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Friday, March 23

Gapers Block

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Pablo always wore black: to work, to movie theatres he'd go to alone, to buy a newspaper at the newsstand, to his weekend excursions as he tried to learn the city's streets. Hubbard, Illinois, Grand, Ohio, Ontario, Erie, Huron, Superior. Wearing black made life easier after he arrived in America. He didn't want anyone to see that he was new. He didn't want anyone to know he didn't belong.

He finally found a job in town — an HR rep called his cell one day — he'd emailed his resume to so many places, he'd forgotten all the names of companies. But then there was an interview and he found himself working inside the Wrigley Building. And every day entering into this new world, this cool dark hum of a building, it's as if he's stepping into a busy ant colony. Sometimes in the maze of concrete, there in the city's middle, he sits in his cubicle at his desk, closes his eyes, and imagines the winding hallways of his office with all of its passages leading to other floors and offices and all of the people moving around inside and it's like the ant farm in a clear plastic container that he held in his hands and stared at for hours when he was a child in Spain. He envisions the workers encased inside steel and concrete and glass hurrying down and around hallways.

Ants. People. Ants. People. Everyone rushes. Everyone seems to know exactly where they're going — these people who know other people. And how they laugh over politics, baseball and police corruption and their voices fluttering in the air around him make him feel small.

illustration by Phineas X. Jones

He's nothing more than one of the many ants in a city who does a job, but yet has no true idea how the job creates change and movement and direction in the larger society. How does this colony of a country work?

One day, a new girl — woman who has been hired smiles at him in the elevator. And on this particular morning, maybe because he topped off his Corn Flakes with spoon after spoon of sugar or maybe because he had two cans of Red Bull while he was shaving, his mood on this Friday is energetic and he responds enthusiastically to this woman with her shiny blond hair that catches the fluorescent light and seems somehow to move in the breezeless air of the elevator. They are the only two in the elevator and he's aware of her warmth, the scent of something fresh like apples.

I didn't know you worked on eight. I haven't seen you around, he says.

I'm new.

New to the city?

Kind of. Mostly just here new. And you?

The kind-of-mostly-just-here new woman is the new senior vice-president he had never seen before and after a short time he finds her always inside his awareness when he arrives at the office. He wonders where she might be and imagines how he will arrange it to bump into her and because she now believes Pablo is a friendly gentleman with no ulterior motives, she sees in him something no one else in the office has: goodness.

It helps that she can talk to him without worrying that her words will be misconstrued. That he doesn't know anyone in the office well but her, makes him mysterious. It helps too that their conversations take place over drinks. First at lunch, then after work. It helps even more that they're both alone and lonely in the city. In this company, like most companies, the good and honest men are not always promoted. But Pablo is promoted.

Others wonder why. How. People talk. Gossip. There would normally be attempts to derail the upward trajectory of his career flight, but because he arrived in Chicago without baggage, literally and figuratively, and because he was so insignificant to others, there's no history, no paper trail that can trip up his ascension as it has so many before him. Besides, the woman is always very helpful.

You could talk to Barry about that account. You could mention that you know of another company, say Lansing-Small. They can handle output better than what Barry's team leader is suggesting. And it would cost millions of dollars less.

I could.

You probably could. Finance would love you.

I think I might. I mean, Lansing does offer better on-site service.

It does, doesn't it?

Pablo discovers new feelings as a result of the promotion and his ongoing conversations with the woman: desire. For her. For more money. He likes the way he looks in different suits, suits and shirts that match his moods. He likes to expand his clothing to more expressive choices, something more than black. There's an entire world where there are French cuffs, Italian wools and Swiss watches.

Plus, he notices that the slip and slide of daily life is easier when money is involved. Having money feels good. And women? Women seem to adore money. There's a larger world, he discovers, hidden inside of the America he saw when he first arrived and spent 46 nights in that narrow, damp room that smelled of Lysol and urine. The larger world of this new America he's discovered has many hidden rooms that he can enter now that he has money.

In these rooms, there are perfumes and wines, silky nylons and buttons undone, sheets sweetened and softened under feathery covers and a woman's skin that feels soft like the plums he remembers biting into from his childhood and her breath scented with cinnamon toothpaste and its hidden taste there of forbidden whiskey and her pale neck with a soft pulse that flutters steadily in the city's lights when the hotel's curtains are opened to the night and her whispers to him of everything he has always asked for in this life and imagined, but never dared to hope for and he is startled at how easy it is to slide from one world, one country to another, one body into another.


About the Author(s)

Arlene Tribbia is an artist and native Chicagoan, whose short stories and poetry have appeared in literary journals and online in the United States and Canada. Her short stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

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