My name is Jeff Zahnlesster and I hate my job. I am using the word “hate” about my job. I do not know what has become of me. I was not always this way. There was a time when I took some pride in my appearance, paid some degree of attention to current hairstyles, even occasionally went to the movies. I have not been to the movies in four thousand, two hundred and sixty days.
I live a mile from my work, in an apartment. I live with a bed, a dresser, and an armchair with a broken leg. The armchair slumps forward in the manner of a wounded soldier and is very uncomfortable. I never use the armchair. I contacted the trash collector and enquired as to disposal. I was told that it would cost twenty dollars for them to haul it away. Instead, I have turned the chair so that it faces the wall. Most of the time I sit on the floor or on the bed. The bed is not very comfortable.
My phone has not rung in seventy-eight days. I have had it disconnected. It too sits by the wall, mute and lifeless.
Nothing surprises me. Or rather, there is no opportunity for surprise to creep into my life. If I imagine my life as a map, I can easily describe my routine as a red dotted line forming a nearly even triangle: from the apartment to the office building, from there to the market, from the market to the apartment. I never refer to the apartment as “home”; this would depress me.
On weekends, my routine can be described by a largely motionless red dot.
Some time ago, I do not remember when, the stove ceased to function. I have since taken to eating exclusively sandwiches and cold cereal. This has simplified my market stops considerably. I have not given any thought to replacing the stove. I had wanted to turn it to face the wall but doing so would have ruptured the gas line.
Some time ago I had a cat. The cat died on a Monday. I contacted a veterinarian and was told that the proper thing to do when living in the city would be to bring the corpse to the veterinarian’s office and pay a fee for disposal. I explained that the trash was collected the following morning.
“Do you see what I am saying?”
“You can’t put the cat out with the trash,” the veterinarian’s receptionist said. I could hear her filing her nails.
I decided that the best thing would be to put the cat’s corpse into the freezer, where it now sits. The freezer is very cold and the corpse does not smell. This is very acceptable. I have no need to store food in the freezer since I have limited my consumption to sandwiches and cold cereal.
I have opted not to replace the cat.
I would like to describe my job but cannot. It is so exceedingly dull that when I try to describe it, I black out. It is enough to say that I work in an office building, that I sit near a very fat woman who insists on dressing in curtain fabric, that my superiors’ disdain for me is at all times barely exceeded by their dislike for interviewing potential employees, and that I am ignored except for when I have violated some important and unknown company policy. This last is a source of some concern to me.
None of this is worth relating. I only do it so that you can gage my surprise at finding, this very morning, what appears to be a small finger growing out of my chest. I say appears to be because certainly it cannot be a finger. Still, the bump has a dimpled ridge much like the front of a nail and it curves down in a sloping half moon…
Today, for the first time in six hundred and twenty-eight days, I have veered from my routine. The finger (I am now convinced of its being a finger) has grown and now protrudes a full inch. It is causing some discomfort. The discomfort has forced me to the doctor’s office.
The doctor examines the finger. He expresses confusion, overcomes the confusion like a man dispelling the lingering of a dream, and takes comfort in the need for tests. I am subjected to the clamoring of machines and the sonar ping of the imaging procedures for two hours.
“There is nothing wrong with you,” the doctor says.
“But what about the pain?”
“There’s nothing we can do about that,” he says.
“This is going to cause me trouble at work.”
“You can pay the receptionist as you leave and arrange for a follow-up,” he says, walking away.
The finger is now a hand, soft, and perfectly articulated. I am very worried about it. As I had feared, it is making my job increasingly difficult. I can no longer wear a button-down in the office. The thin fabric would clearly give away the presence of the hand. I have tried folding the hand down and taping it but this increases the discomfort.
I am reasonably sure that it is a violation of company policy to have a hand protruding from my chest. I have taken to wearing a heavy sweater at all times.
Today my boss tells me that wearing a sweater in the office is a violation of company policy. I refuse to remove the sweater, fearing dismissal. He offers me two choices, as is the system: I can either remove the sweater or consume a discarded cigarette butt. Failure to comply will result in dismissal. The cigarette butt tastes faintly of car exhaust, with a hint of black licorice, and is disgusting. The fat woman dressed in curtain fabric snickers at her desk. Who is she to laugh? Only last week she wore heart-shaped earrings, a clear violation of company policy that forbids “emotionally charged accessories.” She was forced to drink a cup of hot coffee from her shoe and it scalded her tongue…
This morning I found that the hand had been joined by a small arm and half of a bald head. I looked down and the head opened its eyes.
“Good morning,” it said, in a wispy voice.
This presents a problem; now I will have to wear a winter coat to conceal the new growth. It is Tuesday morning. As I leave the apartment I take the cat out of the freezer and put it in the trash.
As I feared, my boss objects to my wearing a coat in the office.
“You can choose between removing the coat and amputation of a digit,” he says, folding his thin arms.
The digit may be of my choice. I am considering which digit I can most do without. I think of a worker on the third floor who has retained only his thumbs. This way, he says, he can still affirm or deny with his hands. This is surely a pyrrhic victory…
The creature has become more talkative. I have decided to name him Jeff, after myself, a name of which he approves, though he prefers “Jeffy.” I am in a bar, beneath blaring televisions. I have not been in a bar in eight thousand, two hundred and sixteen days. The bartender is trying to get my attention.
“Hey pal, I gotta ask you to leave,” he says.
Another client has spotted me passing beers up under my coat. I have words with the man. He says some very unpleasant things. I hit him in the face and he grabs my collar. At this moment, something very fortunate happens; Jeffy sucker punches him in the navel and the man groans and crumples to the floor. As I leave, the bartender’s face registers disgust at my missing ring finger.
It is a week later and I am at work. I am faced with another choice: removal of my wool poncho or removal of my left eyelid. The poncho is the only garment that effectively conceals Jeffy, who continues to grow in size.
Jeffy whispers to me. He says: “Turn to the wall.”
I am surprised; he has never spoken during working hours. I had thought this was because the heat under the heavy clothing caused him to be lethargic.
On the wall is a fire axe. Jeffy struggles to lift the poncho and I assist him. With his one arm he reaches out and grasps the axe. I turn back to my boss who stands with his arms folded, awaiting a reply. Jeffy raises the axe high and brings it down squarely in the middle of my boss’s forehead, where it sticks. He slumps to the floor.
This presents a significant problem; I am fairly certain that it is a violation of company policy to obstruct a walkway with a corpse. There is no one at the office I feel comfortable consulting.
“Put him in the supply closet,” Jeffy says.
This too presents a set of problems; I must ensure that none of the other workers enter the supply closet. The bloodstains do not worry me; the office carpet is dark red to negate the need for replacement in the event of a deranged shooter.
At 2:15 p.m. the man with only thumbs approaches in need of paper clips.
“Let me get those for you,” I tell him.
He finds this very odd. I had not spoken to any of the other workers in two thousand, six hundred days. I give him the paper clips. When he leaves he gives me a thumbs up.
At 3:47 the fat woman dressed in curtain fabric is looking for printer paper. “Let me get that for you,” I say.
The little fish lips that sit in the middle of her broad face contract into a pucker. She refuses my offer and opens the supply closet. I reach for a pointed bookend…
I have been arguing all morning. You are ruining my life, I tell Jeffy. “I am tired of bars. I do not like hangovers. I miss my cat.”
“Your cat was in the freezer,” he says.
“Still,” I say. I am lying in bed with my shirt off and he is reading a comic book. He has grown a second arm.
“And I am tired of putting people in the supply closet. It is making work very difficult.”
Jeffy manages a sneer, which is a new expression for him. “If it weren’t for me you’d be lidless and probably armless by now. It would have only been a matter of time before they came for me,” he says.
It is a week later and Jeffy now has legs. This is very problematic; there is no garment that will conceal him. This prevents me from going to work. I fear that this will bring about my dismissal. Also, if I am not at work, there will be nothing to prevent other workers from accessing the supply closet. This is perhaps just as well, since the supply closet is almost at capacity.
“You have to stop attacking people,” I tell Jeffy. “I don’t know what to do with the bodies.”
“It wasn’t me,” he says.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s what you’ve always wanted.”
“This is not what I want.”
“You’re right…in a way,” he says.
“You little bastard,” I say.
I am gripped by rage. I place one hand around Jeffy’s delicate neck and then the other. He watches me do this, expressionless. We struggle. He has become very strong. I stand up and then fall the short distance into the kitchenette, knocking over a glass containing silverware. I am disoriented and roll on the floor. Jeffy grabs a fork. It flashes like a diamond as he brings it down and into my left eye. I let out a long sigh.
“You cannot do this,” I gurgle. “ I was here first.”
“No,” he says, “I was.”
It’s for the best, he says, and I smile.
I finally opt for dismissal.
Nicomedes Austin Suárez is a writer currently spending time in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. He lives with his peach of a wife, Erica, and their magical infant son, Bjorn.