By Michael Aloyan
Light was bleeding through the thin sheet of glass. The wooden frame was a golden hue. Small specks lay at the bottom: the remains of termites. The frame had become their grave; their temporary grave. It would soon be the dustpan they would be swept into, then the trash that would be taken out on Wednesday morning. Animate creatures that had inhabited nature by the gift of life for a short drop of time. Wednesday morning, they would be gone, and no trace left of their existence.
My hand was beginning to cramp from filling out the boxes on the yellow form. I had been checking off the small X’s trapped in the frame of black ink for the better part of the hour. After the twentieth form, the fact that these were printed on cheap, yellow paper had started to irritate the shit out of me.
Will the shipment need to arrive before Christmas? As I moved the pen across the box under “Yes”, the ink faded to a ghost of a line. I scribbled across the lower left corner, pushing harder. I caught a glimpse of myself in the small mirror that was hanging on the wall across from my desk. The sunlight was reflecting in certain parts of the room, leaving others under a blanket of shadow. From my forehead to my chin, I was overexposed in rays. An image immediately came to mind from a projected piece of celluloid I had seen years before: Richard Conte, standing with his back to the wall of a garage. What was it called? The detective, played by some actor, cornered him and a spotlight followed him from left to right: death-to-death. There was nowhere to escape. It was the moment of truth. No other decision other than that second mattered. I remembered. It was fifty-four and the picture was The Big Combo. The ink came back.
The minute hand crept right past ten; the hour was twelve. Margery was the only other employee left on the floor and she was finishing her Cobb salad. It was part of her diet that had been going on for weeks, with no results. If anything, she had put on a few pounds, due to the fact that she put in half the amount of greens, and double the amount of chopped bacon. Once she swallowed the last bit, she would put away the container and step outside for a smoke. This woman’s life was on loop every day. Only today, it was a few minutes behind.
The bag lay under my desk; the cloth brushing against the soles of my feet. Every two minutes, I gave it a little push towards the wall, just to be certain that it wouldn’t slide out for anyone to see. Soon, it would be over. That insane thought that had polluted my mind and taken reign would reach fruition. I had caught up with destiny; it was away by only a few ticks on the clock.
A thud echoed through the mostly empty office. I dropped my pen onto the desk - an involuntary motion. For a fraction of a second, fear took over. My mind projected its own celluloid strip, as I saw a group of policemen charging out of the elevator, weapons drawn. So this was how it would end?
I realized it was just Margery who was now slowly walking towards the hall. I was alone in the office. The minute hand was approaching the four, carved in bold black. As her footsteps came to a halt, the sound of the elevator doors closing rang from the hall and left its vibration in the glass of the window.
For three and a half seconds, I was frozen. This time it wasn’t fear; nor was it hesitation. Simply three and a half seconds of absorbing what I was about to do. Not a millisecond more.
I pushed the chair back and grabbed the bag that had been hiding under my desk since I sneaked it in at seven, before everyone else clocked in for the day. Alligator green in color and a thick cloth that was water resistant. I made my way towards the window and set the bag down on Dean’s desk. He had called in sick for the day, but I knew where he really was. He was making his way into some room of some sleazy hotel where he would talk ten minutes of bullshit, then fuck Mira Travis’ brains out. Some days, I had thought of calling Dean’s wife and enlightening the stupid bitch on her husband’s situation. But this was much more important; none of the small things mattered anymore.
The zipper easily cooperated, revealing the bag’s contents. I grasped the cold steel and pulled out the rifle. She was a beauty. Straight and ridged lines like curves to a woman. The small scope was sitting on top. There was nothing unnecessary about her design; every bolt had its purpose. Modello 91/38. She was Italian.
My heart dropped: a loud ring and a vibration in the glass, inches from my face. The elevator doors had forced themselves apart and footsteps were now approaching from the hall. I looked around for a cavity where I could hide the Italian. I pulled open Dean’s drawer, but it was a mess of folders.
Under his desk. What if it was Dean coming down the hall? Perhaps Mira had met someone. She had left a note on the bed that it was over; she had found someone that made her feel important. The footsteps were now close. I could hear the collision of heel on tile. I turned around, but the only attachments to the long piece of drywall were the windows to the outside world. I grabbed the latch and pushed the one in front of me open. It wasn’t the best idea, but I had, at most, four seconds before the fucker that was in the building interrupted us.
Margery walked back into the room, her stumpy legs moving at a pace faster than they were accustomed to.
“Forgot my Marlboros,” she said.
I forced a smile. A breeze was blowing in from the open window right behind my neck. I didn’t move a muscle in fear of causing motion in the frame and tipping it over. Margery grabbed her pack of red Marlboros and was about to walk out, when she stopped.
“Why are you standing over there?” she asked.
Sitting on the windowsill, outside, was the rifle. The Italian whispered into my ear.
“You’re going to do it anyway,” she said, “Might as well make it two.”
There had been times when it had crossed my mind. And it wasn’t that I had anything against her; Margery was a nice lady. It was what she represented. Moving along life, simply accepting that they are the same as everyone else, and refusing to use the gift given by nature to leave a mark of their existence. It was all the Margery’s, Dean’s and Mira’s of the world that were polluting human purpose.
“I just wanted to see the crowd downstairs,” I replied.
She smiled at me. The blood shot into the veins of my forehead. It wasn’t the smile you give someone to be polite. No, this was different. This was the smile you give to someone less fortunate than you; someone you feel pity towards. I recognized it because I had given it to a little orphan in Moscow. I had met him on one of my trips into the older parts of the city. He was a lonely boy, with no friends, and big ambitions. That day was one of the colder ones and it seemed like he hadn’t eaten for days. So I took him to a small café in the neighborhood and bought him a bowl of borscht and a loaf of bread. When we parted ways, I gave him that smile. He must have wanted to tear his pocketknife into my ribs. But there was Margery, feeling sorry for me? If Marina could have been there, she would have wiped that smile off of her bulging face. Margery would see her, thin and beautiful, standing next to me: the mother of my children.
The masked moment of human courtesy between us had overstayed its running time. She turned and walked out the door, to her cigarettes. Without a moment’s hesitation, I grabbed the rifle from the windowsill and brought it inside. I hadn’t noticed until that second, but my heart was aggressively banging against my chest. As the sound of the elevator descended, I was once again alone.
The inevitable thought that had been running through my mind over the course of the last few days, once again entered the foray of my consciousness. If at that moment, another shooter from the building across had fired at me, would anyone care? The only barrier between the outside world and me was the thin sheet of glass, which a bullet would penetrate instantaneously. No one would be interested. Best-case scenario, I would get a semi-bold headline in Tempo font [Heavy Italic] on page six of the Sunday paper. Unless I gave them a story. Just like Richard Conte, who was protecting his wife Alicia’s name; it was the name that shrouded that film in mystery. If I were to prick my finger and write MARINA on the wall with my own blood, the paper would plant a mysterious love story at the heart of my death. That should grab the reader’s attention and earn me a bold headline on page two.
But I did not need to worry about landing on page six or even page two, for there was no one in the building across with a gun. There was no one else. I was the only one and the rifle was in my hand: loaded. The gun had been made in Italy and had traveled its entire life course to arrive at this moment and serve its purpose. And he had done the same. After all, I had not gone looking for him; he had come right to the window of my building.
As the minute hand came to a halt at the half way mark, the crowd downstairs began to erupt in noise. With my left hand, I gently moved the departed termites to the edge of the window, and scooped them into my palm. I emptied them into my back pocket and rested the rifle on the frame: metal on wood. My eye fit snugly onto the scope. I was looking into the street underneath me, filled with large crowds of spectators on either side. If he had been walking through the crowd, it would have been more difficult with all of these endless faces: all the same. But it was much simpler.
The car turned onto Houston Street, entering Dealey Plaza. There they were. She was quite pretty, wearing a double-breasted, strawberry pink suit. A matching pillbox hat was sitting on her head. He was the same as in all the campaign ads. The cross of the scope was directly overlaid on his handsome face.
My finger slid behind the trigger. It was still cramped from filling out those forms.