Plugs

I thought I saw something bright green moving in the leaf-free branches of the crab-apple tree. It was another gray December day in New York. The strip mall parking lot was full of holiday shopper’s cars. A bunch of day laborers bundled against the cold waited near the entrance of Home Depo, despite the mid-day hour, hoping that someone would come needing work.

 I found a parking spot under the tree. A green bird swooped from the sky into the branches. A parrot. The tree was full of them. A few dozen tropical birds feasting on the fruit that was still hanging on the tree. A few sparrows and blackbirds were in on the action, looking dull and drab next to the bright green and electric blue feathers.

 I tried to get a picture on my crappy cell phone. Were these the descendants of escaped pets or a lost flock, very far from home?

 There was a commotion by the day laborers. A man in a pickup truck was taking pictures of them.  He wasn’t a cop. The cops mostly turned a blind eye so long as the laborers just waited in the lot without causing incidents. Some of the laborers turned away or pulled their hoods down over their heads. Others paid no mind. And others posed, taunting  the man in the pick up.  

 I just had that bad feeling that something was going to happen. I knew I should be on my way. But the tree was alive with a tropical murmur and layers of sound from the birds. One was taking apart a crab-apple in the branch only feet above my head. I couldn’t help but stand and stare at the delicate lines in the bird’s green-blue tail feathers.

 One of the day laborers walked over to the tree. Paying me no mind he lifted his hand. The bird above me flitted away from its meal and on to him. The man said something to the bird and stroked him gently, like a child. the bird took to the sky, ignoring the free feast and its flock and disappeared high into the gray. My Spanish isn’t so good, but I thought the man said something like, “Go home for me, brother. Tell my wife and daughter I love them.”

 The man in the pick up was out of the truck now. He had a gun instead of a camera in his hand. The group of laborers were backing away from him, fanning out into the street. Nothing had changed but everything had changes about the sound of the wind and birds, the murmur in Spanish and the suburban afternoon buzz. I braced for the bang I knew was about to come.

-END-

Seriously, my phone screws anything its ports are compatible with, and it’s only a week old, so it’s compatible with everything. It’s constantly skittering off to copulate with other consumer gadgets, which is annoying, because I’ve been waiting for this girl to call that I met at a skin-PAN party a few days ago. She had the most complete collection of Dr. Who episodes in her files I have ever seen–even the reconstructed episodes with the original audio and stills from production. I dropped my vCard, and I know she acked it. I’m afraid that while my phone is humping the cappuchino machine, it gets poor reception, and my voice mail has iterated out pretty far recently and it asks for instructions in Esperanto right now. My Esperanto isn’t very good. I’ve tethered it to my PAN for now, but that just pisses it off and I’m afraid it might start dropping calls on purpose.

I mean, I understand the whole principle of evolutionary processes in iterative product design, and the eggs that the phone lays usually net me enough credit to pay my carrier bills, but I think there’s something wrong with this one. Nobody else I know has a phone that screws so much. I tried calling technical support yesterday, but all I got was a calm voice of a woman telling me that the problem that I was calling about had already been diagnosed and a hotfix was being deployed promptly. There’s something a little unsettling about technical support that knows what you’re calling about before you even dial the number.

#

Now my phone seems a little depressed, and I’m wondering if I should have made that call after all. The touch display doesn’t seem as bright, and the ring tones that normally match my mood towards the caller are all break-up songs from the 80s that I barely even recognize. I promise the phone that I’ll let it off its tether at the next skin-PAN party, and that seems to cheer it up a little bit, but it’s still not the same. I think I kind of miss my slutty phone. So I call technical support again. All I get is an error message, saying that my problem can’t be diagnosed, in a tone of voice that implies that I don’t really have a problem, and then it gives me the URL for a dating site I haven’t tried yet. I use my phone to upload a profile to the site, and I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t just set this phone free and upgrade to something from the next hatch.

Okay, so maybe not. This phone is black, and that color isn’t trending well lately, so my chances of getting a new one in the color I like is pretty slim. I’ll wait a couple more days and see if black comes back. It’s usually popular on Wednesdays.

Here’s my first question: how the hell does a head without a body wind up in a vegetable box in a Safeway stock room, anyway? Sure they call them ‘heads’ of lettuce, but that’s just rife with wrong. Second question: how much wronger is it that the head opens its eyes and starts gabbling away in Spanish? Third, and wrongest of all: why does it happen when I’m here? I mean, I’ve been good, mostly.
Pretty handsome, as heads go. Long dark hair, deep brown eyes, straight mostly-white teeth in a mouth without a bottom. Ew.
I’m Tina Tryon, night stocker. These things happen to me.
No way is this some joke of Manuel’s or Pablo’s. For one thing, they’re both backing away in horror, hands totally visible.
“What’s he saying?” I ask. Sure, I want to retreat, too, but vegetables is my beat. Somebody’s got to stick around. Guess I’m elected.
From behind the forklift, Pablo says, “He’s very tired, and he wants his body.”
“Fair enough,” I say. “Tell him we don’t have any in stock. Manny, call the cops.” I know this script; somehow by the time they come the head won’t be there or it’ll turn into lettuce, and I’ll look like some kind of kook. But maybe if I don’t call them it’ll get worse. A lot worse.
“So why’s he here?” I ask Pablo. “Ask him what he’s doing contaminating my lettuce.” If I know Alan Parkins, the store manager, he’s just going to have me wash the stuff and put it out anyway. Hell, he’d probably have me put the head out in the freezer case marked $7.99 a pound.
“He says he is a powerful brujo, a wizard, and often turns his head into a crow to spy on his enemies.” Neat trick. “Sadly, he takes on crow habits, like trying to grab food. He landed in a truckload of lettuce, ran out of magic, and turned back into a head. Without hands he’s stuck this way.”
I hear sirens approaching. It’ll be the simplest thing in the world to let them have the head. Then I can go back to stocking.
Boring, boring stocking.
Or I could grab the head, hitch south, and learn Spanish. Maybe learn magic.
Maybe lose my head. “Pablo,” I say. “When the cops get here let them in. I’m going to keep an eye on this head and make sure it doesn’t get away.” I shrug at the head, and get the impression he’d shrug back if he had shoulders.

Thomas followed the map’s instructions out of the city, off the highway, into the woods.

He parked at the pulloff, hiked what seemed longer than a mile over mud and slick leaves, found the house.

He didn’t owe the Aarons anything, really. When he’d told them the company he was working for, he had no idea they’d find an agent or invest in the very financial instruments for which he was writing math. They hadn’t told him.

Frozen rain rattled down. A copse of birch trees grew up against the house’s walls, erasing whatever path once led to the front door. Even if the market hadn’t tanked, Thomas couldn’t see how they could afforded to restore it — three stories of Victorian so far from existing roads.

When Marilyn asked him go upstate and shut off the water in their summer house, it seemed like the least he could do with his Saturday. Inside, it didn’t look like the summer house of a small college football coach and his high school secretary wife. Every wall was all shelves and every shelf was crowded with seashells, unfamiliar musical instruments, crystals, lizards in jars…

He looked at the instructions to see where he’d gone wrong. The laser-printed map was now a numbered list in Luther’s handwriting. Directions: find this piece here and move it to there.

Death mask of Marie Antoinette from the library to the kitchen. Gorilla shinbone from the upstairs bathroom to the front hall rug.

No matter how many times he asked himself, he knew he hadn’t seen what future that was hiding in the formulae.

Model of the central city of Atlantis from the pink bedroom to the green.

Could have seen, but why would he have even looked, when everyone was doing so well? When he was doing so well.

Griffin’s skull (boulder-heavy and, he was sure, really some kind of dinosaur) from the rolltop in the library to the dining room sideboard.

A rearranged constellation of curiosities, completed when he set the owl’s beak on the chessboard. He heard the door lock, looked in time to see it merge with the wood of the walls.

The phonograph wound itself and spoke in Marilyn’s voice, “Thomas, dear, make yourself at home. Don’t be angry with us. We aren’t angry with you. But the house needs a caretaker, and we thought you could use some time for reflection…”

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