Can't Take That Away
When I look at your face I see the shame of all youíve done and that makes me happy. Happy enough to keep me from lighting the lighter thatís in my right hand. For now.
The worst pain you can do to a man is to take everything away take his wife and his kids and his house and car and job and money. I had a wife named Edith and kid named Ellis and a kid named Melanie and a car named Americar and a house on Fourth and McLellan and a job at Fuchi Americas and money in the Bank of Los Angeles.
There are so many homeless in Los Angeles now all clamouring for my money and its not the loud aggressive ones that are the worst itís the quiet ones the ones who donít even seem to hear your feet avoid them. Theyíre too poor to ask for money they just sit and look into their past or their future both equally depressing. Did you know I heard 1 out of every 10 university graduates will be homeless at one point in their life? I graduated from UCLA in April of 2040 I forget the day.
When Fuchi offered me the promotion I said -YES!- I jumped at the chance because you canít look a gift horse in the mouth not if you want to keep going up up up the corporate ladder. I wish Iíd never heard of it. I wish Iíd turned my back and told you -NO!-
I remember sitting on my porch swing and smashing it against the supports trying to go higher and higher and higher like my friend Brian who had a tire swing and he could go so high but mine was wooden and built so I could only go so far. I swung so hard but all it did was bang against the frame. I was eleven and never thought I would end up in this corporate jungle fending off friends for positions I didnít want but had to have jousting for position lying and trying not to care when offices became cleared of furniture.
I used to love Edith so much. Iíd get up in the morning and try not to think about work because it would mean leaving the warm bed where sheíd rolled against me at night. Her arm drifting in her sleep onto my chest playing with my chest hair. She looked so happy when she slept all the days worries fallen onto the sheets from her slack jaw and fat beautiful lips. Worries carried away by charming drool. Sheíd never wake up in the morning when I heaved myself from the bed and dressed in my same suit and pinned on my Fuchi ID card that seemed to weigh a pound at least. She murmur but not wake up and Iíd leave and get to work in the dark and sheíd always call to say -Good mooooorning!- and Iíd say -Good morning to you sleep head did the kids get to school alright?- and sheíd say -Of course but Ellis is feeling sick and asked if he could stay but the schoolís given him a warning and he canít miss any more classes.- -Itís true theyíre tough but theyíre good Del in Planning sends both his kids there.- And sheíd give that noise that meant she didnít agree but didnít want to fight about it.
I went to a public school all fighting and kids from all over Los Angeles and no one learned a damn thing especially not me and Brian. Brian was the first orc I ever knew and we got along like two peas in a pod. He didnít graduate from university. 3 out of 10 forty year-old high school dropouts are homeless in Los Angeles. 5 out of 10 forty year-old orc or troll high school dropouts are homeless in Los Angeles, and 8 out of 10 live below the poverty line. I donít know where Brian is today but the odds are against him being in an office or a planned community or a football stadium or a penthouse suite or a semi-ballistic plane or a preforming arts theatre. The odds are with him being in an alley or an empty warehouse or under a bridge or lying in tall grass trying to sleep or on a cold steel sliding table at the morgue.
That boy could swing forever on that tire.
Where youíre looking now is the window to see what the police are doing and maybe you think theyíll get you out and maybe youíre right but one thing thatís for sure is that they wonít take anything else from me. You can bet your life on that horse.
I remember when you made me start working nights there were no more calls in the morning to say -Good mooooorning!- I left in the dark and came home in the dark and the kids were in bed and Edith made me supper and looked at me so sad. She cried more and more at nothing at a dress caught on a door handle at my stained work shirts that wouldnít come clean she said -Youíre working too damn hard youíre pouring your life out through your armpits haha- but she didnít really laugh and neither did I. And then Melanie started crying in her sleep and I went to her room where she had a giant panda bear guarding the door and I stood there and forgot what to do. Edith came in and held her and I still didnít know how to comfort my child.
Half of the homeless maybe more are twenty years old or under. They form gangs and walk the streets looking scared and tough. Brian dropped out when he was seventeen years old and I think he joined a gang but I donít know. 9 out of 10 gang members in Los Angeles have assaulted at least one other human being. 4 out of 10 have killed another human being. The life expectancy of a teenaged gang member in the Los Angeles sprawl is less than that of a soldier for any North American country even Aztlan. I wish I knew where Brian was.
I donít want to be there and I wonít be there I promise myself but I have to be and I go and we continue working on projects which are terrible and consuming and the only things that kept me going me. You stood there saying how we were the glue holding the company together and we were going to make this happen and we should be proud of what weíd accomplished here. And I was while at home Edith was not sleeping not eating not cleaning just crying and trying not to scare Ellis and Melanie when we fought. We screamed louder than Iíd ever screamed and she said things that buried themselves in my heart and stayed like worms feeding.
And I said things that drove her out.
Oh god you sit there taped to your chair and you look sympathetic and horrified and and I know that youíre repentant and Iím glad I didnít expect that and maybe youíll get out of this I donít know. I only have to light this lighter that I hold in my right hand and put the motionless flame to this fuse that I hold in my left hand and then youíll see what I mean when I tell you -YOU CANíT TAKE EVERYTHING AWAY FROM ME!-
Youíve got a husband at home I know that and youíve got a kid I know that too and youíve got a car and job and money in the bank but I can make it all worthless I can take it all away. Then weíll be equal you and I no wife to drive off in the middle of the night and never phone in the morning and no son to run away and join a gang and die cold and unloved on a tar roof in the rain and no daughter to hate you so much she withdraws and needs therapy and no car to be sold and stripped for cash and no job to be pulled back like a gift on a string and no money to wane and diminish so slowly but unstoppably and no life to spend on the street caught in a limbo where the other 9 out of 10 canít see you like youíre behind a one-way mirror all on their way up up up.
Brian had all the odds against him and heís more than likely come to grief but I canít help but think heís alive and happy and I envy him all the choices he had even without money and school and I never had any. Never gave myself any just dragged myself up up up and tried not to think about falling.
And now we sit in your office and itís all come down to whether or not I light this fuse and take it all away from you and make sure you canít take anything else away from me.
Whether I choose to take it all away from you. Up up up or down.
I have a choice.
I think youíre truly sorry and I think you see what I mean.
I think you understand.
I think youíd better go.
(c) 2000 (Don't put your name here yet--I don't want to know who you are until after the contest is over). Used with permission.