Friday, May 14, 2010

One Hundred

Okay, I finally made it to my hundredth post! It's only been, what, four years? Here's to hitting the next hundred before 2012!

I was looking for cute images of the number 100,
but I saw one made of cupcakes, so this
is the photo you get. I made these.
Pretend they spell out "100." 
To celebrate, I thought I would go back into the Critically Ambiguous Truth in Drinking archives and actually finish one of the many story fragments there. After reading the beginning of this story over and over to refamiliarize myself with it, I'm excited to say that I can definitely see some improvement in my voice and narrative flow since then.

This was the story about the woman who comes back to her apartment and finds a strange gift. The beginning can be found here:

And now, for the thrilling continuation:

"You again?!" my landlord's mobster voice barked through the earpiece of my Blackberry. "What, ya got another rat or somethin'?" Last month, I had a dead rat decomposing between layers of drywall in my bathroom. Getting it out of there was the apartment equivalent of open-heart surgery. But for my landlord, a thoroughly misplaced New Yorker, it was just another rat.

"No, Mr. Angelos," I said. "Nothing like that. I just--"

"Ya got bees?" he asked.

"What? No, I don't have...bees?"

"Okay, good," he said, relief in his voice. I couldn't help but laugh a little. This conversation was distracting, at least.

"I'm calling because I had a package delivered yesterday, and I wanted to ask you about it."

"What package?"

"It's a gift box, with a bow on it. I'm sure you saw it, because someone had to open my door to put it inside, and you're the only one who has a key. Right?"

"I ain't bin to yer building since Thoisday," he said. "No packages."

"Are you sure?"

"I keep a hundred tenants' full names, phone numbuhs, and payment statuses in my head and she asks me if I'm sure I ain't dropped by?! Oy. Ya need anything else, or can I go about my Satuhday now?"

"That's all," I said into the phone. "Thanks, Mr. Angelos." He hung up without saying goodbye, which only served to punctuate the problem at hand: what was I supposed to do about this mysterious gift?

I paced a little before settling onto the couch, where I could keep a watchful eye on it. If something so strange was so insistently exerting itself into my life, would it be prudent to accept it? Or would that be dangerous? I was so terrified of this gift that I'd put it out in the hallway before going to sleep. I did the lock and the chain, both of which were still done. Yet, the gift had somehow made its way inside again.

Starbucks is where I go on awkward first dates, to see whether the guy orders something more frou-frou than me. I rationalized the decision to myself as I made it: 'It is clearly meant to be mine, so I can take it to Starbucks to open it if I damn well please. If it turns out to be evil, I'll see if it orders a decaf nonfat soy caramel macchiato.' So I showered and got dressed.

Nestled under my arm, the gift seemed to lurch with every step as I walked to the coffee shop, like the box was anxious to be opened. It was a short walk, but each step seemed heavier as I went along. I ordered an iced Earl Grey and sat in an armchair by the front window.

When my fingers slid through a seam in the wrapping, I felt a chill course through my body. The sensation on my fingertips was like touching my own freshly-moisturized face--warm, soft, familiar. I pulled on the flap. The wrapping fell away from the box as though my gentle tug on the flap had started a chain reaction in whatever machinery had been holding it together. And, in fact, it was a box that I held in my hands, a sturdy affair made of stiff, white, glossy cardboard. This box did not suffer from the same affliction as the wrapping the night before: it was immediately clear that I had to lift the lid of the box from the bottom to see what was inside. I set the box on the table and sipped my tea.

When I looked around for the discarded wrapping, I thought that some fastidious Starbucks employee must have cleared it away. But as I hadn't seen a fastidious Starbucks employee since 1996, I had to assume that the wrapping paper (or whatever it was) had vanished just as mysteriously as the entire gift had appeared. I quickly looked back at the box, just to be sure that it hadn't pulled the same kind of vanishing act. It was still there, on the table, radiating the same soft glow as it had when it was wrapped.

"What's in the box?" said a voice behind me. The force of my startlement nearly launched my cup of iced tea at the window. I wanted to admonish the man for sneaking up on me, but my voice caught in my throat.

"Well?" he said, glancing--furtively?--alternately at my face and the box.

"I don't know," I said.

"Only one way to find out," he said. Before I could answer him, the barista said his name, causing him to pick up a coffee from the counter and leave the store. It was me and the box, alone again.

The lid of the box, I found out, was not heavy at all. It came up from the box easily and quickly. By opening the box, I had fully committed myself to finding out what was inside, whether the contents more greatly resembled those of Pandora's box or Marcellus Wallace's suitcase. Inside the box, a machine made of metal and some other materials I couldn't identify gleamed expectantly.

I wrapped my hand around it in order to lift it out of the box, so as to better examine my prize. As soon as my skin came in contact with the machine, it leapt into motion. The machine was reminiscent of the kind of perpetual motion machine you might find on a boss's desk, a shiny affair with what appeared to be a visible clockwork inside. On Monday, I took it into the office and set it on my desk. Its glow brightened my tiny cubicle and its silent motion often served as a welcome distraction from the daily grind.

I thought nothing of it for three years, other than to pack it carefully with my framed family photo and my ceramic tea-for-one service whenever I moved from desk to desk up the corporate ladder.

It happened to catch the eye of an intern who came to my desk on some errand or another.

"What is that?" she asked.

"What, this?" I had grown so accustomed to its presence on my desk that I was practically immune to its charms. She nodded.

"It's a perpetual motion machine, I guess," I said.

"What do you mean, you guess?" she asked. "How does it work?"

I looked at it for a long time. The gears in my brain turned at the same rate as the machine, its shiny parts tumbling and resetting endlessly. The machine had no discernible source of power, and yet, I'd never had to restart it from rest.

"I don't know," I said. I stood up from my chair, picked up the machine, and pushed the chair under my desk. I put on my coat.

"Hey, where are you going?" the intern asked, still holding the sheaf of papers she had brought for me.

"Somewhere," I said. "You'll hear something from me soon."

The machine caught the harsh light of the winter sun and glittered in my hand. Now that I finally knew what I had, what should I do with it?