“Micro Penis Man Learns that Happiness is the First Truth One Must Find in Order to Discover Others”
At around one in the afternoon towards the end of lunch break, Chloe calls me into the conference room and – what do you know – everyone is standing around with paper party hats and other paper party things. Most of the guys from the Possum Division are there and so is everyone from the eleventh floor. They come up to me and pat me on the back saying congrats and good job. Sam from the Artificial Barrier and Migratory Manipulation Department blows on his party horn right in front of my face and the thing unfurls like some serpentine phallus, bopping me right in the nose. I let out an amicable chuckle and lightly punch him on the shoulder. Chloe’s assistant starts doling out the cake and sparkling apple cider. “I baked it myself,” Ashley says, or something akin to that, but not fully and only semi audibly, directed at no one in particular. No one else seems to notice as the entire room begins to sing For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow. Ashley blushes and lips the words to the song, hunched over. That’s Ashley for you, always saying things at the most inopportune times. Chloe makes a toast congratulating me for preventing – or at least putting off – the impending extinction of the white lemuroid ringtail possum. Now the possums and their various sub-species can rest easy for a while, so long as they don’t leave the woods and go scampering around on someone’s lawn. She says I’d better make room in my apartment for all the trophies and awards I’ll receive from hippies and nature freaks. She says when the Endangered Species Non-Intrusive Integrated Intervention Branch of International Oil Incorporated looks good all of International Oil Incorporated looks good. She says the company’s stock value is jumping up the charts like a flea on a trampoline, that our stockholders are weeping tears of joy, that she’d like to see more of this kind of commitment and ingenuity from everyone else here more often, okay you guys? “That means you, Ashley,” Chloe says to Ashley, whose attempts to preserve the wild chinchilla population of the Ayacucho region of Peru have so far been nothing short of abysmal. Chloe insists that we all go out for drinks after work but I tell her that I’ve got plans and ask if we can do Saturday instead. “Alright everyone, this Saturday, ten o’clock at Robespierre’s. I expect all of you to be there,” Chloe says. “Except you Ashley. You’d better haul ass, put in some over time and save some goddamn chinchillas or it’s back to the Insemination and Population Augmentation Department with you. Now, everyone back to work.” The conference room clears and Chloe saunters towards me. “I’ve put in a good word for you to the people upstairs. Needless to say they’re pleased.” She slowly circumambulates me as she speaks. “You really stepped up to the occasion, Martin. I’m very impressed.” She runs her fingers through my hair, brushing the nape of my neck and accidentally nicking my Cerebral Transference Port, causing me to twitch involuntarily. “Your CTP is a little loose. Get that looked into soon, okay? I’m not about to lose one of my best field agents to an accident that can be avoided.” “Sure thing,” I say. “Thanks.” “How’s your report coming along?” “Should be done by the end of the day.” “Perfect.” Suddenly I can’t help but notice how empty the room is. “Off to it then,” I say, making some sort of anachronistic hand gesture, like an overly cheerful husband from a mid-twentieth century sitcom. Stupid. “Martin,” she says. I turn around. She’s smiling. “See you Saturday night.” *** When I get home, I feed my dogs – Fido, Pushinka, and Sherringford – some organic kibble and put on some Vivaldi to aid in their digestion. As for myself, I throw some InstaReady NutriMatter in the microwave and throw in a beef goulash flavor packet for pizazz. Nothing fancy for me tonight, no time. I’ve got a hot date. There’s no need to go into the labyrinthine details of how I ended up in the chat room where I first met Zhang Li. What matters is that there is seldom a day we don’t talk via email, vid-chat, or gif. We share everything. Her mother is dead, her brother is a hoodlum, and her father is a valetudinarian, so all the money-making falls on her. She wants to be a botanist, to visit every place where flowers grow. She says she doesn’t care about my micro penis or our age difference (I am 14 years her senior). She says she loves me all the same. Oh. Wait. Did I mention I have a micro penis? Probably not. I prefer not to talk about it. I’m 180 lbs., six foot four, and have a penis that is an inch and a half in length when fully erect. I am thirty-two years old. I am a virgin. “But Martin,” squawks some smartass from the peanut gallery, “It’s 2033. There’s got to be something doctors can do!” Ha. I’m practically an expert on that sort of thing. I could inject my penis with fat to augment the girth but then it would be like lumpy pancake batter. Cutting the ligament would increase my length by one, maybe two inches but then my erections would point downward to the ground and I’m not one to overlook the virtues of tensile strength. It’s not worth it. After dinner, I take my clothes off to have a naked video chat with Zhang Li. We whisper all of the things we will do to each other once we are together until both of us orgasm. For a while we are silent save for heavy breathing. I tell her about my day at work, about my success with the white lemuroid ringtail possum population. I tell her that at this rate a promotion is inevitable. I tell her that my savings account is getting a little larger each week. I tell her that we will be together in real life soon. She directs her gaze away from the camera, head turned to the side. “What’s wrong?” I ask. “There’s something I need to tell you,” she says, “but..” “But what?” “Oh Martin, you’ll hate me!” “What? No, no. That’s impossible,” I reply. Zhang Li shakes her head. “He needs another operation, my father…” “How much?” She shakes her head again. “How much?” “Ten thousand yuan,” she says, almost in a whisper. I can feel the wrath frothing in my spleen. “I’m sorry,” Zhang Li says. Her pixelated tears shine on my screen. “You should just forget it. Find someone else. Forget about me.” “Zhang Li. Sweetie, look at me,” I say. “Don’t cry, okay? Everything is going to be fine. I’ll pay for all of it, your ticket here, your father’s surgery…it’ll just take a little longer okay? But don’t worry. Let me do the worrying for you. I’ll take care of everything. I promise.” “I love you,” she says. “Talk to you on Monday, okay?” She nods back and I log out, shut my laptop and slam my fist on my desk. *** Comes Saturday night. I arrive at Robespierre’s at a quarter past ten, not wanting to give the impression that I spent the past three and a half hours waiting for the damn thing to start. Pretty much everyone is already there. We toss back beers and make a toast to the perpetuity of the white lemuroid ringtail possum and then a toast to Endangered Species Non-Intrusive Integrated Intervention Branch of International Oil Incorporated and then a toast to me. At some point in the night we start drinking long island iced teas and then someone suggests karaoke. I do a duet with Chloe to the latest pop hit, It’s Like A Gamma Ray Through The Heart (produced, of course, by International Records, a subsidiary of International Oil Incorporated). Chloe and I sit down at a corner booth. I can hear Sam from the Artificial Barrier and Migratory Manipulation Division drunkenly slurring the words to You’re Just Too Analogue in an off tune falsetto. “You’ve got a deep voice,” Chloe says, resting her right hand on my collarbone. She moves her hand up to my adam’s apple. “Hum for me.” I hum in the lowest register I can and she laughs when she feels the vibrations. “Do it again.” I start to hum and before I know it we are kissing. I mean, her tongue finds its way inside my mouth before I’ve stopped humming so she pulls away and chortles drunkenly and I start laughing too. She’s still smiling when we start kissing again. Her hand is on my thigh, getting closer and closer. Too close. I push her back, pin her arms against the wall and bite her neck, something she seems to enjoy. She leans forward again and I pull back. “Hold on,” I say. “Someone will see us.” “I’m not doing anything.” We kiss. She reaches for me again. “Don’t sell yourself short. You’re too classy for a dive like this.” “Shut up, dork.” “Call me old fashioned,” I say. I see Sam approaching the booth and wave to him. Chloe puts her hand in my front pocket and inches nearer. I quickly stand up to shake Sam’s hand. “Job well done maestro.” “Ah! This guy!” Sam says pointing to me. He stumbles forward and balances himself on my shoulder. “Come on, hand it over” I say. He hands me his phone and I order him a RoboCab. “Alright, get out of here you crazy bastard.” As soon as he leaves, Chloe grabs me by the belt and pulls me back down. “Did you really think I was going to let you get away that easily?” she says. “Why don’t we go back to my place?” “I wish I could but I can’t.” “Don’t you want me?” “I do! I do! It’s just it’s 4 a.m. and I…I have to get up early tomorrow.” Chloe rolls her eyes and groans, stands up to grab her purse. “Let’s do next weekend,” I say. “Next Saturday.” “I’ll be at a conference in Marrakech on Saturday,” Chloe says. “I can fit you in on Sunday though. Be at my house by noon and don’t keep me waiting.” “Yes ma’am.” With that she leaves. Monday afternoon at work, towards the end of the day, the big boss calls me up to his big boss office on the top floor of our tall building. His secretary shows me in. The walls are decorated with mounted heads: a tiger, a leopard, a zebra, a bear and too many others to count. Beneath these and behind a Brazilian rosewood desk sits our fearless CEO, Thaddeus Park. Unlike the ones mounted on his walls, his head is totally bald and gleaming, save for two sleek eyebrows. He invites me to sit in one of his Italian leather chairs and hands me a Cuban cigar. Placed on top of his desk directly between us is a human brain floating in a glass sphere. “Well kid,” he says, “you did it. The white ringtail lemuroid possum was starting to look like a lost cause but that ugly little creature is still kicking thanks to you.” Mr. Park lights his cigar and I lean in to light mine. “See, the members of the board were starting the feel pretty cynical. They said that we should put one of our worst field agents on the case, someone who wouldn’t be missed if things went kaput. But I told them they had it all wrong. I told them we should put one of our finest on it. Did we run the risk of losing a good employee by doing so? Yes. But the kind of employee who can turn a burden into an opportunity for personal advancement is exactly the kind of employee we need. “Our company’s founder, Estelle Takagawa understood that,” Mr. Park says pointing to the brain floating in the glass sphere. “And so do I: that people who can turn a disadvantage into an advantage are the people we want working for us. Those are the sorts of employees who will lead this company into the future, employees like you, Martin. Can I call you Martin? Rhetorical question. Of course I can. Do you see yourself as a leader, Martin? Do you see yourself having a future with International Oil Incorporated?” I wait a brief moment to make sure he’s done speaking. “It’s the only future I care to consider, sir.” “Excellent. The work you all do for the Endangered Species Non-Intrusive Integrated Intervention Branch of International Oil Incorporated is a crucial component to our global operations. Consider the cigar you’re smoking. Back in my day, people were worried about second hand smoke and they complained about the smell. Smoking in office buildings was a big NO. That wasn’t good for us over at International Oil. It cut into the profits of our subsidiary tobacco companies. The fewer places people can smoke, the less they smoke, the fewer tobacco products they need to buy. So we assembled a team and eventually developed our AtmosPhreshener bots. Now everybody can smoke wherever they want without worrying about anything while our bots vacuum the fumes and ash while emitting a pleasant odor.” Mr. Park ashes his cigar and a bot flies down from the ceiling, sucking up the ash before it hits the desk. “That’s just how we do things. Our product pollutes the earth and threatens the posterity of an animal species. That’s where you come in. You fix the problem. You don’t just fix the problem; you make things better than they were before people starting worrying in the first place. Just you wait and see. Before long we’ll have a white lemuroid ringtail possum explosion, an overpopulation crisis on a Malthusian scale. Meanwhile, our lobbyists mitigate the regulations and we do what we do best: extract natural resources, make a profit, and increase the value of our shares. We seesaw back and forth. We ride the gravy train until there is no more gravy to be had.” Mr. Park smokes his cigar languidly. “Consider me on board, sir.” Mr. Park smiles. “You’re being placed at the head of the Giraffe Division with clearance level eight, effective immediately. I think you know what this means. This company needs people to lead it. Pull this off and there’s no limit to how high you can rise. Congratulations, Mr. Biblarz.” Back on the eleventh floor I stroll past the cubicles, smoking my cigar with manly gusto while an Atmosphreshener circles above my head like a halo, emitting the refreshing scent of Balsam fir. My posture feels straighter, my stride, longer, and the girth of my chest more defined. Chloe smiles at me coquettishly and winks. I pinch her ass as I walk towards the conference room to meet up with the rest of Giraffe Division for an end-of-the-day briefing. Today calls for a celebration. Zhang Li and her ailing father can wait. After work, I wrangle some of my underlings to Caligula’s, where the Spare Rib Surf-N-Turf Super Platter is half-off every other Tuesday and happy hour lasts until nine. It’s an ancient Roman themed restaurant with mock gladiatorial combat, chariot races, and all the hedonistic trappings one could wish for. Our hostess leads us to the Imperial Suite where we kick back on velvet recliners as trained baboons with pompadours, wearing gold-sequined blazers, bring us spare ribs on silver platters and jugs of honey sweetened wine. I’m so full when I get home that I can hardly walk the dogs a single block without toppling over. Once I’m in bed with my laptop, I see that Zhang Li has flooded my inbox with messages. “Where are you?” they say. “I’m worried. I miss you.” I finally get to the last message and open it. “I know that you’re upset,” the email says. “You’ve already done so much for me and I know that I’m asking for a lot more from you still. I don’t blame you if you don’t think you can do this anymore. Just don’t disappear without saying goodbye.” I realize that this is the first moment I’ve had to myself all day. This clarity is sudden yet tepid. The desperation and loneliness seeps back inside me with cruel banality. Then shock. I feel like an earthworm dug up from the dark earth. Zhang Li, you are the soil that protects me. I come to you naked and squirming Zhang Li, envelop me in your fragrant mulch. But for the first time in my life I can see a future with promise, with real power. A life where I can feel entitled to being desired by others without feeling fear or shame seems like something I’ll soon be able to achieve. Chloe desires me. She’s no girl like you, Zhang Li, but a woman. And why shouldn’t she desire me? She knows that I have the potential to become someone great. Zhang Li, you accept me for the loser that I am and that makes me feel weak. I could end it all now. I could write Zhang Li an email telling her I give up, that I can’t pay for her father’s medical bills, and end things with the click of a button. The hardest part about it is that she would understand why. She’d congratulate me for my selfishness and I’m not sure I could ever recover from that sort of compassion. No. It’s too soon to make any sort of drastic decision. There’s no telling how things will turn out yet. *** The kid’s already dressed and waiting for me when I get to Operating Room 12. “So, what do your friends call you?” I ask him. “Frankie,” he says, right arm nervously jutting forth to shake my hand. “Frankie Patel.” “Congratulations on being selected as our newest, um, what are they calling it?” I ask. “Fellowship. I’m the new Fellow.” “So, like an intern, only fancier.” “Exactly,” he says. “Are they paying you yet?” “Well, I get a daily travel stipend and a meal stipend.” “So, no.” “I mean they give me money sometimes but not, like, a salary.” Frankie says, shoulders slumped. “Oh well,” I say. “Chin up. How’s your head?” “It’s uh, it’s a little sore.” “Okay. You dizzy? Need some more time to rest?” “No, no I’ll be alright.” “Okay, Patel. Let’s go on a little tour.” I take him to the cafeteria, the break room, the coffee room, the conference room, etc. I go over all twelve clearance levels and the various hazards and privilege each one entails. I tell him about bi-annual corporate retreats, department barbeques, division potlucks, et cetera. We head over to Transference Bay and I catch him up on all the progress that’s being made: how Spaulding from the Interspecies Linguistic Intelligibility Department taught Bobo, our resident chimpanzee, to recite the entire first chapter of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead in American Sign Language, how close we are to creating a synthetic tuna substitute out of insect protein and corn. The whole time Frankie beams at me with awestruck incredulity, eyes wide open like a pygmy slow loris. We finally arrive at the upper level of Transference Bay so we can get a full view of the Centralized Cerebral Transference Apparatus. Frankie is on the verge of tears, clutching at his chest like he forgot how to breathe. “This is incredible,” he says. “There’s nothing else like it. Pictures don’t even come close,” I reply. It’s true. The Apparatus itself is not particularly beautiful. It’s a colossal metallic cube made up of millions of different parts, surrounded by hundreds of smaller cubicles connected to the mainframe by a system of interweaving wires. It is not beautiful but sublime. There is something primordial in its hum and cobalt glow. “This is where you work now,” I say. I begin pointing out the various parts. “The giant box you see in front of you is – as you have probably inferred – the Centralized Cerebral Transference Apparatus. Those tubes jutting out from it protect the wires that connect to the smaller cubes that surround it. We call them stations. Each Division has its own station.” I gesture for him to follow me as the elevator door opens and we make our way to the lower level. “Now, back when I was starting out, people just assumed that you knew the proper procedures for strapping in by the time you went into the field for the first time, which didn’t exactly help in preventing workplace accidents. Fortunately for you, however, we now have a decommissioned station that we can use for demonstrations ever since the untimely departure of the Patagonian toothfish, formerly known in culinary terms as the Chilean sea bass.” We enter the demo station and I continue my lecture. “The basic concept is this: by inserting the proper cable into your Cerebral Transference Port, we are able to connect your brain to the Centralized Cerebral Transference Apparatus which allows us to transfer your cerebral energy into the brain tissue of the host. When I say cerebral energy, I mean all of it: your level of intelligence, your personality, your memories, everything. All of that is transferred to the body of the host. Your cerebral energy is like software, okay? The host, let’s say a walrus, for example, is the hardware. The Centralized Cerebral Transference Apparatus is what enables us to install the software into the hardware.” I gesture for Frankie to lie down on the table and show him the various wires that will one day be connected to Cerebral Transference Port, explaining the process with patient precision. He smiles the whole time, grinning like he’s waiting to jump out from a corner to startle someone. “Okay,” says Frankie. “I think I got it.” “Any questions so far?” “What happens to the animals? If we are able to download our cerebral energy into their brain matter what happens to theirs?” “Good question,” I say. “Essentially our cerebral energy temporarily overrides theirs.” I point to the dial next to the cerebral transference wires. “As you can see, the settings on this dial are numbered one through twelve. Downloading your cerebral energy into another creature’s brain takes a different amount of energy depending on the species. The greater the species’ cognizance, the higher the setting you need to input into the Cerebral Transference Dial in order to properly transfer your cerebral energy. The setting for an elephant, for example, would be twelve while the setting for a lemming would be one. However, the setting may vary when it comes to individual animals. One elephant might require you to set the dial to twelve while another only needs eleven. Our transference technicians do their best to figure that out before transferring a field agent’s cerebral energy.” “It all sounds pretty straight forward,” Frankie says. “You’ll get the hang of it in no time,” I reply. “I can hardly wait,” says Frankie. “What’s next?” “Just one more thing. Before we can go into an active station we need to go over the various workplace hazards this job entails. Remember that what I’m about to tell you stays in this building. Every field agent faces the same risks as the species of animal he works with. If you’re assigned to Elephant Division, you run the risk of encountering poachers. If you’re with Dolphin Division, you run the risk of being caught in a net. Usually, we are able to extract an agent’s cerebral energy from the animal before it dies. If the animal dies before we are able to do so, then it’s too late.” “I understand,” Frankie says. “Anything else?” “Unfortunately, yes. There are some instances where the wrong input is entered into the Cerebral Transference Dial during either transference or extraction. Accidents also occur when an agent’s Cerebral Transference Port is too loose. This can cause the transference wires to malfunction and then cauterize, fusing with the agent’s brain.” “What happens then?” “It becomes impossible to extract the field agent’s cerebral energy from the host without killing the field agent during extraction. Then there is more trouble. The animal’s cerebral energy does not remain dormant forever and will eventually cause fatal brain hemorrhaging. In such instances, we transfer the animal’s cerebral energy into the field agent while the field agent’s cerebral energy remains within the host. Permanently.” “So you’re saying that there are field agents out there who are trapped in the bodies of other animals?” “A few, yes. We do all we can for them. It’s not ideal situation sure, but people make of it what they can. Take Emma, from Hippopotamus Division. She’s been living in the body of a hippo for three years now. She was a church going kind of lady back when she was human, very religious evangelical sort of person. So is her husband. He even moved to Africa to be with her. They’re still married, apparently, although I’d imagine their marital intimacy must be…difficult to navigate. Still, they’re committed to each other. They take the whole ‘until death do you part’ thing very seriously, those Evangelicals.” “And what happens to the bodies? The field agents’ bodies?” Frankie asks. “Nine point nine out of ten the body perishes. Occasionally, however, the animal’s cerebral energy is able to download into the brain matter of the field agent. All of these occupational hazards are extremely rare, mind you, and this one is the rarest which is good for us. We certainly wouldn’t want that sort of information leaked out to the press.” “So what happens to field agents? I mean, the animals in the field agent’s bodies?” “Well, it’s not like we let them run around wherever. That would be calamitous. After one of our agents jumped out of a twelfth story window we were able to convince reporters that it was a suicide. Can you imagine how people would react if they learned that his mind had been possessed a condor? There would be riots in the streets. It’s a delicate process. There are a lot of ethical grey areas.” “So what exactly do you do?” Frankie inquires. “It varies,” I say. “Generally.” I look him in the eyes directly and adopt the most comforting cadence that I can. “We euthanize them.” Frankie’s grin fades so I put my hand on his shoulder. “Like I said, these occurrences are rare. All the people who work here do everything they can to ensure these things don’t happen. It’ll be a while before you go out into the field, a four or five years at least, and I’m sure it’ll be much safer by then, okay?” He nods. “That concludes your orientation. You’ll be shadowing me for the rest of the day.” I lead him over to Walrus Station. He mostly stares at the Centralized Cerebral Transference Apparatus with frightened reverence. Before I open the door to Walrus Station Frankie taps me on the shoulder. “Mr. Biblarz, sir, your Cerebral Transference Port looks a little loose.” “Oh, that’s right. Good eyes, Patel. I’ll be sure to get it tuned up later this week. Ready to meet the guys and gals in Giraffe Division?” “Yeah.” Frankie says, trying to grin again. “I’m ready.” *** After work, I head up to my room and open my laptop, reading over the break-up email I composed for Zhang Li a few days ago. I stare at the screen and think myself into a state of unthinking, hovering at the periphery of vision and thought alike. My phone buzzes and I leap up from my chair in idiotic alarm, slamming my thighs against the edge of my desk. It’s Chloe. “I’m off to Marrakech. See you Sunday, sexy,” the text says. My impulse is automatic. My fingers are like foreign creatures. “Can hardly wait. Bursting at the seams.” Bursting. Ha. To be desired by a woman like her. To desire a woman like her and to desire her the way I do. Somehow I am not afraid. I speak of poetic depravity. I speak of bestial righteousness. I have never felt more like a man than I do at this moment. Chloe, I want to possess you, to dominate you. I want to touch you in savage ways until we both turn into clay. When you think of me, I want you to envision cities burning and wolves devouring sheep. I want you to fear my strength and desire me. I send Zhang Li the email and I send Chloe the text message. This is where things stand now. I am out of breath now. I walk over to the kitchen sink and splash some cold water on my face until I start to feel normal. I rest my hands on the edge of the sink and watch the water shoot out from the faucet. There’s something about it that seems peculiar, something about the way the water juts out, like the faucet is talking to me. I can hear Sherringford yawning in the living room. He wags his tail when I enter the room and so does Fido. I make sure to rub their bellies for the same amount of time while Pushinka walks over and licks my ear. I lie down on the floor and stare up at the ceiling until I fall asleep. *** Impulsively, I purchase a bouquet of red chrysanthemums on my way to Martha’s. I still have a bit of time to wait when I arrive, so I push my car seat back and spend the next fifteen minutes doing power poses, designed specifically by Doctor Yaroslav Papadopoulos. Martha is wearing a silk robe when she opens the door. “These are for you,” I say. I hand her the bouquet of flowers and she tosses it on her kitchen table, pulling me inside. We don’t say anything to each other as she leads me into the bedroom where we start to kiss. She takes off her robe and starts to unbutton my shirt. Her long red hair smells faintly of lavender. I watch her kiss my chest. I watch my buttons come undone, one by one by one. I want her to pause for a moment to look me in the eyes. Am I being too gentle? She pushes me back and I fall down on her bed. She pulls my pants down and I look down to make sure my briefs are still on. “Martha, wait I…” “Don’t you want me?” she says, sliding her hand up my thigh. I sit up and grab her shoulders. I flip her onto the bed and she cries out in startled delight. I start to go down on her but she tugs my hair. “No, not now,” she says. “Fuck me. I want you to fuck me.” She sits up and pulls my briefs down. “Oh what’s wrong? You don’t want me,” she says. “There’s nothing I want more.” “Then prove it. I’m waiting.” “This is it,” I say, finally. Martha looks up me with a confused smile. “This is as big as it gets.” “Ha!” She lets out a curt laugh. “What?” It’s like a flash. It’s like a gamma ray through the heart. It’s like I’m in the sixth grade and just got pantsed by Bobby Bensimon after gym class, in front of the girl’s volleyball team on my way to the water fountain. First it’s that. Then it’s a surge of blood, seeping into the skin, turning my face red and swelling my brain. I feel dizzy. I pull my briefs up and walk back towards the wall. I am rage incarnate. “I thought I could trust you.” I turn my back towards her and press my forehead against the wall. Before she says anything I throw a punch and my fist goes through the drywall. Is that man enough for you Martha? Without looking her in the face I grab my pants and lumber out of the room, stopping only for a moment to pick up the chrysanthemums before leaving the house and slamming the door. Just rid that whole encounter from your mind, I tell myself as I walk towards the car, stopping on Martha’s front lawn to put my pants on. I check my pockets: phone, wallet, keys, all there. My shirt and shoes I left in Martha’s bedroom but there is nothing to be done about that now. “Pushinka!” She is lying on the floor, her entire body quaking in shock while she whimpers. “Oh, shit! Pushinka! Pushinka, I’m sorry!” I look at Pushinka, I look at the clock on the wall, I look at the front door. I need to go now. I need to get to St Christopher’s before the service is over. “I’m coming right back Pushinka. Everything’s going to be okay, I promise.” I get Pushinka to the vet’s but she dies soon after we arrive. Hypoglycemic shock. She died from shock. They help arrange for the people from the crematorium to pick her up the next morning. Instead of going home I drive back to St. Christopher’s to see if the bouquet of chrysanthemums are still lying on the stairs. They are gone. On my way back home, I pick a fifth of whiskey and some steaks. The stakes, I give to Fido and Sherringford. The idea of eating meat repulses me right now. It would be impossible to eat it after what just happened to Pushinka, what I did to Pushinka. I slither up to my room with whiskey in hand. I don’t think I have ever felt so worthless, so low. She was just like the rest of them, Martha. Ignorant of her own shallowness. Just like all of them. Except one. It has been a week since we’ve spoken. Oh Zhang Li, forgive the enigmatic lunacy that has late possessed me. Those chrysanthemums were for you all along. No harm could come of an email so I bare out what’s left of my soul and click send. Monday evening, after picking up Pushinka’s ashes, there’s a message in my inbox from Zhang Li. Zhang Li, my dearest Zhang Li, my crimson chrysanthemum. Zhang Li, my heart is a hive of honeybees and all of these wings are aflutter for you, my queen. Martha and I mutually avoid each other at work. If we are unable to, we remain professional and detached. We both understand, without saying, that what happened is buried in silence. Personality or depth aside, Martha is a motivated professional and knows that telling others would only hurt both our reputations. Eugene and I drift apart. His bible camp sermons don’t work on me. He won’t have any trouble making new friends; people love him. Humble and wise Eugene, sharing the “good news” with all. Maybe the meek will inherit the earth, but not before anything of value has been taken and sold at a profit by International Oil and corporations like it. Here’s what I know: there is no moral logic that governs what happens on earth. Tragedy visits the good and the evil alike. Calamity is blindly democratic. Fortune, however, is reserved for those with gumption. Eight months after laying Pushinka to rest, the day finally comes. I wire her the money immediately and call her up for a vid chat celebration. Zhang Li and I spoke when I wired her the money two days ago but I haven’t heard anything from her since. My thoughts tend inward and eastward towards Zhang Li. What we have is more real than the sunlight that surrounds us or the ocean that divides us. Now it’s like you’ve disappeared. What would happen to me if I go to prison for medical fraud? for pimping out dogs! What would the other inmates do to me once they see I have a micro penis? It would be certain death. Okay then, think. Survival. Survival. What would the white ring tailed lemuroid possum do? Towards what distant mountain would the chinchillas of Ayacucho flee? Rationalize. Assess. Compartmentalize. One: I can’t be seen with these dogs. After driving eastward for about an hour, I pull of the highway and end up in a vast and empty suburb. I let the dogs out of the car then drive back towards the freeway. I can see them running to catch up with me in my rearview mirror. Goodbye, Fido. I’m sorry this is how it ends. You can go to hell, Sherringford. Two: Willard is the only other person who has my business card. I’ll have to get in touch with him at some point. Besides, we’re in this together, he and I. Maybe he’ll be able to explain it to his wife. Maybe the three of us will laugh about it together over a bottle of pinot grigio during future days. I should probably hire a lawyer first. Three: Why didn’t I think of using a pseudonym? Why did I put my actual name on my business card? Idiot! Four: I’ll head back home to gather what I need. I’ll stay in a motel tonight, and from there I’ll call a lawyer. Five: I’m the chief of Giraffe Division at International Oil Incorporated, a solid middle management position. I’ll be fine. Six: I should probably hire a therapist too. I didn’t realize how much I’ve been on edge. I’m almost back at the apartment. I take the opportunity to check my phone while waiting for the light to turn green. It’s a text message from Zhang Li. I take a well deserved sigh of relief. Time to put all the confusion behind us. I open up the text and all I see are twelve blank squares. I’m in my apartment gathering my things, finally starting to calm. I’ll check into a hotel. I’ll call a lawyer and then I’ll call my service provider. Suddenly there’s a loud knock on the door. “FBI! Open up!” My breath leaves me instantly and I have to lean against the bookshelf to support myself. Now it’s something louder than a knock. They must be battering the door down. The universe has conspired to destroy me. There’s no other explanation. I raise my hands above my head, resting my right hand atop Pushinka’s ceramic urn. The door busts open. An agent in civilian clothing rushes in with his gun drawn and pointed directly at me. Another one follows behind him holding some kind of battering ram in her hands. Despite my fear I can’t help but notice their stature. The man doesn’t look an inch taller than five foot four. I’m terrified but also perplexed. “What’s happening?” I say. “What did I do?” “We ask the questions, fuck face,” the man says, taking a step closer. “Lie down on the ground with your hands behind your head or I’ll blow your fucking brains out!” This guy talks like a villain in a TV movie. Where’s the professionalism? What’s this guy’s deal? “Do it now or I’ll paint your walls red, guy.” “You’re not FBI,” I reply. “You probably don’t even exist because I can’t think of a single reason as to why I’d be hunted down by the FBI.” The man’s about to spit out another tacky line when the woman taps him on the shoulder and whispers something to him. She then turns her dark green eyes towards me. “You’re under arrest for human trafficking: for attempting to purchase one Wu Zhang Li, age fifteen, to live here as your servant and for engaging in lewd acts with a minor while using a webcam.” “No, I’m no pedophile” I say. “We all tell ourselves the truths we want to hear,” the trash talking tiny man says. He’s shorter now. 5’1”, maybe 5’2” tops. “She’s nineteen,” I reply. “She’s a bartender in Guangzhou. I met her on a chat room.” “Oh, on a chat room he tells us,” chortles the tiny man. “Classic pedophile line,” says the woman. “Classic,” the tiny man agrees. “Whatever answers you’re looking for I don’t have. If she’s actually fifteen then nobody told me about it. This must be a set up. Someone must have framed me.” “Okay,” the woman says. “Let’s say you were framed. If that’s actually the case then you have nothing to worry about. All we ask is that you comply. Just do what we say and nobody will get hurt.” There’s a haunting sincerity in her voice and in her soft blue eyes. WAIT. I could have sworn her eyes were green. Admit it, Martin. You’ve gone completely mad. I take a deep breath in and slowly exhale. “Okay,” I tell them. “I’ll comply.” I take a slow step forward, gradually start to bend my knees and crouch. Two fingers, now three fingers wrapped around the handle of Pushinka’s urn. I take a swing at the woman, shattering the urn on her head. Pushinka’s ashes envelop the tiny man in a plume, getting in his eyes and blinding him but not before he fires his gun, twice. I lumber towards him and wrestle him on the floor before locking him in a half-nelson. He flails his arms. One of his fingers grazes my Cerebral Transference Port. My body spasms but I keep in in my grip until his eyes close and the rest of him goes limp. The bullets that the shrinking man shot me with were real. My left boot makes a loud squishing noise as I make my way towards the Centralized Cerebral Transference Apparatus. It sounds like an uncooked steak falling from the counter to the floor, only with a little more squish and a dash of gurgling. Focusing on the noise helps remind me that this is just a body feeling pain. By now I’ve left a long trail of red footprints on the floor. These wet clothes are too heavy and my peripheral vision is fading away. I pick up my pace and limp towards Giraffe Station. It’s only a few more paces away. I didn’t make it this far just so I could bleed out in the hallway. I’m going to make it. Before I attempt to turn myself into a giraffe I’d like to take a moment to give thanks. First, I’d like to thank Martha. If I hadn’t been obsessed with her I probably would have remembered to have my Cerebral Transference Port repaired. If she hadn’t humiliated me the day of Paul’s baptism and hadn’t ignored me everyday at work afterwards, I probably would have remembered to get my Cerebral Transference Port repaired. If I had gotten it repaired then it would be virtually impossible to attempt to transfer my cerebral energy inside of a giraffe. My death would be imminent and unavoidable. Now my likelihood of dying stands at a solid maybe and I think that’s a cause for celebration. Really, I should be thanking everyone: Zhang Li, Eugene, Ashley the Manatee, Willard Wisk, Pushinka, the tiny shrinking man, and so many others. All the ways I have helped and hurt you, all the ways you have helped and hurt me, those are the things that got me to where I am now. I think this is where I’m supposed to be. After all that’s happened today, I don’t really know what’s real anymore. There’s only one thing I am certain of. Happy memories are the only ones you can really trust. For a moment Martha and I really hit it off. I know not all of you may hold the highest opinion of her because of that moment when she laughed at the size of my dick. Not a very friendly thing to do. But here’s the thing: how truthful was I being about that? Even I’m asking me. I mean, that’s how it felt. That’s how I remember it. It was a depressing and humiliating moment but when I go over it in my mind, she laughs a little louder and a little longer every time. Maybe Martha isn’t quite the nympho I made her out to be. Maybe Zhang Li isn’t as much of a scam artist as I made her out to be. Maybe I’m less of a victim than I see myself as and more of a predator than I realize. Anger, fear, hatred, all of those emotions distort things and when we’re like that we may not see something for what it actually is. When you think someone is slutty, or duplicitous, or arrogant, they are going to seem that way no matter what. But if you can share a happy moment together you’ll see who they actually are. Before all this crazy stuff happened I never really allowed myself to be happy. I was too focused on chasing the things I thought would make me happy. Now I understand that I should have been chasing after happiness itself. Now I’ve got a second chance and I’m not going to take it for granted. I’m going to run around with my long giraffe legs. I’m going to reach for the leaves on the tallest branches. I’m going to love my fellow giraffes as much as I can. I’m not saying I have all the answers. I’m just saying that if all of us here on this planet focused a little more on how to be happy – I mean truly happy – we might get a little closer to the truth, whatever the truth may be, and I think we’d all be a little better off because of it.