The people have the power

This was found on a napkin in the hospital cafeteria where John had the maggots applied to his stab wound:

If corporations are people, I want one to bend me over the waiting room table so that the last thing I see before being thrusted into oblivion is the smiling face of Carrie Underwood on an out of date issue of People.

Found, and shared. And shared again. And shared some more, until Gladys found her phone ringing the following Friday.

“Hello?”

“Is this Mrs. Lake?”

“I think so.”

“I’ve got Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for you.”

A click.

“Mrs. Lake?”

“I think so.”

“I’m sure glad to have found you. I have someone who’d like to meet you.”

The doorbell rang. “Just a second,” she said to Rex, and opened the door. It was a jumbo drone, on her front lawn.

“There’s whiskey in the cooler,” Rex said over the phone. “And Sprite, if you’re into that.”

The drone took Gladys to an underground bunker just below Mar-a-Lago. Rex Tillerson wiped his hand on his jacket before shaking hers.

“Can I have your promise that you won’t say anything about what I’m about to show you?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Good. Otherwise, we’ll kill you.”

“Promise?”

He laughed. Then he pulled his steely silver hair off of his head, and turned around.

Where the back of his head should be, there was another face. Or the contours of one, pushing through his fleshy bulb. They weren’t unattractive contours, really. The nose was a bit too aquiline, but Gladys didn’t know what aquiline meant, so that was alright.

“Hello, Gladys,” said the contours. “My name is Exxon.”

His full name was ExxonMobil, but he said that made him sound too much like his father. Gladys chuckled. Exxon was cute.

They talked for about two hours while Rex signed some papers and fired up the samovar. Exxon mostly wanted to know what it means to be human.

“You go to the grocery store a lot,” Gladys said. “Sometimes twice in one day.”

“Because you forgot something?”

“Sure. Or maybe you just want to look at the magazines.” She paused. “I may not be the best person to give you advice on this.”

“Why?”

“I’m not sure I’m human.”

“What else could you be?”

“I guess I’m not sure I like being human.”

“It’s no picnic pushing yourself through the amniotic sac of a CEO’s backhead, let me tell you.”

“I hear that. I bet some books have nice lives. Old books in old libraries. Or new books in new libraries. I might like to be torn apart by a preschooler.”

That relit the bulb in Rex’s bulb and he turned around, putting his hair back in place.

“He can’t hear us now,” Rex said. “So you can be candid. Was that true, what you wrote about the waiting room table?”

“I’m not sure emotions can be classified as true. But I wrote it, yes.”

“Well he’s clearly not ready for that yet. But we think if you were to…offer him some kind of gesture…he might get stronger.”

Rex turned around and popped his hair off.

“What were you two talking about?” Exxon had the most innocent ways.

By way of answer, Gladys pecked Exxon on his contour cheek.

The next thing she knew, she was waking up in her own bed. Clothes untouched. A note next to her pillow:

He’s almost ready for you. Sorry we had to wipe part of your memory, but if we let just anyone know the secrets of how corporations become people, then we might have to start treating people as people too.

Sexy Rexy

Gladys went downstairs, where John and Saint Vincent were having breakfast.

“You don’t like eggs,” she said to John.

“You think Nazis liked getting punched in the mouth?” Saint Vincent asked.

“No.”

“No. But they’re still here, aren’t they?”

“I’m just going to have bran flakes.”

“That’s fine. We’re on our way out anyway.”

“Where are you going?”

“First day of school.”

“You’re going to school?” Gladys said to her husband.

“Now, now: he can’t tell you anything about it,” Saint Vincent replied. John’s mouth was full of eggs, and so were his eyes.

“Why not?”

“Because it’s a private school.”

Cava brut

Gladys and the hygienist sat down for chat. Gladys chainsmoked candy cigarettes through the whole thing. The hygienist thought about a burrito from time to time, but neither ate nor drank.

“You’re probably wondering why I called you here tonight.”

“I imagine it has to do with my showing up to your house with your husband.”

Gladys ashed her candy. “You were kind. Right?”

“I don’t understand.”

“You must have been kind to John. Whenever someone is kind to John, he has one of two impulses. He either wants to kill himself, because he knows he is not kind. This happened recently when he was waiting at a red light and a man in front of him leaned out of his window and gestured to John, for a fair amount of time, because John can sink into himself like a snail, to turn his headlights on. Like this.”

Gladys twisted her fingers like you do.

“And John figured it out, eventually, the semaphore, and turned his lights on. And the guy waved at him happily. And the light turned green.”

Gladys took a drag.

“You know what John told me?”

Of course she didn’t.

“He said, ‘If it had been me, I would have just seen the guy behind me and thought, look at this asshole without his lights on.’ He might also have wondered if the person was an undercover cop, because John worries about that kind of thing. He feels very guilty, and that’s understandable.”

She paused.

“What’s the other impulse?”

“If you’re an attractive woman, or close enough to it, he assumes that your being kind to him means you must be in love with him. It doesn’t matter if you just met. In fact it doesn’t matter if you never meet.”

“You can’t be kind to someone you never meet.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, of course you can. What did you tell him about his gums?”

“His gums?”

“Did you say anything about them? Or did you just hover over his open mouth with an air of disdain? He can feel that. We all can.”

“I think I said they looked fine.”

“There you have it. He had gingivitis once. It wrecked him. Always caring too much what other people think, but that’s his godfather’s influence.”

“I don’t care what other people think,” Saint Vincent said at that very moment, to John, sitting across from him in the dining room. “They say groundhog is too gamey to make a fine meal. I say tell that to my mouth.”

Saint Vincent deposited a steaming groundhog flank onto John’s plate. He flicked the skin off his very sharp knife. “You’ll want that part too. Happy Groundhog Day, Johnny.”

“Couldn’t you, feel, what this, hog, went through, when you…well…”

“Killed it?”

“Yes.”

“Sure. Like I said, I can feel everything I see. That started when I was a kid. Used to go to the movies, well, back then it only cost thirty dollars, so you could go more often.”

“Sure.”

“And I wanted to be in the movies. I don’t mean an actor. I mean in them. So one time I went, I saw the same movie three hundred and forty-nine times.”

“What movie?”

Norma Rae. Sally Field as this factory worker, cute as a button. Anyway the choice of movie was kind of arbitrary. The guy who owned the theater in my town kept it running for years because he, well, took pleasure in it. If you know what I mean. Every night. Reel three.”

“What happens in reel three?”

“Oh, nothing blue, nothing like that. She learns about collective bargaining, is all. Some people have different pleasures than you do or I do. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Well, it happened. All of a sudden, after I watched it enough and knew it enough, it all started to happen to me. I mean I felt it as it happened. I lived that movie. I was Norma Rae. I was the factory owner, too. I was the whole thing. And then it was just a matter of time before that picked up in every aspect of my life. And that was a good thing. Made me tough.”

He removed a piece of buckshot from his mouth, without breaking his chew.

“Are you tough, John?”

“No.”

“I didn’t think so. I saw you step out of that car and I knew it. That’s why I think this is gonna be good for you, that I’m stuck here now that my kids are all dead. That which does not kill you makes you stronger. And the more ‘that’s you have, the stronger you get. So a man who is constantly empathizing is constantly exercising. You see?”

“Sure.”

It was then that Saint Vincent stabbed John through the hand with his knife. Effectively pinning him to the dining table.

“I’m not sure you do. But you will.”

The scream hadn’t happened yet.

“No cavities?”

“Sorry?”

“John has no cavities? That’s what you told him?”

Burrito. “That’s correct.”

Gladys eyed her. She ate her next cigarette whole.

“Did he make you sign a certificate that says as much?”

“Yes. I could see it meant a lot to him.”

“Yes. He put it on the refrigerator just after he brought you into our home. It’s a lie. Right?”

“Well…technically it’s true. John does not have any cavities. Because a cavity is not something you can have, really. I mean, if you have something, you can give it away. Like love. But a cavity cannot be given away, so you don’t really have it. It just is. Inside you. Him. Inside John. There is a cavity. Yes. I mean beyond the regular ones, like his mouth or ear canals.”

“I knew it.”

“And it will grow. Until it has him. And he has nothing. Unless…”

“The Lorax ending.”

“Unless he finds something to fill it.”

“Yes.”

“Or someone.”

“Or someone.”

That’s when the scream happened.

Saint Vincent poked his head in. “Dolls,” he said, picking his teeth, “we’re going to need an ambulance.”

Back

John was sitting in the dentist’s chair. He called it that in his mind, even though he was the one sitting in it, and the dentist sat in another chair; a stool, really.

In the dental cavern next to him, a woman was having her teeth cleaned. Or John assumed that was what she was doing; he couldn’t see her, but he could hear her. She was the kind of woman you hope has holiday-themed earrings, even for Flag Day. Her hygienist, from what he could hear, was a hygienist.

Q: “Would you like us to send you a text reminder for your next visit?”

A: “You can send it. But I won’t get it. I don’t text. I wish it had never been invented.”

<                 >

A: “Texting is a vice. My vices are Coke, Dr. Pepper, and chocolate, leave me alone!”

<                 >

Q: “Okay, we’ll email you.”

John had not had such a memorable interaction with his hygienist, although they had gotten close when she asked him if he had done anything big over the holidays.

“No.”

“New Year’s?”

“Some friends over,” he lied.

“That’s so much better than schlepping around, isn’t it? Having people over. I schlepped around.” She giggled. “That sounds funny, doesn’t it? I schlepped around. Ever schlepped around?”

“Only in college.”

But now it was raining and he just looked at the window, waiting for the dentist to roll in. John hadn’t been to the dentist in years. “No insurance,” he always planned on telling them if they asked. They never asked. It was a lie anyway.

It was raining and the wind was blowing hard, the trees were waving like some kind of old cartoon, where the trees wave. You have to have seen the one John has seen to know what it meant to him.

Three days ago, Donald Trump was inaugurated President. Gladys, John’s wife, had voted for him. John understood, without her telling him, that this was because she wanted to be killed. She didn’t want the world to end: that had already happened, and she was still here. She didn’t want to move to Canada: she had already gone to the moon, with John, which is like the ultimate Canada, and she was still here. You’re here on the moon like you’re here anywhere else, and you don’t get as many channels, so they came back. She didn’t want to kill herself: John had done that, and he was still here. So she wanted to be killed. So she voted accordingly.

John didn’t vote. In order to cancel her vote, he planned on telling her if she asked. She never asked.

The reason she wanted to be killed is because their son Albert had died some time ago, and in the intervening days and weeks and eras neither of them had come up with a really good reason for life. Not for living, but for life. It wasn’t because they fell to pieces remembering bouncy chairs and ultrasounds. It was because something, the thing that kept their interest in the world, had fractured like a milkless collar bone, split, a hair, and would not fuse back together.

So he went to the dentist. To cancel your vote, he planned on telling her if she asked.

“John your teeth could live to be a hundred and twelve,” his dentist told him. “Golf much?”

“Only in college.”

The hygienist laughed like John had just cracked a joke in church. She had a little gray around the temples and it was unclear if she was alone.

John was driving the dental hygienist back to his house a few minutes later, after he paid for his cleaning and the receptionist handed him a cookie and he said, “What are you trying to do, KILL ME?”

<                 >

“We’ll text you.”

On the drive with the hygienist he said, “Do you like Laurie Anderson?”

She said, “Was she Aunt Jackie on Roseanne?”

No.

John had liked Laurie Anderson in college. “She was married to Lou Reed,” he said. “Or they were partners, or whatever it is free people do. People who aren’t, I mean…people who live in New York. And maybe you read, you know, Lou Reed, he died, I think she was holding his head in her lap, and they were chanting Buddhist mantras. I think that’s what I read. And it was just this wonderful thing. I mean to read about. A real nice death. Maybe the best. The best of all possible deaths.”

The hygienist drank some of her Dr. Pepper.

“I just worry, sometimes, that I won’t live up to that. Which is dumb. Like, Lou Reed didn’t bequeath his death to me, to continue and passing on, like some wedding suit.”

He turned onto the driveway.

“But still sometimes I can’t help thinking, when I’m lying in my twin bed at night: maybe he did?”

They looked at each other. Gladys tapped on the driver window. John rolled it down.

“Your godfather’s here.”

“My godfather?”

“John, please don’t make me confirm what you’ve clearly heard.”

“I have a godfather?”

“Hi, John!”

A man in a flecked gray overcoat extended a gloved hand to John. “You may not remember me. My name is Saint Vincent. That’s Saint spelled out, you see, like a name. Anyway I’m your godfather. My children died last week. Sorry: not together. The last of them died. Manny. Cancer. Stomach. So you have to take care of me now.”

Then he burped. “Sorry. Carbonation makes me gassy. I mean just seeing other people imbibe it. I have a very thin skin. What I see you do, I feel.”

John looked at Gladys. “Is that how it works?”

“You mean godfathers or carbonation?”

“Godfathers.”

“I think so,” she said.