Tuesday, July 19, 2005

fiction: four-letter words

Four-Letter Words
Short Fiction by Dean Francis Alfar
For Vin

Time = Tile

Anton clocks in at quarter to seven, his regulation blue long sleeves still bearing the phantom heat of his wife’s iron (she’s always up earlier, tracing the invisible trail of routine: up from bed, morning piss, face scrub and toothbrush, down to the kitchen to make the egg of the day, covering it with an upended plate before going back up to iron her husband’s clothes, waiting for him to bolt out of bed two minutes before the alarm clock). He waits for the Bundy clock to acknowledge his dedication and sets his timecard on the adjacent filing shelf.

The cards look like tiles to him: on the left, eight columns of names, organized like neat teeth with a single cavity that mars their perfection. On the right, an emptiness broken only by his timecard, an anomaly made unique only by virtue of his earliness.

He is always first to arrive. His timecard proves it.

Tile = File

Anton works hard in the filing department. He likes the feel of the folders, some thick, some thin, all outwardly the same except for the vertical titles on their right-hand sides. Like everyone else, he’s heard that Management intends to computerize everything soon, and like everyone else, he tries not to think about what that means. When others talk about how things will inevitably change and ask his opinion, he retreats into a vacuous smile until the conversation dies. Unless Sheila from Accounts is present.

It’s Sheila from Accounts who presses on, waiting patiently for him to fill into void while others surrender to his empty grin willingly pulled away by the lure of other dialogues. It’s Sheila from Accounts with her dull brown hair and dull brown eyes who stands there, like a statue, like a disinterested deer caught in eternal headlights (she’s never failed, not once: you can tell from her stance, from the way her feet are spread, from the way her head is angled, by the way she ignores the cooling cup of coffee in her left hand, she’s there to listen).

When Anton does speak, he mumbles. When she hears what he says, Sheila from Accounts chuckles politely.

File = Fine

Anton writes on a sheet on lined paper:

When Sheila from Accounts returns to her desk after the sanctioned coffee break, she first sits down, then takes a compact from her purse and reapplies her lipstick. Then she thinks about how much she wants to fuck Anton.

She paints her lips red so it suggests her vagina, pressing her lips together, then smacking them apart. She traces the outline of her mouth with a finger imagining that it’s Anton’s dick, teasing mercilessly at the edges of her desire.

One day, Sheila from Accounts will get her wish.

Anton reads his words impassively, his heart keeping its regular rhythm. Then he initials the bottom of the piece of paper, dates it in the prescribed manner, opens the filing cabinet closest to his left knees, and files it in a folder appropriate to the calendar month.

Ignoring his erection, Anton goes back to work.

Fine = Find

Thirty years later, a company archivist named Ronald Bueno finds Anton’s file in storage. With branches all over the world, work on the database is very slow, with prioritizations and reprioritizations and re-reprioritizations.

Ronald Bueno finds a total of seventeen thousand six hundred and forty lined sheets, each describing the trajectory of Anton’s desire over the course of nine years (the dramatic arc is clear: a meaningful exchange of glances, coy subversions of the company dress code, frantic blowjobs in the fire escapes, kama sutra in the board room, the alternative uses of sundry office supplies, her animated gyrations, him filling up every hole in her body until she pleads escape from the crash of her orgasms).

Momentarily torn between duty and prurience, Ronald Bueno masturbates violently, twice. When he’s done, he trembles then cries, suddenly guilty about the mingled smell of chlorine and old paper. Later, he packages the files and couriers it to the last known address of the pornographer who reaches through time and moves him to tears.

Find = Mind

Anton stares at the files revealed by the Fedex box. His first reaction is shock, followed by the slow flow of blood into his penis. He picks up several of the disarranged folders and fails to prevent the rain of paper that scatters like leaves from a trembling tree. On his knees, he reads a page, scanning his elegant handwriting, his memory racing back in hops, skips and jumps to the timestamped date.

Anton breathes in the aroma of the past, the heady scent of his forbidden fictions, before finally sitting down on the floor. He begins to sort out the mess of papers by date (first, by year, then by month, making rows and columns on the tiled floor of his kitchen, pleased by the disciplined action, the panacea of methodology).

Mind = Mine

When Anton is finished, he leaves the files on the kitchen table and walks to his den where his cell phone is. He carefully presses a number and waits for the auto-dial to complete its task.

Over the connection, the phone rings thrice before it’s answered.

“Hello?” The voice is old but still vibrant. It makes Anton smile.

“Hello? It’s me,” Anton speaks into the phone. “How’re the kids?”

“Missing their grandpa,” the voice replies. “Wishing you’d come with me?”

“No,” Anton says, walking back to the kitchen. “You know how fussy it gets; the dialysis machine is just a pain to lug around.”

“I miss you, sweetie,” the voice says. “Wait, is there anything wrong?”

“No, no,” Anton says, sitting down at the table, looking at his arranged files. “Just wanted to tell you something.”

“What’s that?” the old woman asks.

“I got something in the mail today,” Anton says, grinning into his phone.

“What is it?”

“Love letters I never sent you.”

“Really?” The woman laughs, the sound reminds Anton of many things.

“Really. Old things.”

“Where did it come from?”

“The old company. Someone found them, I guess.”

The woman laughs again. “Read me one.”

“Of course.”

Anton reads to the sound of Sheila from Accounts' raucous laughter.


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