John Bruce

Finally the company settled on Becka Mantis in the San Diego office, and George found himself commuting there from LA and reporting to her. At the same time, she lost her manager’s title and got put in a cubicle, a sure and certain sign of her own demotion. He stayed in a hotel all week, drove down Monday mornings and back Friday nights. Becka set him to learning the new system with a colleague, who’d also been transferred from a cushier area and was none too pleased.

The guy was used to spending much of his time working out in the company gym. The rest of the day he spent on the phone with his wife, orchestrating intricate schedules and handoffs for picking up and delivering their daughter to day care, the allergist, the piano teacher, her grandmother, and so forth. George knew this, because he shared the guy’s cube for a couple weeks. Mostly he was by himself. “I’m going to the gym before lunch,” the guy would say, or, “Tell anyone who asks I had to pick up my daughter because my wife’s car is in the shop.”

The guy knew this new job was going to involve travel, and as far as he was concerned, he was going to stay in San Diego and work out in the gym and drive his daughter around to appointments. The next time George was down there, the guy was gone. They said he got three offers from other companies right away and was out the door in a flash.

Becka was very San Diego herself, blonde and blue-eyed, petite and anorexic, attractive if you glossed over the fact that age and anorexia would eventually conspire to make her nose droop and her bony chin point more outward, so that she would eventually look like a Halloween witch, with point of nose and point of chin threatening to meet. But that looked still to be several years away.

Implicit in her manner was the expectation that control of one’s weight and one’s complexion were the chief duties of a San Diegan, and the rest of the world would inevitably fall short on these scores. San Diego is a smallish pond for middling-big fish who would prefer to avoid the competition a hundred miles north in LA, which is a tougher town. Whatever George’s disorders were, they weren’t hers, and every time she looked at him, it seemed to be with a barely concealed sigh that, as someone who didn’t have San Diego priorities, he wouldn’t measure up.

Right around this time, several dozen cultists a few miles away from the San Diego office packed their bags, put some change in their pockets, and ate some applesauce laced with cyanide so that they would leave their bodies and join a flying saucer that was waiting to pick them up. Somehow it didn’t surprise George that people this addled wound up in San Diego. It didn’t seem to surprise the local paper, and it didn’t seem to surprise anyone in the office, either.

It surprised the hostess in the dining room at George’s hotel, though. “Why would they go out of their way to do that?” she asked him when he showed up for dinner that night. She spoke with an accent, might have been from Central America, which is another way of saying she wasn’t from San Diego. She made a puzzled gesture. “After all, death is always so close.”

 
 
 


John Bruce’s writing has appeared in numerous literary ‘zines, and he’s received a Pushcart nomination. He has degrees in English from Dartmouth College and USC and lives in Los Angeles.