Collection, I

            The hulking metropolis of Kozoc had its share of millionaires, that was for sure.  Swimming alone in their outsized penthouses, they relied on prositutes, partygoers, and their own progeny to keep them company.  The passer-by would only feel the whisper of such a life, lifting his head in a ninety-degree arch to squint at the windows that blocked all but the power of the sun.

            Semíh Dovoric was one of those millionaires.  He was a billionaire, in fact, after having procured the inheritance from his recently-deceased father.  Needless to say, his money was not self-made and, by the time he was thirty, he had had his fill of prostitutes and partygoers, and had yet to find anyone who could create the semblance of progeny.  Alone among the echoes of his penthouse, he waited and watched the ever-setting sun, longing for night to envelope Kozoc into its bed like the unruly, flashlight-toting child it was.

            This child, though, was poring over charts instead of stores, and was tallying names instead of places.  Tomorrow was the Collection, and no person was going to slip through the cracks of his chubby, tiny fingers.

            The Collection was something about which Semíh only hoped to read, or to be discussed as a sick, dystopian theory around the smokeless bar table.  The act had taken effect, however, through efforts initiated by his own, elite kind.  He had seen it before with money; the twisted tequila talking its way into congress and pushing its way into grim realization.  His own father, Irving Dovoric, was responsible for its precursor.  Called the Review, it had assigned each and every citizen of Kozoc with a number.  “Too many crimes have been evaded,” Semíh remembered the booming voice of his kin, “and too many dues have gone unpaid.”

            The Collection took the numbers a step further, attaching them to every deposit, every transfer, every due, and every debt until one crumbled to his knees under its watchful eye.  Its silent calculator added and subtracted the days and the weeks, until the fiscal month came to its close and deposited the names to agents who would move, door to door, until all was settled.

            Semíh heard a sliding coming from across the hall.  It was midnight.  Gazing at the numbers, he swallowed as a grave lump of fear, hard and burning, swelled in his throat.  He tossed and turned in bed.  Today was Collection day.

***

The metallic clock ticked in mockery,

You live, you live, you live, they don’t, they won’t, make it.

            Semíh restrained his tensed arm and growing fist.  He had no choice.  There were people above him, believe it or not, whose words were more powerful than the millions that protested against them.  The paper in his hand held more weight than the thousands of petitions, the pounds of protest signs, that flooded the streets as the moon flooded the sky: once a month, and all at once, until they tapered with the rotation of the planet beneath them.

            The city of Kozoc rose beneath him, and knocked him to the cushioned comfort of his bed.  Lifting the phone from his bedside table, he dialed.

            “Hey Leo, it’s Sem.  Yes, it’s because I’m sick.  I haven’t been able to get out of bed.  I know, since about two this morning.  You could?  Thank you.”

            Semíh, with a touch of his hand, passed his list to the Leo in question.  The clock called out, once more;

You live, you live, you live, they don’t, they won’t, make it.

Semíh stood and gave the mechanism a sidelong glare, and left the room.

The real Collection was about to begin.       

 

 

 

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On Laziness

Laziness; its exact meaning is a cloudy, curious thing.

I remember when I was young, probably in middle school, being called “lazy” by my teachers, left and right.  I cannot argue I wasn’t, but the definition of “laziness,” according to their standards, was as follows:

Lazy [ley-zee] adj. :  A student who, in her honors courses, holds marks of no higher than a B+ at any time.

            Again, I shall not disclose whether or not I met the actual, set-in-stone description as recorded in the dictionary, as I believe my view on the matter would be far less than objective.  Speaking of the dictionary, here is what it has to say about my situation:

Lazy [lā-zē] adj. : Not liking to work hard or to be active.

Admittedly, I was not the hardest worker when this “adj.” was bestowed on me.  There were many times I would come home, throw down my bags, get on the computer and, as the expression says, “that’s all she wrote.”  I might not have been the most committed to my schoolwork when I was a youngster, but there were other, less academic facets of my life in which I would have earned straight-A’s: family, fraternity, and reverie.

My kin, would balk upon the lecture of the above phrase.  As much as I gave the appearance of “shock” and “rebellion,” my most intimate desire was to please them.  Sadly, their minds were not like the grade books and holistic scales of modern education: they were unpredictable and, young as I was, I could not forecast what mark in them my work would hold.  To the twelve-year-old me, I was shooting an arrow through a field of corn, hoping to catch a tiny sparrow that was perched on the stringy tip of a skinny stalk; their approval, in reach, was impossible to attain without a precise, yet flexible, tactic in persona.  I was apathetic, I was happy, I was sad, and I cried when it seemed appropriate because, as we all know, emotional slips lead to failure and isolation.

Friends of mine were few and far between and, when I think of it now, I wonder how many were actually my friends.  Ever-fluctuating, they molded my interests, like non-toxic clay, from vampires to werewolves to BDSM.  They asked me the questions and I had to answer, and how else could I answer without executing the proper studies?  I couldn’t disagree, and I couldn’t reason – that would have gotten me called “pretentious” quicker than quick – so I opened my mouth and vomited out the web page I had read the night before, in lieu of the chapters I ignored and the equations I had failed to memorize.

I was deemed a “potential dropout risk” when I was fourteen, but I didn’t let that get in the way of my one, solitary dream.  At that point, I was dead-set on becoming a tattoo artist.  I could spend hours with pads of paper, lining out designs for people who never paid and “big fans” who barely knew my name.  Bathed in the swirling patterns of my colored pencils, they were my only hope for a future.  I had to get out, I had to be something, I had to go out to the city to be invisibly there.  Art school was the only place my grades wouldn’t have mattered; and those far-off institutions, to me, were the only places I might end up. Of course, my dreams wouldn’t come true, my counselor said: I was “lazy.”  My work was barely passing.  I needed to put down the pencils and the pens and the paintbrush, and do something with my life.

Today I sit at my computer, and think about how “lazy” I was.  Sure, improvements were made after junior high.  During my four years of high school, I never had anything below an “A-.”  I wasn’t lazy, I thought, and I was going to make damn sure everyone knew it.  I spent my evenings in study, my books and my pens and my pencils and my friends eventually restricted from my iron box of academic tenacity.  I locked it tight, with enough room for myself and my formulas.

Could I tell anyone, then, what I really wanted?

Could I suppress my emotions to the point I flowed with the aura of the crowd?

To the latter, maybe, but I never got the chance to know what I wanted, or the time to know how I felt.  Want was laziness, need was a myth, feeling was the result of boredom.  The opposite of sloth is activity and, as I had been reminded, the active mind has no need.  It does.  It doesn’t ask other occupied minds to do for it.  I was active, I was the mind, I had escaped that dictionary page and had leapt onto, what?

Where had I landed?  I’m still not sure, but I can tell it’s somewhere behind the rest.

They walk ahead of me, shouting backward to ask me if I’ve overslept.

Tomatoes

I had never really given it much thought, when I decided to pull all of the little tomato plants from my garden.

It was a dreary day in August, as the burning haze of late summer simmered into a cool, damp, gray September.  The tomatoes, lined in rows behind my house, were less plants than they were corpses, hanging useless and inviting the pluck of winter’s sinister hand.  Their stems, withered and yellow, shrunk from the sun; hopeless limbs despairing to cling to that final breath of life.  I gazed at them, my face as bleak as the sky.  This year, winter would come early.

It was not strenuous, the work of deracinating each malnourished creature.  As I pulled, I reminisced about the lives they had given me, and their potential in the ground.  Six in all, the tomato vines had produced for my family but thirteen tomatoes, gobbled up in one Sunday evening feast.  Covered in the sweet essences of raspberry, onion, and cream, their acidic flesh slid down our throats with a velocity that more than doubled that of their harvest, their wash, and their preparation.  They were more effort than they were worth, the little things.  The phrase, short and guileless, was what I surmised I would later tell my daughters, who would come home from school surprised and, I thought with regret, sad.

These plants were their ideas, their work, and I was responsible for their untimely demises.

Still in the skinny, withered trunks, I speculated, could be some stubborn, healthy genes that only a few months in the earth could pull to fruition.  That is what I would tell the girls when they held me hostage in the dining room; in the foyer, even, as they were removing their shoes.  That is what I would tell them, when they asked me about their precious plants.  I was their mother, of course, and mothers always have top authority when it comes to yards, gardens, and the little plants that sprout within them.

That is what I would tell them, that is what I would tell them.  I found myself lost in a cycle of thought, tossing the strawlike figures into the yard.  I might say this, I might say that.

The creak of brakes signaled my young ladies who, heads turned from the sun, marched inflexibly up the straight, hard driveway.  Hastily, I removed my gloves and scurried into the home, through the back door so as to not be detected by the hyper-sensitive percipacities of their youthful ears.  The door clicked and, with the cautiousness of a cat, I assumed my role:

“Hello, girls!” I greeted them in my usual fashion.  Perky without worry, but not so energetic as to arise suspiscion.

“Hey, hi,” My oldest and youngest, only two years apart, responded in tandem.

They walked to their rooms, and I was left to wonder at their lack of interest.  Did they despise me?  Were they planning my own demise?  What slimy assumption had slithered into their heads?

At dinner, as we dug into the lackluster salad, I theorized at their lack of alacrity to paint the meal red.  Their eyes dull, they drenched it with the same gray oiliness as any other day, letting it pass their lips and sink into their stomachs without so much as a,

“This dinner looks so nice.  I love stroganoff.”