by William Lawrence
“He’s marinating” the man said, not looking away from his computer. He was reading over my resume in an open, empty room. “Besides, I don’t think waking him would do any good.”
He smiled to himself.
He must have seen me looking over my shoulder towards a sleeping man in the corner. The sleeping man was well dressed but disheveled, with a blue jacket on and grey trousers. He was young and had stubble around his face. He seemed oddly contorted and sat low on his back in the chair, almost sickly like. How is that comfortable? I thought to myself.
“Now this is interesting. Insurance.” Said the man before me.
I coughed. “Yes sir. Licensed in Maryland and Virginia.”
“Very impressive.” The man looked at me for, what I think, was the first time. “And what interests you in politics?”
“Change of pace I suppose. I’ve always followed it.”
“Change of pace…” He said to himself looking back at my resume. “Washington sure has a pace…but doesn’t change much.” He smiled toothlessly and I heard a low hum coming from his throat. I couldn’t make out the tune but it was recognizable.
“So…” he turned, his full body now facing me. He sat up firmly in his chair which followed into a small back stretch, then his shoulder hunched again. His face was freshly shaved and round. He wasn’t someone you would pick out of a crowd, and oddly enough, he wasn’t someone you’d distinguish in a crowd at all. Just another stout, darkly dressed, white man with no identifiable features.
“I heard you are a Republican.”
“With a small R.” I said wittingly.
“Well, OK then Mr. republican. We try to be bipartisan here.”
“Of course. Of course.” I said.
There was a pause. Not a pause for emphasis, or a pause as to collect ones thoughts, but a pause to see. To view what’s in front of you. Almost as if to contemplate the size of the meal just given to you.
He continued. “But what’s that good for nowadays? Bipartisan, bishmartisan. As long as they pay us for the stats; we like them. And we’ve already been over your role. Data analyst. Fancy right? Might get a few ladies with that one. Honestly it’s pollster-shit. Running the numbers, calculating the means. It’s where I started too. Has good perks though. In a few months, who knows? Maybe you’ll be working on a little policy.”
My heart fluttered at the word. Policy. The equalizer of societies and mover of civilization. This is why I had left insurance. This was the future.
“You start Monday.” He said.
I didn’t know what to say. “Well, thank you sir! I’m excited to say the least.”
He nodded at me and carried on.
“Mary from HR will get you a badge, as well as a code from security. She’ll assign you a walking buddy. That reminds me, where do you live? We usually will do happy hours in Foggy Bottom on Thursdays.”
“I live in Adams Morgan now.” I hesitated. “A walking buddy?”
By this time he had started to flutter through papers on his desk.
“Where is Mary’s extension?” He muttered to himself. “Walking buddy? Oh, yes! Walking buddy. Someone to walk you home, or at least close by your house. We usually do pairs but if you live in an area that has a lot of coworkers in it then a group will work just fine.”
“Oh, I don’t think that will be necessary.” I said assuredly. “I live in a safe area.”
He stopped filing through his papers and stared at me. He processed me. Studied me temporarily. I saw him smile to himself then feel embarrassed and didn’t say what was on his mind.
“Listen…” he stopped again and awkwardly picked up papers for no reason at all. Then he spoke out loud. “How do I say this to you?”
The phone rang and he picked up. “Yes. Yes. He’ll be right there. Give us a sec. Yup. Alright. Bye-Bye.”
He put the phone down softly and looked up at me again, holding his tongue. “Alright, I’ll make this quick. It’s sort of a funny story really.”
He paused again, with the same pause from before, but almost with a seductive nature to it. It made me feel vulnerable, and uncanny. It made me notice, for the first time, that it was only he, myself, and the sleeping man in the large room.
“The reason we have walking buddies is because of crime. Well, no, not crime. D.C has actually cleaned that up pretty nicely.” He laughed “Let’s say we have walking buddies because of…politics. Yes.”
“Are people being beat up or harassed or something?” I asked.
“You can say that.”
“OK. Not your everyday fist-to-cuffs. But some time ago, for God knows what reason, the parties began to eat each other. And now, I’m one for a good pun every now and again, but this is in no means a pun.”
“Eat each other?” I asked.
I stopped, then opened my mouth to say something, but stopped again. He looked at me, fingers crossed atop his desk. He was patient, but serious. It seemed like a minute had passed, then two. I finally remembered I was in a job interview, as if that meant anything.
“Wait, I…what do you mean?” I asked with a smile. Then I became serious again. I attempted to mimic his demeanor but his expression was glassy, and distant.
“Believe it or not, it was the liberals who started it. Can you believe that? They can’t kill a quail but when it comes to consuming the flesh of conservatives they are all on board. You know who I do feel bad for? The democratic vegetarians. They must do something. Perhaps they don’t count it as meat? I don’t know. I’ll get back to you on that.” He started to scribble something down frantically on a piece of paper. “Coastal elites, eh?”
“Wait, wait, wait. Democrats eating Republicans? You mean physically eating?”
“Yes, quite. Well, not quite. The Republicans have retaliated and started to eat them as well. And Jesus…they are way more efficient. Who knew they’d take capital punishment so digestively.” He reeled back with a short laugh. “I told you I was a pun guy.”
My stomach dropped.
“What? How did this start?” I asked.
He leaned back in his chair. “Now that’s a good question. No one knows really. Children started ending up in cages at the border, a few Democratic Socialists were voted in, men peeing in women’s bathrooms, cut funding for Planned Parenthood, a lack of minorities in high ranking positions, too many minorities in high ranking positions, marketing vs policy, message vs emotion, corporate monopolies, the 1%, Russia, drones, technology, war, AI…” He was looking at the ceiling now and rambling. “I guess neither side could take it anymore. It started when a few staffers went missing from that one senator…the one from…Arkansas. Yes, him.”
“Yeah, I remember that.” I said astonished.
“Well, a few more staffers went missing, a few PR guys and a secretary. Then it wasn’t news anymore. It was dealt with…internally, you might say. Better than civil war I suppose.”
“And this isn’t still news?” I asked, my voice breaking as if prepubescent.
“Woah, woah. Of course not. You’re a pollster now, you tell me. Does the population have a memory of a goldfish? Yes.”
I leaned forward. “This is a story. It has to be. It’s a huge story. It’s…crime. Murder. It’s terrible. It’s immoral.” My words flooded but my tongue felt heavy. I felt my forehead start to sweat. It wasn’t so much what he told me, but how he told me. His laxness to the situation and his general indifference made me feel smaller than I was.
“Jesus, what are you? A journalist? At least it’s nice to see a Republican with a conscience. Eisenhower guy, eh?”
I stared at his polished presence. His thousand miles stare. His small glimmers of joy he seemed to have in telling me this secret, non-secret.
He sat up straight.
“Listen. There are still rules of decorum on the house floor for Gods sake. The ebb and flow of government runs. Sure, there is gridlock sometimes. There are heated debates, but people disappear. People have always disappeared. They aren’t murders, per say. Think of it as a game of wits. Hell, politicians have gotten rid of other politicians for years. If not physically then with blackmail, torching someone’s reputation. If not that, then they quarantine them away in the basement of the capital to wither away. The unforgivable sin in Washington? Loss of reputation, that’s the rule. I think any person would rather be eaten than lose that, right?”
He stared. How could he rationalize this? I was half in a state of disbelief and the rest of me had sunk deeper into the wooden chair.
He looked up again. “Look at this administration. Now, they’ve done some fine things. They’ve also done some terrible things. No one is 100%, whether they say they are or not. But one thing the administration has done is usher in a new time. The time of the American populist. The time of what I mentioned before; showmanship. The 21st century of a stump speech. Equality is no longer equal. Statistics no longer measure and words don’t retain any meaning. With all the noise, and polls, and media, and voices; there is no noise at all. A still silence reigns here in Washington. The wheels of history have stopped. It’s all very existential really.”
“Stopped? How about rules? And…the police? The murdering? We are still in a functioning society, no? With some semblance of principle and rule-of-law?
He leaned forward and put his head heavily on his hand and gawked at me in silence.
I continued. “I don’t assume these 80 year old men are stalking the streets of Georgetown for prey…are they?”
He rolled his eyes. “Come on man! Firstly, men and women. Don’t let HR hear you excluding. We are politically correct around here.” He winked at me. “These 80 year old men and women, do not stalk the streets, no. Have you seen them? They’re brittle, and look fragile up close. No meat on their bones…” He stopped and looked at me to spot his pun. “No, but seriously. These old politicians did whatever they want anyways. Who’s to stop them eating a person or two? The police? Forget about them. They are their bosses boss times fourteen. You’re also talking about some of the wealthiest people in the nation here…”
“And the bodies? How do they…cook…or…”
“Like I said…you don’t think there are thousands of staffers who do their bosses bidding? The average ideologue who will do anything for the party? Apparently it’s all pretty civil, and quick. Besides, when you have ribs slapped in front of you, do you ask what the pigs political ideology was? Or even where it was from? No. If someone gave you bone marrow and said it was good, would you have it? Of course you would! It would be rude otherwise.”
He stopped mid-sentence and looked at the clock, now irritable.
“Any more questions?” He asked.
“Um, does everyone have a taste for…human?”
“I guess it’s acquired. It’s gamey, for sure. The chefs in D.C. are so high price anyway they can make my wife’s steak edible. And the counties surrounding D.C. are the richest in the nation. So…” He looked at me mockingly, as if speaking to a young child. “We have money, OK? We have a motive, OK? We have a culmination of the most powerful people in the world, who are at odds and playing for keeps. Alright? So, you tell me, if you hated someone so much for their beliefs, and you saw them as detrimental to the country, its people and its constitution, tell me you wouldn’t want to see them in a stew or fried crispy. I guess now it’s eat, or be eaten. And the benefit, I suppose, is taking out two bird with one stone. Dinner and an opponent.” He looked at his watch again, and back up at me with a sigh. “The rules have changed buddy. You Eisenhower type have better move along, or get along.”
He looked once more back over at the clock, then around the room.
“You’re joking, right?”
He slapped his leg and began to chuckle to himself. His eyes squinted and small tears came out the ends and I also smiled and small clipped giggles came out. I stood up, and shook his hand.
“I’m really excited to start. Please let me know if there’s anything else I can provide.”
“Yeah, of course! It was great to get this wrapped up. Now I just need to get home and prepare him.” He pointed over at the sleeping man with the green face.
He paused again, and looked at me as I stood. “With garlic. That’s better for the toughness.”
I could breathe again; outside. The air was cold and tight. The clouds had meshed into one and everything seemed the same in the city. The grey sky against a marble building. The black coats against the blue shirts. The unchanged, plain face I had seen before became ever transparent to me. There was a stillness, in the trees and in the buildings. I felt an unrecognizable feeling of solitude but posterity. A sense of doom that had come, and was present, and was here to stay. An awareness of the indisputable ways of the world, and the confirmation of my inability to change them.
I walked home in the wintery dusk, and pondered what I should get for dinner.