves after a while...never quite the same but also not all that different either.”

“That’s interesting.”

“I thought so too when I first started reading them, but as time went on, I found them more and more tedious...and not just the stories themselves, but his whole situation. I mean if he’s some great writer, what’s he doing here, and if he’s a bad writer, why’s he still wasting his time with it? Somebody told me once that he actually started at Imperial as a junior executive trainee like we did, but now he’s just some lowly accountant. He could’ve had the good life like us, but instead he spends his days staring at our expense reports...kind of pathetic, if you ask me.”

“Some people want different things.”

“That’s what people who don’t have the things we have say to make themselves feel better.”

Double A stared across the desk at the tall executive. “Why did you come in here? It wasn’t to bring me a salad. You clearly don’t have a benevolent bone in your body, and for people like you, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

“Whoa, pump the bakes, princess. I just wanted to be your friend. With your mentor gone, I thought you might appreciate a senior exec who you could bounce ideas off of—or anything else for that matter...if the urge should ever strike you.”

“Why don’t you bounce yourself the hell up out of here, before I pick up that phone and call HR.”

“Take it easy...I’m a guy trying to make conversation is all. If you happen to change your mind and want to play ball, text me this weekend. My wife will be out of town. You could come over to the house and try on some of her jewelry. Her white diamonds would really pop against your skin...and don’t worry, I overheard you tell your buddy yesterday that you had PMS. If there’s an issue of you being on your period, then I’m willing to get in your colon.”

“Wow, punctuation-sex humor—classy. You know what, I think I will make that call to HR.”

“Go ahead if you want, but it’s my word against yours, and I’ve been here longer, so who do you think they’ll believe—the white guy they know and who looks like them or the new, opportunistic colored gal?”

“I think they’ll believe her,” said TF from the doorway. “And I wouldn’t get too hung up on you being white, since you’ve got that blackeye.”

TF landed a right cross just as the executive stood and asked, “What?” The giraffish exec folded to the floor.

“Now get up and get out before I decide to blacken your other eye.”

The tall man cautiously slinked toward the door, stopping just before he exited. He straightened his suitcoat and said, “Fella, as a senior executive, I can make the life of a junior exec like you a living hell.”

“I doubt it, since I’m no longer a junior exec, but don’t you worry...I’ll still be around to keep my eye on you.”

* * *

TF finished the senior executive’s abandoned Cobb salad as he tried his best to answer all Double A’s questions to her complete satisfaction. “No, I swear, my decision to stay and take a demotion had nothing to do with you. Frankly, I find you repellent and despite us continuing to work in the same building, I hope to never see you again.”

“I’d prefer that to you foolishly throwing away a perfectly good opportunity just to stay close to somebody you only met on Monday.”

“Well, I can’t lie—you’ve got some body, and I’d like to stay as close to it as you’ll let me.”

“Now you sound like the jackass who you just punched in the face.”

“Sorry,” TF said.

“Don’t be...it’s cute when you do it.”

“Thanks.”

“So, this is you giving up on the fast track, huh?”

“I’ve seen too many times where the fast track leads. Growing up, I never met one successful adult who was happy. After the events of this week, I’ve decided to take a different route.”

“I get where you’re coming from, but I ain’t from there. Growing up I met a lot of unsuccessful adults who were also unhappy.”

“This is the right decision for me.” TF stuffed a forkful of lettuce into his mouth. “I’m not saying it’s the right decision for everyone.”

She watched as he chewed. “You know, this hardly qualifies as a lunch hour. We could take a drive in your car, and maybe I could pay you that topnotch attention I promised earlier.”

* * *

TF and Double A hurriedly but stealthily returned to their mentor’s office, trying their best to be invisible. TF closed the office door behind them. “Do you think anyone noticed how long we’ve been gone?”

“I’m sure they noticed, but I doubt they’ll say anything.” Double A collapsed into the desk chair. “If they do, we’ll just tell them that we took an extended bereavement lunch, given the grave nature of our work this week.”

“That’s not bad, though I wish you’d told me you already had an excuse worked out before I ran that red light—pretty sure that intersection had a camera.”

“So our red light special lunch break wasn’t worth the cost of a red light ticket?”

“It was worth it all right. I just hope the picture didn’t capture what was going on inside my car at the time.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

“I’m sure it’ll amuse whoever reviews those images.”

“Oh god.”

“That’s not how you sounded when I heard you say that same thing about twenty minutes ago.”

Double A shook her head. “Let’s try to focus on something other than our midday assignation now that we’re back in the office, shall we?”

“Is ‘midday assignation’ a fancy way of saying nooner?”

“Don’t be coarse.”

“But you’re the one who said ‘ass.’”

Double A ignored him as she logged into her laptop. “Let me check...yep, Oblong’s afternoon story is already up.”

Thursday Afternoon Story by Oblong

I wake up hairless. They’ve started shaving me again in my sleep. My untanned and cleanshaven body is as white as the walls of the blank space.

I sit up and rub my face. There’s only smooth skin where my eyebrows used to be. Even my nasal hair seems to have been removed. I examine the rest of my body to confirm the thoroughness of their depilatory measures.

I wonder what they do with all the hair. I imagine little jars with labels on them: Facial Hair, Underarm Hair, Eyelashes. Is it that they want my hair, or that they don’t want me to have it?

I stretch out my legs in front of me and stare at my feet. Against the backdrop of the white walls, my toes look like large Rice Krispies grains floating in milk. The song that the Rolling Stones recorded for the cereal back in the 60s plays in my head. To make sure the song isn’t coming from unseen speakers in the blank space, I cover my ears. I still hear it.

I admire the smoothness of my skin...an extremely close shave—no stubble at all. I wish the blank space had a mirror, though it’s been so long since I’ve seen myself that I might not recognize my reflection. I recall that old artistic adage: perfection is a distraction. I don’t think my captors are Japanese, as I remember reading once about the wabi-sabi aesthetic—the virtue of a single flaw, such as in my present condition a lone hair growing out of an overlooked mole perhaps, but every centimeter of my skin feels like supple glass...or maybe more like a mealy apple.

When describing the color of a McIntosh apple, one would likely say red...Granny Smith, green. When describing the color of all apples, it would be most accurate to say sallow, since every apple is the same color beneath its skin. Now that they’ve had a close examination of my skin, I wonder if next they’ll remove it to see what I look like underneath.

I deserve this life, but I don’t want it. I think back on the world I once knew beyond the blank space. I try to estimate if more people out there are living lives they want but don’t deserve or lives they don’t want and don’t deserve...or maybe most of them are like me. It’s difficult to imagine that there are many people on the outside who are authentically happy. Perhaps I’m better off in here, where at least I’m insulated from the futile hope of a better tomorrow.

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