Thursday, November 22, 2012

11/22/12

Syntropics
By Tim W. Boiteau


The line of people at the convenience store stretched to the door, where he waited imprecisely trying to measure himself using the criminal height marker on the doorframe. Several times he extended his hand from the top of his head to the chart and mentally calculated the mean of all the trials. According to his results he had grown four inches since last week. Nodding with some satisfaction at the chart’s appreciation of his person, he slid closer to the woman preceding him in line. He leered at those behind him, at the threshold, as if they had been conspiring a breach.  In a few moments everyone shifted forward in concert, not towards the counter, but back towards the restroom hallway, and a young woman shuffled out the door, her hand unctuous and bloody, pupils enormous. The line now stretched out to the pumps. No one was buying gas. No one was buying food. The cashier did not seem to care. Resting her breasts on the countertop, smacking gum, she appeared content static and staring, her eyes glazed over, fingertips scabbed and rough. The line lurched forward, and now he could see its head, worming down into the hallway bathed in blue light. All sorts of people stood between him and that humming glow: bums reeking of sun and sweat, business types tapping their heels and strumming their calloused fingers against their thighs, hollow-eyed children with their backs to the candy aisle.

“I’ve always felt there should be at least three per business,” he said casually to the woman waiting ahead of him.

Another person finished, the line shifted.

“These days, it’s really become too much of a fad. Why, three years ago you’d never have had to wait,” he went on for the benefit of the apathetic woman in front of him, determined to prove to her that although her place in line was superior to his, he was still her superior in terms of overall experience. “It’s really getting quite ridiculous.”

As they approached the hallway, the humming grew louder. Finally, he stood in the hallway entrance, next in line, palms sweating at the prospect of becoming absorbed in that blue light. The woman had gone in there several minutes ago and would probably only be a few minutes more. He reached into his pocket and drew two crisp one dollar bills from his wallet. He and his wife kept a whole stack of such bills at home, saved just for such occasions. She preferred to go to the one at the grocery store, which she swore was less condescending than the one here at the Stop ‘N Shop.

When his turn finally arrived, he pulled back the curtain concealing the alcove where they used to house the video poker machine, the one that had had a long magnanimous streak before finally fizzing out. He entered the booth and sealed himself inside, his hair translucent in the cool blue glow. The thrumming ground soothed him as he walked forward slowly and deliberately, careful to keep the bills straight and crisp.

Welcome. Please insert two dollars,” the blue eye pulsed.

He complied, his hands shaking.

Thank you. Let me read your palm.

Upon inserting his hand into the opening, he felt the warmth and greasiness of the spongy innards of the machine taking his biometrics and the slight prick of the needle administering the appropriate dosage. At this moment he felt his nervousness evaporate, felt the lulling hum vibrating down his spine.

Nice to see you again, Harold Bean Livingston.

“Wonderful to see you again, Counselor,” he said, pupils dilated, head tilted in pleasure, voice milky.

How may I help you today?

“It’s Tuesday,” he croaked mindlessly, as if in the throes of an orgasm.

That is nice. How have you been?

“Just . . . fantastic. I took your advice about the golfing lessons.”

It is important you take the time to improve your game, is it not, Harold?”

“Of course.”

And with it your chances for getting the big promotion.

“Yes. Yes. But Thompson is such a great player”—there was a slight change in pupil dilation, heartbeat, breathing rate: apprehension clawing back up through the fuzzy mire of the opiate—“so damned affable and sporty. I don’t have a chance.”

There is one other thing you can do . . .” the blue pulsed in response.

“Oh? Please tell.”

The eye paused, the blue light flickering, just as the defective video poker machine had years ago before spitting out free money.

Why not take a vacation in Mexico?

“I don’t have time for a vacation.”

Yes, Mexico is lovely this time of year. Just take a few days away for some fun in the sun with that certain special someone.

“It sounds expensive and what with everything going on at work, you know, with the layoffs and all I just I just I don’t know.”

“Yes, Mexico is lovely this time of year.

“I don’t think you’re listening,” he said, his tone now fully acid. “If I take a vacation I’m sure to be passed over—” A prick to his thumb cut him off, all anxiety turned to euphoria.

He breathed in the blue light. “Well . . . maybe I could get away . . . for a few days.”

Yes, Mexico is lovely this time of year. Just take a few days away for some fun in the sun with that certain special someone. 
His hand bloodier than ever before following after a visit to the Counselor, he left the booth, grinning, decided about his vacation to Mexico. He drove thirty miles south in heavy traffic before realizing he had forgotten to inform his wife. The next day he packed his wife and effects into the SUV and took the highway towards I-35S, every route clogged with lines and lines of cars, the sun scorching the metal bodies as they crawled forward, segments of a gargantuan headless millipede.


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Tim W. Boiteau is a psychology research assistant at University of South Carolina. Other works of fiction have appeared in Write Room and Work.


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