Gearhead

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
I am Jim, I am not a face.

Submitted: June 26, 2015

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Submitted: June 26, 2015

A A A

A A A


Gearhead

 

I wake up

Cell phone spins in a circle on the glass nightstand, spewing some god-awful electronic noise.  There is a .01% chance the vibration will strike a perfect nerve within the silica compound and shatter the foundation.  I snatch the phone.  6 am, same time every day, most days.  Mouth tastes of stale vodka and smoke.  Parched.  Water is morning’s best friend, instant renewal.  Brush teeth, piss, and shower in unison.  Some people say the second is crass, I tell them they are wasting their time.  Clear gels coat hair and body, moisturizing cream for the face, all the best money can buy.  The body is important.  Shave daily, straight razor and brushed cream always.  There is a .01% chance I will slip and slice my jugular, spraying my life into the drain. 

Don’t trust machines.  I know my abilities.  After-shave to burn the pores, remind me I’m human.  Breakfast is egg whites and more water, purified and iceless.  My body has no need for caffeine.  It is a superficial mind trick.  Step out on balcony for a cig.  Marlboro Lights, soft pack, 13 left.  An unlucky number, but aren’t they all.  I don’t need nicotine but I like the act.  Pulling the thin white cylinder to my lips and sucking smoke into my lungs.  The burn, the moment of clarity, the smooth exhale, the pure white cloud of release.  Controlled poison.  12 left, just enough for the day, maybe, probably.  This city is washed out.

I’m a suit and tie person, something my job only sometimes requires, but allows whenever.  I never learned to tie a tie but I can.  Today is my day, but isn’t every day.  The phone is going off again, hours up.

I descend the stairs.

47 pearl steps line the bleached white hallway. Straight shot from apartment to city.  The odd number still bothers me.  There is a .01% chance I will slip and snap my neck, instantaneous death.  I break the sound barrier with the door.  Unlock car with key, just like anyone should.  Start car with key, inaudible ignition, grip wheel until knuckles pale.  I am fine.

I drive off.

The job site is two hours away, no smoking in the car, both hands on wheel.  Car is a loathed necessity.  So many working parts, machines, so many chances for failure.  Too many to list.  Stephan is waiting for me already, he always is.  Always has some new proposition, to expand his business, to keep going further.  MagVol, my place of employment, we just finished the new suspension bridge, a shortcut connecting the bay area to the mainland.  A new age design, single 4-foot wide cable wraps around the entire roadway, through both anchors, preventing any movement during high winds and earthquakes.  My design, my concept, my execution.  Four years of planning, I gave my life to this.  Stephan of course, was the perfect man to adopt my idea, to take the credit.  I didn’t get into this to gain fame.  I know my abilities. 

I park the car.

Stephan is standing near the southeast anchor, traffic is heavy.  Everyone is eager for something new, something to make their lives more convenient.

-- Jim! My man.

- Hello Stephan, waiting long?

I knew he had been.

-- Just got here.  Would you look at this goddamn beauty?  Couldn’t have done it without you.

- Not like this.

-- Smile, you should be proud of yourself.  This is a new beginning for us all.  Future funding is through the roof, were looking into things you wouldn’t believe.

- I’m not sure about that.

He hadn’t been listening to a word I’d said.

-- We’ve got a new focus on safety.  This cable of yours, it made me realize just how important that is in this business.  Got to protect the people.  Don’s looking into technology that can sense human blood near dangerous parts of machinery during production.  A little box can abolish accidents in the workplace.

- There is no such thing as an accident.  It is human failure.

-- What? I don’t care what it is, we can kill it entirely.

- Can’t fix a human Stephan.  And don’t put so much faith in a little machine.  They fail more than we do.

I don’t know why he wore such a big grin, I was being serious.

-- That’s why I like you Jim; never agree with a damn thing I say.  Hate those suck up fucks who think I know best.  I just run the business right? You guys are my saviors.

- Thanks for believing in me.

I swear that smile was cut into his skin.  Ecstatic that he was backing towards his car.

-- Take your time, hell, take the whole day.  This is your baby, you made this. Oh, except the machine that spun that miracle cord of yours.

The car door shutting quelled my flare of anger instantly.

I put my hand on the cable.

So much time, so many calculations, numbers, wires, twisted into one.  This cable is me.  I know every inch, inspected it all, demanded to.  The steel vein pulses.  There is a .01% chance an invisible fault in the line will sever, unraveling the thousands of wires, exposing the beating heart of the bridge.  I built the safety, but the hands that laid the foundation were not mine.

I breathe in the salt stained air.

I moved here to get away.  Start over, become real.  Always had that spark, knew what others didn’t.  Old friends became blurred faces and muffled voices.  They used me for me.  I am Jim, I am not a face.  I cut all ties, moved to the city, found a use for my abilities.  Bridge design, a place where I could shine.  Keep as far away from machines as possible.  Stephan’s shithead comment was correct, but I made sure that cable was mine.  Cannot escape the necessities but can limit them. 

I pull my hand from the cable.

Left a handprint in the dust, palms are sweaty.  Sweat is human.

I am fine.

I drive home.

Almost 1pm.  Sun hits liquor table.  Clear crystal bottles, the best vodka I can afford, which is the best.  I’m not in this for the money.  I know my limits.  Pour half glass.  No ice.  Slide glass door to balcony.  Tip glass to lips.  The smooth translucent liquid, the burning exhale, the small numb that hits the brain.  Ignored smoking at bridge.  Too much thinking.  Flame ignites paper, lungs fog, lungs empty, head clears.  Need food to combat liquor.  Fettuccine Alfredo, cauliflower, parmesan.  My body is important.  Full and tired.  So tired.  Fall asleep on bed.  Wake up to phone’s buzz.  Never set alarm.  7pm.  Did I sleep that long?  13 new messages.  No work today, this is my day.  Ignore phone and refresh with shower.  Need to get out of apartment.  Need a drink.  Rain is four blocks away.  Quiet bar for men.  No blaring dance pop, no gaudy colors.  Calm, cool atmosphere.  Fish are still easy to catch.  Drink. Devour. Discard.  Simple goals clear my head, no long-term obligations.  Time to cast.

I leave home.

Walk takes five minutes.  City is a blur.  Room is modestly populated, some familiar faces. 

I sit at the bar.

Ricky knows my face and what I drink, nothing else.  He is not a friend, so I am not offended.  I slide him some cash.

--- Long day?

- Something like that.

He sets the vodka on a clean white napkin.  No ice, no condensation.  Napkin is unnecessary but he is used to the action.  I welcome the burn.  Pay no attention to anything.  Fish bite better if you’re quiet.  Barely there thirty minutes before someone swims up.

-- You’re new here.

- I’m here most evenings.

-- Well then we must have conflicting schedules.  I rarely miss a pretty face.

- That doesn’t sound as appealing as you want it to.

-- You already know what I want? We barely know each other.  We’ve just met.

Bored or buzzed, his cockiness intrigued me.

- Buy you a drink? That what you want?

-- Want a conversation with a stranger.  I’ll take that drink though.  Vodka on the rocks.

- Trying to start a conflict already?

I knew he saw my drink.  Confirmed when he smirked.

-- Don’t have to drink the same to be compatible.

- Now you’re moving too fast.  Ricky, vodka rocks for my friend.

--- Sure thing Jim

-- Friends huh, who’s moving fast now?

-  Just a word.

-- So what do you do, Jim?

Ricky gave the kid his drink, but his eyes were bored into me.

- Engineer, designer.

-- I knew you were smart the moment I saw you.

- Was it the suit? Because that’s shallow.

-- No, no.  I can see it in your face.  You have that spark in your eye.  That look, like you’re lost in your head, always thinking.

- I don’t get lost.  And it can’t be that obvious.

-- I think you might be more vulnerable than you think.

- I think we just met.

-- Got a lover Jim?

I honestly laugh.

- And here I thought you might have some intelligence to you.

-- What’s the harm in asking?  Lot of confused men come here.

- Talking about yourself?

-- Kind of defensive aren’t you.  You like to have control?

- I think I know people better than you.

-- Looks like you need another drink.  Bartender, vodka for my, friend.

- No ice.

-- That important to you huh?

- I prefer my intoxicant undiluted.

-- You talk fancy.

- It’s just an act.

-- Mysterious man.

The vodka’s burn has vanished.

-- So tell me why someone like you wastes his time in a place like this.

- I like the atmosphere. Simple. Quiet.

-- Now you sound kind of boring. Want to know why I come here?

- I don’t think I have a choice.

He chuckles for the whatever number time.  I light a smoke.

-- I like the game.  You bait these men and they will bite.  Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard.  Either way you’re guaranteed a prize.  Well, if you’re as good as me that is.

- And how good is that.

-- You tell me. What’re the chances, right now, that I go home with you, or hell, you come home with me.

- .01%

-- That’s pretty low Jim.  The way I see it is 50/50.  You’re either coming or not.

- Sure. But it’s my decision, I know my abilities.  I was merely accounting for that small chance that something completely unexpected happens.

-- Sounds like that .01% can be anything then.  Hell, a plane could come crashing down on us right now, or you could simply burst into flames.  Got enough vodka in you yeah?

- Not nearly.

He downed his drink in one goddamn gulp and shivered.

-- Watered down.  Another round.

--- Sure thing.

Ricky was a man of few words and that’s why I liked him.  He did his job.

-- I think I understand the no ice thing, but I can’t stand the warmth.

- Maybe you just talk too much.

-- No need to hurt feelings Jim.  You know you’ve got a tough outer shell.

- That a physical remark?

-- Not at all, you seem very well kept.

- Your holes getting deeper.

-- Didn’t realize I was digging.

- You don’t realize a lot of things.

There was a lull in the conversation as we both drank.  I sparked another cig.

-- May I?

I slid him the pack.  Lit his smoke. 8 left.

-- You know why I came over Jim?

- My pretty face.

-- You looked lonely, vulnerable.

- At least you’re honest.

-- I thought you’d be an easy catch.

- Having trouble handling failure?

-- On the contrary.  This is unexpected fun.

- Do you think machines are dangerous?

-- Kind of random.

- My heads spinning.

-- No, I don’t.  Make life easier don’t they?

- Sometimes.  I don’t think you understood my question.

-- Jim, everything is dangerous.  Isn’t that the point of your little .01% thing?  Can’t prevent everything.

- You can if you know what you’re doing.  If you know your abilities.  Machines only know what people let them.  If that person doesn’t know their own limits, they transfer that into their machine.  It is a failure domino effect.  Then that machine gets reproduced and distributed with this built in problem.  Say you had a child, you would have a baby monitor in its room, but what if that model of monitor was made by some supposed genius with a drinking problem and mental demons.  He missed a number in his plans, something seemingly insignificant, but entirely detrimental.  Everyone else misses it, they trust this guy, and you buy his product.  Your baby dies because his monitor fails one night.

-- I don’t think that’s a realistic example.  People would catch his mistakes.

- You’d be surprised

-- So what’s your solution then?  Learn to build your own monitor?

- Put the baby in my room.

-- Sounds like you have trust issues.

- Not at all.  I know my abilities.  I don’t know others.  Don’t put trust in something you don’t know.  That’s not an issue that’s an understanding.

-- I’m starting to understand your standoffishness.  Seems like you’re scared of something.

- Nothing wrong with being scared.  And I’m not.

-- Sounds like you’re scared of yourself.  Like you’re going to fail.  After all it’s inevitable right?  Or at least, there’s that .01% chance.

- I don’t fail. 

My head was really going.  Time to cut this fish loose.

- So we’re done here right.

His face drained exceptionally quickly for how worked up I’d got him.

-- I thought I had you hooked.

- Seems you misunderstood who was fishing.

-- Give me another chance.

- You’ve used them all up.  Goodnight.

-- My number

He slid me a business card.

-- You should watch the news sometime, get out of that little head of yours and into the real world.

I look at the card.

James Kelly.  MagVol employee. 

The small television behind Ricky’s head had been broadcasting the same news story for at least an hour but I hadn’t paid much attention to it.  47 dead.  Earthquake.  Cable Snap.

--- You look like you got a lot on your mind

- Vodka, no ice.

I keep spinning.

 

By Chris McConnell


© Copyright 2019 Chris McConnell. All rights reserved.

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