Captain

By Jason Jordan

 

 

When the hooks emerge from my back, I’m on the computer looking for a new job. I feel my T-shirt tighten, as if someone is pulling on it from behind, and when I attempt to lean back in my chair, I can’t.

 

—Hey Ben, I call to my roommate, who’s in his room also on the computer.

 

—What? he says, his tone conveying annoyance.

 

—C’mere.

 

—Why?

 

—Just c’mere.

 

—Fine, he says.

 

I hear his chair swivel on the hardwood floor and then his footsteps as he approaches my room.

 

—What the hell is wrong with my back? Take a look.

 

He examines my back, which is still clothed, and says, I have no idea. What happened?

 

—I don’t know.

 

—Take your shirt off.

 

I stand up, remove my T-shirt, and let it drop to the floor.

 

—Oh my God, Ben says.

 

—What’s wrong? What are they?

 

—A bunch of thick, silver hooks.

 

—How many are there?

 

—Twelve. Four rows of three, down your whole back.

 

—How big are they?

 

—Pretty big.

 

—Like, how big?

 

—Man, I dunno. Really big.

 

—Are they sharp?

 

—Nah, not really. The tops of them are dull. You didn’t feel them coming in?

 

—No. Didn’t hurt one bit. It’s good that they’re dull. At least I won’t have to worry about them getting stuck on anything, or poking holes in things.

 

—Do you feel this?

 

—No. What’re you doing?

 

—I’m just scratching one of them with my finger. What about this?

 

He tugs on one of them, pulling me backwards, and while I feel the pressure, I don’t feel any pain.

 

—Of course I feel that. What’s the skin look like around them?

 

—It looks fine. The hooks are just protruding like they’re normal. You want me to take you to the hospital?

 

—No, I don’t have insurance. It’d cost a ton.

 

—If they don’t hurt, I guess you’ll be all right. What are you gonna do about them, though?

 

—It looks like I’m gonna have to start sleeping on my stomach, and get some bigger clothes, or at least cut the backs off my shirts. Winter’s gonna suck. That’s for sure.

 

—Well, my work here is done. Let me know if you need me.

 

—Okay. See you around, in the kitchen or somewhere.

 

—Wait a second, Ben says, you’re still looking for a new job, right?

 

—Definitely. Third shift’s killing me.

 

—You remember my cousin Sam?

 

—The one who owns the restaurant?

 

—Yeah. I think he might have just the position for you, one that would be pretty easy, plus you’d only have to work first or second shift—never third.

 

—What would I be doing?

 

—Let me figure that out first. I’ll give him a call and see what he says. Hopefully he’d be able to see you sometime tomorrow. Are you free then?

 

—Sure, as long as it’s in the afternoon or later.

 

#

 

Driving with the hooks in my back is easy because all they do is force me to sit closer to the steering wheel than normal. Ben had to help me put my shirt on this morning, which was a little weird. He wished me luck before I left for Sam’s, though he wouldn’t tell me what he told Sam on the phone, so I, the potential new employee, was walking into the interview with less knowledge about the position I was applying for than anyone involved. In Sam’s office, Sam sits behind his desk, dressed in formal business attire, but rises when he sees me enter through the open door.

 

—Hey Jack, Sam says.

 

We shake hands. He invites me to sit and I do.

 

—How’s it going? I ask.

 

—Good. Restaurant’s doing well.

 

—That’s good to hear, I say, expecting him to divulge his plans for me.

 

—Frankly, we’re looking for something—or someone—to push our business over the top, to make it more than a restaurant. I want to make it like an attraction, but not a freak show. Do you understand?

 

—No, not really.

 

—Okay. Let’s see. You know how celebrities own restaurants? All kinds do—boxers, singers, moguls. Do you know what keeps business booming at those places?

 

—The prospect of seeing a celebrity?

 

—Exactly. Though you probably won’t get to see Michael Jordan when you eat at his restaurant, there’s still a chance that you might, which is what people care about the most. Food comes second. It’s the thought of seeing someone out of the ordinary that keeps the people coming back. And that’s where you come in for us. You’ll be our human coat hanger, providing you’re up for the job.

 

—That’s it?

 

—That’s it. No strings attached. We’ll work you full time, and all you have to do while you’re here is stand near the front of the restaurant and let people hang their coats on your back. When they’re ready to leave, they’ll wave you over to their table, retrieve their coats, and be on their way. It’s a novel idea. It’ll sell. Word’ll spread—not only about you, but about my place—which will trigger newspapers and maybe even magazines to write stories about you. Sam’s would become a tourist attraction of sorts, cementing and even guaranteeing its future success.

 

—What would I wear?

 

—We’d design some kind of uniform for you, but with the back cut out so that you don’t have to go shirtless. Of course we wouldn’t want you to catch cold in the winter months, or anything like that. How does all that sound?

 

—I’ll have to think about it, I guess.

 

—You’ll have to think about it? Jack, we’re prepared to offer you twenty dollars an hour as the starting rate. You’ll receive a raise after you’ve been on the job three months. Can you really pass up an opportunity like this?

 

—I’ll just have to think about it is all. I mean, I hate my current job, but at least I don’t have to deal with people, you know? I get to listen to my iPod, too.

 

—I understand. Still, here’s my card. You give me a call as soon as you decide. Cousin Ben has my info, too.

 

—Thanks. Like I said, I’ll definitely consider it.

 

—Sounds great. Have a good day, Jack.

 

I rise from the chair and walk toward the door when Sam clears his throat.

 

—And Jack, we’re thinking about giving you a nickname that would help the kids warm up to you. We’d get you a nametag with Captain on it. It’d get them thinking about Captain Hook, which would reduce the scare factor. In fact, we’re considering dressing you in full pirate garb to complement the hooks. Just so you know.

 

#

 

In the apartment Ben’s sitting on the couch watching TV with a huge bowl of cereal in his lap.

 

—So how’d the interview go? he asks over the noise of a Futurama rerun.

 

He picks up the remote and turns the volume down.

 

—You want me to stand around and let people hang their coats on me?

 

—Yeah, it’d be great. Think about it. People would come from all over just to see you. It’d be great for Sam, great for his business.

 

—True, but I’m not sure I wanna do it.

 

—He said he’d pay you a lot of money.

 

—I know. Twenty an hour.

 

—Damn. That’s pretty good.

 

—I think I’m gonna go for a walk.

 

—But you just got back.

 

—I know.

 

I walk a few blocks, down to where the bus stop and the old payphone are. I can tell that all the passersby are staring at the bulges in the back of my shirt, wondering what’s wrong with me. When I reach the bus stop, there’s a lone, skinny Asian girl with bug-eyed sunglasses and long, black hair leaning against a building.

 

—Hey, I say.

 

—Hey, she says.

 

—Can you call somebody for me?

 

—What?

 

—Can you call somebody for me? Like, if I dial, can you tell them something?

 

—Uh, sure. I guess so.

 

I pick up the receiver of the payphone and insert the correct change. I take out Sam’s business card and dial his office number.

 

—When he answers, I tell the girl, just say Jack doesn’t want the job, and then hang up. That should do it.

 

­­­

Jason Jordan is a writer from New Albany, Indiana, who always says he’s from Louisville, Kentucky, because people actually know where that is. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in THE2NDHAND, Beeswax Magazine, Hobart, KeyHole Magazine, Monkeybicycle, Pindeldyboz, Storyglossia, Word Riot, and many other publications. Jordan is also Editor-in-Chief of the literary magazine decomP. He is currently in the MFA program at Chatham University, in Pittsburgh, where he is working on his first novel and eating a lot of string cheese. You can visit him at poweringthedevilscircus.blogspot.com.

Published on September 29, 2008 at 3:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

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