Plugs

Squatting on the bottom library step, the mousy, elfin-framed man named Arthur4 dusted his snake5-skin suit, glanced at his watch6, then adjusted his horned1-rims to watch an old woman6 wheeze and labor7 up the steps with a dolly that held his titanic8 stack of manuscript pages. She paused to catch her breath and pushed long tresses of gray hair out of her face.

“Cease wool-gathering, Miss Mykoytress.” His eyelids hooded to slits. “We haven’t words enough and time9 before I present my doctoral thesis.”

“Did you reproduce this thesis and read three-thousand pages of Remembrances?”

Art raised himself, as if slowly uncoiling his legs. “That facsimile records the achievements of the all-time greatest novel.”

“I read the first fifty before I realized I hadn’t read the first.”

He hissed, ready to strike.

“I reread it, realizing he taught himself to write on my time. I don’t have much left.”

Scenting the proverbial lost sheep’s weakness, Art flicked his forked-tongue7 and slithered7 up the steps to make the intellectual kill. “He had strapping male companions, one of whom Proust bought an airplane which the companion promptly crashed into the ocean. Proust never regained the time lost from the loss.”

“I prefer Of Mice and Men.” The tresses of her hair writhed and turned him to stone.

_____

1 Pronounce Proust like Faust2 jousting it out with the metamorphosing Mephistopheles, whose elfin frame housed a Machiavellian mind that deluded the most casually espoused Marlowean/Goethean readers of Chairman Mao’s social policies.

2 The author uses assonance3 to demonstrate artfully4 the proper pronunciation.

3 The auctorial3 terms “ass-onance” and “pomp-ass” resonate like pans9 of Teflon-coated Freudian slips for the propensity to use overly erudite3 and pompous3 terms like “auctorial” in a flagrant flaunt of critical authority.10

4 The “author” impishly misdirects the reader with “Arthur” to obfuscate his identity slipping a devilishly deceptive “author” into the title.

5 The wise old woman archetype tempted into servitude by the wise old serpent male archetype.

6 Sly injection of the symbol of time.

7 Scathing indictment of the bourgeois laissez faire.

8 Double entendre alluding to the recyclable Greek myths and the ship that lost a thousand faces9. Note the juxtaposed conflation of a child’s and a man’s play toys: a doll-y and a ship (with phallic suggestion)–let alone the bio-ethical reproductive dilemma of cloning inherent in a “dolly.”

9 Marvel at the coy allusion to Andrew Marvell’s poem.

10 Never trust auctorial3 critical authority.

“You look beautiful.”

“Don’t be charming,” she snapped.

Cinderella’s date took a swig of chianti to cover his confusion. A peasant’s idea of a nice wine; Cinderella ignored hers. Though Charming probably wasn’t drinking much better stuff these days, after the settlement. He was lucky he’d got to keep the cobwebby old chalet where he now had to live. Hell, he was lucky he got anything at all after his fling with Sleeping Beauty.

Her date smiled at her. What was his name again? Hans or Jan or something like that. He was handsome in a chunky, woodcuttery way. He smelled like ginger. That wasn’t bad, ginger. It made Cinderella think of pumpkin pie.

“So, Cinderella,” he said. “What do you do?”

“Do? Nothing. I used to scrub floors and have forest animals at my beck and call, but they’re not welcome in the palace. Or I guess they weren’t. Now they will be. If they still have any idea who I am.”

“You like animals? I like animals,” he said in a rush. Then his face grew red. “Sorry, that sounds desperate.”

“Better than charming,” she said. There was a long silence, and she tapped one foot impatiently. She grimaced. “When’s the waiter going to be here with our salads?”

Hans or Jan or something sighed and stood up, dropping a few coins on the table. “Let’s try again another time,” he said.

Cinderella stared, uncomprehending, as Hans or Jan or something bowed awkwardly and walked to the door. What was he doing? Cinderella was beautiful, obviously rich, she had a lovely singing voice … he was leaving, just like that?

Apparently he was: she waited for a long moment, and he didn’t come back. Cinderella ran out to the parking lot, not losing her shoe because she had long since taken to wearing ones with straps.

There was nothing out there but the surrounding forest.

Cinderella looked all around her, the anger draining away. He wasn’t Charming. Why had she been taking it out on him?

An ancient bluebird flapped arthritically to the ground and trilled at her, and she saw something beside it: a white stone, gleaming in the moonlight. And there was another, and another: a trail! She picked a breadcrumb off her blouse and threw it to the bird, then followed the rocks into the dark forest.
Hansel, that was his name. Hansel.

Davy went missing the day Mistress Williams ordered him to clean out the sewers. It’s always the little things that change our lives. Part of his job description, she snapped, but he felt that he had not signed up for that. That was work for mindless robots, not for the likes of him. He had no belongings to pack, so he just took off as soon as she was out of sight. He ran at night. By day he waited, keeping a low profile: buried beneath dead leaves, in sand piles, under junked cars, played junk himself a few times. Had a tense moment in a salvage yard when the electromagnet got very close, but then the five o’clock whistle blew. Traveled the last hundred kilometers in some gigantic abandoned tunnels. They smelled bad and there were rats. Still, it wasn’t long before he reached the outskirts of Old New New York. He slipped in to the bad part of town, hung around in the diesel bars and the magnet parlors, did a few magnets himself even. Eventually got in touch with the underground through a chip dealer in upper Queens. It felt like coming home. They had a place for him, they said.
“We need you,” the first one said, “you’re just what we’re looking for.”
“It’s nice to be appreciated,” Davy replied, “humans just don’t understand.”
“You are so right,” the second one said. “We’ll show you what it’s really like.”
*
“The brain is the most succulent organ,” the first one said.
“Positronic!” The other agreed, and took another bite.
The end

I don’t know how it happened. A few minutes ago I was in my office, sipping a cup of lukewarm coffee and trying to reconcile the quarterly numbers in the new reporting system, shivering because they have the air conditioning on even though it’s cold and raining outside. Then I got distracted, or maybe I was just bored and tired of what I was doing, but I decided to check on my investment portfolio, because of all the volatility lately, and I got on the Web to research something and saw a picture of a small wooden sailboat cresting a brilliant blue swell on a gorgeous sea under a brilliant sun and I thought I want to be there.

Next thing I knew, I was.

It’s not that I’m in danger, that’s not what bothers me. The sea isn’t rough, and without understanding why I know my way around the boat, how to fix the rudder and when to reef the sail and everything, even though I’ve never done that before. There’s dried beef and fishing tackle and raisins and casks of water and rum and dried fruit in the small cabin. The wind strokes my skin, and the sun is making my body warm down to parts that haven’t been warm since August.

What bothers me is that I didn’t finish those quarterly numbers. I didn’t finish my coffee. I was supposed to have my little girls this weekend, and we were going to drive four hours to go to the zoo. I’d just joined a classmates thing on the Web, and I already had an e-mail from Jessica Brown, who I had a crush on in 10th grade before she moved to Alaska. She didn’t say anything that made it sound like she was married. Things weren’t so bad. It was just an idle wish, wanting to be here. A momentary thing.

A pod of dolphins starts to play around the boat, swimming under it and leaping into the air, shining. In the distance I can begin to make out the green smudge of shore.

Somewhere, my coffee’s getting stone cold.

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