by JR Walsh
Photo: © Depositphotos.com/konradbak
The Senior Executive Fully in Charge of Programming entered the lobby elevator. He was wearing vintage Brooks Brothers with Koch Brothers cufflinks. A haggard soul in a corduroy jacket joined him. This smaller man had no company title and his shoes were Dorthea Langes. The carpet was black and white and red all over.
“What’s the news?” the Executive said. “Going up?” There was no down from here.
“Nine,” he nodded and the elbow patches on his jacket began glowing with confidence. “And since you asked…”
The haggard soul transformed into the successful, inventive, capital A Assistant who’d helped to develop such Emmy darlings as Veep and VRMPS. Corduroy suddenly came back into style and his crusty shoes even went into soft focus. Johnathan Collins looked The Executive right in his laser surgery.
“…I have a new idea!”
The Executive smashed a hairy knuckle twice on the wall full of buttons.
“Okay, you know the drill. You have this entire elevator ride to give me your pitch.”
The doors closed. The elevator hummed. Up.
“So, the idea I have–”
The elevator stopped. The doors opened at the Second Floor.
“I will think about it, Sam.”
“Name’s Johnathan, sir. John.”
“Awright, Serj. We’ll all think on it.”
TWO weeks hence
Standing on a wooden bar stool was an old man worthy of our respect. Two out of three legs were wobbling as the man scraped at an office window decal. He was bent more than perpendicular and grunting gently. The old man didn’t have a title or name patch, but he had a couture uniform jumpsuit covered in defecting white hairs and dandruff. At eyeball level, all Johnathan Collins saw was ass.
“Meeting’s moved. That way.”
“Do you need help, sir?”
“Don’t sir me. You want to keep your chiclets?”
“But the stool–”
“You a proctologist, now? Git.”
The stool continued wobbling. The scraper continued scraping. No one else in the cubicles gave them a second glance or so much as a first. All eyes were on one slick customer moving in slow motion toward the elevator vestibule. He’d brought his own lighting team and a breeze was tousling his crispy hair. With swinging elbows and a can of contractual obligation, he bestowed an unexpected misting upon all the busybodies. The new and improved chemicals mostly missed his own armpits, sculpted abdominals, and digitally remastered genitals. Sometimes expensive clothes get in the way of perfection.
The disinterested bodies got covered too, and now Johnathan Collins smelled deliciously like a Superfund cleanup site. So did the nostalgic old man.
“Gits!” he said, brushing his shoulders off in a snowstorm. Somehow, he maintained his position and went back to scraping.
The personalized, titanium aerosol can was launched over a menacing deltoid. Its arc missed a cloudy mop bucket by yay much. After some clanging about, the can spun forever, silently. Cameras clicked like squirrels desperate to capture an image of this special young man, his spinning product placement, and the absent future.
THREE seconds later
“Did you pass The Future on the way in?” said The Senior Executive Fully in Charge of Programming.
Johnathan Collins felt insecure and looked down. Were we starting with a dig? He thought he’d upgraded his shoes. This pair was hand-stitched Egglestons and in color but that’s about it. He couldn’t see anyone else’s shoes. Maybe he’d miscalculated. No one in the conference room was wearing ties except him and that was like wearing two.
“You smell like you’ve been near him,” continued The Executive.
“The whole office does.”
Three men and one woman flanked The Executive. All were seated in overstuffed kobe leather chairs at a serrated steak-knife table facing a wall of windows. This table wasn’t the family-friendly knock-off you could get delivered by drone. No. This table was custom forged with actual serrations because we’re all adults here and everyone signed the waiver. Too big for the room, though. The blade pressed against the understuffed guest chair pressed back to the windows. Johnathan Collins protected his manhood like there was a free kick and slid into his empty seat, scoring the backs of his knuckles, leaving a DNA sample.
“Don’t you have pictures?” The Executive asked.
“Or drinks?” Two of the other men roared at their rehearsed question. Earnest high fives were declared in style again the day before, so they had at it. Each of them stared at a steaming cup on a drink warmer. The guest chair had nothing of the sort.
“Speaking of drinks, who’s this Collins? We waiting on another person here? My calendar says, Pitch with Collins. He your assistant, Serj?”
“Well, sir, Collins is me, I’m Johnathan with two H’s.”
“Two H’s. So it’s not Serj, then? No juh. Takes a big man to correct the big man.”
Two of the men picked their teeth. The woman sniffled back a tear of admiration or perhaps a bad habit.
“So there’s no Collins? Talking Tom Collins, right? We would’ve had to request drink coolers for the room! And you know how much work that is for me to tell my assistants?” The Executive wasn’t sure if he could high five anyone.
All laughed sadly, dutifully.
“Enough! You probably want to know who these jokers are. Introduce yourselves, family. Left to right!”
“Boss doesn’t know our names,” said the woman on the far right in a near whisper. Everyone had ignored her since her promotion.
The man on the far left said, “I guess I’ll go first. I am Matt, the Junior Executive Somewhat in Charge of Programming.”
“And I’m Matthew, also a Junior Executive, though I’m in Charge of Middlebrow Entertainments.”
The other man did not introduce himself. Everyone looked at him.
“Oh, me? I’m here for the pretzels.”
No response. He’d expected laughs.
“And booze,” said the Matt(hews). Laughing high fives nearly all around and a half-staff three-and-a-half from the reluctant woman who spoke next.
“He’s not a Matt. We call him Fisher and he’s between jobs. But I’m Janice. Janice like the lesser known Muppet. My job? Woman Executive in Charge of Hair and recently, New Beauty.” Janice flipped her elegant, synthetic hair off her marginally uneven, natural collarbones.
“It’s pronounced, Fissure,” said the man who loved dipthongs. He jammed earplugs in his earholes.
“Enough’s enough. Since the elevator I’ve been thinking about it, Serhhio. And now I don’t sleep at all. This is your fault, so it better be good. It has caused me insomnia, just like all great new ideas should. Tell them it.”
Johnathan Collins felt the table’s blade closing on, then retreating from his guts. Were they pushing to disembowel? Probably just him breathing, right?
“It’s a documentary series,” he started.
Four blank stares. Fissure was snoring sweetly.
“Not for TV! How long is it?” said one of the Matt(hews).
“That’s old new school or new old school?” said the other one.
“What about prizes?”
Janice might have said something, too.
“No. No. No. Start again. Just. Tell. It!” said The Senior Executive, fully earning his title. “We’ll be quiet. Won’t we? Tell. It.”
The teeth-picking festival resumed and Johnathan Collins stopped breathing enough to pitch his ass off.
FOUR minutes after
There might’ve been blood. The burgundy tie would match his stains if there was. No way was The Johnathan Collins, Soon to be Some Sort of Producer Slash Co-Creator, going to check for blood during all this clapping and spontaneous hand jive and requisite hand shakes. Okay, he checked a bit. His genitals were not shredded. The sharpest table ever made in Sweden had maybe hopefully maybe struck him higher and in a fleshier, more expendable area like an intestine. Wherever it was, it could wait. The pitch! It was a success. His new idea was greenlit and greenlighted.
Now he’d be able to buy his mother a ticket out West whenever she threatened to disappear into the lake with no one taking notice and he’d still have hospital-visit money to burn. Hell, he could afford to ignore his mother completely and drag the lake, or better yet, drain it. Especially since that lake is a pond. Had they talked backend money yet? Did he need an agent now?
“Dubba H! You trying to escape without a transcript? Everyone gets a transcript,” The Executive said. “Unless you’re looking to back out. And we’ll make the project anyway, so you oughta get paid.” His eyes doubled in size. Then, he whipped around to face the wall and said, “Executive delete code: 696.”
A sexless, but acceptably sexy voice emanated from the peeling birch pattern wall above the printer basket. “Please repeat.”
“Executive delete code: 696.”
“Understood. For confirmation, please repeat words you wish to mark for deletion.”
“So you didn’t hear me?”
A grinding noise started and stopped.
“The transcript does not show, ‘So you diduhn’t hear me?'”
“That wasn’t what I said.”
A grinding noise started and stopped, again.
“The transcript does not show, ‘That wasn’t what I said.”
“Well what does a transcript do, anyway?” the Executive said.
Fissure shook awake. “I am taking a promotion. Senior Executive Mostly in Charge of Transcript Calibration and Other Old Bits Not Limited to But Possibly Including Environment.”
A grinding noise started and stopped, started again, and stopped.
“This is very interruptive,” The Executive said. “Well do something, Junior Exec.”
“I begin tomorrow,” Fissure left the room while his hinging wrist made the universal boozy-booze action at his mouth. The Matt(hews) nod reverently and follow him. Their own mouths were mouthing to each other all the ways in which their cognitive and motor skills will be impaired.
A packet of papers plunked into the print basket. Janice grabbed them. “You’d think these would be digital, but at least the paper’s gourmet. Here you are, Mr. Chollins with two Hs.”
Did her hand linger on his a bit too long? Did she run her possibly elongated digits through his naturally bristled, thinning hair? Did all of her clothes suddenly slip from her body onto a pristine ocean beach? His eyes skipped up from the papers but she was already sitting back on the knife table, her legs shining like bacon in the haze of the windows. The Executive was pretending to look at Janice’s screen while she discussed the development of the Visual Palette and Surgery Rollout Plans for this new labor of lust.
“Yes, get a drink and congratulations, Serhhio. Now, you should stop wearing ties to meetings. Ties are for hallways and elevators,” said The Executive.
He inched toward the door, thinking only of his deafening success. Well, and Janice’s long, fake fingers. Mister, she had called him.
A grinding noise started and stopped. The voice spoke with an accent, “Beep.” There was a pause. “Seeking confirmation and approval.”
Johnathan Collins had one foot in the hallway, so he already felt impeccably dressed. The folded transcript migrated into his new corduroy jacket pocket. He’d read the rags and studied the regs. These cords were the exact right width for the season, geography, tonal psychology. He’d missed the memo on ties but it hadn’t hurt him, though that may be why there might be blood. Even if there was blood, he’d signed that waiver too. It was theirs now. His blood and his project and likely his sweat and tears. Everything had moved so fast. He’d have to check that transcript and his genitals one more time.
FIVE steps away
Seesawing on top of the old man worthy of our respect was the wobbly old wooden bar stool. His ample torso was a mountainous apex for saloon seating gone brawl. His jumpsuit blended into the carpet, but his pained groans could be heard in Rancho Cucamonga. You could see the birds circling his head. Not sparrows, but not vultures either. Tough birdies like city pigeons. His legs weren’t moving but his arms were doing the Pilates Hundred.
It was a spectacle no one in the office had acknowledged. They were too busy looking down at screens and working so hard to look like they were working. Despite the abundance of calcium and fluoride, these workers got smaller every year. Spines curved like commas now; the descent of man had begun. Osteoporosis claimed victory, but scoliosis and kyphosis begged to differ. No one could tear their eyes from screens, unless something young, beautiful, and boring whitened his teeth at you. But that was precisely how the old man started here. He had come to audition for the Before Mouth in a teeth-whitening commercial and ended up installing every single one of the smaller doorways, doors, and foot-level mirrors on this floor, and on Six and Seven. Now he handled personnel changes, namely names in the form of door decals. He also cleaned up vomit.
His scraper was still in his hand and he was shaking it at the approaching Johnathan Collins.
“Get help? You want an ambulance? What? Get what?”
“Git my lawyer!”
The old man handed him a card. It was covered in decal shavings and grease. Johnathan Collins needed a drink and a lawyer.
SIX drinks later
Everything was scrambled and he was craving scrambled eggs. It dawned on him: he hadn’t eaten anything all day.
Johnathan Collins was thinking back to his third drink. Now that would’ve been a good place to stop and eat and maybe consider suicide on top of the world. He hadn’t been sued yet. To his third pint he’d kept it all in the family of lagers, he hadn’t broken the seal, and he hadn’t met the sausage-fingered woman who otherwise was a dead ringer for Janice. Drink number four was a shot of bourbon from Kentucky because he always bought American. Lightweight. That tiny shot sent him directly to the head. When he crawled back into his vinyl booth in the corner, his fifth drink was waiting and so was she. That embarrassing noise was the booth, not him.
“It’s Japanese,” she said. Her blonde bangs indicated the shot perfectly centered in front of him.
“How’s the gas mileage?”
“Are you Johnathan Collins?”
“You want to go where nobody knows your name.”
This was a classy joint. She leaned in and her dive bar-appropriate cleavage spoke to him.
“Are you Johnathan Collins?”
“You’re the first person to get that right.”
“You’ve been served, mister.”
Like an illusionist, her swirling little cocktail franks revealed papers that materialized in his own hands. Ever since he put his mother in that maximum security home, women were giving him papers.
“You’d think they’d be digital by now.” The Janice-esque beauty stood like a statue. She was taller than he expected from her fingers. “Well Stubby, thanks for the drink. Hash browns would’ve been nice.”
Appropriately, she slapped him in the face with a heavy hand. His heavier head bounced off the table, while his gums held tight to loose incisors. If he kept his eyes closed long enough, maybe he’d black out. He downed the shot by feel alone because that’s how he felt.
He raised a hand in the name of sobriety. “Light beer, please.”
His eyes opened without his say so. Two men had slid onto the farty vinyl bench opposite him without a sound: the old man worthy of our respect and another man of dubious respect from the looks of it. His blinding teeth suggested: lawyer.
Johnathan Collins stammered. “It’s you. And…”
“Why didn’t you call me?” the lawyer asked. “Did you even read the papers?”
“Which ones, now?”
The barrel of a gun appeared in his face. Maybe it was a hammer. It could’ve been a shiv. No, it was the old man’s scraper. Despite his crossing, booze-beady eyes, he saw the old man was sporting a neck brace and his teeth were still yellow to the point of brown.
“Just to be clear, you mean the legal docs.”
The lawyer said, “You don’t pay attention. You’re going to be sued by the woman who served you with papers.”
“She hit me.”
“You have witnesses?”
“She has witnesses.”
“You don’t pay attention at all.”
“She has witnesses to your harassment.”
“I harrassed her?”
“So you admit it.”
“Witnesses, Mr. Collins. To your behavior.”
“We saw it.”
“You two. The two of you.”
“We saw it.”
“But you didn’t see her slap me, didn’t even hear it?”
“We did not.”
So this was about being the wisest monkey in the bar. If they were covering ears and eyes, Johnathan Collins could easily shut his own mouth. But then, the lightest, near-clear beer arrived. He gulped his sixth drink without a breath and immediately forgot the wisdom of monkeys. His stomach growled with hunger. He definitely should’ve stopped at three.
“So, I’m being sued with the papers for harassment that arrived here before I harassed. Allegedly.”
“There is no alleged about your being sued. That’s a definite. The papers will be filed tomorrow, unless, of course….”
“This is a shakedown? You blackmailing me?”
“Git!” The old man weighed in heavily.
“You should’ve called me. You had my card. My client was lying on the floor for hours while you knocked ’em back in celebration. You think anyone there would help him? He had to slither to a emergency button on an elevator like a damn snake. He is worthy of all our respect!”
“Getting around okay now, looks like.”
“You didn’t even read your pitch transcript, did you?”
“This all goes away, you cooperate. If not, you’ll be added to the other lawsuit.”
“What other lawsuit?”
The lawyer fingered the already greasy brace around the old man’s neck. His manicured fingers tried to clear away the grime to no avail.
“If you’re still not sure, let’s have a look at your transcript.”
“Maybe there’s a transcript of my so-called harassment.”
“Good idea. Maybe I’ll have more evidence to convict you.”
Johnathan Collins rummaged in his pockets for his pitch transcript. He still didn’t remember much; he only saw a greenlight flashing. Page one! It was triple spaced, but he had to squint to get the letters to sit still. Damned dim light.
The old man suggested, “Let’s read it like a play.” He and the lawyer and the dumbest monkey slid their asses together on the fartier of the two vinyl benches. “I’ve been on auditions,” said the old man.
SEVEN pages in
Though it was never used accurately in the meeting, somehow the transcription of the pitch denoted his correct and given name. In the bar, the part of Johnathan Collins was read by Johnathan Collins, though his performance was decidedly slurred. The Executive’s part was read pitch perfectly by the old man, while the parts of Matt and Matthew were read with meticulous exactitude by the lawyer. Not a soul would read for Janice because immediately after she had uttered something reasonable about pathos (on page one of the transcript), she was completely banned from speaking by The Executive. Fissure, the sixth person at the pitch, would only appear in the transcript italicized and parenthesized as (Snoring noises).
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: It’s called THE HOME. Picture it. The Real American Heartland. Rolling plains. Patriotic sunshine. A big sky full of freedom. An elegant woman. A grandmother. Maybe she’s your mother. Raised up a bunch of children and not a single one of them are in prison. Now they’ve moved away and her husband is gone. Gone. Incurable cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease. She has battled, too. And survived. She’s got grit. But the loneliness is strong. Strong enough to kill this dear mother. Until. She discovers THE HOME. THE HOME is almost like a fountain of youth, but nothing so supernatural. Nothing is fake and everything is real as the wrinkles. New friends. New situations. The remarkable men and women are from varied and accomplished backgrounds. They are motivated people rediscovering passions and ways to re-enter society, maybe even begin to change the world. They do not give up, and they don’t let let this woman give up. The engineers and doctors are building laboratories. The librarians have resurrected books from landfills. New cures are curing. Overflowing sea levels are receding. New homes are built with walk-in shower-baths and the unemployed are working hard. Everyone has healthcare and nobody needs it. Generations and ethnicities mingle and grow. And they have fun too, especially the older people. Nude portraits are everywhere and Mini Cooper Classics are regularly flipped by forklifts. Personal drones flip them back. The dear mother even finds love again and during the season finale, we’re front row at her wedding. Through tears of joy, she is thankful that at least one of her children helped make this decision for her to go THE HOME.
THE EXECUTIVE: Wow! Just wow. Do the kids say that anymore? Wow? Kids?
MATT: Yes. Oh definitely, yes. Wow? Who even says kids? They don’t say it but they will start saying it again if they get a load of this.
MATTHEW: Do we say ‘get a load of’ anymore?
THE EXECUTIVE: We just did. Wow! Get a load of that pitch! It is everything we’d hoped.
MATT: And more. And we were totally listening.
MATTHEW: We don’t listen normally.
MATT: We’re not paid for that.
THE EXECUTIVE: Enough! It really was that good, Serhhio. An automatic greenlight. And we really never do that. Do we?
MATT: I can’t remember ever doing that.
MATTHEW: I remember almost nothing since my headaches.
THE EXECUTIVE: There is a tear in my eyes and it’s not from my surgeries for once.
MATTHEW: Should we be clapping?
MATT: Oh we never do that.
THE EXECUTIVE: Let’s do something we do do.
MATTHEW: Yes! Get ’em up. Fives. Pretend we’re high fiving you, Serhhio Greenlight. If you lean into the table, it won’t be good for you. No grimaces. Just pretend, Greenlight. You didn’t use the sanitizer machine like we did, did you? We have our own. You’ll get one for your new office…cubicle.
(Sound of a willow switch striking an Armani shirt and infraspinatus muscles, then skull, then skull, then skull.)
MATTHEW: Uh. Uhhh.
THE EXECUTIVE: Woah. Let’s not get ahead–
MATTHEW: It’s just…my head. I don’t mean to get ahead, but if we get him a machine then it’s all high fives with us, with anybody…well not anybody, just us with the sanitizer machines. Right now just pretend we are high-fiving you right in your soul, Mister Co-Creator of your wonderful idea.
MATT: That was a lot of words at once.
THE EXECUTIVE: Right! No time! We should get rolling right away on it.
MATT: High five to that too.
(Sounds of flesh slapping flesh. Snoring noises.)
THE EXECUTIVE: This definitely greenlit project is ready for some little mods. Mods?
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: Mods?
THE EXECTUIVE: Not that Homes needs anything. But let’s work. Whattdya got, kids?
MATTHEW: I got this. Real reality. So no actors. Just real people, right? Old, old people. The people who live at home. They’re shut ins, basically. Catheter crowd, right?
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: Well it’s about transcendence–
MATTHEW: And this is the Midwest. What, like Idaho or something?
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: That’s the West West.
MATTHEW: So like California.
THE EXECUTIVE: I dig where you’re going with this.
MATT: Greenlight. Bright greenlight. All that sunshine. Homes has to be shot in California.
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: But these aren’t Californians, they’re from other places–
MATTHEW: Right. Like the heartland, right?
THE EXECUTIVE: Exactly! You are describing California. Full of people from anywhere else. And we could stock the home with famous people. People formerly famous for infamous reasons.
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: Like so many fish?
MATT: Exactly. Like an old folks hatchery. Greenlight grandpas!
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: But the woman. My soul–
MATTHEW: Yes. The women. Classy, soulful ladies and nurses.
MATT: And don’t forget the guys who run the place out of the goodness of their hearts.
MATTHEW: Guys with big ass hearts. A couple old friends who had a dream like Martin Luther King.
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: Who are they?
MATT: They are good friends. Best friends. Total Bros.
THE EXECUTIVE: Bros! I like that.
MATTHEW: They’d do anything for each other. And the nurses are so hot for them. But sometimes the bros get into situations.
MATT: Like emergencies.
MATTHEW: Sexy emergencies.
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: It was really supposed to be about solving problems and empowering–
MATTHEW: Absolutely. It is.
MATT: It is. Absolutely.
THE EXECUTIVE: We all agree. These bros!
MATTHEW: These bros are in some situations.
THE EXECUTIVE: Wait! You brainiac. Say that again.
(Sound of hickory switch striking skull.)
MATTHEW: Uh! The bros are in situations?
MATT: You’re right, boss. Clear your trophy cabinet. That’s your title.
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: What is?
MATTHEW: We should’ve greenlit this yesterday.
MATT: Should’ve done it last week!
THE EXECUTIVE: Bros in Situations.
MATTHEW: And they are so well-heeled when they go out on the town.
MATT: So many designers will kill to dress them.
THE EXECUTIVE: And scent them.
MATT: Think of the sprays from this franchise.
THE EXECUTIVE: Get some noses and designers to live in the home too. Young, hot ones.
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: Uh.
(A woman’s voice unintelligible.)
THE EXECUTIVE: Good, Janice! You got him already! With some hot, young designers in the house with our Bros. Think of the situations about toothpaste!
MATT: ‘Who stole my toothpaste?’
MATTHEW: ‘I can only use the brighter bright. What is this classic bleach bright?’
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: What about the residents?
THE EXECUTIVE: Who? Surgeons?
JOHNATHAN: The people in THE HOME.
THE EXECUTIVE: Of course, the old oldsters. They can be working as tailors for them. On-demand, arthritic hands make the finest alterations. There’s an angle.
MATTHEW: Or we could just get the nurses to do it.
MATTHEW: Blondes are the backbone of the Bros.
MATT: And they cause more situations! Statistically.
MATTHEW: They sure do.
MATT: I can’t even tell you how greenlit this is.
MATTHEW: My dick is greenlit.
(Sound of tamarind switch striking skull, striking skull, whiffing, and striking skull with record velocity.)
THE EXECUTIVE: Focus!
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: But the heartland? What about my mother?
THE EXECUTIVE: Of course, you’re right. We all had mothers…you especially. All of our mothers are going to be so proud. As for the heartland, we don’t have to stay in L.A. We can start here then go somewhere else.
MATTHEW: Season two, the Bros move to a new city.
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: Where?
THE EXECUTIVE: Someplace completely different.
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: That’s still California.
MATT: So not California? That’s a big risk.
THE EXECUTIVE: Manhattan, then.
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: I think it’s under water.
THE EXECUTIVE: Serhhio, this is going to be bigger than VRMPS for you. You should be really excited in your dick, like Matthew.
MATTHEW: You’re the VRMPS guy?
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: I was an assistant–
MATT: VRMPS was my favorite old, old school programming. That was on TV sets, right?
MATTHEW: VRMPS? I loved VRMPS. Were they real Cajun vampires?
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: They were real exterminators.
MATT: But did they suck blood.
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: They sucked–
MATT: Whatever happened to those guys?
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: Scandal. The bad kind.
MATT: Turned out to be Christians.
MATTHEW: The good kind or the bad kind?
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: What do you think?
THE EXECUTIVE: Who cares? Let’s get them back into the home. VRMPS can live with the BROS.
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: But they’re not old.
THE EXECUTIVE: They must be 40 by now.
MATTHEW: At least!
JOHNATHAN COLLINS: Oh.
THE EXECUTIVE: Let’s greenlight Season Two too. Set in Lenox Hill. Bros in New York Sitchies. Bros take a cab. Bros order off the menu in a Chinatown bistro. A very special episode of Bros kicking New Heroin. And the most popular episode ever, the nurses-slash-fiancees color their hair a different shade of blonde. Bros argue about it. It could tear Bros apart!
MATTHEW: Those Bros.
MATT: Those situations.
The table read was interrupted by a loud exhale and the old man’s fist pounding the table. “I know we’re doing this cold, but your you needs a heartbeat. It needs blood and fire, son.”
The lawyer redirected, “Do you remember any of this transcript at all, Mr. Coll–”
“Get me a drink,” Johnathan Collins said.
He’d shared exactly one drink with his mother ever. Habitually, she was busy being the predictable kind of Christian. But when they sold her house to progress for a smidgen more than what it was worth, they both drank the dregs of his father’s secret moonshine found in the barn. Just a spit in a mason jar. It might have been turpentine, but it didn’t kill either of them. They were going to ride the old tractor too, but it wouldn’t start. Something about the gas-oil mix, probably. The buyers were still on the property.
“Help my client and we’ll kill these Bros,” the lawyer said. “Legally.”
EIGHT weeks later and later
A re-vamped VRMPS began production locally. Beverly Hills VRMPS embraced the previous Christian scandal that had run its co-stars back to the bayou. In the pilot episode, their ordination and subsequent ritual hazing by a group of non-Vatican sanctioned and independent reverends was the comeback that no one anticipated. The success of their weekly mansion and often poolside exorcisms of trust-fund sons and bikini-clad daughters of the wealthiest Americans was unprecedented. People were willing to sit through 80% commercial programming for a few minutes of BHVRMPS. Superfans got tattoos inside their bodies.
Denouement went into production instead of Bros in Situations. The latter could’ve been a hit. There was no telling about the former. But if you must know, the old man was responsible for these and all programming decisions as a part of his lucrative settlement deal. Thanks to the testimony of Johnathan Collins, it was apparent to the defendants’ attorney that all parties had been set up to fall and the best avoidance of actual legal work is to settle the case as quickly as possible. The old man worthy of our respect even got a title, which did lose him a bit of respect in some circles. His new choppers were no help, but his lawyer had scored them in the settlement. Janice found him the best installation dentist, but they couldn’t chew for shit. A new lawsuit was brewing.
In the wake of the settlement, Fissure woke up ambitious. He became President of Vice Presidents and Policy Czar. He introduced nap time into the office and people hated him for it. For two hours a day no one was allowed to so much as touch a screen, let alone pretend to work. Everyone got their own switches made of weeping birch. The Executive left of his own accord. Then a week later, he was rehired as a door scraper. He still used a bar stool but was covered in the equivalent of bubble wrap for his own safety. The Matt(hews) were transferred to a different floor or México to popularize “choca esos cinco” at matches de fútbol.
Johnathan Collins returned as a production assistant on several projects including BHVRMPS and Denouement. He still didn’t have an official company title, but he tried dating for a while. Boyfriend didn’t stick either. Janice gave him a go, but her fingers were always in the way. Plus she smoked. Literally. Her new skin was sun resistant, but slightly flammable. Her dermal layer was recalled by True Skin, its manufacturer, but the replacement sheets weren’t yet available so check back in a few months and then give up. You could always spot the suckers with skin upgrades. Every summer they wore mohair gloves. Before they broke up, Janice said, “You never hold my hand.” He didn’t like the slippery feel of the gloves. His mother said the same to him. Her antique, see-through skin was always his problem. When he said, “I love you” onscreen and far away, she saw through him.
The night of the Denouement premiere, hungry people were promised considerable victuals in exchange for honest opinions. Lucky raffle winners would take home custom-forged and bodily attachable knives. The rented theater space was packed like ground chuck, but less bloody. After all, the knives were not to be awarded until everyone was herded out. No one wanted another dogmatic theater stabbing.
The old man had seen a photograph of Johnathan Collins’ mother on his desk. It went missing immediately. It was insisted that she come out to see her son’s work. A plane was chartered. She was flown in. Though she hadn’t dressed up for the theater, she sat next to the old man who had. Even his shoulders were brushed professionally. A tie seemed befitting, even though no one was in a hallway or elevator.
No one clapped when the old man stood up in front of the curtain. He opened his new mouth and some people saw the light, looking up from their screens for a moment. Some even used both eyes.
“We spend a lot of energy trying to fight each other to some climax. To declare a winner. But usually we don’t even know if we have won. For most of our lives, the climax happens offscreen. All we are left with is living in the wake. And then it’s all falling action. Here is our Denouement.”
The old man practically skipped off the stage, returning to his seat. The French word for a title had not tested well ever. An audience of eyeballs returned fully to their own personal screens as the curtains slowly lifted to the catwalk. Almost everyone felt that reassuring warmth in their glowing palms. The old man took Johnathan Collins’ mother’s hand in his. The theater smelled like smoke without the promise of riot. The old man lit two cigarettes and gave one to his date. She never smoked, but she was smoking. Then, a chemical mist high-stepped into unsuspecting nostrils. Fragrances of an absent future make us nostalgic for a past that never existed.
The super-jumbo screen hung there empty and white as Siberia, but no one noticed. Tops of heads faced forward, eyes glued down to lap screens. Since this venue didn’t have any personal screen-blockers or metal detectors or fire extinguishers, the company had saved a bundle. Budgets light a fire of inspiration. In the right corner of the stage, a burnt pile of clothes. No one looked. A titanium aerosol can spun silently. A charred body smoldered. It might’ve been two. Not a shred of curiosity.
Johnathan Collins’ mother said, “That could’ve been me, son. Not that anyone would care.”
The remains shifted like black logs stacked in a fireplace. The stench of blood steamrolled the chemical engineering of body sprays and cigarettes. A piercing hiss filled the theater. Hands raised screen by screen. Thumbs and forefingers swiped and clicked for posterity. Eyes followed precious screens, as if they might fly away like hot-air balloons carrying babies in baskets. No one looked at the stage. No one squinted for clothing labels in the ashes, but the shoes were assuredly Salgados. The mass split open and wisps of smoke twisted upward like dust devils. No one looked for those perfect deltoids or what might have been a corduroy jacket. It wasn’t personal. People were busy.
JR Walsh was born in Syracuse, NY and lives in Boise, Idaho. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Boise State University, where he now teaches English as a Second Language. He is the winner of the 2009 Esquire Fiction Contest. Some of his poems can be found in Alba, Juked, Glass, Caffeine Destiny, The Rumpus, and Alice Blue. He is also this close to finishing that novel. Don’t even ask him about the plays.