Thursday, March 6, 2014

Hot off the presses: A New Short Story

Of Human Consciousness

`It is the hat that matters most,` she said, as she careened forward, nearly missing being hit by a Hermes-like bicycle delivery guy.  `If the hat is not designed historically correct, then the whole costume will be off and all the purists will notice.  That, I can guarantee you.`  She was walking with Benton down Massachusetts Avenue on a sunny late afternoon.  Sun in the city seems a rarity. And Benton.  What in the world would she do without him? He has been here for me.  That he has. Not in a way that I would expect to need him, but the way he came to me years ago and filled in as that missing puzzle piece in my life, I could have never expected.  Benton was a surprise, a gift.  The kind of gift someone gives you, and you wonder, `What could they mean?`.  Later on, you understand exactly what they meant.  They were anticipating your needs, which is quite a gift in itself.   

            They quickly made way across the street at the crosswalk, headed in the direction of the sun and the production company they have been working for. She looked him up and down as she followed behind him.  He was wearing his usual attire: J Crew khakis and a crisp white shirt, but he always managed to look so fresh. No matter the weather, his hair was perfectly cut and styled, and his shoes, polished to an opaque shine.  His body was like a metrosexual marble statue, created just to express the 21st century human ideal until the end of time.  One wonders if he sits at home when not working and preens like a peacock, cleaning his feathers for the next conquest. It is a technique that has been well-proven to produce the optimum results.

            A Chinese lady with a hot dog cart is stuck on the curb. She hurries over to help her lift it up and onto the sidewalk. Pamela notices she is wearing a pair of those soft black cloth mary janes with the rust colored soles that were one of those coveted exotic Chinese finds of the youth back in the 80`s.  Hers were old and the backs of the shoes were crumpled into accordions, her pink socks permanently grey from months or even years of splashing puddles and the tenacious grime of the road.  Benton continues to walk, oblivious to anything happening around him. Typical Benton: his legs mechanically working like the geared mechanisms in a factory assembly line. They just never stop.  She laughs.  `Would you wait a second?` She rushes forward in her high heels, still nimble and balanced at the mature age of 48.  `Ok we are not late.  In fact, we are early! Where are you rushing off too?` She is a bit perturbed, but used to it.  Benton is a man on a mission.  Any mission, he is there and will not fail. She catches her breath beside him and says, `As I was saying, we need to emphasize the fact that this film will be different.`  `I know, Pam.  I heard you the first time.  Do you doubt me?  I would think you would know by now that I have no trouble giving you what you want.` She grumbles.  `Ah, but sometimes, you are much too confident.  That is what worries me right now.  I get the feeling that you are not as serious about this project as I am.`

            The last project they worked on together was a disaster to finish.  The final product was breathtaking and wildly innovative, but the journey through completion was a horror.  So many details left undone at the last minute, so much rushing and so many complicated transactions going on. It made her head spin.  He makes her head spin. She did not want another one of those projects.  She was determined to lead this one.  Benton will just have to follow her lead.   She will make sure of it. Somehow, she wonders, will I be eating these words? Benton is one brilliant force to be reckoned with.

            Benton was similar to someone, she thinks to herself. How funny life can be.  One person leaves your life because you realize that they were no good for you and the `trying harder` part was only leaving you completely emptied, then another comes along and is so similar to the last.  One would think that you would stop for a second and say, `Wait a minute! This feels similar.`, but, we never do, do we? We merely carry on, having parallel relationships all of our lives.  Almost like we were given an imprint at birth and that is what we would follow, until we finally got it right.  Benton, she thinks, is that `got it right` person.  The one who untangled the misunderstandings, inconsistencies, and insensitivities of the past, the one who ties the strings together, makes things right, and never, ever gives up.  He can be an ass.  No doubt about that one.  But he is also her hero, too.  She would not have come nearly as far with her goals without him.

            Before Benton, there was Trudy, short for Theresa.  Yes, strange nickname, but interestingly, it matches her persona. She did always tell the truth.  Pamela could trust her, but she turned out to be someone she just could not rely upon.  A train wreck they would say.  Her life was a bomb site, the crater left after an asteroid hit, the derailed train car hovering off of the side of a lurching suspension bridge.  Every day, some thing new, but not in a good way with Trudy.  Never in a good way.  Any phone call coming from her end was sure to result in a visit to the hospital, the funeral home, or the jail in order to bring bail money and/or a change of clothes. And sometimes, these would be her only clothes.

            They arrive at 744 Lincoln Blvd., a monstrous art deco skyscraper with 6 elevators and 130 floors.  On the 128th, the offices of CCM Productions begin, with the more senior executives as you approach the top.  They pass the doorman who tips his red hat with fingers like sausages, quickly hiding his magazine as we drift swiftly by.  Pamela was always nervous as she entered these elevators. She adjusts her stockings and skirt and holds her chin higher.  Benton patiently waits, resting on his elegance, at the elevator keypad.  He glances her way, looking cool and confident, removing his sunglasses. He turns and gives her a light hug.  `You look worried, my dear. Let me handle it, and we will be fine.` She thinks to herself, `Yes, I could do that, but I won`t this time, not matter how easy it sounds. I must maintain control. Things will change from this moment forward.` She checks her reflection in one of the mirrors along the wall: red hair, thick and brushed to a sheen, rose lipstick still intact and creamy, cleavage is visible, yet not too daring,  expression is….well, doable for now. She is hoping it will change as she reaches that crucial moment.  She steels her backbone, hoping that strengthening herself physically will, in turn, strengthen her resolve.

            And they wait.  The secretary in her tight expensive sweater, mohair perhaps, icily tells them that Mr. Covington, the man himself, is held up at a meeting. Mr. Covington is an imposing man.  Mid 50`s, medium height and build, balding, but not well.  It is his demeanor that gives one the creeps.  Almost `dirty old man` in a way, but with a thick wallet, so weirdly, it gives that stereotype a positive twist.  Being a woman in this particular situation is hard, very hard. She continues to meditate on evoking power and authority, all the while, reserving her femininity as a back up tool in case she may need it.

            She somehow, in that tense waiting room scene looking down at her shoes, was brought back to the Chinese lady on the street today.  Her hot dog cart was her dream.  If she sold some hot dogs, she was content.  If she sold even more the next day, she was even happier and more satisfied. All the while, she did it all alone.  Utterly self reliant, she braved the cold of winter and the heat of summer; her own backbone, strong and resilient.  What makes her different than me?  Who is this man, Mr. Covington? He could be just another hungry guy buying hot dogs.  For some reason , this thought gave her a sudden rush of courage and determination.  Just think of him as just another hungry human being looking for his own level of contentment.  Just like the doorman and his magazine, just like Benton and his feathers.  Even poor, troubled Trudy, and her lack of clothes.  We all face these moments in our lives in our own way.  Tension, expectation, fear, apprehension come over all of us.  We are all just puzzle pieces in the big panorama of life.  We have our roles, our own engagement with others.  We are all necessary in the larger scheme of things. Her mind raced, as she sat there in the charcoal grey office chair, next to the potted orchid, the latest issue of Vanity Fair, and the picture of a seaside cottage on the wall.  This moment is not unique to her, but it is still hers.  It represents a continuum.  If she plays her role well, the continuum remains static and flowing.  She must do her best.  She must stay with the flow.

            The girl in dusty plum mohair rises up to open one of the double doors leading to her future.  Pamela and Benton rise, Benton allowing her to enter first.  The vast red space ahead, filled with curtains and bottles and woodwork and glass, collapses and expands, welcomes and prohibits, coddles and caresses, fondles and ignores, as she enters, her high heels grazing the carpet carefully.  And there he is. Head held erect, she greets the hungry man with a firm hand shake and a strong female glance. His eyes falter a bit, and she notices that maybe, just maybe, Mr. Covington is in need of a sandwich.