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Chapter 8

Double A watched TF as he finished reading Oblong’s morning story. She liked the way his eyes moved across the screen and how the corners of his mouth subtly arched when he got to the end. “What did you think?”

“I enjoyed it.” He turned his head from the screen to her. “It was nice to read something a little more...optimistic. How about you?”

“I don’t think it represents Oblong’s best efforts, but I enjoyed it too.”

“So how does this one tie in with your theory?”

“Well, unless my extrapolation is in error, his afternoon story will be set in the blank space again. His pattern seems to be that he writes an animal story in the morning and then a blank space story in the afternoon.”

“I was thinking that too, though Monday afternoon’s story had a pigeon.”

She nodded. “Yes, but from what you told me, the story wasn’t about the pigeon.”

“I’m not sure the story with the farmer was about the bat.”

“I think the bat in the farmer’s story was a more salient detail than the pigeon in Monday’s blank space story.”

“Sure, I suppose so...but what about your theory of how the themes of his stories somehow, let’s say, preternaturally parallel events in the office?”

“This one must be an outlier,” she answered. “I didn’t see any parallels whatsoever.”

“None at all?”

“At least none that I’ve noticed, but who knows...maybe Oblong is aware of some couple having an office romance, which is always a bad idea in my book.”


“Why ‘oh’? Do you think otherwise?”

“I think how you put it is plenty wise,” he said. “Other wisdom need not apply.”

“You’re entitled to have a different—even dissenting—opinion.”

“About what?”

“About what we were just talking about.”

“Bats and pigeons?”

“Among other things.” She waited a moment for him to respond. “Whatever...I’m going to lunch.”


“Well, are you coming or what?”

“Sure...let me just grab my bag.”

* * *

When Double A returned to their breakroom table with two colas, she found a sandwich waiting for her. “Is this for me?”

“Yeah.” TF accepted the can she offered. “I made an extra one just in case you wanted it.”

“That was thoughtful of you.”

“It wasn’t any trouble.”

“I didn’t say it was ‘trouble’; I said it was ‘thoughtful.’”

“Well, thanks for the soda.” He snapped open his can.

“I didn’t cost me anything.”

“I didn’t say it did.”

She took a chip from the bag he had placed between them. “It’s like that, huh? By the way, it bugs me when you say ‘soda’ instead of ‘pop’—makes you sound a hundred years old.”

“I agree...saying ‘soda’ does sound more mature than calling it ‘pop’—see spot run...now spot is hot, so spot drinks a pop.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.” She popped open her can.

“What would the world be like if we called everything by the sound it makes? Instead of calling them cars, we’d call them vrooms; rather than calling them potato chips, we’d simply call them crunchers.”

“What would we call you then? White noise to be tuned out?”

“Ouch, I feel like I just got blackjacked upside my head.”

“You know, what you’re saying makes me wonder...why is it that he calls himself Oblong?”

TF held up an ovate cruncher. “He does have sort of an oval-shaped head.”

“Sure, but it’s an odd attribute to base your penname on. I mean if you were a writer, I don’t imagine that your nom de plume would be Smug Face.”

“Why bother with a byline at all, since it doesn’t seem as if he shares his stories with anybody—at least not intentionally?”

“That’s true.” She took a sip of her pop. “You know something else I don’t understand about him is in that meeting on Monday he came off as Machiavellian—his suggestion to appease the line workers with empty promises of promotions rather than just paying them more—but then the person who writes those stories, especially this morning’s, seems...I don’t know, so much more soulful.”

“Maybe that’s the reason for the penname—to help him step outside of himself...or maybe he was just bullshitting in the boardroom and free college would really be a better benefit than any meagre raise he knew the old man would approve.”

“Oh, interesting...that hadn’t occurred to me. How could we find out if that’s what he was actually thinking?”

“Time will tell.”

She sighed. “I suppose so, but the problem with waiting for time is that it takes too long.”

* * *

“Why is it taking him so long to write his afternoon story?” Double A closed the lid on yet another box of her mentor’s mementos.

“It’s only 3:30.” TF continued to sort through the sundry of pens he’d found in the desk.

“P.M. or A.M.? I feel like we’ve been doing this longer than forever.”

“Like maybe five-ever?”

“No, that’s just dreadful.” She shook her head. “How can only one guy have had so much stuff?”

“He was a bit of a hoarder, wasn’t he?”

“My grandma was a hoarder, but we found less junk when we cleaned out her house after she died, and she’d lived there for almost sixty years.”

“I’m sorry to hear that your grandmother passed.”

“Thanks...she didn’t die recently or anything—it was several years ago.”

“Still, I’m sure it must’ve been quite a blow to your family.”

Double A raised an eyebrow. “Why ‘must’ve’ it been a blow to my family?”

“You know...from what I understand, the passing of a matriarch in an African-American family can be difficult.”

“Matriarch? You mean like a big mama? She weighed less than me, and I barely knew her.”

“Oh, okay...sorry.”

“Now what are you sorry for? That some ninety-year-old woman is dead or that I only met my grandma like three times in my life.”

“I’m not sure.” TF returned his attention to the pen sorting task at hand.

“We weren’t estranged or anything like that. She lived in Tennessee...it’s a long drive.”

“I understand.”

“You understand what exactly? Were you close with your grandmother?”

“Not especially. She’s still alive. I see her every Christmas.”

“Well that’s wonderful. I hope you two will share some fruitcake and eggnog—whatever that is—come December. What the hell are you doing with those pens anyway?”

“I’m organizing them into two groups. I thought I’d take all the nondescript pens down to the supply closet and pack up all the promotional and commemorative pens for his widow.”

Double A picked up a pen from the latter group and examined it. Then she clicked its top. “What the hell would his wife want with a pen from the Radisson?”

“I don’t know...maybe he wrote her letters from the hotels he stayed in when he traveled.”

“If those letters were important, then she would’ve kept them. No one gives a shit about the pen that may or may not have been used to write the letter. People don’t collect cheap hotel pens used by celebrities; they collect their autographs.”

“People collect the pens used by Presidents to sign bills into laws.”

“Our mentor wasn’t the President; he was an overweight pop monger.”

“I imagine he was more important to his wife than the President.” TF stood up from the desk chair. “Why don’t you sit down and take a break?”

“I don’t need a break; I need to be done packing up a dead man’s office. I never thought I’d be this bored my first week on the job.”

“If you’re looking for an exciting career, I think you may have chosen the wrong line of work. Something tells me that the soda industry isn’t the most stimulating of fields—well, maybe if you’re a taste tester—but you seem more stressed than bored, so take a seat, and I’ll give you a neck massage...if you want.”

Double A reluctantly, or at least with feigned reluctance, sat in the chair. “I guess a back rub does sound kind of nice...but don’t try any funny business—we’re in an office, not your car.”

“Funny business is the furthest thing from my mind.”

“It’s all right if it’s in your mind so long as it stays up there and doesn’t creep down into your pants and then make its way over to your fingers.”

He began massaging her shoulders. “There’s no need to be concerned about my fingers; I actually have no sensitivity in them—can’t feel a thing.”

“Is that right?”

“Yep, severe frostbite when I was a kid that resulted in extensive nerve damage...mother always told me to wear my mittens when playing in the snow, but did I listen?”

“That’s so sad...that you would think anyone would believe your little story.”

“It’s the truth—my numb hand to God.” He moved his fingers to the nape of her neck.

“That feels good.”

“I imagine it does...I can tell you’ve got a lot of tension in your neck.”

“Even with the nerve damage?”

“It comes and it goes.”

“Sounds convenient.”

“I make the best of it and soldier on.”

She reached for his hand and held it against her cheek. “I can’t believe you’ll be gone at the end of the week.”

“Yeah, I’m still trying to wrap my head around that too.” He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand. “Your face feels flush.”

“I’m probably just PMS-ing.”

The office door suddenly opened, and the giraffish executive poked his head in. “Oh, sorry to interrupt...just wanted to check on you two to see if you needed anything, but it seems you have everything well in hand.”

“It’s not what it looks like,” TF said. “She picked up a box full of books and strained her neck.”

“Better a strain in her neck than in your groin, or else we’d really have an HR issue—carry on, safety first, bend with your knees.” And with that, the door closed shut again.

Double A stood up. “Wow, what terrible timing we have.”

Wednesday Afternoon Story by Oblong

The medicines in the blank space:

“There’s a pill I take called Now. When I’m on it, time seems to stretch out infinitely in all directions and yet it also feels contained, as if time is making its way through my digestive tract.”

“There’s this injection they give me sometimes that goes by the name Loneliness. Under its influence, I get the sense that other invisible uprights simultaneously inhabit my section of the blank space, though I wish they wouldn’t.”

“A few times I’ve woken up with an inhaler in my hand labeled Craving. It seems to block my sense of taste and smell. Then I’m provided with stacks of jars containing pickled foods that I can’t identify, which I devour ravenously.”

“Occasionally I take these eyedrops stamped with the word Blindness on the bottle. They turn the white walls of the blank space shades of blue, from the dark indigo of drowning in deep water to the bright azure of gasping for air in the upper atmosphere.”

“Once I discovered a transparent plastic patch affixed to the base of my neck. On it was written the word Paralysis. It didn’t seem to have any effect.”

“There’s a suppository they use on me from time to time known as Reality, which makes me aware that I’m not actually in the blank space, but rather it is inside of me.”

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