Where Are You Now; Who Are You When?

By Mark Konkel

 

I hate getting a haircut, because then my hair is shorter (longer) afterward.  Which is, of course, the objective of a haircut, but which also unwittingly pulls the ripcord on a certain reality (not necessarily the correct one), forcing one to drift away from one’s preferred jungle of comforting perceptions (also not necessarily correct). 

 

And so I float (hover) away from the hair stylist (barber), over the sidewalk but beneath the traffic lights, toward Lennie’s, which is the right name, hoping that in the reality in which I landed, it was still my place of employment.  Also hoping that the hat given to me by Lennie himself (to signify my unswerving loyalty to him) would cover what happened to me — that is, my haircut, not my reality or perceptions.  But it doesn’t, because it is one of those flat military style ones without flaps (fins), except made of paper and with “Lennie’s: Best Subs Since They Went Nuclear” stamped on it, a slogan that didn’t make any sense to me when I read it the first time (the last time), but would have if I were a different person.

 

Still, as a dutiful minion of Lennie’s (and Lennie), I recite in nine seconds or less to every customer who asks about the slogan, “Lennie proudly served on subs during World War II and was very nearly picked to be a part of the crew for the maiden voyage of the Nautilus, the first nuclear sub.”  And then I give a soothing (macabre) smile in a way that radiates understanding (true ignorance).   Lennie says to me the smile is only appropriate when I say “World War Two” instead of “World War Eye-Eye.”  

 

The back door to Lennie’s is still where it was the last time I worked, so I slip in, pretending to be unnoticed (which is fun, sometimes).  The time clock (reset hourly by Lennie, the bastard) attached to the wall right outside Lennie’s office door, next to the pegs holding everyone’s aprons, shows 5:57, so I let it punch my card.   I stare for a second at Lennie’s closed office door and remember that he is the Owner, even though the letters on his door say WNER. 

 

I blink my eyes a few times and Brian (I Think I’m an Assistant Manager) McAdams appears next to me.  He smirks, “Got your ears lowered, eh?”  That’s his line.  I haven’t seen the script yet, so I don’t know what my line is, so I slip my dirty linen apron over my head and tie the strings around my waist until he goes away.

 

I know exactly (approximately) what he means about my ears, but his invasion of someone’s (my) personal time threatens to solidify the entire facade of existence.  If he can see what I did (got my hair cut) during the time I was away from him, he can continue to accept his reality.  Sensory input compared to objective (arbitrary) standard.  Which will deprive him of the ability to choose the perceptions he wants to believe. 

 

I can’t let anyone be deprived of that.  So with indefatigable defiance (necessary to formulate completely inaccurate perceptions) and a nod to the office door, I gaze back at him and say, “I see Lennie’s here.”   Ad-lib (rehearsed), I know, but nature abhors a vacuum (leaf blower).

 

Brian screws up his eyebrows at me in a universal (individual) symbol of misunderstanding.  He thinks he knows I appear to be about ten years older than he is and so he talks to me like I am a child, which I was for a short time during my youth.  “You can’t see him.  The door’s closed,” he says. 

 

I smile.  “He’s there.  I know. That’s where I left him.” 

 

Brian looks at me oddly (calmly), then taps on the office door.  “Lennie?”  Again he taps and chuckles (masks anxiety). “Lennie?” 

 

And I smile.  “Did I mean Lennie’s or Lennie’s?”

 

“He isn’t there.”

 

“That’s the spirit,” I say and walk off, leaving him standing (hanging) there like an icicle.  Mission accomplished. 

 

I head to the kitchen (functioning stage set), which was moved to the south side of the shop since yesterday, when I worked last.   I slide new rolls of dough into the preheated oven and twist the dial on the timer, knowing that wherever I set it, the timer will ding just as the bread finishes baking because that’s what’s supposed to happen.

 

From the front of the shop, over the music coming from the radio, I hear Mareasa counting the cash in her drawer, each bill leading a tiny exhale of breath, flip, flip, flip, and then flipflipflip when she gets to the end of a stack.   I know it’s her because her time card is stamped 5:54, something I didn’t know when I was at the time clock, but which comes to me now with clarity so intense, it exists without me.  I live for moments of nirvana such as this, when you can pick up a thought off the floor and hold it between your teeth like a cigar.   It is necessary to count the money because we all agreed (were ordered) that cash be exchanged for the sub sandwiches. 

 

With my hat jammed down over my head as far as it will go, I hope that she will just kept her mouth shut, because of my love (lust, hope, wonder, curiosity, fear) for her.  There is some hope that she truly understands, because she is growing her hair long enough to cover up her fat ass instead of getting on Slim Fast.  Personal perceptions lead to personal reality (all reality); expecting that when you cover your eyes, the whole universe disappears; that when your hair covers your ass, it disappears.  Peek-a-boo.    

 

The timer clicks away the seconds and I reach into the fridge for tomatoes to cut up.  You can’t do that too soon, Lennie says, because people like fresh (anything short of botulism) and a fridge keeps things fresh, something I never tested because Lennie never lies about things he thinks (knows) are true. 

 

And Mareasa locks her drawer shut and grabs a knife to help me slice the tomatoes (lettuce), one of which has transmogrified into a head of lettuce (tomato).  Our blades grind against the cutting board like fingernails scraping against the inside of a fieldstone well. 

 

“Hey,” she says, by which she means I could only hear her counting the money, so I can’t say whether she actually did or not.  Or whether she let the fives equal ones and the ones equal tens.   Unless you can compare to an arbitrary (objective) standard, you can’t tell anything.  So it must be that she is stealing, in order to buy Slim-Fast (hair brush).  I can’t have that.

 

You can do lots of things, like counting money or removing your spleen or picking your nose or jacking off and no one ever knows for sure if you did them.  Except for getting a haircut.  And if they know you got a haircut by looking at your hair, maybe they will think they can tell other things too, by looking at your hand (Mother Palm and her Five Daughters) or staring at your nose.  Can you tell if it’s been picked?  Who’s to say if you had a spleen in the first place?

 

I look in the refrigerator for cuts of spleen, even though (because) we don’t offer them on the menu.  But there aren’t any, so either they don’t exist or the entire world (next door) is conspiring to hide them.  Lennie says in a submarine, nothing can be hidden; guys are jammed together like pickles in a jar surrounded by the briny deep.  A submarine has no doors on its bathrooms, to hear him talk (tell lies) and everybody sits around watching everybody else pick their noses and jack off, a description that is enough to make me never want to be in the military (reality).  But Lennie is bald, so what does he know about people looking smugly at your haircut?

 

“Lennie here yet?” Mareasa asks, which soothes (crushes) me because she knows Lennie is always here.  This sub shop is Lennie’s dream (complete with Brian and Mareasa and me; I owe my existence to Lennie), what he thought about while squeezed up against a thousand other guys in the submarine listening to them jack off.  Lennie himself just counts the money he makes selling submarine sandwiches and all the fives are fives, tens are tens, and pennies are put in the ashtray bearing a handwritten sign saying (begging), “Give a penny; Take a penny; It isn’t really money.”      

 

“He’s in his office.  That’s where I left him,” I say and I hear her look at me.  It is Friday night (by the Gregorian calendar) and the after-game crowd is only a few minutes away and we need Lennie to take a register and do hot sandwiches so that he can, as he says, make a fortune off (cheat) the after-game crowd.

 

We hear Brian knock at the office door and call gently (fearfully), “Lennie?  The shuttle bus from the game will be here any second.  Lennie?”   After a thin moment (eternity) Brian calls to me (Ken), “Ken! Where’d Lennie go after you left him?”

 

I sigh and hang my head because he still doesn’t understand.  “How could he go anywhere?” I say, hoping that will explain it to him (beat it into his head).  I look at the radio speaker and Lennie’s voice comes out of it. 

 

“Hi, this is Lennie, owner and founder of Lennie’s, the site of the best subs since they went nuclear.  On Main Street, just two blocks south of Homestead Stadium.  Come on in and –”

 

“He’s in here!” I call to Brian who, with a look of wonder (annoyance) on his face, comes pounding into the kitchen. 

 

“Where is he?”

 

Mareasa looked up.  “He just meant we heard his ad on the radio.”  

 

“No different than Tom Brokaw,” I explain. 

 

“What?”

 

“Did you ever meet him in person?”

 

“You asshole.  You know we got the after-game crowd practically on their way!” 

 

“The after-game crowd.  Just tell them it isn’t really Friday.”

 

They both look at me.  “Just tell them it … isn’t really Friday,” Brian says.

 

“They’re sports fans; they believe anything.”

 

Brian walks slowly toward me, while Mareasa steps slowly back. “Ken, where is Lennie?” he asks.

 

“I told you.”  I can tell this is going to be harder than necessary.

 

“I pounded on the door and there was no answer and I can’t hear anyone in there.”

 

“Did you try just opening the door?” 

 

Brian looks at me with complete dread (knowledge) as if I somehow unlocked the door (his mind) and then he turns and runs down the hallway.  Mareasa follows him, her body closer to his than sound is to a scream.  I hear the office door open and I know what they see.  A variety of cuts (Lennie), lovingly layered on a bed of lettuce and asiago cheese, topped with tomato slices and jalapenos (thirty-five cents extra), all peacefully resting in Lennie’s chair.   And I know what they will say.  They will say he is dead.  But they will be wrong.  Because I am still here.  Not for long, mind you.  A few raspy exhalations, like knife swaths on a cutting board, some useless clutches at the imaginary handle on this reality and my time clock will expire. 

 

The only way for a dream to end is for the dreamer to wake.  But if the dreamer does not want to wake, then the dream becomes nightmare (Ken) and, with pounding heart, gushing pores, and paralyzed muscles, pushes the dreamer to awaken (murder/suicide).

______

Mark Konkel earned his MFA at Vermont College in the summer of 2006, and has appeared or will appear in Read This Magazine. Kaleidotrope, Vain Magazine, Cause & Effect Magazine, On The Brighter Side,  River Oak Review, Mississippi Crow, Nano Fiction, Heartlands, Writer’s Post Journal, American Drivel Review, The Binnacle, Sinister Tales, Free Verse, Village Rambler, Timber Creek Review, and Transcendent Visions. He’s thrilled to add The Abacot Journal to that list.

Published on June 29, 2008 at 12:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

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