He could not shake the dream. He woke with it upon him. Overnight, his room-the dusty outdoor knowledge that it was–had reaaranged itself. Desks in the family for generations had sprouted feet while books readied themselves for a three-legged race. Important busts now stretched, shook themselves free of the stone dream of centuries. The mural on which he had painted the story of Don Quixote had turned into an actual butte, winds lifting tiny, sexual spirals of sand. And worst: the ashes of dead uncle Arthur had reconvened into a groaning, ululating mass behind the man’s third-grade ammonia-scented schooldesk, so that the head of Uncle Arthur now begged for codeine-laced syrup. Hold on! said the man to the inhabitants of his room. Just you wait! A whine to his voice though the man had seen worse. Once, in Mexico, hanging by fingernails onto the wagon, he had gotten the delirium tremors so strongly he’d believed his skin to be made of spiders and that he was caught in a terremoto, the kind to pull down thousands of aspirants. But even after he shook his head, there it was: everything he’d thought secure and true, immobile, now walking around the room. The only thing left for him to do, shaking his head still, was to look in the mirror. Cabeza de vaca-or cabeza de ass-hadn’t something new and awful formed from his mental lucubrations? You are what you think or eat: which applied here? Surely he was culpable, his guilt so pure it attained the quality of an Ararat vision. He shouldn’t have eyed the statutory waitress, shouldn’t have cheated on his income tax, shouldn’t have been North American, sinking toward or away from middle age. Had his skin been stripped from him? Only yesterday he had made a sly, derisive comment about his most enviable friend to another pal. Did he now have a womb? His rib cage certainly protruded, pregnant with horror. The mirror awaited him, more confident than a whisper.
Out in the fields, there rumbled talk of a work stoppage. A jackal had come with the news, or rather the woman whom people called the shape-shifter, her cleavage hard and pointy, her mouth chewing off the report with grim satisfaction. They’d seen their boss fleeing from his temporary dwelling that morning as if his tail was on fire. The jackal was the one who knew best. Some thought that somewhere in a bar-misty past there had been some shacking-up between jackal and boss. This peccadillo formed part of the contours of the boss’s vision for the field, because hey, he was human, and part of his humanity was his need for shacks and visions. It was not that he gave the workers ample shares of the profits-he did not-it was rather that he made them feel that far beyond plunging derricks into empty sand, they performed something of import and meaning. The jackal had on her bedside table a book that said every person needed three things in life–to look forward to something, to do something of meaning, and she couldn’t remember the last one. She was a shape-shifter but no one had to know that. When she’d slept with the boss, he had bitten off the tip of her tail and she’d relished the wound, had not shifted it. While listening to the jackal’s report in the field, no one noticed how the winds had picked up. She left a wake of gossip in her wake so that, similarly, no one ever noticed her unusual means of escape, a paradoxical relation to gravity, though if they had, it would have confirmed their deepest hopes.
The boss was relieved that though the mirror had deceived him that morning, when he stepped out, he seemed to have reassumed a human shape, though something a bit womanly obtained to the nether regions. The only way he knew to believe in his dream was to note his workers had shed the need to wear clothes and were having a bit of sport. He had, after all, encouraged worthwhile lunchtime amusements, and now they seemed to have stumbled upon a circus act to keep them entertained so they wouldn’t notice who happened to milk and deposit the majority of profits in his offshore account. He did wonder: was that a real mutant whom they trained or just some other workers drafted to play being a sweet-tempered, caterpillar-colored catlike beast? Were there shoes, in other word, protruding from under the costume? Because he’d never trusted his workers to do anything too sophisticated.
All the while, next to them a vastation was growing, a beautiful clearing in which, had anyone stopped to listen, something important was being said. But who had time to hear? The circus was all. In response to this odd burst of life among them, the boss thought it important to declaim and narrate, choosing to spend the day moving from sector to sector. Naked he might be, of womanly hip, but he would describe to them what they were doing and what would serve their purposes best. No one listened; they treated his words as background hum yet this hurt nothing. Because upon seeing the caterpillar beast, the boss found a catch in his throat, one needing to be expunged.
Among the sectors, whenever he found himself at a loss for words, he stuttered on the refrain my honor, my honor and an occasional worker would echo back your honor your honor.
What the boss didn’t know was legion. He didn’t know, really, how to knot a tie. How to get foodscraps out from between teeth. How to hold your hand out in friendly greeting toward a dog to give it a chance to sniff. How to meet a bald man and not remark upon the panels of pate shine. How to look a woman in the eyes and not below. How to give workers more than an illusion that their lives filled with meaning and purpose. To all this matrix of ignorance had grown a life underground. Every bit of ignorance had sprouted its reverse, so that even as the boss went out declaiming that it was a fine day, a fine day, my honor, something he tended to do not infrequently, there was a fellow who very well could have been mistaken for the boss’s double leading a reddish brigade just under the surface of the earth. Their plan was multiheaded, many cloveheads of desire. Not bad, these mutants, merely splintering off from the unawareness fostered by the boss, and their goal was not to enlighten, rather it was to confuse in a jolly enough way. In truth, it had been their initial interruption that had caused his odd morning, and given its success, they were coming to infiltrate through the pores as best they could.
Among all that the boss didn’t know, he had no clue why the jackal had such a beautiful navel. No one else in his kingdom had such a navel because in the main they were all self-authored. The one hitch was that each person was the author of another’s death, and hence they had a long legacy of guilt: you randomly had to decide how long your lifemate was going to live, and then such destiny was sealed. You’d think the kind-hearted would endow others with long lives but, to the contrary, sometimes the kindest souls saw that given the way things were going, a long life did nothing for one’s spirit, and so signed someone away at age 59 or 43 or 21 or 16, rather than 102 or 76. The boss had made a bet against his life insurance that he would die before an age he kept secret from his workers. If he died before, the workers would get all his profits. If he lived longer, they would get nothing, all of it going instead to the giant insurance company in the sky.
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