As Befits an Animal Nature by Isaac Seal

Bertrand Joshua Mayes was an interesting man. An indomitable aggregate of experience and know-how, an analytic dynamo, and in his youth a talented and generous lover. All that, piled into everyday, for him to ride out the last of his years as a Wal-Mart greeter. He was no stranger, thusly, to self-loathing. After Janie passed, he’d decided to come out of retirement, and don the blue vest. It wasn’t a measure of economic necessity, but of loneliness. His kids were grown and several states away. His best buddies, most of whom he’d known from the war in ‘Nam, were all dead and dying. His own siblings he was estranged to.He had no one. And puttering around the memory saturated Chicago brownstone left him cold. Bertrand, in his day, was a man of words. He loved to speak and write, and did it quite well. The echo of his own voice at home- Broken, aging and morose- Was what prompted him to take the job he felt was utterly beneath him. To talk to anyone but himself, regardless of the inane content of the conversation. That was six months ago. One of Janie’s friends, Rosalie, who dropped in on him to visit every few months, had recommended it. “Just get out of the house, Bertrand. Meet some new people, Bertrand. Living like this isn’t healthy, Bertrand. For God’s sake, Janie’s gone, Bertrand.”

His supervisor at Wal-Mart was a pimply kid – somewheres in his late twenties to early thirties. Chad. Chad Orlowsky (pronouncred “off-ski”, he was always so quick to correct). Chad insisted on calling him “Bert,” no matter how many times Bertrand corrected him, so “Bert” returned the favor by calling Chad “Mr. Or-loW-ski”. This kid had a real stiff hard-on for him because of it. Bertrand hated being called Bert because it sounded too much like “burp.” And this kid seemed to know that on an intrinsic level.

Today at work was like any other day at work, except Chad seemed to be riding Bertrand particularly hard. “More enthusiasticness, Bert. Smile bigger, Bert. Remember, you’re a representative of this great company, Bert.” Bertrand corrected Chad “I think you mean enthusiasm, Chad.” And smiled a 10,000 watt smile as he walked back towards his post at the entry gate.

As Bertrand’s shift wore on, his jaw seemed to tighten. It became harder and harder to mouth the words “Have a great day!”, and “Thanks for shopping at Wal-Mart!” And the day’s end couldn’t seem to come fast enough. When his last hour finally came to a close, Chad tapped him on the shoulder. It was that sinister pock-ridden grin, the glint in Chad’s eye, that first made Bertrand’s stomach drop into his shoes. “I need to see you in my office, Bert.”

Shuffling in his beige corduroy pants, he imagined playing a game of “kick the can, your heart’s the can” on his way to what he was sure was his getting fired. It just wasn’t fair. He did his job, and well. But he would stand there and take whatever this prick-cocksucker had to say. “I’m gonna haveta letcha go, Bert.”

“May I ask why?”

“Well, for starters, Bert, you’ve really been slackin’ in your duties, here, Bert. Coupled with the insubordination you exhibited today, I see no other choice, Bert.”

“I’d like to appeal that decision, Mr. Or-loW-ski. I think you’ve been mistreating me from the beginning, and that I’ve taken some lumps I wasn’t due.”

“Or-loff-ski. And appeal to whom, Bert? I’m the manager here, not you or anybody else. Now. Here’s your last paycheck- complete with a two week severance. I feel kinda bad for you, Bert, butcha dug your own grave, here. Hey- I hear the “Nu2u2″ consignment store down the street’s hirin’. Maybe you should apply, if’n you can bring yourself to smile. Goodnight, Bert. Don’t let the doorknob hitcha.”

On the walk home, it was bitterly cold. Midwest winter’s always were, but today seemed especially so. Janie’s family was from the Chicagoland area – that’s why they’d settled on Fullerton avenue so many years ago. Man, had the Ukranian Village changed since then. For starters, there was more Spanish than Russian spoken there now. All the old neighborhood shops he and Janie’d used to spend the day at in perusal of wares were now “Tiendas” and “Mercados.” Sadly, Bertrand was realizing that life, indeed, had passed him by.

It made him angry. First Janie dying, the kids not even coming to pay their last respects, having to kow-tow to that little pricked bug-eyed fuck, and now getting canned from fucking Wal-Mart? Jesus H. Christ. Where’s fairness and equity? Where’s the democracy I fought for? Just then, Bertrand slipped on some snow-covered ice, and fell into a puddle. Walking home, his backside soaked and freezing, “Bert” hatched a plan. It involved a gun he hadn’t touched since the seventies.

Home again, he drew himself a hot bath. Standing in the mirror, he realized that age made people lose height, because they were crushed by the view of the world moving on without them. Standing nude in the mirror, he looked into his own eyes for any sign of regret over tomorrow’s plan. Janie’d always loved his eyes. Sea-foam green, she called them. Drowned in them, she’d used to say. He always thought of his eyes as two forgotten copper wishes in a defunct well, but Janie’d loved them. He stood in the mirror, wishing on his eyes, and holding his worn-gripped service pistol. Realizing he was nude, with no accessory but a gun, he almost laughed. Almost. Tomorrow, that fuck would pay. As the vapor condensed on the mirror, he lost sight of his wishing eyes, and became resolute. Bertrand laid the gun gingerly on the edge of the sink, took his heart medecine, and settled into the steaming bath.

His sleep was sound, dreamless and pliable. Bertrand felt elastic that morning, like he’d lost thirty years. His forties were the last time he’d felt good. Physically, anyhow, that is to say- Janie had made him feel good at every moment. Tucking the pistol into his shoulder holster, he started whistling as he buttoned his overcoat. As he stepped outside, into the bite of midwestern air, his whistle was lost in the howl of the wind. He decided to reflect, and weigh his courses of action trudging in silence instead.

When he got to the Wal-Mart parking lot, there it was. Chad’s T-top Camaro. Why on earth anyone would drive that piece of shit around in a Chicago winter was beyond Bertrand, but he was relieved to see it. He was used to Chad taking some “personal time” after a firing, to “help him cope with the guilt”. He surmised Chad didn’t feel too guilty about this one, though. As he made his way towards the entrance, he saw some fresh-faced young buck of about fifty-five at his station. About twenty paces beyond that, at the customer service desk, he knew Chad would be busy ogling the young girls he liked to hire for that position. Fucking bastard.

Bertrand made his way through the entry, avoided looking his replacement in the eyes entirely, and spotted Chad. Right were he thought he would find him. Standing between Juanita and Daisy, surely attempting to convince one or both of them to “check out his sweet ride”. As he reached into his coat, though, a herd of thoughts crossed the tundra of his mind. Janie wouldn’t want this. She wouldn’t agree with this. I can’t do this. It wouldn’t be right, and Janie would know.

He decided to let Chad off with a simple deflation of his racing tires. As he turned and walked back out of the store, his replacement said to him “Thanks for shopping at Wal-Mart!” Bertrand took the opportunity to say something he’d always hated in return. “You too.” Did people really think that the greeter had been shopping there? Christ. But it made him feel a little better. Not as good as watching gobbets of Chad’s brain sprayed all over Juanita’s cleavage would have, but close. In tandem with emptying Chad’s tires of air, he thought it just may balance out.

Walking home, his feeling of joy was slowly ebbing. Had he made the proper decision? Should he or should he not have acted as an instrument of God’s will? Did that prick deserve to live? Would Janie’ve really known? And despair was seeping back in around the loosely fitted edges of his conscience. By the time Bertrand had arrived back at his lonely home, he’d come to a new resolution. The pistol would still be used- He’d just get to meet back up with Janie sooner than he’d previously anticipated.

Bertrand went about his nightly routine with a stark normalcy. The only changes he incorporated into it besides neglecting the regime of heart medication were the turning off of the utilities, and a couple of phone calls to his attorney to straighten matters regarding his estate. When all his ducks were laid out in quite the tidy little row, he changed into his pajamas and laid down to sleep for the last time. He thought about Janie’s face, how beautifully and gracefully she’d aged until the cancer took her. He thought about his ingrate children, and how they’d not see a penny from him. He thought about the six years he’d spent in Viet Nam- And how getting home meant nothing until he’d found Janie.

When her face was the only thing in his mind, he brought the muzzle of the pistol into his mouth, and fired. Nothing. It was jammed, probably due to the years of neglect. Jammed, just like his own soul. Neither here nor there. Bertrand laid the gun on the bedside table, and quietly wept his way to sleep.

The corpse of Bertrand Joshua Mayes was discovered by Janie’s friend Rosalie five weeks later. His face was frozen to a pillow bearing the monogram “Bertrand and Jane Forever”. Autopsy results indicated a death due to arrhythmia, most likely as a result of a missed dosage or dosages of his prescribed medications Carvedilol and Lisinopril. He was survived by two sons and one daughter, none of whom attended his funeral.

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