The Boss slammed a slag of printed emails onto Gary’s desk, knocking over a picture of his wife.
“Pervert!” she shouted.
Gary froze like rugby players in the West Andes. This was exactly how he pictured a sexual harassment lawsuit beginning (although technically they began a little earlier, with the actual sexual harassment). But who was the prosecution? The women in the office intimidated him so badly he avoided speaking with them. Nor could the Boss be his offendee. She was less woman, more wyvern, with liver spots the approximate size and shape of actual livers.
The emails relieved him – temporarily. They were customer complaints, mostly exclamation marks and misspelled words, certain passages highlighted in salmonella pink. It was regarding the bridge.
“Thirty-two,” the Boss said on the verge of gargling. “Thirty-two complaints including a letter from the Chamber of Commerce regarding that damn bridge.”
Gary reviewed the papers. “Is it an instability problem?”
“Your bridge,” she said, “is putting sexy thoughts into people’s heads.”
This made little sense to Gary, a man of little sense already.
“What? You don’t know! You don’t know what you did?”
Gary looked down at the papers. “Does the bridge look like a… like a… phallus?”
“No, you flaccid idiot. There’s this damn spot – a spot on this damn bridge of yours – a spot where no matter what you’re doing or thinking or saying, you’re suddenly overwhelmed by lewd, pornographic feelings. By sex.”
“I don’t know what I did,” said Gary.
“I don’t know what you did,” said the Boss at the same time, “but if you don’t fix this, we’ll mount your head on a spike on the wall as a warning to other perverts in this office that there will be do sexy bridges globdammit!”
* * *
By Krabby’s Koffeehut and the old irrigation canal was a foot bridge. It wasn’t much, steel beams and stairs. On either side were dirt trails frequented by potheads and geo-cache enthusiasts.
However, according to this clump of letters, there was a weak point. A hot spot, they called it. Ten square feet defined by involuntary sexual bliss. A moment, or several moments, during the short march across when you were overcome by lusty fantasies of breasts, butts, abs, zip-ties, bananas, feathers, even bigger breasts, muffin tops, bald heads, and dildos as big as spears or as small as thumbs.
Naturally, people were pissed. This was Simi Valley, not Seamy Valley. The gateway drug between Ventura and Los Angeles. Suburbia away from suburbia. These people had funneled down from the conservative cliques of Santa Barbara or escaped the moral cataclysm of L.A. They had wrapped themselves around Highway 118 like a boy wraps himself around his father’s leg.
Therefore, there was a lot at stake. Gary’s job, mostly. His wife, probably. And Gary was at stake, too, vulnerable to the burning woodpile of public reputation. He hadn’t ever had a reputation before. Oh, far from it. Most of Gary’s life had been spent being as boring as possible. In the cave man days, it’d been his ancestry’s means of survival. Predators would get a whiff and glaze over, their heads dipping down in lethargic stupor. No, Gary had never considered himself to be special, and not in a bad way. His unnoticeability had helped him avoid bullies and peer pressure and once a rabid possum.
Drat. There was nothing on Google about dissolving sex magic or nullifying erotically-challenged architecture. Gary opened notes on his iPad. Daily sage rituals?, he wrote. Evil eye mural? Non-denominational witch burnings? He sat back and stared for awhile at nothing in particular. A blood sacrifice?
Why had life dumped this bucket of bad karma on him? Gary didn’t make a habit out of kicking black cats or breaking mirrors. He didn’t have vices he was aware of, especially those with a sexual seasoning. Gary was a human waste of fun.Nice guy was printed on his passport. He didn’t have any passions, much to the chagrin of his social circles – including his wife Beatrice. She was one of those earthy girls who thought onions to the ear could cure migraines. A tucked shirt or a belt buckle without ocean-themed jewelry were blasphemies against Jane Austen, and Gary, with his gray collars and mitered cuffs, was often a fashion choice away from a beheading.
But he’d remained stoic around her, guarded, when all the other men in her life had burnt through Bukowski and cigarettes and lived in canvases pitched behind trailer parks. Gary had been something solid, something immovable, like a stone sentinel presiding temple gardens. And maybe she loved him.
But where she saw statue, Gary saw a cardboard cutout of a man. He was afraid of the day when she’d finally spot some cosmic cranial nothingness in his eyes. That her disappointment would unravel every bound meat and liquid that held him together. This had almost happened once, when she’d read his Tarot on their anniversary. The first card had contained an image of an empty book and the word wordless. They’d almost broken up.
Gary pulled up to Krabby’s Koffeehut. He didn’t want to expose himself to Hot Spots but the nature of his position (architect and sexual prophet) called for desperate and exceptionally sweaty measures. As a reassurance, Gary created pseudo-mantras meant to be repeated: we’re making patterns out of nothing; this is hive mind mentality; you’ll be fine, you’ll be fine, you’ll be fine. But as he sped up stairs he’d only seen in blueprints, Gary found himself thinking something else entirely. That if this were real, if there really was a Hot Spot on this bridge, and he didn’t see something pornographic, when everyone else had…
What would that mean?
Standing up on the bridge were dreamy-eyed laborers drinking from white coffee cups and avoiding each other’s eyes, and a homeless guy presiding over a quilt and freshly-washed condoms. A cardboard sign read “Free Love Zone” and another read “Cum together as one.”
“I got magazines,” said the guy.
“What about a permit to sell prophylactics on government property?” asked Gary.
The guy did a double-take. “You think you some hard shit?”
“This bridge,” said Gary. “I’ve been hearing about it at work.”
“Then you ain’t crossed yet. It’s not as good the second time. Kinda like a rerun.”
The guy prompted him onward, and so Gary trudged ahead, passing an abandoned stroller (baby inside) and an old woman staring out over the rails, drooling a little more than usual. He walked and walked and then he was at the other end of the footbridge, looking at the bushes and cigarette butts.
* * *
Shag carpet covered in cat hair and glitter and little yellow stains – the debris of Gary’s marriage. He directed his attention to the dusty fingerprints that’d hiked several times across the TV monitor. The television was off.
“What’d you see?” mewed a voice. Gary saw his wife in the reflection peering like a needy cat.
“What’d you see?” she said again.
He was nowhere near to answering, so Beatrice volunteered.
“I went yesterday,” she said. “I didn’t have a pornographic experience. I had a vision, like a bad dream. I was some kind of star-titan, a nude alma mater of the universe. I was Timeless and my left breast was Terra and my right the moon. And when I cast my gaze down, there you were. You were standing on the mounds, a little speck.”
This kind of talk would have terrified. Now he accepted the void she’d mistaken for stoicism, as a black hole can be confused for a star.
“I didn’t see anything,” he confessed.
He waited for judgement, but instead she kissed him lightly.
His wife tiptoed away to lie down a while or maybe keep working on a tree she was sculpting out of newspaper mache and chicken wire.