“Come on!” Carl bellows, his jaundiced face looming over me. “You can do it!”
I’m straining to elevate the bar when suddenly I feel a sharp spasm in my left arm.
“This isn’t worth it,” I slowly lower the bar back onto its supports. “I’m finished.”
I sit up on the bench and let Richard wrap a warm towel around my neck. Carl jots down how much weight is on the bar and appears disappointed after doing the math.
“You’re going to have to work harder if you want to be ready by December.”
Richard brings over a pair of slippers and places them at my feet. The insignia of the hotel is sewn into the soft white fabric, same as the towel around my neck. As I’m rubbing away the piercing pain in my arm, I glance around the room at the collection of reporters and press agents. Carl invited them here, told them I’d be happy to talk about my role in the latest Terrence Anderson movie. Carl is my eleventh agent in five years.
“Well,” Carl says. “Ready to give these people some of your precious time?”
“I just want to…”
A flash goes off, and then another, another, a chorus of voices ordering me to hold still, look to my left, smile, frown, untie my robe. I instinctively do everything they say.
“Beautiful, beautiful,” Carl turns to the photographers. “Looks just like his dad.”
Turn this way, cross your legs, flash, keep it there, wait, flash, great, that’s it.
I recite identical answers in each interview because the reporters all ask the same questions. What was it like having a famous father? Are you frustrated by always being identified with your role as Henry Blade in the Knight Life trilogy? Are you still dating Madeline Combers? How long were you in rehab? What’s next for Brody Kissinger?
I smile, shake hands, act humble, puff compulsively on my electronic cigarette.
“Alright, alright,” I finally say, hiding my head inside my robe. “That’s enough.”
Carl entertains the press while Richard finishes preparing the lunch cart. He bows, daintily removes the lid: a halved avocado on a porcelain plate. I remove the pit and fling it across the room. The pit bounces off Carl’s back while he’s on the phone. He doesn’t notice. Then I discover that the container of condiments is lacking a packet of honey. Orange marmalade, mixed berry, apricot. If I mention this absurdity to Carl, he will contact our hospitality liaison and have whoever’s job it is to stock the condiments fired.
I refuse to eat an avocado without honey.
I exhale a dragon’s-breath of vapor and wonder if it’s worth it.
“Wonderful,” Carl says. “He’ll be thrilled.” He makes that insufferable clicking sound with his teeth and affects an Italian accent when he says “Ciao” to end the call. After he closes his phone, he turns to me and tells me that I should say I love him.
But I won’t tell him I love him. I won’t turn around. I will never do this again.
“Brody, did you hear me?”
After having inhaled the entirety of a pancake-flavored e-cig, I excuse myself to the bathroom and throw up. Regurgitated wreaths of vapor accompany each of my avocado-laced heaves. Richard saunters into the bathroom with a towel draped over his arm and, after wetting it under warm water, tenderly wraps the towel around my shoulders. When I emerge from the bathroom, I abruptly order Carl to clear everyone out. I’m surprised when he actually does.
“We have a little while until round three,” he says. “You should relax until then.”
I open the window and wave down to the crowd. I can’t remember a time when they haven’t been there. I shout down “Hello!” and “Thank you!” One-woman faints. Maybe from me, maybe the heat. I think It takes too long for someone to help her up. When I step back from the window, the crowd begins shouting “More!” The word gradually swells into an aggressive, Gregorian-like chant. “More! More! More! More!”
I sense Carl is about to speak but then his phone rings and he rushes to the bathroom and shuts the door. The unmitigated chant of “More! More! More!” ricochets around the sunlit room. While I’m mixing a drink at my desk, I notice a stack of hotel stationary and a pen. I don’t remember these being there before. I look across the room at Richard: he’s standing in the corner, hands clasped behind his back. I quickly drain my drink and begin signing my name on each of the sheets, no direct intention other than it seems natural and I’m bored. I feel the sickness filling my stomach, inflating me with ill.
I begin folding the sheets into paper airplanes, and after I have about twenty of them, I go over to the window and start flying them down. The scene outside rapidly evolves into a frenzy, as if I’m hurling wedding bouquets into a gaggle of love-starved bachelorettes. I go back to my desk and scribble out a dozen more, soar those down and stand there, nursing a fresh drink, puffing a cig, feeling better than I have in a long time.
After I’ve run out of paper, I show the crowd my empty hands and shout down “Sorry!” They begin booing, hissing, demanding “More!” I slowly ease away from the window and attempt to tune out their chanting by counting the objects in the room. Portrait of a couple holding hands under a table. Marble statue of a sad hobo clown. Imitation Tiffany lamp. Modern Library collection. Gift baskets and bouquets. Richard.
Carl is now perched on the edge of my desk. He rests his elbow on my foot.
“You hear them down there?” he says, cupping his bulbous hand around his ear.
I examine the drink in my hand, my father’s turquoise ring around my finger.
“Dick,” Carl says. “Come and pour me a drink, will you? I need to catch up.”
Richard promptly lifts the bottle that’s about ten inches away from Carl’s hand.
“You could have gotten that,” I say.
“Maybe,” Carl says. “But I can’t get that.” He carelessly waves his whiskey toward the window, spilling most of it onto the freshly swept carpet. “Whoopsie daisy!”
Richard spies the stain from across the room and instinctively reaches for one of the towels draped around his arm. I will order him to stop if he attempts to clean it up.
“I’m going to be sick.”
Carl hands me an ice bucket with the hotel’s insignia inscribed on its side.
“Slow down on those drinks,” he laughs. “It’s not as attractive as it used to be.”
With my head hidden inside the bucket I can still hear the cavernous demand of the crowd chanting for “More!” My eyes flutter as I reflexively lunge forward and smack my forehead against the bucket’s icy rim. Richard suddenly appears at my side with a freshly dampened towel and presses it to my forehead, holding it there while I heave.
“Everything’s alright,” Carl groans. “You’ll survive.”
I take the towel from Richard and walk over to the window. There are twice as many people as before, the chants twice as loud. I can hear Carl laughing behind me, the clicking sound from his teeth inspiring a new swell of sickness within me. The crowd is waving for me to come down. I dumbly shrug my shoulders and say, “I’m sorry, I can’t.”
Carl is now sitting in my chair, his feet propped up on my desk.
“Gotta feed ‘em,” he says and waves Richard over to pour him another drink.
I throw my towel out the window and stand there watching it drift. The crowd collapses toward the center; someone’s hand reaches up and grabs it. I quickly turn away.
“The third wave should be here soon,” Carl says. “How do you wanna play it?”
When I tell him I don’t care, he shakes his head and swings his feet off my desk.
“Let’s try the brooding, sophisticated thing,” he says. “We’ll set you up in the corner and have you reading a book.” He looks over his shoulder at the bookcase. “Yeah, that should be good. It’s been awhile since someone’s done that one.” He flips his feet back onto my desk and looks pleased with himself. “You should change out of that robe.”
I briskly remove the bathrobe and toss it out the window.
Hearing their subsequent applause almost makes me forget that I plan on firing Carl. The first time I thought about firing him was when I noticed how he only tucks in the part of his shirt that shows; the rest is a mess hidden beneath his blazer. But I know it won’t do any good to get rid of him. There’ll be another one just like him to fill his place.
I disappear into my dressing room and put on the double-breasted charcoal suit my stylist had prepared for me in the closet. The crowd is still cheering when I reemerge.
“Insatiable,” Carl says. “They can’t get enough.”
“Why can’t I just go down there?”
“The reporters will be here soon,” he says. “Besides, what would you do?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “Just be there, I guess. Maybe take a few goofy selfies.”
Richard suddenly sneezes, loud and wet. I allow Carl the opportunity to say God bless you, to potentially redeem himself for his falsely-tucked shirt and his everything else. He doesn’t take it. Richard obscures his face behind the curtain and blows his nose.
“Dick,” Carl says. “Why don’t you go down and see if the reporters are here.”
“You should go with him.”
“Because I’m telling you to.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“No, I’m not,” I say. “And his name is Richard.”
Carl slowly finishes the rest of his drink before ordering Richard out of the room.
“Go with him.”
Carl shakes his head, curses under his breath. He shouts for Richard to wait up.
I stand in Richard’s corner and slyly peek out the window. There are hundreds, thousands of people waving signs, holding posters with my picture on them, sitting atop each other’s shoulders and pumping their fists. I pour another drink and light a real cigarette – “More! More!” – then strike a pose in front of the window, offering my outstretched arms to the crowd. Their incessant refrain has mutated into a wordless drone.
The reporters file in. Carl sidles up beside me and puts his hand on my shoulder.
I gaze down at the anonymous swarm. “They’re hungry,” I say. “Have to be fed.”
“Keep it up,” he whispers into my ear, nodding toward the reporters. “This is good, better than the book thing.” He brushes a spot of ash from my coat sleeve and slaps his hand on my back. “Just listen to how much these folks love our Brody here.”
I concentrate on the crowd, watching them watching me. I wonder how I appear from down there, if they had noticed the ashes on my sleeve, can see the red welt on my forehead. I’m able to discern some of their faces but glean nothing specific. No pimples, no bruises, no hairs out of place. I finish my whiskey and contemplate pitching the glass.
With Richard watching intently from the corner, I order Carl to pour me another.
“Okay, Brody,” Carl says. “You’ve pushed this pretty good. They’re waiting.”
“So are they,” I motion to the window. “What about them?”
Carl grabs my arm and tries leading me away, but I shove him sharply backward and he topples over the weight bench. He shoots up like he’s going to rush at me, then abruptly stops to straighten his blazer. The front of his shirt has come untucked; he tucks it back in, looks defeated as he does so. Twenty-five-pound weights roll across the floor.
“You ungrateful shit!” he screams. “Don’t ever put your fucking hands on me!”
“You’re fired, Carl,” I say calmly, reveling in the brief remission of my nausea.
“Big fucking surprise,” he laughs, teeth clicking, hands trembling. “Good luck finding another agent like me, you spoiled asshole. No one’s gonna touch you after this.”
Carl pushes past the reporters and turns over the lunch cart on his way out. It’s hard to tell but it appears as if Richard is smiling. After the door slams shut, Richard’s attention returns to the stain on the floor. I ignore the reporters and wave Richard over.
“Will you sit right there in that chair?” I ask, and he instinctively obeys. “Now, will you pour a drink?” He fills a glass and tries handing it to me. “No,” I say. “That’s for you.” He admires the glass in his hand. “Now, prop your feet up on my desk.” He glances at the reporters, back to me. “Thank you, Richard,” I bow graciously. “And gesundheit.”
I walk over to the window and look out at the crowd. I slowly remove my jacket and shoes and toss them down, observing how they are instantly absorbed by the swarm.
I carefully remove my father’s turquoise ring and place it near Richard’s hand. Then I turn to the reporters. “Ready?”
I close my eyes and leap out the window. The reporters fight for space to take pictures of the fall. Richard isn’t there. The crowd tries to catch me, but I crush them all.
Dustin Michael-Edward Davenport
Dustin Michael-Edward Davenport is from Kalamazoo, MI. His work has appeared in Ampersand Review, BRICKrhetoric, Bartleby Snopes, Oregon Vagabond, among others. He currently lives in Chicago, IL.
Twenty-four short stories, exclusive afterwords, interviews, artwork, and more.
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