By Joe Cappello
Martin Aurely was dead inside. It wasn’t physical, but a persistent feeling that there was no feeling. Where there is no feeling, there can be no life. But he feigned life quite convincingly. When he went to meetings or passed colleagues in the hall, he smiled, his pencil mustache extending only slightly to the corners of his mouth. Though he was adept at fooling his associates, he couldn’t fool himself. He was dead, and that was all there was to it.
A few months ago, he started avoiding his colleagues altogether. Donna Dewayne from Personnel urged him to please keep his appointment with her this time, but he waved her off. Randy Ellis from IT, a bear of a man with a huge head and paws to match, called after him many times in the parking lot at lunch time.
“Where you going, Marty? Come with us.”
Martin would turn, that forced smile on his face, and wave, mumbling something about having to go to the bank. Skinny Arty Manzetti would wave his flagpole arms to get his attention as he drove by. Martin would wave back and keep on going. After a time, they stopped asking, and Martin would walk right by them without a word, a business magazine in his hand that he would read at a table for one in the local pizzeria. He never actually read the words, he simply turned the pages. The dead have no interest in reading.
“He used to be funny,” remarked Randy one day to a group sipping their coffees in the cafeteria.
“Remember the time he dressed up as the boss for Halloween?” recalled Arty.
“We used to be…” said Donna, red-faced, as she turned to go.
He interacted with his colleagues when necessary. Each month, he would lead the company’s management council meeting. He handed out the agendas, moved quickly to fill the voids in conversation and laughed at the right moments. A few scribbled notes and he would be ready to record the minutes, complete with who said what and when that “what” would be completed. But after he left the meeting, he retreated to his office and never spent an extra moment discussing the meeting with anyone. The dead aren’t good at conversation.
“Donna, bring him in, let’s get this over with.” Martin was edgy about what he was about to do, but not out of a sense of remorse. After all, he was dead. It was only a slight irritation, a red rim around the black hole that was his essence. Donna showed in the victim, an employee named Robert Montano, whom he was about to terminate.
“Robert, I did an audit of the department’s e-mail activities. You’ve been sending out resumes on company time.”
“No, I haven’t,” Robert said. Martin shifted in his seat. If he were alive, he might almost enjoy this. He suppressed the urge to smile, fearing his face might crack.
“Take a look at these.” He pulled back the first page of a cluster of sheets stapled together. He pointed to the top.
“That’s you, Robert, right? You sent this to a prospective employer. See that little icon?” He brought his face closer to the victim. “That’s your resume.”
Robert looked to Donna for support, but the manager sat with her head down, her mop of blonde hair hanging helplessly from her head. He looked pleadingly at Martin.
“Look, I promise it won’t happen again.”
“I know,” Martin said, “because you’re through here. Now get your things and clear out.”
“But I said—”
“Don’t argue with me. Get up and get out of here…now.” Martin watched Robert get up shakily, his eyes puddles, his face trembling. Perhaps he’ll pee his pants, Martin thought, imagining a wet stain in the middle of his beige dockers.
Suddenly, he watched his hand slowly rise in front of him as though he had no control over it, his thumb and forefinger forming an imaginary gun aimed at Robert. He pursed his lips and made a puffing “Pow” sound. He followed the trajectory of the phantom bullet as it struck Robert in the chest and exited out into the glass enclosure of the conference room behind him. He could see Robert fall back, slipping on his blood as it collected on the floor. He then aimed his imaginary gun at Robert’s head as he lay dying on the floor.
“No, Martin,” Donna pleaded, as she took a step toward him. At the sound of her voice, his hand dropped to his desk, and the illusion dissolved into the sight of his fingers trembling harmlessly in front of him. He lowered his head, his voice a hoarse whisper.
“Now you’re as dead as I am.”