Ever since I was a child (Brian would have said ‘kid’, which is a terrible way to refer to a human child), I found the way words looked and sounded important. Some words were better than others, because they looked just like what they meant. Nasty, for instance. The s and the t together made a snarl that dripped vindictive malevolence. Or grin. Something about the way the i and the n made lips rise up into a smile gave the word more powerful.
So my job as a technical editor for SEASCORE, a federal contractor, was appropriate if not dramatic. While I would’ve perhaps preferred editing fiction — more opportunity for determining whether or not a character would chuckle or giggle (the u in chuckle always evoking someone older or at least fatter, and the slender i and double g of giggle making choruses of children in my mind) — I had no love of fiction itself, only the words that built it. And there was a comforting tidiness to sorting out dry instructional manuals for submarines.
Tonight I worked late after a dentist’s appointment had made me loose several hours of work during the day. I was the only one in the gray-carpeted office, just me, my cubicle, and the cold whirr of air through the air-conditioning vents. The cold was making my hands stiff. I readjusted my gel pad under my wrists and kept typing.
ML188 head shielding requirements, fig. 8a. ML188 overhead clearance, fig 8b, 8c.
My name is Brandt and I have been an only child for as long as I can remember.
I stopped typing and stared at the computer screen. I rechecked the print-out on my desk. Looked again at the lines I’d just typed.
I started again.
ML188 Resistor model, fig 8d. My name is Brandt and I am a kingmaker. I lift up other men unto thrones, push other men into greatness, tear down governments that mean nothing to me and put up others that mean even less.
My fingers hovered over the keyboard. My cursor blinked a slow metronome. Again, I looked down to the print out on the desk, and this time, I spread the last three pages out to see if I’d mistakenly grabbed text from somewhere else in the document while typing.
I am a muse. I am an archetype. I haunt the stories of an entire species.
“I don’t write fiction,” I told the screen, and immediately flushed with embarrassment at speaking aloud. I wheeled my chair back a few inches and looked out the doorway into the hall, though there was no one to see me talking to myself.
I am James Bond, I am Batman, I am Gandalf, I am Zorro. I am every character that has ever fought for power to give away. I am that character when the need arises. I make kings and I destroy them.
“I don’t write fiction,” I said, again, firmer. I pushed the keyboard away, though the last paragraph still burned on the screen. “I don’t need any characters. I don’t need a kingmaker.”
But I liked the word.
I went to backspace, but instead, I typed some more.
I am that seed of change that bursts through dying flesh. I am that agent that wreaks havoc and rides the wave of chaos. I get my hands dirty when others want theirs virginal and perfect. I am that man.
I gestured over the stacks of submarine instructions and naval computer documents and build instructions for old missiles that the U.S. was selling to its allies. I was a technical editor, reordering figures for comprehension and rewriting sentences for readability. There was no place for fiction in my life. No place for stories. No desire. No need. I didn’t want make believe, with or without Brandt the king maker.
The light flickered above me and a shadow fell across the keyboard; someone had walked up behind me, silent on the carpet, without me hearing them. A hand rested on the arm rest of my chair.
I turned my head slowly to look at it. It was a man’s hand, strong, square. The sharp black cuff of a suit. He took his hand off the arm rest and instead reached across to the instruction manuals in front of me.
“This time, it won’t be make believe,” Brandt said.
Author’s Note: A lot late because of Thanksgiving (which we celebrated on Friday).
image is Magritte’s "Son of Man"