Short story by Michael Botur
Lyndon stands over you and drenches you in his boss-shadow and goes, ‘So any update or what?’
‘You mean on my place getting burgled, sir?’
‘Yes. Yes, tell me everything about your personal problems on work time.’
‘Oh. Sarcastic. Sorry.’ A quick glance around the edge of your cubicle shows no one’s coming to help you. You’re weak. You deserve to get bullied. ‘Update on the results, you want? So, I got the chart sent over to the client; courier picked it up about eight. All sussed. Looks pretty nifty.’
Lyndon has a huge pink face and excellent hair that’s gone from black to dark steel. Getting old only makes him more of a statue, an institution. He is huge and ageing and ladies still talk about his butt and gossip about his dodgy daughter and how he still protects her, wishing they had him as their dad.
He picks a photo of your family off your desk, hefts it, puts it back down. ‘And you deliberately left me out of the loop when you were giving a quote to the client or you just forgot to CC the one person whose input matters? That person being me. Your boss. Do you plan on responding to my question or are you going to quote some ludicrous Socrates silliness?’
You can’t look him in the eye. ‘Sorry, Lyndon.’
‘That’s it? Roll over and play dead? That’s how you get through life, son?’
‘Just, like, in Socrates’ defence, he was literally ludicrous, it’s from the Latin ludicrum meaning sport, amusement and play… Socrates argued you should be playful with serious forms of thought, so…?’
‘You love it Greek, don’t you, buddy.’
He thumps your shoulder with one of those massive mitts that squeezes the trigger of his fancy crossbow when he goes hunting wild game with his daughter to reconnect her with nature, get her off the drugs, get her out of the hovel rumour has it she lives in. Big esteemed rich privileged guy with a screw-up for a daughter, not that anyone ever calls him out on it. You once tried to criticise him for killing animals without warning. He responded with an all-staff email with a cartoon of you drooling over an animal caught in a trap. You’ve never talked back since.
The whole exchange, the bullying, the talking-down, it all occurs within the first six minutes after nine o’clock. Lyndon is big and everyone loves him and there’s no way you’ll ever get around the micromanagement, the put-downs, the bullying. The day is kaput already. Last night you cried in bed and Xanthe got up, disgusted, pulled a book called Get Confident Quick out of the shelves and threw it at you hard enough to bust a hole in your marriage. Like the hole in your skin where Lyndon’s insults land. Like the hole on your wall where a week ago the burglars ripped out the flatscreen TV, the soundbar, even the remote for the dehumidifier.
Your son’s bike, the XLR8, it disappeared from the lawn a week ago, then you noticed the paddling pool was gone, even the geode you thought would get your boy into geology, and Xanthe’s faux copper shovel, for Christ’s sake, which she’d stupidly thought could be used to dig that goldfish pond she always fantasises about. Burgled. Robbed. Invaded. Branded: victim. Lyndon and everyone else treated you like a loser before but now it’s like getting victimised by the burglary has justified their conception of you.
Since Lyndon’s already mocked you, there’s not much point in working hard today to try please him. You open a dozen tabs on your computer monitor, flick through the Buy-Sell-Swap ads looking for your stolen stuff. Your brain clouds with fantasies of vengeance, justice. Enslaving whoever wronged you. Torturing the burglar with a blow torch. You jump when that intern girl from Nepal is delegated the shameful job of inviting you to join afternoon tea when everyone’s already finished their biscuits and coffee. You pretend you’re busy. You’re waiting for a notification from Facebook if someone tries to sell a bike called the XLR8, or a bike with streamers, or just any child’s bike. Then there’s the insurance claim to get through. You can’t decide whether you should claim a few extra thousand bucks, inventing something expensive that never even existed. Maybe even Photoshopping some receipts.
You pussy out, of course. You’ve spent 35 years being a pussy. It’s too late to grow balls now.
As you drive home, taking a detour through the ghetto people refer to as ‘Browntown,’ you scan every front yard of every impoverished-looking house for your wife’s goldfish-excavating faux copper $300 shovel that would probably break if you tried to dig a hole with it. You scan for your son’s XLR8 bike. You scan for the garden gnomes the thieves took – thief? ThieveS? You don’t know who you’re looking for. A black and white Hamburglar? A creep in an orange jumpsuit? Your mind shuffles faces. You’re about to drive on back to The Alps Estate where you belong, then you feel low enough about the work bullying shit that you suddenly don’t care if thugs carjack you. You stop racing, ease the engine down real slow and study the place. There’s a stop sign with bullet holes in it. A pyramid of garbage bags on someone’s lawn. Empty sections with forests of waving bamboo. A poisoned lake, a mountain of logs. Crushed sacks of McDonalds, flattened cats. Speed bumps and dead-end streets and broken fences. Boys on BMXs. You’re respectably-dressed and clean-shaved, your haircut is perfect and your car is bright red and dent-free. You tug your hoodie over your head so you won’t get recognised. It takes guts to play detective here. It takes guts to absorb abuse from Lyndon the Alpha Male all day, the shoulder-squeezings, the standover thing, him calling you a sucker, talking about how social inequality is the real crime and it’s only pussies that let themselves get robbed and anyway, it toughens people up to be victimised occasionally, and if you can’t defend your fam–
There is it! The XLR8! A grubby-looking kid is riding – no. Damn it. This bike has yellow wheels. It doesn’t have the distinctive red and black streamers you and little Adam stuck on the handlebars. They’re glued on nicely so if anyone tried to remove the streamer they’d be likely to rip the rubber off the handlebars.
You park under a huge old pine tree beside a bonfire no one is watching. A fresh Buy-Sell-Swap alert pops up on your phone. Holy fucking shit.
XLR8 boy BMX bike = steamerz red blk needs gone real quick, the advert says, HMU 4 location.
HMU. You Google it on your phone. HMU means Hit Me Up. Hit Me Up means Ask me. Ask and I’ll tell you where you can get your manhood back.
Deep undercover, hidden in your tank within enemy territory, you send a private message to the seller. The seller begins exchanging messages instantly. The seller seems to be a female of some description. A girl, even, judging by the photos. Surprisingly young for a hardened criminal. Her profile picture you recognise straight away as Ariana Grande, then there is a photo of her with Robert Pattinson. A lot of Adele and Rihanna poses, and tonnes of gang stuff, young people wearing blue paisley scarves over their faces and pointing middle fingers at the camera. She’s a shapeshifter, this one. Faceless. But she gives you an address to pick the bike up and you promise you’ll be there.
That’s the first 1000 words.
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