Ben Segal

I was filling things with other things: brownstones with chickens, school hallways with barbecue sauce. It was easy at first. It’s still easy, though. Everything, truly, is so easy in my life.

I started with a matchbox of sugar. I told Ray, “I will fill one thing with something else every day this year.” I’d been doing nothing for too long and Ray was there for the smoothness of my lack. He was handsome, too, which I still like in a friend. He was tall and charming and on a stool. He drew a small circle in pencil and passed it to me. “You can start with this.”

That look was so clearly on his face. He was barely humoring me, laughing into my desire, which was real, no matter how absurd its form. I’m becoming too theatric in the telling. Forgive me. I’m trying to be so completely clear.

What I mean to say is Ray’s face then, his stupid circle, it made me resolve to actually each day fill one thing with something unexpected. And I would choose a larger thing each day. This was the first of May. It’s now late April. Everything is easy and always will be.

So the sugar matchbox was followed with a toothpaste tube of crushed-up Ambien, a mason jar of obituaries, a hemlocked Ziploc. Furniture soon followed. Gilded loofas in a footlocker, a filing cabinet of dental fillings. I’m skipping days in this retelling. This is just a little tour of greatest hits. 

I’ll move on to the fills I first mentioned.

A month ago or so was the day I rented an elementary school and slicked a whole hall with a deep run of barbecue sauce. It was the last time I saw Ray, in fact. I brought him with me, but he left before the first truckload was even spread. I brought skis, too, and a pair of mastiffs to pull me. They were fast and the sauce waves kicked up splatter on the walls.

As for the chicken brownstone, yesterday’s filling, it was an old building we’ve long had in the family. The birds were less convenient. I had to have them trucked from out of state.

And that brings us to now.

* * *

Today I’m filling a hotel with David Millers. I thought it would be fun or informative. My name is David Miller and I have questions: Is there any commonality between us? Will we blend together as a mass? If a David and a David fall in love, is it narcissism? 

I knew the idea was stupid, but I liked it anyway. Now I’ve flown the David Millers of the world to this Radisson. This part was actually hard. It took planning.

You see, every David Miller in this hotel believes he is here for a job interview. I hired researchers to get background on them, to compile a list of each’s interests and skills, to tailor invitations that couldn’t be refused. 

Not one other David Miller knows he is not alone. Each is now sweating or showering or going over his notes. David Millers are fixing ties and taking shots to steel their nerves. The interview time is nearly here. The David Millers are all scheduled to meet a dark-suited man in the hotel lobby in exactly an hour. So the whole hotel will crowd into the public space en masse and I, the suited man, will rise and call for David Miller and watch to see what happens.

And then I will have only two fillings to go. First I’ll stuff a city block with seedling kale in plastic pots. That’s tomorrow. On the last day I’ll drown a town in disappointment.

Posing as market researchers, my employees have so thoroughly surveyed the town of Milford, Massachusetts that they know every dream of every resident within city limits. We’ve spent weeks nurturing their hopes, and all Milfordians believe today that they are on the verge of achieving their most cherished desires. 

In forty-eight hours we will dash those hopes on hidden camera. We will broadcast the live-feed of our Milford Disaster. I bought television time to show it all unfold.

Such sadness will sweep through the primetime network audience. I will be crying myself. I will call up Ray and sob into my hands-free headset.

But now the Davids are milling as predicted, steadily streaming into the hotel lobby. I am in my suit and the others are in suits as well. 

The David Millers are checking their phones. They are packing and pacing the room. In minutes I will stand on a chair and call out my name in the hope of stampede. There is so much excitement left to squeeze from each fill! I have no need to be thinking ahead.

     
Ben Segal is the author of Pool Party Trap Loop (Queen’s Ferry Press), co-author of The Wes Letters (Outpost 19), and co-editor of The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature (Lit Pub Books). His short fiction has been published by or is forthcoming from The Georgia Review, Tin House, The Collagist, Tarpaulin Sky, and Puerto del Sol, among others. He holds a BA from Hampshire College, an MFA from UC San Diego, and a JD from the University of Chicago. He currently lives in Los Angeles.