It annoys me how a red-tailed hawk does effortless surveillance in druggy orbits above, gives me literally a pain in the neck, more sort of the back of my neck. I redirect a telephone pole camera, sweep the parking lot. Civs slip out of cars and shut doors gingerly, assuming that the sound puts our suits on edge. Our suits, frying in black, adjust their sunglasses in unison. The civs (and this is not encouraging) look around for spouses. I guess which one belongs to which co-worker. They clutch my admittedly strange letter, which should've fallen into wrong hands by now. Finally forgave myself the rushed, weak prose. Useless surgical masks are passed around.
Our annual Family Day provides a means to celebrate the American households who share the enviable distinction of a truly patriotic member. Rest assured that Family Day will be a sterile, unmolested occasion absent the usual infection of children (by which we mean children are not allowed) and/or, for example, Reduviid insects -- vectors of Chagas disease, as we know -- swarming about. How atrocious the maladies nature herself puts forth! A rendezvous point will be disclosed, subject to repeated change. Attire semi-formal. Surgical masks provided.
P.S. Above Xs not to be construed as typographic kisses.
The department physician had described my neck pain as vertebral subluxation. I returned to my workstation, called up the new camera in his office. Watched as he steeled himself, muttered and plunged a needle into his heart. Put the compound on quarantine lockdown and had the boys bring him up.
"Kurt, how do lovers test each other other other?" he asked in this echoing way.
"With cruelty, I suppose."
The doctor's eyebrows flashed quite greenly.
"Your flight patter is approaching mush," I heard, though circumstances warped the words. The gist, anyhow, was crystal. "You've killed us all; it didn't matter." The injection, he claimed, would do zero to prolong a life.
"Then why bother?" I wondered.
"To make it painless."
Reading safety code to my two goldfish, to a vase of daffodils from my secretary Jan's immaculate desk. Together we seem the only things surviving this mess -- the flowers and fish and me, not Jan, poor dear. Except no, the fish are belly-up. Plumbing, vents or mail? Liquid, gas or powder? The flowers doing nicely, better than me. Can't know where this thing began. Invite them to repeat the trick. My son could always explain magic if given a second demonstration.
Controlled experiment. Limit access.
Isolate cause; invent the cure.
One final measly sacrifice. Then the puckish fools will pay.
Still, I draw the line at kids. . . fewer variables, anyway.
One gathers from flaring nostrils that the cinnamon scent of that disinfectant is hissing into the bus cabin now. Only when doors and tinted windows remotely lock does computer tell driver where to go. The computer voice is creepily gentle, practically Canadian, I think I see the driver thinking.
"Not licked yet!" I declare to the doctor and my co-workers, dead in the halls, collapsing throats lined with poison foam. Why it's taking me so long to join them: the walls don't care to explain. Immunity I'm sure it's not.
"All this because of recently?" a wife's voice crackles. Can't find her on the screens.
"It's always like this," says another.
"Left turn ahead," says the Canadian bus, whose GPS is slightly more accurate than the ones civs are allowed.
I call Glyphix, tell them this idea is poetry and that their stanza will soon begin.
"You're alive?" they ask.
Awfully glad I feel no pity in this atmosphere.
My superiors never approved of Family Day. Their disgrace.
I type another letter for kicks, the curious flowers wildly bright.
You are doubtlessly aware that recent tragic events have happened to, in fact, be in the process of happening these past few months, and that happens to make us here at headquarters sad. Very sad. Accept our apologies despite the fact that none of it is, strictly speaking, our fault, and won't you please overlook these happenings in the interest of Family Day? Your spouses have given up precious time at home to ensure that any and all threats pertaining to Family Day are spurious, fabricated, put swiftly to an end, and we know you trust them, your spouses. Partners. What would be the -- you know, it's none of our business. We don't presume -- your private -- if they were there with you they would agree with me. Us. Your. The. Uh. OK:
Come to Family Day! We'll take it as a token of approval for what we do. Don't think of our agency as sinister, as dripping with menace; this is a façade for our enemies. If they knew we were celebrating something as unmeanacing as families, what airs could we possibly adopt to make them fear us again? So, our little secret? We can keep a secret if you can.
If you do not attend, of course, it puts us in an awkward position. Aside from being unable to protect your nervous system, we might be forced to construe your absence as reason to suspect you, and when we are suspicious, etc.
Q. Do I have to go to this?
A. As though we would need to force you!
Hopefully and non-anxiously,
Do we have a stamp with my signature?
Odd, but I don't think I can lift my left arm.
In a barren field where New Jersey's pine mazes chafe against its landfill desert and the dunes of trash stretch back, gray towers a mirage beyond, is the one-room shed where their spouses eat lunch. Three long tables and two metal folding chairs and a smartly dressed woman who is just delighted. The tour lasts forty-three seconds, consisting of a slow walk around the perimeter of the room.
New paint?" asks a husband, pulling a salmon palm off the wall.
"That's right," says the delighted woman. "This cafeteria is brand new!"
"Where's the food?" asks a wife.
A geyser of vampire bats unfunnels into purple gloam, their leathery snapping like a crazed tent in wind. Must be a hidden cave.
The bus rumbles south, towards Glyphix's makeshift research outpost, spouses already rubbing their necks. I skip over the bodies of their brave husbands and wives, towards Chemical, for my fourth shower of the hour. Every phone shrill and angry -- rings growing in urgency with each frustrated repetition. I bring paper and pen to write, though the pen barely works with the water and all, and the hot steam is sleep-inducing, extreme.
Hope you enjoyed Family Day! We've heard only good things. Mainly our thinking is: no news is the only kind. We'd apologize that your significant others were unable to join you for the tour, but you'll understand completely -- if you don't already -- why that's uncalled for. The purpose of this message is two-fold. First the worse news, then the bad. I assume your families loved you, but let us not put words in mouths.
And those lovely daffodils still alive, immortal fakes in fact.
This is to:
A) Inform you that Family Day (despite its success) is to be discontinued. Anyone with the brain function necessary to read this and in possession of additional information regarding peculiar sensations experienced, neck pain especially, should etc. Many thanks in advance.
B) Inform you that you and your spouse will be unable to resume civ life. Follow the hawk, it loses you in solar haze. Peculiar cinnamon smell, was that. . . ? Someone knows. Who did this, you'll wonder, trapped us like germs on a slide? That will scarcely matter. You're dangerous to them. Your spouses, they're taking the situation well, and we don't mind suggesting you do likewise. Otherwise, frankly, what use are examples? To the point -- plagues can be contained, unlike the Atlantic sky under which my compass wristwatch freaked and spun in striking distance of magnetic pole, though it was at the Equator we sank. In my almost-drowning then I dreamed. A water nymph. She claimed to be my ancestor. We Will Find A Way, she said. I said Sorry. She said Sorry Won't Kill Catastrophe, Catastrophe Inoculates. Make a list of the things you love. Cleansing firestorms, complexity scorched. First human heart you ever ate. Kurt Attica Jr., my beautiful small brilliant boy, sharper than all sleights in fact. I named my lonely island Unicorn City after its implausibility, after my stories, which he found hopelessly far-fetched, and rolling in with the fog was a homebound rescue taxi in whose backseat I nearly dozed while the driver talked orbits around quasars and space and said in his sweet heavy accent A Black Hole, You Go Into A Black Hole, You Never Come Back.