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July 15, 2024

The Building

By Lydia Manx

He wandered through the offices and used the lotions and scented creams from the desks of the absent workers whenever he felt like it. As a guard, he knew the cameras placed around the building fed only to the TV screens at the guard station. Despite the rumors, there were no videotapes generated to record anything much less his nocturnal meanderings. Not his travels nor those of any of the other men supposedly safeguarding the place.

While looking at the workspaces, he would tell himself stories to match the various photos and knick-knacks on the shelves and desktops to keep himself amused during the night. Any unlocked areas he often would pillage, or at least root through the scraps for more tidbits of the occupants lives. Whenever he saw photographs of grinning couples in exotic locales show up after summer, he snickered and gave the men demeaning jobs and stupid names. At times the inevitable posed wedding shots, newborn baby, and often times within a few years a spouse would suddenly be missing from the desktops and shelves. The cute couple shots gone with only dust to mark that there'd ever been a photograph. The wedding snaps soon replaced by a child's first Christmas. Time and tragedy marked out for him to observe.

He wasn't the only one that observed the day lives of the office drones. The other guards knew each other by sight and nametags. Jerry Cooper was etched into the brass nametag pinned on his coat. As far as the security company knew he was old Jerry Cooper from Detroit, Michigan. From all appearances, Jerry had come down after the last wave of downsizing to make a new life for himself. Leastways that was what the security company thought, from what he'd said when interviewed for the job. He had in fact come down from Detroit -- that much was true. And the social security card along with the necessary ID didn't cost him a dime, but gave him an identity needed for the night job. Old Jerry Cooper, the original, was decaying in an abandoned crack house in downtown Detroit as far as he knew. Old Jerry's teeth hadn't had much work so the vice grips he'd used on the dying man didn't get too filthy. Further preventing discovery and identification if the rats left anything to find once they finished their work.

Jerry Cooper, now deceased, had been one of those sorts who'd fallen through the cracks of polite society without much to show. No military service, no arrest records, no credit and no possessions once he'd been forced to sell his ride. All the normal benchmarks of a man in his middle years weren't there for Jerry.

The guard had a passing similarity in appearance to the deceased before Jerry's decline in circumstances. Which was part of why Jerry had been culled from the herd of drunkards and crack addicts living on the edge of the Apocalypse casually referred to as Cass Corridor or Crack Corridor to the locals. Jerry had fallen on very hard times, and the guard was in place to send him on to his just reward.

It was only fitting, given how much pain Jerry had been in when he passed. The guard had spent three weeks with Jerry making sure to double check all the pertinent facts before sending the man onto the promised land. Painfully sober probably for the first time in over two decades, Jerry Cooper had found religion in the end. The guard hadn't bothered to shatter the man's faith -- tempting though that could be -- because he needed as much information as possible and destroying his belief system could have hindered that pursuit. When Jerry was slowly immerging from his alcoholic stupor it hadn't been pretty. The vomiting, the diarrhea, the endless hallucinations and the chills all served to soften the formerly hard-edged man. Once pliable, the guard got to the serious business of finding all about Jerry Cooper.

Before losing his way into a bottle Jerry Cooper had been middle management at one of the big three auto corporations. Driving a company-owned car, swilling company-purchased pricey wines over company-bought lush meals with vendors and other empty suited middle management, Jerry had it made. In his heyday Jerry had been quite unnoticed by his peers. Then by the time things were getting worse, they were also struggling with their own ruined careers and couldn't have given a rat's ass about Jerry and his issues. So when the crash of the automobile industry began to eat away at the layers of humanity that were obscenely supported by large salaries and little real work, Jerry was dumped to the curb along with his office buddies. Jerry's coworkers got going away parties at first, when the downsizing had been done gracefully and with false words of other jobs in the future and little parachutes with maybe not a full package of money, but enough to last a few years to help the journey and keep the morale up. That soon went the way of buggy whips and SUVs as did the executive jobs in the major company. His own passing went unremarked upon as he plunged his way into the world of screw-off topped bottles of wine and beer savored along the sidewalks of Motor City after his aunt died.

Aunt Gertrude had assured her only nephew that she'd taken good care of him in her will if he'd come help her. Jerry had wanted to believe the old woman since he no longer could afford the apartment overlooking the Detroit River that had been renovated into condos right as he was being downsized out of a career. He didn't have enough capital to buy into the newly created condominiums and owning his own home wasn't in his near future without gainful employment. And having no real credit since the company had supplied credit cards and he lived large. When he had two nickels to rub together it meant trips to Atlantic City and down south to the riverboats where he drank and gambled the nights away. Jerry wasn't very lucky. He caved in and moved in to his aunt's home.

As his equity dwindled, he kept taking short day trips to Canada's casinos trying to recoup some of his losses, to no avail. Once back at his aunt's, she got more demanding by the day but he bit his tongue and wiped her face after she'd drool her way through breakfast, lunch and dinner because he didn't have much of a choice. The adult diapers weren't pleasant but with her diabetes and the loss most of her toes she'd been in a wheelchair at an early age. Something Jerry thought had to be bad.

Jerry kept hoping that her pension from her bank career was doing better than everything he'd seen on the news. The grim-faced reporters would speak directly into the camera while delivering yet more and more horrific news about bank repossessions of houses, cars and lives. Jerry cautiously inquired and his aunt told him she had plenty of money and would he be so kind as to turn back to her 'shows'. Then she demanded that he turn the volume up, as her hearing wasn't as good as it used to be. Like her hearing, her vision was starting to go, and after a particularly bad incident where she nearly burned down the small house he asked her kindly if she wouldn't be more comfortable in a residential setting near a major hospital? She'd nearly thrown him out of the house for suggesting such an appalling thing. For weeks afterwards, she refused to look at him much less speak to him other than to give him her demands for meals and her creature comforts.

Once she started talking to him again he wanted to put a screwdriver through both eardrums to escape her monologues. She recounted every horror story she'd ever heard or read about 'residential homes'. The list of homes where feeble, old folks were left to rot or she'd talk about the ones where supposed aid givers stole everything not nailed down. She talked about the occasions of under medication of dying patients so the caregivers could steal the pain meds without getting caught. Jerry couldn't resist asking his aunt how she knew that if the aids hadn't been caught? That got him a two-day reprieve from her barrage of horror stories as she'd stopped talking to him again.

Just when Jerry was starting to get partial hearing back, his Aunt Gerty started up again with her tales. She had begun to call the few of her friends left alive who were living in such places. So then she could add food poorly prepared, being left to wallow in their own filth for days at a time, healthcare 'workers' who didn't speak English and would pinch the cheeks of her friends to see if they were still alive. After she grew weary of those stories, she brought up the 'Angels of Death' who wandered the homes and executed folks for no good reason. Aunt Gerty won the war and Jerry shut up about residential living options for her. His aunt had made her point for weeks afterwards just to fortify her position. He'd jump out of his skin every time she rang the bell to summon him to her side. Earlier, after he'd first moved in, he'd made the mistake of telling her that he didn't hear her call -- it had been a lie since he'd been sneaking a quick glass of wine and a cigarette out of her sight. She didn't approve of either activity so he had to brush his teeth and spray air room freshener before he went to see what she needed. After he'd told her he hadn't heard her, she commanded him to get the crystal dinner bell from the top of her curio shelf -- the one filled with small teacups never used and cheap porcelain dime store cats. It became the bane of his existence. She rang that bell morning, noon and late into the night.

During one of his last trips to Canada, his funds were nearly gone but he'd heard that the US dollar was up against the Canadian dollar so he felt obligated to see if he could make some fast money with the favorable exchange rate. Afterwards he'd wandered into a pharmacy to get something for his pounding headache. A customer overhearing his complaint got him to find the right type of painkillers and suggested he buy a sleep aid that was good. Both the customer and the lady behind the counter cautioned him about how strong the meds were and not to mix them with alcohol. He hadn't drunk anything at the casino but did have a beer or three after he'd left. He nodded his understanding and headed back across the border to his aunt's place.

The second he walked through the door she was on him. Where had he gone? Why did he smell like cigarettes? Would he fix her a snack? The words wouldn't stop. Jerry did what any rational man would do. He told his aunt that he'd been on a job interview and that he smelled like smoke because the folks at the bus stop had been discourteous and he'd been forced to breathe tainted air while waiting for his bus. She'd nodded and listened while obviously waiting for more from him. He didn't feel much like talking.

The guard snapped back to the present. He thought he heard something in the distance. Pushing his memories of how he'd acquired his name would have to wait until he found out if there was actually an intruder or just a stray branch hitting a window. Jerry Cooper had been extremely talkative once he'd sobered up. Hell, he wouldn't stop talking. His pathetic dribble of a life had had nothing to do with the guard's current world, but it had made for some entertaining hours. In the cold dark warehouse where he'd chained Jerry there hadn't been much to keep him distracted, so he'd listened carefully to the dying man's words.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2011-01-24
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