Catering (Part 2)

When the cocktail hours are done, we report to the kitchen. The host? Client? Guy in charge is making a speech in the dining room, but we can’t hear him because Christine is giving us our orders. She’s set up the trays for the first course. One tray per table. Six plates per tray, six tables total. The first one of us out of the kitchen goes to the furthest table. We don’t have to synchronize, because that would be an absolute disaster if we tried, but the hope is we’ll be close enough.

It goes well. I like when everybody gets the same thing. Especially at catered functions where you order in advance, people forget what they ordered. Asking them if they’re sure they didn’t order the chicken. Tonight, I can just wordlessly place the plates in front of the guests. I don’t even have to tell them what it is, because until we lift the covers, I don’t even know.

When all the plates are placed, the host nods at us. We lift the covers as he announces, “Mermaid sashimi.”

I imagine there are places where the waitstaff are stone-face like the guards at Buckingham Palace. I think I’ve mentioned this already, but we’re a bunch of fuck ups. Pardon me, I meant to say fucking fuck ups. I’m sure I didn’t keep the revulsion from my face. Prudence, who already compromises her vegetarianism, looks like she was going to puke. The fact that we all manage to calmly walk back to the kitchen makes us heroes. We’re all looking pretty shaken.

Except for Anne. She seems elated.

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. This is so fucking illegal. I knew it, I knew it. Such a scoop. Do you know who those people are? Such a scoop.”

Christine glares at her. “Arf, who exactly are you?”

“Did you just call me Arf? You’ve all called me a lot of different names, but that’s not even a name.”

“It suits you,” says Christine, “I take it, you do not intend to have a long and prosperous career with us?”

“I’m a reporter.”

“Well, Arf, tonight, you are my employee, and I need six servers. Not five servers and one reporter. At the end of the night, we will determine how to shut you up, but for now, I need your hands.”

“But this is cannibalism.”

“Mermaids aren’t people, they’re fish.”

“Half fish.”

“Right, so dolphins are best.”

“We don’t eat dolphins.”

Christine laughs, “Of course not, dolphins are adorable. Why are you even suggesting eating them? Bloodthirsty, you are.”

“The rest of you don’t have a problem with this?”

The rest of us kind of shrug. We have a problem with it. It’s disgusting, yeah. The people in the dining room are monsters. But we knew they were monsters all along. They underpaid employees, didn’t pay their taxes, bought blood diamonds. Hell, our own employers underpay us, and don’t pay their taxes. But Prudence still needs to pay for masseuse school, and Crystal is getting the money together for a demo tape. And Todd probably needs to buy some pot after work. I like to believe that we’d take a stand, but our lives had shown us where that gets you.

“Can you at least tell us what we’re serving before we unveil?” I ask Christine, “Just to help us mentally prepare.”

“Guess, there’s no harm now.”

A delicate salad with fairy wings. Sasquatch spare ribs. Fire lizard skewers. And the main course, Vampire filet. It makes sense. A symbolic transfer of power. The ultra-rich eating the four elements, and man’s fiercest predator. But there’s still a visceral reaction to eating other humanoids. Nobody wants a vampire for a neighbor, but it doesn’t mean you want a vampire burger.

Anne, seeing that none of us are going to revolt, plays along. I see her snapping pictures of the diners when she can. I think Christine knows that there’s no way to shut her up. She’s probably already planning her exit strategy. The company accepted this gig, and they’ll take the fall. Keeping her name out of the article will be her primary concern. I’ll make the jump too.

By the end of the night, we’ve all agreed to go out and get stoned. I even invite Anne.

“Really? I figured you guys would be pissed.”

“Oh yeah, this is going to suck. No question. But you worked with us, you can get high with us. Also, Prudence is going to practice giving you a massage, and Crystal will ask you to profile her band in your paper, so we’ll have our revenge.”

Day 21: Catering (Part 1)

The new girl, Anne or something like that, is in the dry storage when I go in there. She’s not supposed to be there. Dry storage is where we keep the liquor, and I’m barely allowed in there. But Kent is out of vermouth, and the bar is hopping, and I’ve been around a while. So, they trust me to not start stealing bottles of tequila. Nobody trusts Anne. She always reacts a moment too late when you say her name. Maybe, she’s not Anne, maybe it’s Agnes? She asks questions. How long have you worked here? What do you think of Christine? You must have some crazy stories about working here. Which isn’t really a question, but it also kind of is. Kent thought she was just flirting weirdly. We’re used to various flavors of weird.

Prudence believes in the power of crystals, and is studying to be a masseuse. Crystal sings in a Christian rock band called the “Yes I Knows.” Tad does that cup stacking thing. He used to do it on the street before he got this job, and he likes to keep in practice in case he has to return, though he’s also learning bucket drumming.

“It’s a competitive field out there,” he says. “A man needs skills to fall back on.”

But Agnes isn’t really weird as such. She’s acting weirdly, but she doesn’t seem like she’s one night’s tips away from being evicted, and nobody works here if there’s not imminent doom hanging over their heads.

“Agnes, you’re not supposed to be here,” I say.

“Oh, Kent sent me back here, and I was just checking my messages,” she shows me her cellphone, in case I hadn’t already seen it, or wasn’t aware of what a cell phone is.

We’re not supposed to use our phones during our shifts. We all use our phones during our shifts. We live the sort of lives that burn down if we ignore them for 6 hours. Truly successful people are the ones who rarely check their phones. Whatever business they’re conducting will wait until they’re ready. It’s the people like us, fraying strings at the edge of the tapestry that are on constant deadlines.

“Hey, don’t get me wrong. I don’t care enough for you to lie to me. But if anything in here goes missing, it’s trouble for us all, and I will hang you out to dry. There are like nine hundred better places to check your phone.”

She leaves. I grab the vermouth. Consider taking something for myself since I now have a scapegoat, but I’m not an asshole, and there’s nothing really wrong with Anna. She’s just kind of forgettable.

Later, I see her hanging around in the kitchen. We’re supposed to just pick up hors d’oeuvres and head straight out. No time to let them get cold or warm or oxidized or whatever. But she’s trying to talk to Chef which is fucking insane. Nobody talks to Chef unless they are crazy, and I mean crazy, hot. If Chef can’t fuck you or braise you, he has no interest in you. For most of us, this is a good thing, because he’s a complete asshole. Obvious exception is if you’re crazy hot. Then your life is a living hell. It drives our boss, Catherine nuts, because she would love to replace us all with crazy hot women, but they don’t tend to stick around.

“Alice,” I say, “Come on, we’re supposed to be circulating with the apps.”

“I was just asking what we were serving tonight. It’s all hush-hush. That’s weird isn’t it? What if people have allergies or dietary restrictions?”

“Above our pay grade,” I hand her a tray, and take one for myself. “Stop being… interested. It’s off-putting. Slightly indifferent is our brand. Our dress code. You start being interested, and suddenly the clients have to view you as a person, and they hate that.”

“What if we’re serving human flesh? What if the reason they don’t want to view us as human is because they eat humans?”

“All the more reason to not seem human, who wants to be on the menu? Stop following me, we’re not supposed to cluster.”

She tries the cannibal bit with Roger. He digs it.

She talks about vampires to Crystal who gets pissed and thinks that Allie is making fun of Christianity.

Prudence complains about Alexis’ negative aura.

None of us are sure what her name is, but she seems to answer to anything that starts with an A, so we’re seeing how far we can push it. Kent calls her Ariel. Todd calls her Aurora. Roger calls her Alphonse. She’s increasingly becoming a joke.

But this gig is weird. These people are crazy rich. Nobody is checking their cell phones. Nobody has gotten too drunk during the cocktail hours. Everybody’s clothes are clearly nice, but there’s no obvious branding. They’re not nice to us, but they’re polite, as if they have nothing to prove. It makes April’s weirdness even weirder. What if she’s an assassin? Or an anarchist? Or an architect?

Sorry, riffing.

Day 20: Mix-Tapes

The Mix-Tape Museum is as much a vast conspiracy as it is a museum. The museum’s goal is to collect every mix tape ever created. And they are devoted to the form as well as the function. They have no interest in your playlists, the cds you burned. They want your tapes, and they will do whatever it takes to get them. Most are easy to obtain. So few people have tape players anymore, the old mixes are put in boxes, slip to the bottom of desk drawers, shoeboxes pushed to the back of the closet. The museum’s agents have no problem retrieving them. When you next think of them, you aren’t even sure if you moved them from your last place. Maybe, they’re in storage in the basement, but do you even want to check?

The curator is an attractive woman in her 40’s. Did I need to say attractive? Probably not. It tells you nothing about her appearance, just my reaction to it. She’s agreed to give me a tour, and currently, she’s showing me the special exhibit on Unrequited Love.

“Honestly, this display barely even scratches the surface,” she’s saying, “When I was a teenager, I’d probably received a dozen or so mixes from guys that I, well frankly, just wasn’t into. And over the years, I must have given just as many to people who felt the same about me. I think we even have one of yours in our exhibit.”

It’s hard to tell the criteria for the tapes selected. I see one that is entirely Led Zeppelin songs, a reverse greatest hits. Another is so eclectic going from jazz to rap to pop with the entire second side being a symphony. Some are in cases, elaborately decorated, other loose (an intern having studiously typed up the track list for the display).

“The beauty of the mix tape is of course the form. The limitations. Space limitations. The limits of one’s sources. And, of course, the fragility. Not as clearly fragile as a record album which you’d never dream of just tossing into a backpack. But they were perishable. Heat and cold, the wear of repeated listenings until the player just starts ripping the guts out of it. It’s why we have so much more for unrequited love than for actual love. The truly loved tapes were played to death.”

“What was your go to?” I ask.

She pretends to not understand the question. But finally fesses up. “The Go-Go’s. You can imagine the sort of guys, even gals, I was into. People who considered themselves ahead of the curve. Music knowledge was their status. And you can bet, they zeroed in on my inclusion of the Go-Go’s even before they listened to it, they’d sneer, and I knew they’d never love me. And I knew I was lucky for that.”

I spot my own cassette. A 90-minute Memorex. Clear plastic with yellow gears, and pink blocks. My handwriting wasn’t great, but legible enough. I knew there wouldn’t be enough lines, so I’d just place a dot between one song and the next. No illustrations, no elaborate lettering. I wasn’t very good at that sort of flair, and I was the sort who liked to believe that it was the choice of song that mattered.

“It’s a good one,” the curator says, “I mean, for the time period, and your age. Teenaged boys are never quite as revolutionary as they seem. Even today, there’s a kid that thinks he’s discovered The Who, and he’s blowing his classmates minds with a song that was the theme to CSI Miami. But Michelle Shocked, I wouldn’t have seen that one coming.”

“You listen to them?”

“A few. It’s risky, but when I received your request for this tour, I was curious. Anyway,” she hands me a cassette, “this is for you. A souvenir of your visit.”

“I don’t have anything to listen to it on.”

“We can accommodate you.”

I glance at the track list, a few things I know, a lot I don’t, and it ends with the Go-Go’s.

Day 19: Clouds

  1. Lisa’s bed is made out of clouds. It was expensive, and she had to agree to mow the lawn every weekend before her parents bought it for her. But it’s worth it. She’s never slept better. Her grades have improved. Her skin has cleared up. People talk to her in the halls at school. She’s writing a letter to the company that makes the bed. She hopes they will excerpt it in their ads. If she can help one other girl get this bed, she’ll be that much happier.
  2. The location of the cloud farm is a secret. Roxy had to sign an NDA before she was even allowed to the site. She knows that she’d violate the NDA if she ever received an offer. It’s hard work, and the pay is just barely enough to live off of. Clouds are sticky, and wearing gloves dries out her hands. The catwalks wobble constantly, and between that and the smell (like sugar mixed with lightning), she always has a mild sense of vertigo. But unlike the factory she used to work at, it’s quiet, and she’s allowed to listen to podcasts while she works. She hates to admit that it’s probably the best job she ever had. But that doesn’t make it a good job.
  3. The purpose of Project Cumulous is to remove the need for naturally produced clouds. Not only will we be able to cut back on the number of harvesters and other associates, but it will allow for greater diversity in product. Currently, we have to maintain separate facilities for different types of clouds. Pink fluffy clouds, like we use for the CloudSleeper, must be kept separated from the dark storm clouds we use for our weapons division. Using the Project Cumulous process, we create what is essentially a blank cloud. Only in the final stages do we add the necessary ingredients for cloud diversification. We expect the process to be completed within 5 years, though we strong believe that the work could reach a prompter conclusion with the additional budget we’ve requested. Please see attached pages.
  4. It’s not hard. I mean, you gotta be careful. You fuck it up, and things go boom, so don’t fuck it up. But you’ve met Lem, and if that guy can handle it, well, you really want to be the guy who makes Lem look good? So, the first step is removing the clouds from the bed. Other guys have that handled, they’ll put it into one of these cannisters. They’ll bring the cannisters to you. The cannisters go write on the stove. You gotta get it up to a boil. Once it’s there, add this stuff. No, I don’t know what it is. You don’t need to know either. It’s just the stuff. You tell anybody ‘I need more stuff’ they’ll know what you need. The stuff lowers the temperature, so you need to bring it to a boil again. Let it boil for 10 minutes. Set up the cold-water bath during those 10 minutes. Then use the tongs to drop the cannister into the cold-water bath. Simple.
  5. A new street drug called Cl0ud has been invading our city. Are your children on Cl0ud? Here are some signs to look out for. Cl0ud gives the user a euphoric sensation. Anything that suggests that your teenager is not in the midst of emotional turmoil, could be a sign. Are they smiling? Do they seem happy to see you? When you ask about their day, do they tell you? Have they started wearing colors? Do they whistle while doing homework or chores? These are all warning signs. If your child or teen is exhibiting any of these signs, please call the number provided.
  6. Greta has been placing notes around the house. We find them in the medicine cabinet, taped to the coffee maker, slipped among the mail in envelopes addressed to us. The notes include “fun facts” about Cloudsleeper beds. One included terms for a loan, she calculates interest on how much she’ll pay us back if we buy her the bed. It’s cute, and annoying. One includes a testimonial from a girl named Lisa who lists all the benefits since she got one. My wife tells Greta we’ll look into it, and Greta is so excited, I know it’s already a done deal.

Day 18: The Ocean (part 2)

We stopped going to the beach. We boarded up the windows facing the ocean. It was continuing to get more distant, but that was not enough for us. Motels were renamed, no more Wavecrest or Oceanside. We purged mention of the water from official signs and our town’s website. There was some disagreement about lobsters and other seafood, but we decided it was allowed because the taking of the ocean’s children was fair play after all it had taken from us.

It all culminated in the trial. Kensiport v. the Ocean. The main crime was of course the murder of the body. We still had not identified who she was, but it no longer mattered, her identity, like her life, had been taken from her by a heinous criminal. There were additional crimes added on. Everybody had a grievance. The Ocean had stolen somebody’s keys when he’d accidentally dropped them on the beach. It couldn’t just give them back? A girl had been stung by a jellyfish. If my dog bit somebody, I’d be responsible. An insomniac who was sure that the ocean had been responsible for his sleeplessness.

It took weeks to hear all the testimony. The town had essentially shut down. We’d awake early and rush to the courthouse hoping to get a seat. There were two remote rooms to watch it streamed, and sometimes we’d sit there, but there was a 30 second delay, and we could hear the courtroom’s “oohhs” and “ahhhs” and general commotion before we knew the cause. The Side Diner (formerly Seaside) also had a contract to show the trial, and we’d sometimes grab seats at the counter to watch. The waitress would keep our mugs filled with hot coffee, and we’d always drink more than we intended. Leaving the diner at the end of the trial day, we’d feel uncomfortably energetic, and needing to pee.

Nobody had seen Dr. Carson for weeks. She, alone, had continued going to the beach. She’d set up her work at the point where the waves ended. It was now so far away from the town that it no longer made sense for her to return to her home at night. She’d set up a tent, and even that had to be moved every few days. Her garden was getting overrun with weeds and bees. She had kept it so precisely ordered that now untended, it was returning to wildness with a passion. The book club she had attended had disbanded. At first, they’d been delighted she was gone, spending a few sessions discussing the book less than Dr. Carson’s idiosyncrasies. But without her there to help guide the discussion or to provide new fodder for gossip, it soon folded. Killed the book club was added to the Ocean’s list of crimes.

We were so excited for the day of the verdict. The jury had deliberated overnight. An insider said that they had actually made the decision in less than an hour, but after such a long trial, they felt that the public deserved the drama of a wait. It gave us the chance to go home, get some rest. We showered, shaved, dressed up nice. There would be cameras, and while we knew we weren’t the focus, there was a chance we’d be in the background of a photo, and we wanted to look nice.

“Has the jury come to a decision?” Judge Willis asked.

“We have, your honor. We the jury find the defendant, the Ocean, guilty.”

There was applause and cheering in the court room, and 30 seconds later, echoed in the run-off rooms, and then the diner. Judge Willis let it proceed for a few minutes before banging his gavel for quiet.

“During the proceedings, I have overlooked certain irregularities. The inclusion of largely unrelated charges, many of which are not actually crimes. The fact that the defendant has not been present for the trial, nor could it be, the defendant being as much an idea as a physical presence. But, I understood the catharsis involved. At best, the Ocean has always been inconsistent. Coming and going as if its actions were controlled by the moon. Damn you, moon. Yet, as much as I would like to put the moon on trial, it is not within my jurisdiction. So too with the ocean. I’m declaring this a mistrial.”

The courtroom was cleared quickly and peaceably, but most of us had nowhere to go immediately. We milled around the square, complaining, igniting each other’s anger. Finally, we were marching. More people joined, and then it was as if the whole town was on the move. We knew where we had to go. We stormed the beach like it was Normandy. But the ocean was gone. It was so far off, we could no longer even see it. We chanted for a while. Told the ocean it better not show its waves around here again. Then content in knowing it would never return, we went home.

Day 17: The Ocean

Dr. Carson’s presentation was exacting and thorough. She was a woman who was accustomed to being correct, and also to being doubted. She would not tell you the current weather without five pieces of evidence to back herself up. Still, she had to observe friends and acquaintances walk out into the rain without an umbrella. So, at the end of her presentation, that included photos, graphs, expert testimony, and satellite imagery, she was unsurprised when the city council said they would look into it. She knew that immediate action would be too much to expect, but at least they hadn’t completely dismissed her. But, to those of us familiar with Dr. Carson, who had seen her perfect and mathematically arranged garden, who had heard her confidently but not conceitedly speak at our book club, who had smelt the ocean on her after a long day of research. To those of us who knew her, there was no doubt that she was correct. The ocean was receding. Not that there was less overall water, but that the ocean was slowly departing from our town.

We were already wondering. It had felt like it took us longer to reach the water. We’d park in the lot, carrying blankets, and kites, frisbees and coolers. It used to be fine, manageable, but now we got tired. Setting up our place with still a distance to the tides. We worried we were getting older. We should have exercised more over the winter. We were used to the subjectivity of time and space. Now, dear, perfect, wise Dr. Carson had the proof. We were as fit and vigorous as ever. Our senses were keen. There was nothing wrong with us, it was the ocean that was letting us down. The sea was gaslighting us, and she had photos, graphs and expert testimony to prove it.

It was unclear what the city council could do about it. They were an affable group of people, but they all had other careers. Mostly, their job was to decide parking restrictions. Each year, just prior to summer, they’d tweak the no parking zones before tourists started to arrive. Have you been visiting for years, and this is where you always park? Well, not this year. That’s a red zone now. The fines were an important part of our economy. Now, the ocean was rezoning, and they were thoroughly out of their depth. They considered asking the state for help, but the state just wanted to send more scientists, and council was convinced that Dr. Carson’s hands were the safest ones to place their trust in.

We got used to seeing the doctor on the ever-expanding beach. We didn’t know what she was doing, but she was there, looking serious, measuring things with increasingly sophisticated gadgets. But the beach was drawing in more people. Yes, there were families, and sunbathers. People who wanted to swim in the ocean before it was too far away and we were just another inland town. But the biggest influx were the treasure hunters.

We were learning that the ocean was filled with junk and where there is junk, there is the slim possibility of there being something valuable. There was the usual small trash, bottles and cans, plastic bags. But we were also finding history lessons for our kids. This is an 8-track cassette. It was for music. These are a dozen empty film cannisters. Film would come in it, and then we’d fill them with quarters for no real reason except they were the right size. We found plastic jewelry, and hundreds of cd jewel cases. We found our past mistakes, buried beneath the ocean, but now returned. Some of us didn’t want our kids wandering among the trash. We remembered needle scares, and the more prosaic broken glass and jagged rocks. But we also knew it was only a matter of time before a body was found. We didn’t have an unusual number of missing person cases, but over the years there had been enough that it felt like a given that we’d find somebody.

When a body was found, it felt like a relief. The ocean was still moving away from us, and no amount of police tape was helping. Now, there was a case. Something the police understood. City councilors made speeches. Dr. Carson was asked to comment, and she pointed out that while any death was sad, we shouldn’t get distracted from the graver ecological problems at hand. Even that pleased us. We were so tired of Dr. Carson being correct, and the voice of reason. Finally, we could dismiss her as a cold fish. We remembered how smug she always seemed in book club. Were we paying for those devices? What’s the matter with a tape measurer? We no longer cared about the ocean. At best, it had been a fickle friend, at worst, it was a murderer. (How else could the body have gotten there in the first place?)

We held a vigil for the body. We demanded justice. We’d wake up from nightmares, imagining we had experienced the body’s last moments. Seen what they had seen, felt hands on our neck, or the ocean filling our lungs.

Theft & Influence

My friend Gillian wrote a poem out of stolen lines from my pieces and posted it over on her blog. https://yourlittleday.blog/2020/04/15/theft-influence-april-13-14/ There is nobody I’d rather have remix my work. Also, if she hadn’t nudged me in the first place, I probably wouldn’t be writing these in the first place. I still might find a way to mine her poems for at least a prompt idea.

On that same blog post, she also posted a map of her poetry influences which is pretty neat, and furthers my reading list. As it stands, over half the poetry I’ve read in recent years have been direct recommendations from her, and most of the rest have been follow ups to those original recs. It made me think of my own influences.

Aimee Bender and Charles Yu are two big ones for me. Bender’s stories are a bit more fantastical, while Yu is science fiction based, but both are less concerned with the how than the emotional effect of these circumstances. But probably the single biggest influence on these particular stories is Steven Millhauser. He has a couple of different stories where he documents events as a vague “We.” Here’s one of the best examples. https://harpers.org/archive/2009/12/mermaid-fever/ (Another big one for this style is Jeffrey Eugenides’ “The Virgin Suicides.” It’s a shame he just wrote that one novel.)

Josh Ritter has written some of my favorite short stories which just happen to be songs. In particular “The Curse,” “The Temptation of Adam,” and “Another New World.”

And two comics that have permanent space in my brain. “Did You See Me?” by Sophia Foster Dimino https://www.shortbox.co.uk/product/did-you-see-me-by-sophia-foster-dimino about two people who inhabit the same dreams, and start communicating with each other over social media, and “What is Left” by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (One 3 stories in https://www.shortbox.co.uk/product/don-t-go-without-me-by-rosemary-valero-o-connell) about a spaceship that is powered by a girl’s memories.

Day 16: Library

The library was 17 stories tall. (“The library has a far more stories than that, get it?” the library director would say). Not skyscraper height by any means, but in our city’s modest skyline, it towered over its neighbors. We were used to navigating by it, and even when one was just out for an aimless walk, one would eventually arrive at its door, simply pulled there by the gravity of the building. Latin phrases were carved into the edifice, most likely about knowledge and learning, though I was pretty sure that the word sanguis was used more than a few times.

A friend of a friend was a children’s librarian there. Sometimes, I’d see her there, and we’d talk, but most of the time she was in the children’s room, and I had no viable excuse for entering that sanctuary. So, I usually just wave to her on my way to the elevator.

The elevators are the quietest I’ve ever experienced. When you reach your floor, they both do and don’t “ding.” There is no audible sound, but somehow you feel it in your feet and your brain fills in the sound. I didn’t even realize they were silent until somebody else pointed it out to me. Now, I can’t help but wait for that strange moment to arrive.

I like the 11th floor, the shelves arranged in a spiral. There’s usually a slight breeze and it smells of real pine, not air fresheners. At the very center is a book by Borges. Ley lines radiate from there into associated topics.

But today, the 17th floor is my destination. I’ve never been up there before. Once, I’d ridden the elevator up, but the doors refused to open, and then it decided I belonged on 13 instead. I found a fascinating history of the fig, but I was still disappointed that the library believed it knew what was best for me. Today, there will be no stopping me. I have an invitation.

The doors open with their silent ding. A woman in a suit is there to greet me. She is rather short, and the suit is too big, but she carries herself with a certain gravitas.

“Welcome. Excuse the formality, but may I see your invitation.”

We both know the doors wouldn’t have even opened if I didn’t have it, but no system is perfect, and the library does not leave things to chance. She puts on her glasses to examine it closer.

“Lisa recommended you. Quite a surprise that. I don’t think she’s recommended anybody before. I mean, not surprising, considering most of her patrons are covered in chocolate,” she wipes her hands on a handkerchief at the thought, “Anyway, follow me.”

She leads me to a study room. It contains a desk set on which a typewriter and a stack of blank paper are sitting. The outer wall is a window looking down on the city, and the view is spectacular.

“Hopefully, this window will do. Based on your past activity, we calculated it as optimum, but these predictions are an art not a science, so let me know, and we can find you a different view.”

No, this is the one. I can see the museum, and Founder’s Park. I can vaguely make out my favorite bar, and the rock club where I first saw the band Missing Parrot play.

“You know what’s expected?” she asked.

I hadn’t known before, but now I did.

“How long do I have?”

“As long as it takes. A day, a year. Forever. Come and go as you wish. But the library will know when you’re done, and when that happens, your access will cease. Do you understand?”

I don’t.

“I do,” I say.

I stare out the window for an hour. At first everybody below seems so small, but eventually, I realize they’re all huge. Bigger than life.

Finally, I start to type.

Day 15: Club

Zilla liked when Ramon DJed. The crowds were in a better mood, which made her job easier. But also, he seemed to know the overall rhythms of the club. When her bar would get busy, when she’d need an extra bit of adrenaline with one of her favorite songs. When it was time to slow things down. She considered herself a low-frills bartender, but when he was working, she found herself almost dancing.

Club Earth was the only dance club on Sigma Station 11. Each station had limited space set aside for commercial development, and most of that was more utilitarian. So with Galaxy Burger, Ken’s Coffee, and The Officer’s Club (not actually an Officer’s Club, but a chain of bars that learned that catering to the Space Corps, and people who idolized the Space Corps was a decent business plan), Club Earth was a central part of the social life of the station.

Sampson, the club’s owner, had noted how many clubs of his youth were obsessed with space. Club Venus, Starlight, the Blue Moon. He felt it only appropriate that a club floating in the void of space should pay homage to Earth. Since many of the patrons have not even been to Earth, the name does feel exotic.

“But what kind of name is Zilla?” the guy asked.

The night was beginning to wind down, and Zilla was starting to breakdown the bar, handing things to Fletch to wash in back.

“It’s like Godzilla. You know, King of Monsters? My mom was kind of weird, but totally into that stuff. I’m lucky she didn’t call me Mothra.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Yeah. I’ve got a lot I need to get done.”

The music changed to a new hit song that everybody seemed to love. Ramon rarely played something like that this late at night, but the guy leaning on the bar hurried back to dance. Zilla glanced at the booth, and Ramon gave her a slight nod.

An hour later, the last song had played, the lights were on, and the last patrons were reluctantly leaving. Ramon was sipping a whiskey while Zilla finished closing up the bar.

“Good night?” he asked.

“Good enough.”

“What was with that guy?”

“He didn’t know his kaiju from his Kajagoogoo,” she said.

“Hush hush.”

“Eye to eye.”

Ramon had been working there a couple of weeks, and Zilla was starting to suspect he was flirting. Or possibly, she was hoping he was. The bad things about DJs was that most of them were conceited assholes. The good thing was that they never stayed on the station long. Space bartenders and waitresses tended to be like Zilla, people who felt they’d exhausted their possibilities planet-side. Their lives in space much like they were on earth, but with smaller quarters, and less gravity. DJs, even the crappy ones, always seemed to be on an adventure.

Ramon smiled at her. Maybe she could have a little adventure?

Day 14: Birds

I was on my way home from the supermarket when I realized what was wrong. There hadn’t been any birds. There were always pigeons underneath the bridge. Most avoiding human contact, but one or two stubborn and immovable that you had to dodge. Do not trust a bird that feels no fear. But today, there were no birds under the bridge. Had I seen any on my way to the store? Heard any calls or chirps or tweets? It seemed like no but it’s not like I generally paid close attention. I’d been checking my phone, and angry because, well, people are dumb, and awful. So, I couldn’t remember if I’d seen any birds or not, but I was beginning to wonder.

But I was carrying bags, so I didn’t check just yet. Not until I was home, and everything was put away. And then I almost forgot because I guess I’m like that. So, I spent a bit of time trying to remember what I wanted to look up.

“Are birds missing Somerville MA,” I typed.

There were a few posts about specific missing birds. A parrot that had been lost earlier in the spring. There’d been flyers posted to telephone poles around the area. But people had taken to the internet to help spread the word. I don’t know if it was found, and for a moment, I delved into the postings to see what had happened. Maybe, some tween detectives were still on the case. But there was no ending, happy or otherwise.

But I found a post on a Cambridge community website written one hour before, “Where are the birds?”

Sometimes, I’m unsure which side of the border I’m on. So, it’s safe to say that if birds were disappearing from one city, they were gone from both. By evening, local news stations were carrying the story, interviewing conservationists from the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and in the interest of balance, various people with no credentials who just didn’t like birds.

“They think their better than us just because they can fly. I’m glad they’re gone. More birdseed for me. Right?”

The mystery was that it wasn’t just free birds. Domesticated birds. The birds at the zoo. Big Bird. Well, probably not Big Bird. Point being, all the birds were gone. They weren’t spotted flying south or north. They were just gone.

A lot of people were distressed, though clearly not everybody. In a single week, there were three opinion articles in the New York Times about if birds were even necessary. “Birds kill insects sure, but so do pesticides, and people constantly complain about pesticides, so maybe they should stop being hypocrites” was the crux of the argument.

It took longer to realize that our dreams were also gone. We forget most of them anyway, so it takes a while to realize that you haven’t been drinking. That your crankiness isn’t based on the weather or just a vague feeling of dread. But when a pair of sleep scientists suggested that our dreams had left at the same time as the birds, we all found ourselves nodding our heads.

It was a conspiracy. Maybe the birds were behind it. Maybe they were victims. A task force was appointed. Law enforcement, scientists, a tween detective. Suspects have been questioned, there was even a big bust, but the birds haven’t returned.

One lab, has tried to attach synthetic dreams to butterflies, but they’ve only resulted in daydreams, unable to penetrate the sleeping mind. Churches have begun include a prayer to birds for intercession. Seed is spread everywhere to lure the birds back. We are trying to be better, but everybody is so tired. We snap at each other constantly. Some people are moving away, mostly families, afraid of the long-term effects of dreamlessness on their children.

Last night, as I was walking back from the supermarket again, I saw it. That parrot from the fliers. I can only hope that the first one gone is the first one to return.