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15 July, 2009 / Erik

The Fuller Equation, Chapter Six

6. Man of the Hour

I’ve been holding back. There’s a part of this I haven’t quite been able to catch you up on. I need to tell you about the Awareness.

It manifested in full the day I met Garland. After that TV appearance, everything changed. Valerija became my assistant and moved in. The campaign office acted as though they need to take their cues from me. Of course, I was also expected to take a meeting with the Senator. He was impressed by the things I had to say and how well they tied to the Honest Appeal.

I was still grappling with the concept of hope.

Valerija jumped on the bed to wake me up. “C’mon, Fuller, it’s the most important day of your life!” Typical.

“No, that’s the day someone put twelve bullets through me,” I replied.

“I made you a protein shake.” She moved from one nutrition fad to the next on what seemed a weekly basis. I was just along for the ride. The day she moved in, my box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch vanished and a box of muesli appeared. Then came the meal replacement shakes.

Up and out of bed to face the harsh burn of morning daylight. “It’s made of non-fat lactose free milk, half cup non-fat vanilla yogurt, Goji berries, organic blueberries, whey powder, flax seed, and ice.” She keeps tweaking the formula hoping she’ll find a concoction I’ll like.

“Can’t we just have cereal?” I asked.

“That processed junk? My god, Fuller, you do want to live, don’t you?” she huffed.

“That’s debatable.”

“Anyway, they’re sending a car to pick you up in an hour, so you better drink that fast and get in the shower.”

“Are you getting my clothes ready?” I asked. Her expression soured. “I’m joking.” She smiled and brushed my arm. Contact. She was honestly worried and had never considered she might have to get my clothes ready.

She was about to walk away when I grabbed her hand. “I am a grown man; I can dress myself … but thanks for everything you do around here.” She kissed me on the cheek.

Once she was gone, my balance faltered. I grabbed hold of the nightstand and looked at the shake. It appeared to be a highball glass, but touching it, I knew it was a plastic tumbler. Valerija had always looked after somebody, I guess. Still, it was odd to see a glass that I didn’t actually own.

In the shower, it was hard to let go of that idea. Up to that point, I didn’t know all that much about my new assistant. I mean, she always presented herself as someone who lived in the moment. I had no reason to think there might be something about her past. And, honestly, I never thought to ask her about her life.

At the closet, I saw what I needed to wear; a nice pair of black dress slacks I couldn’t recall buying, a red button-down shirt, a pair of red Converse Hi Tops, and my everyday black coat. Once I was assembled, Valerija walked back into the bedroom.

“God, you and your uniform,” she said as the communal cell phone rang. She had it set so the ring would sound like an actual phone bell. She looked at me. “No time to fix that, they’re here for you.”

#

It was a rare day in Southern California. The sky was clear. I could breathe without the aid of some at-the-counter decongestant. Even the traffic flowed with an admirable mechanical precision. It was near-perfect.

At the downtown hotel, a pair of Garland’s suited security men met me in the lobby and patted me down for toxins, guns, knives, or anything else I might use to do some harm or cause a scene.

Heh.

Once satisfied, they whisked me into the elevator. Garland’s suite was on the twenty-fifth floor, closed to the public, keycard access only. The elevator doors opened up to total commotion. There were people shouting into phones about scheduling, different renditions of new campaign posters, even the leads from the local office where there, talking strategy. From the hallway into the suite proper, the business of getting a man elected kept people in an anxious Broadway number of negotiation.

“Hi, I’m Kathryn McKenzie,” one of them said to me. My ears were buzzing from the noise-level that I didn’t quite hear her say hello. She directed me from the main area to a bedroom converted into an office.

There he was; black hair, chiseled chin, slightly overweight. Superman in retirement.

Miss McKenzie said my full name. I looked at Garland, “Fuller will suffice.”

He smiled. It was crafted and well-practiced. “Of course, of course. Thank you, Miss McKenzie.” His voice was, for the most part, broadcaster neutral with just a dash of southern twang. A potent mixture to cross the cultural gap of the coasts and everywhere else.

Of course, if you believe our political map is that simple, you’ve bought a lie.

He shook my hand. Contact. After offering me a seat, he sat down next to me. Surprisingly, he took no security in keeping a big desk between us. “Look to each other…” he mused. “It’s brilliant, Fuller. We’ve been looking for a way to some up how the younger generation feels. The way they want things to be different this time.”

“If only things could be,” I said.

“You don’t believe what you said?”

“Honestly, I don’t know where half the stuff I say comes from. It just happens and I have to live with it.”

“Then what do you believe in?”

I only took a few moments to consider it. “That ‘perfection’ is the motto of Hell. The world can be near-perfect. Even the flaws should have a beauty to them. We just get caught up in some idyllic dream of reality and make no allowances for contrast.”

Garland looked away. His mind was back on some distant day before lobbyist, local corn farmers, entrance exams, and the track team. “Senator?” I asked. He returned to the present.

“That was weird. You sounded just like my father. He used to tell me things like that. I still wanted to be perfect.”

I shrugged. “Well, look at you now.”

Then it happened. Time froze and I saw his soul. Joseph Garland was essentially a good man bruised from his quest for perfection. The compromises he made to attain his position weighed heavily upon him.

I’ll spare you the soggy details, but he played high stakes in everything. Mistresses. Sado-bullshit. Really obvious and banal stuff. It wasn’t the thrill these things inherently possess, but the possibility of getting caught that got his blood flowing. When you can decide where billions in funds go, you need more than a loving wife and a trip to Disney World to get any sort of adrenal response.

Time started up again. The Senator’s eyes were coated in a sheen of tears. Somehow, he knew what just transpired. “What are you?” he asked.

“Just a shiftless lay-about.”

“No … you’re more than that. All the things I just told you. I’ve never told anybody.” He perceived the event as confession; I’d experienced his life as it happened.

Did I forget to mention how nauseous I was at this point? I excused myself to use the bathroom and puke up some of that protein shake.

Garland saw me out of the hotel, with a nice security detail shadowing us. Somehow, the episode went unnoticed by his team. “Well, Fuller, I hope I’ve communicated that I am honest about my aims.” I shook his hand again.

“Yes, I see that,” I replied. This was in fact, true. After that, I sensed a change in Garland. His smile was genuine.

Senator Garland expected to buy me that day. His handlers wanted to make sure I wouldn’t do anything to disrupt the plans of the party.

Heh.

#

Getting home, I immediately hit the mattress. Living another man’s life in three-and-a-half minutes was exhausting. Valerija’s hands touched my back. “How’d it go?” she asked.

“I’ll tell you about it when I’m alive.”

“I think I can make you alive,” she said. Her fingers traced their way up to my neck. Contact. I turned up and looked into those anime eyes of hers. Just as vividly as I saw Garland’s life, I saw hers.

For a time, she looked after her father until some disease turned shriveled him to nothing. Spending so much time watching him, she missed out on just living. I expected to find some sort of abuse here. I expected shouting and gray, greasy walls. All I found was a girl all of sixteen pounding on her father’s coffin and repeating the same thought. I didn’t do enough.

Blink.

The woman all of twenty stared down at me; her eyes wider than the craziest caricature portrait. I raised my hand and brushed at her cheek. “You did enough,” I said. She crumpled down onto the bed, crying. At first, I just left her alone. This was altogether new and I had no idea clue about the proper procedure.

How do you comfort someone?

My hand shook as I reached for her. Sensing it, she reached for me. “You’re so warm,” she said.

I felt nauseous again. Also sweaty, and in all ways uncomfortable, but I didn’t let go of her.

#

So what is the Awareness? It’s a terrible insight. Somehow it also allows the guilt people place upon themselves to vanish. If I were still Catholic, I might even call it the power of forgiveness. I can speak with other peoples’ voices and find the stress point that will break a person’s will. All it requires is physical contact.

Did I mention in my family that we’re touch-adverse?

Heh.

It also leaves me completely worn out and I have no control over it.

That night, I held onto Valerija and we slept. We shared a dream of a near-perfect world.

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