Yellow Mama Archives II

Mark Jabaut

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Zimmerman, Thomas

Blocks

 

Mark Jabaut

 

 

 

          When it’s my shift I put the blocks through the holes as instructed. I don’t know why – no one has told me the purpose of this exercise, but we all have to do it during our shifts. The blocks are about the size of a toddler’s wood building blocks – the kind with the numbers and letters carved on and painted – maybe two inches square, max. These bocks are not carved out of wood, but I’m not sure what they’re made of. They are grey, smooth, and plasticky, but I don’t think they’re plastic. They have weight to them and feel almost like polished stone. And they are totally blank – no writing, no marks, nothing.

          The holes are the same shape as the blocks and just big enough for the blocks to fit through. Again, like that toddler toy where the kid has to fit the different shapes through the matching holes, except these holes are all one shape, a perfect square. There’s only three of them, in a row about five feet from the ground so there’s no stooping or reaching necessary. The holes are in a metal wall which I would guess is some type of machine. It hums quietly with impersonal detachment, and occasionally other beeps and buzzes escape from the wall.

          I don’t remember who told us we had to do this.

          Dimitri lays curled up on the mattress in the corner. When it’s not our shift, we are not allowed to leave our room. The one door is always locked. We take turns sleeping on the mattress on the floor. There are three of us, each working eight-hour shifts, so the one-mattress thing creates some issues for us: there is always one of us working, one sleeping on the mattress, and one standing around trying to find something to do. The problem is, there is nothing to do but put the blocks through the holes. Of the three possible activities in our room, standing around is my least favorite. I much prefer inserting the blocks or sleeping.

          We never see anyone from outside the room. Never.

          Meals are delivered via a dumbwaiter system three times a day. We have to share these meals evenly, but sometimes disputes arise when one of us feels he has been shorted. The food is nothing to be sad about missing, but it is the only nourishment we get, so getting shorted is a big deal. Dimitri and I almost got in a fistfight one time over it.

          We have a small bathroom with only a single toilet and a tiny sink, but there is no door, so we pretty much do our business as quickly as possible and go back to the room.

          The third person in our little group is Darnell. He seems very unhappy about being here. Of course, none of us are thrilled to be here, doing this work without any seeming purpose and unable to leave. But Darnell makes a big deal about it. I, though also unhappy, try to make the best of it and complain very little. Dimitri speaks minimal English, so we’re not really sure if he complains or not.

          Still, the way Darnell complains makes me a little nervous. I’m not sure why.

          I try to buck Darnell up but it’s not easy. He is surly and unappreciative of any positive comments I make to him. I think perhaps that he was a convict prior to being here. I don’t know why I think that, it’s just a feeling I get.

          Maybe Dimitri was also a convict. Although I can’t understand him, he is a little rough around the edges, and has strong territorial issues which I have heard can be developed in prison. He seems to think that the mattress is his, even though he can only use it for one shift a day.

          Maybe I was a convict before all this. I can’t remember a time before I was in this room.

          Maybe we are all currently convicts, and this is some sort of workhouse, like the poor houses and treadmills of eighteenth-century England. I have no way of knowing. There is no one to ask.

          The blocks that we put through the holes arrive by tumbling out of a chute at the far end of the machine. They land on a large metal table with short side walls. I spread them around as they come out, so they don’t pile up and overflow onto the floor. Then I begin inserting. It is simple work, but after eight hours even this is exhausting. Plus, it is very boring, although not as boring as having the standing-around shift.

          Sometimes I think that whoever is in charge is making us weak so that we have just enough energy to complete our shift, with nothing leftover for idle talk or arguing. The food is of poor quality, mostly a grey or dark green color, and pretty much unidentifiable as food except that it comes on a plate. It is nearly tasteless. Perhaps this is intentional.

They also give us flat, room-temperature water in plastic bottles.

It is also conceivable that they are putting something foreign in the food or water, some lesser poison that slows us down and tires us out but doesn’t kill us. Without any information, it is impossible to divine an answer. Anything is possible.

The end of my shift is announced by a ding from the ceiling. Darnell comes over to the machine. I step away from the wall and look at the mattress, but Dimitri is sprawled there and sound asleep. I should wake him and tell him it’s my shift on the mattress, but from prior experience I know that he will be difficult to rouse and dour when he gets up. I will feel him staring at me as I try to sleep, making actual sleep unlikely.

I decide to take an extra hour in the standing-around shift.

I stand against the far wall and watch Darnell insert his blocks. He does it with a forceful anger, jamming each block through a hole, as if he is trying to break the machine or the blocks themselves. I find his attitude worrisome and decide to stop watching him. Dimitri is motionless on the mattress so there is nothing to see there. I decide to count.

I close my eyes and begin counting from one. I am alone in my head now, with the soft slamming of Darnell’s blocks as a background rhythm, like traffic noise or ocean waves on a shore. I manage to get to two-thousand-six-hundred-something before I lose track of the numbers. I consider starting again but anything over two-thousand-five hundred is a good number for me, so instead I open my eyes. I see that Dimitri is stirring so I walk over toward the mattress.

Dimitri sits up and blinks groggily. I look down at him and he grunts acknowledgement, then stands and tromps unsteadily toward the far wall. I wonder briefly what he does to pass the time during his stand-around shift. He probably doesn’t count, I think.

I lie down on the mattress, still warm from Dimitri’s body heat and smelling faintly of his body odor and fall immediately to sleep.

#

          I wake up to Darnell kicking my leg, not gently but with no obvious intention to hurt. His eyes say it is his shift on the mattress, so I get up and go back to the stand-around area. Dimitri is already on the machine, inserting blocks. I look around the room, but it is the exact same room as it always is with the three of us in one of our unvarying rotations. I don’t feel like counting. I decide to try to just zone out for my shift. It’s kind of like sleeping on my feet, and it makes the time go faster when it works.

          I open my eyes when I hear a ding and move to the machine. Immediately my blocks fall, and I start inserting. Dimitri flops onto the mattress, and Darnell is against the far wall giving the room a hard stare. I get into my usual rhythm and the blocks disappear into the holes. I’m not sure how long I’ve been at it when I hear some grunting and scraping behind me. I quickly glance to one side and notice that Darnell is no longer in the standing-around area. I can only look for a second because you’re not supposed to stop or slow down your inserting once you start. After a moment, with the sounds still going on behind me but louder and more insistent, I quickly turn my head and see that Darnell and Dimitri are locked in some sort of struggle. I turn back to the machine. I don’t know what to think. This has never happened before

          I want to say something but have no words. This conflict is making me nervous as, although it has never been delineated, I am sure that it is not approved of. There may well be consequences. What they may be, I have no guess.

          The sounds behind me become more of the gasping and wheezing type, with some of the original grunts and scrapes thrown in. Then it is quiet except for some heavy breathing. I can’t help myself as I take another peek at what is happening. When I look, I see Darnell dragging a prone Dimitri by one leg off the mattress and onto the floor. Then I watch Darnell sit down on the mattress, wipe some sweat from his forehead with a hand, and then lay down on his back.

          Dimitri has not moved and is looking decidedly inert. He looks slightly less than human now. I consider that perhaps he is dead. I nervously snap back to the machine and my blocks. I have had my attention off my task for too long, and my hands are slippery with sweat. A block slips from my fingers and bounces to the floor. I can’t take time to look for where it has gone and will have to wait for Darnell to get up to help find it. I don’t think Dimitri will be helping anyone from now on.

          I try not to think about what has just happened and finish my shift. I am terrified of the repercussions of what has just happened, sure that murder is not condoned. The ding sounds, and I turn to look at Darnell. He is just getting up off the mattress and he comes over to take my place at the machine. Dimitri has not moved from where I saw him last. There is a kind of bathroom smell coming from him. I try to ignore it, walk past his body to the mattress, lie down and go to sleep.

          I awake to Darnell kicking me again. I did not hear the ding, but I was asleep, so I hurry over to the machine, almost tripping over Dimitri, and start inserting blocks. I hear a shushing sound and Darnell’s heavy breathing and chance a quick look. Darnell has dragged Dimitri’s body over to the stand-around area, which is a good idea. With only two of us, no one will be forced to stand there. It will be a good place to store Dimitri.

          For the next few days Darnell and I alternate shifts between the machine and the mattress, and things go on as before, except that Dimitri is no longer involved. As the days pass the room begins to smell – the odor starts out as a sweet note in the background, but by the time we have gone through four shifts it is horrible. It is clearly coming from Dimitri. I look at him from my place on the mattress while Darnell slams his blocks into the hole. Dimitri’s stomach is bloated, rising like a basketball above the rest of him. His face and hands have changed color and look like they are made of clay. I wish there was something we could do to remove him from the room. It makes me wonder if those in charge are even aware of what goes on in our room. Does no one monitor us?

           It is very hard to eat when the meals come. I gag on each bite before I can swallow it. Dimitri’s odor of decomposition doesn’t seem to bother Darnell as much. He wolfs down his share of the food as well as Dimitri’s.

          We settle into our new two-person shift pattern, and it works pretty well. The stand-around shift has been eliminated, and that was always the least desirable one. Now we just insert blocks, sleep, and occasionally eat. Darnell and I are making a good team.

          One day I am asleep on the mattress and I hear a noise, a different noise from the usual sound of blocks being inserted. I sit up just as the door – the one that never opens – snicks closed. I am stunned, my eyes go wide. Was someone just in here? Did someone simply open the door for a brief moment to take a look at us? Did they bring us something?

          I look over at the stand-around area and see that Dimitri is gone. That is a relief. His odor was becoming almost unbearable. In fact, I detect a faint scent of orange blossom Febreze. As I’m sniffing that fresh fragrance, it strikes me that something else is missing other than Dimitri, although I can’t think of what it might be. It’s like one of those cartoon puzzles where they give you two pictures, and you have to try to find the differences. I close my eyes and try to picture the room as it always is. Then I open my eyes again and search for the missing item.

          It is Darnell. My stomach drops. Darnell is no longer in the room. He must have been removed when they took Dimitri. I realize that no one is inserting blocks, and a shot of panic pops in my chest. I jump to my feet, rush over to the machine, and begin shoving blocks at the holes with both hands. I am slamming them in like Darnell did. I finish the pile on the table, and a new load drops down the chute, so I begin inserting those at closer to my normal pace.

          As I’m working new worries arise in my head. What happens when my shift ends and there is no one to take over? When will I have an opportunity to sleep? Will they bring me more workers? Or will they come and take me away, too?

          I try to dismiss these worries from my head. I have a job to do, I can’t control anything except how I insert the blocks. I could, I think, possibly complete two or even three shifts at the machine if I had to. Maybe even four. The question is, what will happen after that?

# # #


After the Fire

 

Mark Jabaut

 

 

          The fire trucks had folded their hoses and shuttered their lights and left.  The two ambulances had also driven off, empty but for their drivers and techs.  The truck from the coroner’s office had drifted quietly away, carrying the gray, soot-covered lump that had been Caro’s mother.

          The street was midnight silent.  After all the noise and bluster of the fire, the lack of sound was frightening.  Caro could hear charred wood clicking as it cooled, and the syncopated drip of water into the soupy pond that had been his mother’s living room.

          Caro was empty – he had nothing left to feel.  During the initial shock, the Red Cross minivan had arrived to offer their three C’s of aid:  coffee, cookies, and condolences.  He had a card from the head Red Cross dude in his pocket, along with the business cards of several dubious and overly helpful contractors and ambulance-chasers.  His pockets had more inside them than did Caro himself.

          According to a bristle-lipped Fire Marshall, the fire had started in the living room and roared up and through the roof.  It was believed that Caro’s elderly mother had fallen asleep while smoking.  Death by dozing.

          Caro decided that he needed to do something – anything – or he would remain rooted here in front of his mother’s home all night.  He forced himself to take a step closer to the house.  His clean, white sneaker smooshed into the overwatered lawn, and he searched for something solid to stand on, located a kitchen cabinet door lying a few feet in front of him, and perched there, heron-like.  He stared at the mess before him.

          He should have moved his mother into a nursing home a long time ago, he thought.  The last time he had spoken to her – a crisp and awkwardly truncated phone call on Sunday – she had complained of goblins.  Her home was infested, she said.  Caro had winced as he told her he would call an exterminator.

          He spied another island in the muck near a singed boxwood – a large chunk of waterlogged but still firm-looking drywall – and he hop-skipped closer to the house.  From this roost he could see clearly through what used to be the picture window and into the living room.  Nothing remained in the room to suggest that his mother had ever been there.  The center of the room was covered in a slurry of ash, soaked insulation and soggy drywall. At the corners of the room, like raised landscaping around some koi pond from hell, were charcoal islands – the solid remains of anything in the room that hadn’t had time to be fully consumed.

          Caro sighed.  His mother had been old, and he had been preparing himself for her death for years.  It was still a shock for her to go suddenly, like this.  He began thinking of all the tasks he would have to perform in the near future:  funeral, insurance adjuster, repair house or maybe just demo and sell the lot.

          As he stared at the debris, Caro thought he saw something move.  A pile of charred whatever shifted slightly, as if a mole was burrowing beneath the surface.  Just post-fire displacement, he thought.  All the remaining crap settling into itself.  He continued to watch that spot.

          Movement again.  This time, it was upward, Caro was sure of it.  The blackened pile had lifted, as if someone underneath it was pushing weakly to free himself.  The motion continued.

          Caro wildly pictured his mother buried beneath the debris, sucking wet soot and melted fiberglass into her lungs and scrabbling to free herself, but he shortcut his panic by reminding himself that she had left with the coroner.  But still:  someone, or something, was trying to get out; he was sure.

          Forsaking his earlier concern over his clean sneakers, he squelched through the swamp and into the living room.  Perhaps a fireman had fallen and not been missed, perhaps his mother had an unaccounted-for visitor.  He stopped before the debris pile, one foot in the floor-soup, and watched to see if it would move again.  He strained his ears for sound.

          When he saw a chunk of gray drywall lift an inch and then fall, Caro tore into action.  He bent over and began grabbing handfuls of the soaked, acrid mess and throwing it behind him.  He dug like a St. Bernard saving a skier in the Alps.  When he had cleared away a sizable portion of the pile, he stumbled backwards, confused.  He had been right:  someone was buried in that fire hash, but it was too small to be a fireman.  Was it a baby?  It made no sense.  Why would a baby be at his mother’s house?  His shock combined with relief as he saw an arm move; the baby was alive.

          With a burst of energy, the baby stood up and shook insulation from its shoulders and looked at Caro with decidedly un-baby-like eyes.  Caro backed away further. 

          The creature was about a foot tall, with grayish skin, although Caro couldn’t tell if that was natural or a result of the fire.  Its ears were pointed, and its fingers were long, thin, and impossibly clawed.  It bent over to pluck something out of the debris, showing Caro a thin, rat-like tail.

          Caro felt frozen.  The shock of the fire was nothing compared to this.  He heard himself muttering but didn’t know what he was saying.

          The creature seemed to notice him again and stared into his eyes.  Caro saw mischief there.  Then the creature held up the object it had pulled from the debris, and Caro saw that it was a lighter, the kind you could buy at a convenience store for a buck.  The creature grinned at Caro, and flicked the lighter’s wheel, creating a little spark and a pale, yellow flame.  Then it skipped past him like a rabbit and ran off into the night.

          Caro turned and watched as it disappeared behind a parked car and thought to himself that perhaps he should have listened more closely to his mother’s complaints.

# # #


The Odor Museum

 

Mark Jabaut

 

 

          I’m preparing for my day:  I shower for a minimum of twenty minutes, using the state-of-the-art scentless soap and shampoo provided by my employer at a discounted cost.  I dry myself with a clean cotton towel, comb my hair, shave with the same soap I used in the shower, and apply scent-free, heavy-duty deodorant.  I brush and floss with unflavored paste and wax-free floss.  I dress in my docent uniform – navy slacks, white shirt with the museum’s crest on the left breast, red museum tie, and dark gold jacket.  The uniform, of course, has been delivered earlier that morning from the drycleaner hired specifically by the museum to clean our uniforms without the use of any chemicals.  They clean the museum uniforms and nothing else.  We are their sole customer.

          I have only been a docent at The Odor Museum for two months.  It is quite an exciting job for me, but being the newest employee, I am constantly fearful that I will make a mistake and ruin everything.  There is such a delicate balance in the exhibits.

          I love my job.

As you approach the Odor Museum, the first thing you notice is the total lack of odor.  It was specifically designed this way.  The shiny metal and glass building sits like a post-modern prison in the middle of its manicured lawn, and you don’t even smell the grass clippings as you walk up the flagstone path – it’s like they somehow deodorized the lawn, too. 

          The front doors are hermetically sealed, and there is a whispered whoosh and a feeling of pressure-change as you enter the museum.  The main lobby is as empty of smells as the outside – they really try to confine all odors to the exhibits themselves.  You don’t even get a lemon whiff of glass-cleaner or anything.  It’s as if you’ve lost your sense of smell; you’ve gone nose blind.

          I, of course, come in through the employee’s entrance, and immediately submit myself to a sniff test.  This week Mr. Warren’s got duty.  I’m not very fond of him because he seems too intense, a little too enthusiastic about his job.  I mean, he really gets his nose in there.

          Luckily, I pass with no objections from Mr. Warren. I learned quickly that a bland dinner the night before can save you a lot of time in the sniff test.

          I enter the public portion of the museum and as always, I am enthralled by the place.  It’s brand spanking new for one thing – gleaming and looking futuristic like some sort of a spa for robots.

          Numerous Halls spread outward from the lobby in a tantalizing array of choices (again, like a maximum-security smell penitentiary, each Hall is separated by hermetically sealed doors, keeping the odors on permanent lock-down).  My favorite is the Hall of Vittles.  It’s a homey display of scents from the kitchen:  fresh-baked apple pie, warm, homemade bread, meat sizzling on a grill. 

The walls are lined with Odor-Booths, and each Odor-Booth has an adjustable stool in front of it, padded for the customer’s comfort. To experience the smells, what you do is this:  you find a display that intrigues you, and you take a seat on the stool in that booth.  Each booth is supplied with sanitizer, which you spray onto the Olfactory Projectors to remove any vestige of the previous customer.  You adjust your stool to the precise level for optimal odor reception, and then you lean your face into the display, setting your nostrils onto the twin black nozzles of the Olfactory Projectors.  Unless you have oversized nostrils, the O.P.s fit snuggly into your nostrils, creating a seal to prevent any Odor Slippage (the museum provides user-friendly adaptor-rings for those sad few with large or saggy nostrils).  Once situated at the proper level on your stool, nostrils snug on the O.P.s, you are ready.  You push the button conveniently located at shoulder-height and a small puff of odor is slung directly into your nasal cavity.

Everything after that is just nature.  Your olfactory receptors gather the atomic-sized odor particles and pass the information to your brain.  And Bingo!  You’ve smelled Mom’s Sunday Meatloaf!

I stroll over toward the main entrance just in time for a loud whoosh as the main doors open and the first customers are pushed through from the air lock. They always stumble a little bit from the air pressure change, and there are smiles and giggles.

“Greetings!” I say, and then I proclaim the museum’s motto: “Come Smell the Fun!”  The people smile, and one or two wave at me, and they slowly meander toward the center of the room.

(P.S. – the motto reflects quite an investment on the part of the museum’s board of directors.  They paid 1.3 million dollars to an advertising firm to develop that motto.  Woe to the docent who forgets to shout it proudly.)

I spend the morning wandering through the various halls, brushing dust from railings, and generally making myself available to any customer who might have a question.  No one has a question. I pass Roy Smittle in the Hall of Molds and Fungi and he gives me a little smirk like, can you believe these rubes and their smelling?  I don’t respond.  Roy has been on staff since this place opened, and he seems to think little of the museum.  He feels, I think, that the work is beneath him. I have even caught him out by the loading dock finishing a poorly concealed doobie during a break.  This is a huge no-no, as residual smoke from said doobie could enter the building and interact with the exhibits.  In summary, I don’t like Roy.

I continue my rounds and come to one of the most popular Halls, the Hall of Holidays.  People line up to smell Christmas Balsam Fir, or Thanksgiving Turkey (also available in the Hall of Vittles), or Easter Egg Dye Vinegar.  I myself have particularly enjoyed Birthday Candle Smoke and Burnt Jack-O-Lantern.  My kids have a special fondness for Sparkler Blaze.

While circling Holidays, I see a boy, maybe twelve or thirteen years old, dragging a younger boy by one hand and eating a stick of beef jerky from the other. (I note with a certain satisfaction that the younger boy is clasping a Little Odor-Maker’s Scenterrific Laboratory toy, purchased from the Gift Shop.) The older boy rips into the jerky with his teeth and pulls the rest away with his hand, and I can imagine the microscopic jerky particles flying into the air like a wet spray of brown doves.  I can almost smell the offending food from where I am standing.

I quickly approach the children to attempt to rectify this issue.  I could call security, but they’ve been getting somewhat overzealous lately, and I’d hate to see this kid get tazed or worse just for eating where he shouldn’t.  Plus, I have faith in my abilities to deescalate any situation.

I walk up to the older boy, and in my most official-but-friendly museum voice, say “Hey there, son.  Enjoying the museum?”  He nods noncommittally and returns his attention to the display in front of him and takes another chomp of jerky.  He is next in line for the Valentines Candy O.P.s.

“By the way,” I say, “the museum has a rule against food being consumed by customers.”  I smile as I say this, so he doesn’t get offended.

The kid looks at the jerky and then back at me.  He is clearly annoyed.  “This isn’t food,” he says.

I am slightly startled by this declaration, but I know better than to let it show.  “It’s not?” I say.  “Then what is it?”

He folds the remaining jerky into a size that will just barely fit his mouth, and he stuffs it inside.  Through a mouthful of jerky and saliva he says, “it’s gone.”  Then he smiles and steps up to the O.P.s. 

I keep the smile on my face and leave the boy to his odors.  Inside I am seething.  I did not take this job to be an object of ridicule of twelve-year-old children.  That is the exact opposite of why I took the job.

When I have free time, or when my rounds allow it, I tend to gravitate toward the less popular Halls.  I’m not one much for crowds, and I like to leisurely enjoy an odor without someone at my elbow waiting for their turn, or a group of noisy kids jostling my back and smushing my nostrils lower onto the O.Ps.

One of these less-visited Halls is the Hall of Humanity.  There you can sample all the myriad odors of your fellow humans without even having to board a subway.  Granted, not all these smells are pleasant, but it’s all part of the Great Odor Experience! There is never any wait at the Flatulence display, and the Armpit booth is likewise generally empty.  Ditto the Ballpark Urinal display.

Another is our newest exhibit: The Hall of Farming.  (It used to be the Hall of Athletics, but people got tired of smelling Joe DiMaggio.)  It tends to draw a lot of old-timers, the overalls crowd:  guys nostalgic for the days when family farms outnumbered car dealerships.  You have to be a farm-lover to go to that exhibit.  Aside from stale, musty hay, all the odors are truly objectionable and seem to be directly related to animal excretion.  Cow excrement is only out-stenched by pig excrement, and you’d be surprised how bad a chicken smells – not chicken poop, just a plain, feathery chicken.  It’s nearly enough to make you a vegetarian.

I am about to head into the Hall of Farming when I see Roy lurking about rather furtively just prior to ducking through the doors into the Hall of Nature. (This is the Hall where you can smell the most animals.  I never had any idea what a hedgehog smelled like before I came to the Museum.  It’s not bad! These animals will surprise you. Or how about this:  smell a bee!  Ever thought about doing that?)

I decide to follow Roy and see what he is up to, as I specifically don’t trust him as a docent, and in general don’t trust people who lurk.  I try to enter the Hall silently, but of course there is the obligatory air whoosh that announces my presence.  Roy is already turned and looking at me by the time I get into the room.

“Spying on me?” he asks.

No,” I say as if insulted, although of course this is exactly what I am doing.

“Well,” says Roy, in his smirky way, “you had better decide if you want to join me in this little endeavor or get out now before it’s too late.”

It’s then that I notice that smirky Roy is holding something in his hands, and it is not something authorized for merchandising by the gift shop, and so it must be contraband brought in from outside.  Roy knows better than this.  This is a huge no-no.  His “get out” option immediately sounds like the best choice.  But I hesitate.

“What is that?” I say,  “What are you doing?”

Roy looks at the small package in his hands almost as if he has forgotten it was there.  He holds it up.  His eyes look angry.

“It’s a smoke bomb,” he says.

“A -- smoke bomb?” I stutter.  “Roy, no!  Whatever reason you think you have; you don’t have to do this.”

“I don’t have to,” he says.  “I want to.”

“But, Roy,” I say, and I feel close to tears.  “Why?”

“No one appreciates me here,” he says.

“Well,” I say, trying to provide a reasonable argument for not appreciating Roy, “you don’t seem to enjoy your job very much. Also,” I add, “you smirk a lot.”

This comment doesn’t have the effect on Roy I was hoping for.  Instead, he seems to be even more angry.

“That’s just what I would expect from you,” says Roy. “You’ve thought you were better than the rest of us ever since your first day.”

“That’s not true,’ I say.  In fact, I only think I am better than Roy.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not,” says Roy, “cause I’ve been telling management since Day One that you were up to something and weren’t to be trusted. And after I set off this smoke bomb, everyone’s going to think it was you.  And then you’ll be out of here.”  He smiles at me in smirky triumph.

I stare at Roy with a combination of shock and horror. How could he do this to me?  This is my dream job.  Maybe I haven’t been like the best friend to Roy while I’ve been here, but I haven’t outwardly attacked him or insulted him (except for the “smirk a lot” comment of a minute ago). What would provoke him to do something like this, and blame me? I feel a heat rising in my chest, and I clench my fists.

“Don’t do it, Roy,” I say. “Whatever your problem with me, you don’t need to damage the museum. Can you imagine how long it will take to clean up after a smoke bomb?  It’s not worth it.”

“It will be if I get you fired,” he says.

I stand straight and look Roy in the eye, and I put my right hand over my heart.  “I retract what I said about you smirking a lot,” I say.

“Too late,” says Roy, and he flicks the lighter he has in his other hand. Before he can light the fuse, however, I go mobile.  I spring at him like some odorless jungle cat, and we both go crashing into the Wombat Display.  The fiberglass shielding cracks and splits apart, and we tumble inside the booth.  O.P.s go flying.  Somehow the button gets pushed, and Roy and I find ourselves wrestling in a miasma of wombat stank. This is not helpful to either of us.

I hear a tear and see that the museum’s sewn-on crest is half-torn from my shirt. While I am distracted with this, Roy manages to put his feet in my stomach and give a great push, and I go tumbling out of the Wombat Display Booth, slide across the almost frictionless vinyl floor, and slam into the base of the Camel Hump Booth. (Yes, the hump smells differently from the rest of the animal.) Some magnetic signage falls from the display and bonks me on the head.

As I am laying there half-dazed, Roy stands and brushes himself off.  I watch as he picks up the smoke bomb and the lighter which he dropped during our battle, flicks the lighter wheel, and touches the flame to the fuse. And then I can’t see him anymore because the room has filled with smoke.

The next thing I remember, I am seated on the curb outside, coughing smoke from my lungs, while two stern policemen ask me questions I can’t answer.  I look at the museum and see that every possible window and door is wide open as little wisps of bluish smoke trail from some of them.  Tears come to my eyes.  I try to tell the policemen that I would never do such a thing, that I loved the museum, but their eyebrows only go lower, and they keep mentioning terms like “terrorist” and “anti-social a-hole.” It occurs to me that they are not really listening to me.

The last thing I remember before passing out again is seeing Roy shaking hands with the museum’s director, and both of them smiling.  I’m sure Roy has told him that he tried to stop me and painted himself as some sort of smirking hero.

I can’t go to the Odor Museum anymore.  I’ve been permanently banned. I spoke with an attorney who said that the case was basically my word versus Roy’s, but he’d be willing to take the case if I would pay the filing fees.  However, as I am not working, that is a no-go.

The museum is due to reopen sometime next month, after five months of Hepa-cleaning and the replacement of every linear foot of door and window seal. I wish I could attend the Grand Reopening, but that won’t happen – the permanently banned thing.

The life of a docent is much harder than most people know.

 

# # #

Mark Jabaut was a playwright and author who lived in Webster NY with his wife Nancy. Mark’s play IN THE TERRITORIES, originally developed via Geva Theatre’s Regional Writers Workshop and Festival of New Theatre, premiered in May 2014 at The Sea Change Theatre in Beverly, MA. His 2015 Rochester Key Bank Fringe Festival entry, THE BRIDGE CLUB OF DEATH, went on to be featured at an End of Life Symposium at SUNY Broome County and is listed with the National Issues Forum for those who wish to host similar events.


 Mark also had entries in the 2016, 2017 and 2019 Fringe Festivals, THE HATCHET MAN, DAMAGED BEASTS and COLMA!. Mark authored several short plays performed by The Geriactors, a local troupe of older performers. Mark’s fiction has been published in a local Rochester magazine, POST, as well as The Ozone Park Journal, SmokeLong Quarterly, Spank the Carp and Defenestration. 


Mark Jabaut passed away on November 3, 2021.

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