Broken Mirrors by P.J. Shearrer
The metallic whine of the subway tram helped Narcie ignore the insistent vibration in her jeans pocket. She glowered out the gritty window at the passing video adverts. Muscular torsos straddled polished chrome. Who has time for that? The angry iPhone buzzed again. God, give it a rest! The woman is so needy. The last conversation they had happened on Narcie’s birthday. Everyone but her mother knew you don’t say to your daughter; “I can’t believe I have a 41 year old,” . . . Thanks for calling mom.
The fat man next to her elbowed her in the arm as he shifted his ear buds. She waited for the apology but got only the faint exhortations of a self help guru speaking into his plump ear. He is in deep need of less donuts, she thought. Beside him, stood an old woman with a stupid hat. She was glaring at donut boy. Her death grip on the pole seemed to be all that was sustaining her. Had to be a hundred. Wonder what her mother would say to her on her birthday . . . Probably dead though, lucky old kook. The tram swayed and Bubba elbowed her again w/out apology. Fat turd. The lights flickered back on and she looked away to catch the commercials as they neared the platform. Centerville station was packed.
The nearby trash can was rank with a smell like rotting meat so she moved down the platform to escape it. She found an unusually empty spot and then understood why. At the turnstiles around the corner, a raggedy man in a red house coat, shouted at the passersby. At his feet next to the empty collections hat, leaned a cardboard sign. On the back the sign read: Homeless Vet, Please help. But on the front, in sinuous letters, writ large in red and orange marker, it read; Repent or Burn. When he caught her looking, she avoided eye contact and moved away. That wasn’t going to market well, she smiled as she boarded the Pridemore spur.
At her stop, Narcie gathered her portfolio and was the first to the door. Blinking up out of the darkness and stink of the underground she pushed a path through the unwashed and up the filthy stairs. At street level she jostled her way to the curb, slid on her smoke grey gargoyles and hailed a cab. The cabby was a young woman, which surprised her. The twenty-something’s head seemed weighted to one by the metal collection on ear. The face in the mirror was bored and making no effort to look user friendly.
“Destination,” She said. The word came out flat like you might speak to a voice prompt on a customer service support line.
The iPhone buzzed again and Narcie swore, “Shit.”
The doll at the wheel raised a thin eyebrow, “Scuze me?”
“Heego Consulting on 3rd,” said Narcie, fishing the phone out of her pants.
“Ooookay,” said the tramp.
No tip for you Bitch, Narcie thought.
The number Narcie did not recognize, but the area code was not local. She pushed the ignore button and buried it in her purse.
She checked her watch, 10:15, Fifteen minutes to spare.
When her Dad had told her they were having problems, Narcie did not think it was serious. But the later sordid details left no room for amicability. Dad’s skirt chasing and mom’s stock purchases in QVC were twin trains thundering headlong at each other. That her mother wanted to whine to her about the fiasco had finally severed their drama filled relationship. But today, none of that mattered. This was the big account, the one that would put Narcie in a C-level suiteand keep Heego in the black.
“Heego,” The cabbie announced.
“I need a Receipt,” said Narcie.
“Seriously?,” said the eyebrows.
“Well, I don’t have a pen.”
“Use mine,” said Narcie, passing her white mount blanc over the seat.
She reminded herself to keep all her receipts this time. Those fuckers in accounting aren’t gonna screw me again.
Trailer trash handed back a faded business card with the amount scrawled on the back. Narcie, shook her head and tucked it in her purse.
Narcie jumped as her door jerked open and the cabbie’s next John poked in his round head. He demanded, “214 Mine St. Know where it is or not?”
Trailer trash looked at me and smiled mockingly, “Get in.”
“Skootch over honey we’ll share,” said the yuppie.
“This is my stop,” Narcie managed to say as she extracted herself from the blue vinyl.
The man looked at her tits, rolled his eyes and dove into the cab.
The cab was gone in a cloud of exhaust before Narcie had both feet on the curb.
“Shit!,” Narcie swore. She stole my pen.
Trailer trash had dropped her off a half block from the main entrance so she crossed the street and entered the flow of foot traffic on the sidewalk. The streets were packed. She danced with a bag lady pushing a shopping cart and slid between a pair of cops eyeing three Japanese tourists who were young enough to be their daughters. A black African was shouting some Swahili to a druggie in the alley. Narcie tucked her portfolio under her arm. She could see the glow of the Heego scrolling message board just ahead.
She ducked into the Heego corporate office tapped the elevator thrice and checked her make-up in the lobby mirrors while she waited. Two meat sickles one vanilla and one chocolate trotted inside behind her and proceeded to emo over the new line of designer beach flats. She ignored them by checking her iPhone. Eight messages, one of them from her ex and the rest from the local number. She is psychotic, thought Narcie. Probably called Bob to try to get me to pick up. Bob, her ex, had not spoken with her since the refinance. She’s a black hole. She sucks in everyone around her.
The elevator dinged at the 25th floor. A flutter in her stomach reminded her of the future that awaited her.
Narcie reached the end of the hall and strode into the conference room. It was empty. Lights off. Where is everyone? The flutter turned to acid. She checked her watch: 10:35. She walked back past the reception desk. Where is Sally? She walked around the desk into the back office. Where is Richard?
“May I help you?,” demanded an effete exasperated voice. It was Vanilla from the elevator.
“Who are you?,” demanded Narcie.
“Who are you lady?,” he countered.
“I am head of regional promotions, where the hell is everyone?”
“They went over to the meeting he said, playing with his fingers and staring at her shoes.”
“It was supposed to be here,” Narcie said.
Yeah, well, – client couldn’t get here in time so they went to him.”
“Where are they now?”
“Cross town at Bingham’s, he said. “I’m Roger. Sally’s replacem…”
“Shit.” She grabbed a pen off his desk and headed back for the elevator.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
She remembered the phone as the doors opened. Maybe they had tried to call her. But, by the time she had pushed to the curb outside she knew that all of the local calls were from her mother, as she had assumed, and that her boss Richard and the other bastards over in distribution had not even bothered to tell her about the switch.
She waited in line for a cab. The sky drizzled. Fuck!
The newsstand offered some relief while she waited for the queue to dissolve. She pretended to be interested in a purchase by counting change in her hand as she read the front page of each paper. Centerville, murder capitol of the East Coast read the first headline. The rag next to it proclaimed: Mayor indicted on all counts with a deliciously humiliating photo of the woman seated in the back seat of a police cruiser. The rest of the news was pretty tame. The sanitation workers were still on strike and the player of the year admitted his steroid habit.
The newsie finally lost his patience, “Make a purchase or move along.”
Narcie flipped him the bird and rejoined the much improved line. Thankfully, the cabbie didn’t know English so the ride to the subway stop was blissfully quiet. She didn’t bother to get a receipt this time. Instead she turned the $30 on the back of the first cabbie’s card into an $80.
By the time Narcie got back underground she decided the meeting was likely over. She fished out the pillbox from her wet purse and dry swallowed a Valium.
“Hey can I bum a cigarette?,” she asked a student near the stairs.
He gave her a wtf? look, blew the smoke in her face, and turned his back. She felt her hands ball up into fists and envisioned jabbing a knife between his shoulder blades. I don’t need this right now, she thought. The tram arrived late as usual but she was pleased to see that it was not crowded. It was, however, rank with body odors and littered with newspapers. Narcie wiped off an empty seat and set her attaché on her lap. Across from her a couple was having an intense discussion. The girl was crying, the boyfriend red faced and threatening. Narcie listened in on the conversation.
Between sniffles the girl was complaining, “But I don’t have any money,”
Her boyfriend was slouched over the rail his jaw clenched.
“Where am I going to get that much,” she said.
“Forget that,” He said a bit too loud, “I’m not paying for your abortion.”
Whoa. Too much information, thought Narcie and scanned for a less tragic place to eavesdrop.
On the other side of the door a pair of gang-bangers sharing a set of ear buds were gyrating their crotches in the face of a seated German lady. The plump middle aged woman was trying her best to ignore them by taking out her frustrations on her balding husband – who did nothing. Narcie could see the tears forming in her eyes. Fight back lady, she thought. If you don’t fight back you deserve the abuse you get. She had learned that lesson long ago and developed a coat of armor to insulate her from people like that. That the hardened plate around her heart had transformed her into a thoroughgoing bitch was something she was quite proud of. The phone buzzed. Narcie, cursing, answered it.
Her first words were, “Leave me alone.”
“Honey you don’t understand you need to leave the city,” Her mother sounded more desperate and needy than before.
“Mom you need to take your chill pills and lay off the schnapps,” Narcie said as sarcastically as she could.
But her mother’s voice continued to plead at her, turning frantic. In tears her mother said, “You need to come home… Just come on home.”
Narcie hung up. The old bat has lost her mind. A cyclist wooshed by inches from her toes startling her back against the building. She yelled at his retreating spandexed butt – “Asshole!” She looked around as sidewalk traffic pinned her against the storefront. She was surrounded by assholes. Arrogant junior associates in their $800 suits, slutty administrative assistants sleeping their way up the food chain. Malevolent stares from the blue collars, bored indifference from the vendors, all overfed, arrogant and unconcerned. She knotted the scarf at her neck and stepped back into the chaos. She hadn’t taken three steps before her stiletto speared a megagulp sized Styrofoam cup. “Jesus Fucking Christ,” she swore under her breath as she tore away the sticky wet shell. “When is someone going to get their head out of their ass and clean this place up?”
High above the urban sprawl, a stranger to the city stood at the lip of the roof of the Imemine building. Sirens and construction blasts rose up to him on the sulfurous air. Bounded on the east and west by rail yards and docks and hemmed in to the north by the mountains and to the south by the bay, the great city, home to one million inhabitants lay naked before him. From his perch, he could see into the very heart of the city. This was his first visit and would be his last. In his grip he held a three dollar wireless detonator. He flicked off the safety. It struck him as odd that for all their diversity on the outside, they were uniformly identical down to their core. Each was exactly the same, each a broken mirror of the next. None were able to reflect a loving image to another. They were all selfish to the core. He saw now why he had been sent. The stench of them was unbearable and to his thinking, a symptom of their insanity. There were no other options. The gangrenous blight of selfishness had infected the host. Death was the inevitable consequence. For the city to live again, all its inhabitants must be destroyed.
Oblivious to the coming judgment, Narcie finally gave up trying to get the meeting and sat on a sticky park bench across from the yellow cow statue. The meeting had to be over by now, she thought. The pricks didn’t even called me. She hated this city, hated living here. All she wanted was a little happiness now and then. Is that to much to ask? She stuffed down the disappointment and balled it into a fist of anger. She didn’t have a plan yet, but she would find a way to humiliate them for this. They couldn’t close the deal without her, so she was in the driver’s seat. She would wait for them to figure it out and offer their feeble apologies. The valium was finally kicking in. She could feel the ice melting a bit. She looked around the square. There used to be a bar down here. It’s almost eleven o’clock, not too early, she convinced herself. She stood and took one step in the direction that would best satisfy her craving but did not take a second. In that instant, between strides, the sky turned purest white. An obliterating shock wave lifted her off her feet and her iPhone buzzed. As Narcie and every living thing within a mile of her was vaporized to cosmic ash, she had one final thought. How is this fair?