"I Said Pianissimo!!"

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Water cooler talk. What cubicle dwellers say during breaks and after hours. Minus any political or religious overtones. Regarding that other forbidden topic, the stork delivers a "...five pound, twelve ouncer. Daughter. Healthy as a fat tick...." Nothing more suggestive than that. (New paragraph.) A note on genre. Though it's not integral, included in this story is an element of historical revisionist sci-fi. Something that didn't happen between 2008 and 2016 has happened here. Namely, instead of the "in real life" promise that Harriet Tubman would grace our twenties, in "I Said Pianissimo!!" she actually has supplanted Andrew Jackson. To wit: in Chapter Nine the Human Resources officer Kim Magister, at the end of their lunch, asked, "Are we all on one ticket?" (New paragraph.) "We'll take care of yours, Kim," said Brittany. Huge smile. "You're our guest!" (New paragraph.) "Wow. Thank you. How sweet," he said, smiling right back. "This has all the trappings of a genuine gift. Nice, but--" He stopped. His smile grew less coruscant, then faded even more. "But I can't. Sorry." He pulled out his wallet, and thumbed through some crisp bills. "This should cover my part," he said, ejecting a Tubman. It floated, wistfully, then landed on Kelly's unused butter knife. (New paragraph.) And it goes on from there. Can be read as a bedtime story. To any and all.

T.P. "Pat" Jaques
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"Eye, eye, Captain.” It’s probably “Aye, aye,” and it’s certainly not “I, I,” nor is it-- Well, this is all beside the point. What happened was I tooted. Or let one slip. I had been sawing logs a few seconds earlier and was still in the process of waking up. It had been silent, too. Needless to say, the first thing I did after wadding up my face in consternation was head to the bathroom and wad up some toilet paper.

For the investigation.

It felt like something the size of an extra-large sunflower seed had passed. Or it had been air. Simply air. Wasn’t sure which. Wiped. Nearly pristine toilet paper appeared in my hand. Both before and after.

Still up for debate. Checked around my uniform. And my undies. There was a big hole in the seat: planned obsolescence. This pair had been in my possession fewer than six months. Washed diligently after each usage. Put in the hamper, is what I’m trying to say. Not worn again until after a few spins in a washing machine. This was my sleeping attire: sweats, holey underwear. This particular pair not good enough for wearing outside among and between the public, in the shop or at the office, definitely not to be worn on the bicycle or at the gym.

But good enough to help with visits to the bathroom at night. And by “help” I mean while wearing sweats, but not drawers, a couple four dribbles down one or both legs invariably occurred. After a visit to the throne.

The issue is this: up till lately pairs of underwear have lasted three plus years. Still efficient enough for general wear. But my last two undergarment-oriented purchases had already been demoted before my third-to-last purchase. To be clear: four-year-old undies in better condition than 12-month-old undies.

This may not sound like a big deal but taking care of one’s own personal matters like the above is what we humans usually do. Yes, infants, the enfeebled elderly, and those who are mentally or physically incapacitated are often given a pass. Rumor has it that some in prison let themselves go. Likewise, the well-to-do--upon finding themselves in similar straits--undoubtedly toss their monogrammed silk pajamas into the dustbin, then hop in the ocean or the pool. Done and done.

Regardless. Investigation ongoing. I scrutinized my night gear, found that nothing was amiss. Earlier, while peregrinating to my facilities, I remembered feeling something about the size of a sunflower seed fall down to my left ankle, inside my sweats. This could have dropped through the hole in my underwear. Looked around, didn’t find anything. Aired out my sweatpants for an hour, then sniffed. Nothing. Verdict? It must have been methane. Tossed the possibly contaminated pair of underwear in the hamper; stepped into a fresh pair. Undeterred, I steadfastly continued wearing those same sweats. I mean, nothing happened. Due diligence threshold met. And exceeded.

Nothing. Happened.

A cynic might opine: “Yeah, but why worry? Just throw those sweats in with your other dirty things. Something might have happened.”

Be that as it may, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that that “passing” (of either air or a tiny chunk) occurred precisely as I was regaining consciousness. It’s possible, even, that this “passing” was the event that triggered my waking. And so kind of hard to be fully engaged (cognitively) at the exact moment when one is “surfacing.”


It turned out Kelly was the first to officially acknowledge “the problem.” Others, earlier, had mentioned sketchy outlines of what they thought might end up being an issue, only to have their mentions tabled. Blown off. Ignored. Not even noted in the minutes, were those first verbalizations of “the problem.” Off-the-record conversations wherein this “problem” was either alluded to or outright explicated occurred between/among the following: Kate, Ivan, Muhammad, Trevor and Soon-Chan. Kelly overheard one such exchange, and--even after being granted immunity--still chose to not reveal the names of said interlocutors.

“You don’t have to say who they were, naturally. But doing so might help.” This from Summer, who, according to her, was at that hour hearing for the first time anything at all to do with “the problem.”

“It won’t help. There’s--” Kelly cut himself off. After a few seconds he continued. “There’s no way. So much more of substance--of actual substance--was said by multiple others. On multiple occasions. This is no time to start pointing fingers. Hurling accusations.” He sipped from his tumbler. A clear liquid. “At this juncture, the only thing that matters is our acknowledging that this issue might negatively affect our progress. That said," he said, looking left, then right, "will it jeopardize everything? Of course not. But will it slow us down? Yes. So, we should address it. Now. Right now.”

“Which is why we’re here,” Kate said. Emotionlessly. This was her forte. She was the last to “show anything.” Body language. Facial cues. Ironically, she was a terrible poker player. Either she liked losing money at this card game, or it was all part of her master plan to continue leading. Perhaps she let others win, and often, and for an ulterior reason. Or maybe she was just atrocious at poker.

Could be, though, that Kate’s dry if not arid demeanor throughout that meeting was due to her thinking this “problem” wasn’t a problem. Wasn’t even a challenge. If in fact during that first confab she had been one of the “deniers,” she hid it well, and has continued in that same vein: not revealing which way she leaned. Still abstaining, she is. Still waiting for more evidence. Waiting for at least one more proof. Compile enough proofs, they say, and eventually it becomes de rigueur to assert that something’s been proven. To then proceed as if it were proven.

But no: during that first huddle, nothing was proven.

Though one proof did emerge.

A proof that was isolated. Then, a week later, it was verified. The test subjects behaved noticeably different than the control subjects, the latter given nothing but placeboes. And the whole kit and caboodle was repeated a day later. Different subjects. Same results.

Two days later this same septuplet--Kate, Ivan, Muhammad, Trevor, Soon-Chan, Kelly and Summer--reconvened. Kate: “OK, so it’s settled then: we might have a situation.”

“If it comes to the fore, yes: it could be a problem,” Muhammad said. “But all we have to--”

Kelly interrupted. “No, Muhammad. If it fructifies, it will be a problem. Not it could be a problem. We determined that last week.”

“Right. You’re right.” Muhammad looked into Kelly’s eyes. He tried to keep his emotions in check, but he blinked. Emphatically. Once. Kate saw him blink, and Ivan, looking at Kate, saw her eyes slightly dilate. It was the most anyone had seen out of her in weeks. Right then and there Ivan knew this “problem” could very easily end up being more problematic than anyone had anticipated. A lot more. His heart began beating an additional thirty beats per minute. This surge lasted well over a minute. Then he calmed.

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