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Authors: George Saunders

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BOOK: Pastoralia
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Next morning is once again the morning I empty our Human Refuse bags and the trash bags and the bag from the bottom of the sleek metal hole where Janet puts her used feminine items.

I knock on the door of her Separate Area.

Janet slides the bags out, all sealed and labeled and ready to go.

“Check it out,” she says. “I’m a new woman.”

Out I go, with the white regular trash bag in one hand and our mutual big pink Human Refuse bag in the other.

I walk along the white cliff, then down the path marked by the small yellow dot on the pine etc. etc.

On the door of Marty’s doublewide is a note:

Due to circumstances beyond our control we are no longer here
, it says.
But please know how much we appreciated your patronage. As to why we are not here, we will not comment on that, because we are bigger than that. Bigger than some people. Some people are snakes. To some people, fifteen years of good loyal service means squat. All’s we can say is, watch your damn backs
.

All the best and thanks for the memories,

Marty and Jeannine and little Eddie
.

Then the door flies open.

Marty and Jeannine and little Eddie are standing there holding suitcases.

“Hello and good-bye,” says Marty. “Feel free to empty your shit bag inside the store.”

“Now, Marty,” says Jeannine. “Let’s try and be positive about this, okay? We’re going to do fine. You’re too good for this dump anyway. I’ve always said you were too good for this dump.”

“Actually, Jeannine,” Marty says. “When I first got this job you said I was lucky to even get a job, because of my dyslexia.”

“Well, honey, you are dyslexic,” says Jeannine.

“I never denied being dyslexic,” says Marty.

“He writes his letters and numbers backwards,” Jeannine says to me.

“What are you, turning on me, Jeannine?” Marty says. “I lose my job and you turn on me?”

“Oh Marty, I’m not turning on you,” Jeannine says. “I’m not going to stop loving you just because you’ve got troubles. Just like you’ve never stopped loving me, even though I’ve got troubles.”

“She gets too much spit in her mouth,” Marty says to me.

“Marty!” says Jeannine.

“What?” Marty says. “You can say I’m dyslexic, but I can’t say you get too much spit in your mouth?”

“Marty, please,” she says. “You’re acting crazy.”

“I’m not acting crazy,” he says. “It’s just that you’re turning on me.”

“Don’t worry about me, Dad,” the kid says. “I won’t turn on you. And I don’t mind going back to my old school. Really I don’t.”

“He had a little trouble with mean kids in his old school,” Marty says to me. “Which is why we switched
him. Although nothing you couldn’t handle, right, kid? Actually, I think it was good for him. Taught him toughness.”

“As long as nobody padlocks me to the boiler again,” the kid says. “That part I really didn’t like. Wow, those rats or whatever.”

“I doubt those were actual rats,” says Marty. “More than likely they were cats. The janitor’s cats. My guess is, it was dark in that boiler room and you couldn’t tell a cat from a rat.”

“The janitor didn’t have any cats,” the kid says. “And he said I was lucky those rats didn’t start biting my pants. Because of the pudding smell. From when those kids pinned me down and poured pudding down my pants.”

“Was that the same day?” Marty says. “The rats and the pudding? I guess I didn’t realize them two things were on the same day. Wow, I guess you learned a lot of toughness on that day.”

“I guess so,” the kid says.

“But nothing you couldn’t handle,” Marty says.

“Nothing I couldn’t handle,” the kid says, and blinks, and his eyes water up.

“Well, Christ,” Marty says, and his eyes also water up. “Time to hit the road, family. I guess this it. Let’s say our good-byes. Our good-byes to Home Sweet Home.”

They take a little tour around the doublewide and do a family hug, then drag their suitcases down the path.

I go to the Refuse Center and weigh our Human Refuse. I put the paperwork and the fee in the box labeled Paperwork and Fees. I toss the trash in the dumpster
labeled Trash, and the Human Refuse in the dumpster labeled Caution Human Refuse.

I feel bad for Marty and Jeannine, and especially I feel bad for the kid.

I try to imagine Nelson padlocked to a boiler in a dark room full of rats.

Plus now where are us Remotes supposed to go for our smokes and mints and Kayos?

22.

Back at the cave Janet is working very industriously on the pictographs.

As I come in she points to my Separate Area while mouthing the word: Fax.

I look at her. She looks at me.

She mouths the words: Christ, go. Then she holds one hand at knee level, to indicate Nelson.

I go.

But it’s not for me, it’s for her.

Ms. Foley’s fax appears to be inoperative?
the cover letter says.
Kindly please forward the attached
.

Please be informed
, the attached fax says, I
did my very best in terms of your son, and this appeared, in my judgment, to be an excellent plea bargain, which, although to some might appear disadvantageous, ten years is not all that long when you consider all the bad things that he has done. But he was happy enough about it, after some initial emotions such as limited weeping, and thanked me for my hard work, although not in those exact words, as he was fairly, you know, upset. On a personal note, may I say how sorry I am, but also that in the grand scheme of things such as geology ten years is not so very long really
.

Sincerely,

Evan Joeller, Esq
.

I take the fax out to Janet, who reads it while sitting on her log.

She’s sort of a slow reader.

When she’s finally done she looks crazy and for a minute I think she’s going to tear the cave apart but instead she scoots into the corner and starts frantically pretending to catch and eat small bugs.

I go over and put my hand on her shoulder, like: Are you okay?

She pushes my hand away roughly and continues to pretend to catch and eat small bugs.

Just then someone pokes their head in.

Young guy, round head, expensive-looking glasses.

“Bibby, hand me up Cole,” he says. “So he can see. Cole-Cole, can you see? Here. Daddy will hold you up.”

A little kid’s head appears alongside the dad’s head.

“Isn’t this cool, Cole?” says the dad. “Aren’t you glad Mommy and Daddy brought you? Remember Daddy told you? How people used to live in caves?”

“They did not,” the little boy says. “You’re wrong.”

“Bibby, did you hear that?” the dad says. “He just said I’m wrong. About people living in caves.”

“I heard it,” says a woman from outside. “Cole, people really did use to live in caves. Daddy’s not wrong.”

“Daddy’s always wrong,” says the little boy.

“He just said I’m always wrong,” the dad says. “Did you hear that? Did you write that down? In the memory book? Talk about assertive! I should be so assertive. Wouldn’t Norm and Larry croak if I was suddenly so assertive?”

“Well, it couldn’t hurt you,” the mom says.

“Believe me, I know,” the dad says. “That’s why I said it. I know very well I could afford to be more assertive. I was making a joke. Like an ironic joke at my own expense.”

“I want to stab you, Dad,” says the little boy. “With a sharp sword, you’re so dumb.”

“Ha ha!” says the dad. “But don’t forget, Cole-Cole, the pen is mightier than the sword! Remember that? Remember I taught you that? Wouldn’t it be better to compose an insulting poem, if you have something negative about me you want to convey? Now that’s real power! Bibby, did you hear what he said? And then what I said? Did you write all that down? Also did you save that Popsicle wrapper? Did you stick it in the pocket in the back cover of the memory book and write down how cute he looked eating it?”

“What your name?” the little boy yells at me.

I cower and shriek in the corner etc. etc.

“What your name I said!” the little boy shouts at me. “I hate you!”

“Now, Cole-Cole,” says the dad. “Let’s not use the word hate, okay, buddy? Remember what I told you? About hate being the nasty dark crayon and love being the pink? And remember what I told you about the clanging gong? And remember I told you about the bad people in the old days, who used to burn witches, and how scary that
must’ve been for the witches, who were really just frightened old ladies who’d made the mistake of being too intelligent for the era they were living in?”

“You are not acceptable!” the kid shouts at me.

“Ha ha, oh my God!” says the dad. “Bibby, did you get that? Did you write that down? He’s imitating us. Because we say that to him? Write down how mad he is. Look how red his face is! Look at him kick his feet. Wow, he is really pissed. Cole, good persistence! Remember how Daddy told you about the little train that could? How everyone kept trying to like screw it and not give it its due, and how finally it got really mad and stomped its foot and got its way? Remember I told you about Chief Joseph, who never stopped walking? You’re like him. My brave little warrior. Bibby, give him a juice box. Also he’s got some goo-goo coming out of his nosehole.”

“Jesus Christ,” Janet mumbles.

I give her my sternest look.

“What was that?” says the dad. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you. What did you just say?”

“Nothing,” Janet says. “I didn’t say nothing.”

“I heard you very clearly,” says the dad. “You said Jesus Christ. You said Jesus Christ because of what I said about the goo-goo in my son’s nosehole. Well, first of all, I’m sorry if you find a little boy’s nosehole goo-goo sickening, it’s perfectly normal, if you had a kid of your own you’d know that, and second of all, since when do cavepeople speak English and know who Jesus Christ is? Didn’t the cavepeople predate Christ, if I’m not mistaken?”

“Of course they did,” the mom says from outside. “We just came from Christ. Days of Christ. And we’re going backwards. Towards the exit.”

“Look, pal, I got a kid,” says Janet. “I seen plenty of snot. I just never called it goo-goo. That’s all I’m saying.”

“Bibby, get this,” the dad says. “Parenting advice from the cavelady. The cavelady apparently has some strong opinions on booger nomenclature. For this I paid eighty bucks? If I want somebody badly dressed to give me a bunch of lip I can go to your mother’s house.”

“Very funny,” says the mom.

“I meant it funny,” says the dad.

“I was a good mom,” Janet says. “My kid is as good as anybody’s kid.”

“Hey, share it with us,” says the dad.

“Even if he is in jail,” says Janet.

“Bibby, get this,” says the dad. “The cavelady’s kid is in jail.”

“Don’t you
even
make fun of my kid, you little suck-ass,” says Janet.

“The cavelady just called you a suckass,” says the mom.

“A little suckass,” says the dad. “And don’t think I’m going to forget it.”

Soon flying in through the hole where the heads poke in is our wadded-up Client Vignette Evaluation.

Under
Learning Value
he’s written:
Disastrous. We learned that some caveladies had potty mouths. I certainly felt like I was in the actual Neanderthal days. Not!

Under
Overall Impression
he’s written:
The cavelady called me a suckass in front of my child. Thanks so much! A tremendous and offensive waste of time. LOSE THE CAVELADY, SHE IS THE WORST
.

“Know what I’m doing now?” the guy says. “I’m walking my copy down to the main office. Your ass is grass, lady.”

“Oh shit,” Janet says, and sits on the log. “Shit shit shit. I really totally blew it, didn’t I?”

My God, did she ever. She really totally blew it.

“What are you going to do, man?” Janet says. “Are you going to narc me out?”

I give her a look, like: Will you just please shut up?

The rest of the day we sit on our respective logs.

When the quality of light changes I go to my Separate Area and take out a Daily Partner Performance Evaluation Form.

A note comes sliding under my door.

I
have a idea
, it says.
Maybe you could say that ashole made it all up? Like he came in and tryed to get fresh with me and when I wouldnt let him he made it up? That could work. I think it could work. Please please don’t narc me out, if I get fired I’m dead, you know all the shit that’s going on with me, plus you have to admit I was doing pretty good before this
.

She was doing pretty good before this.

I think of Nelson. His wispy hair and crooked nose. When I thank him for bravely taking all his medications he always rests his head on my shoulder and says, No problem. Only he can’t say his r’s. So it’s like: No pwoblem. And then he pats my belly, as if I’m the one who bravely took all my medications.

Do I note any attitudinal difficulties?

I write:
Yes
.

How do I rate my Partner overall?

I write:
Poor
.

Are there any Situations which require Mediation?

I write:
Today Janet unfortunately interacted negatively with a Guest. Today Janet swore at a Guest in the cave. Today Janet unfortunately called a Guest a “suckass,” in English, in the cave
.

I look it over.

It’s all true.

I fax it in.

23.

A few minutes later my fax makes the sound it makes when a fax is coming in.

From Nordstrom:

This should be sufficient!
it says.
Super! More than sufficient. Good for you. Feel no guilt. Are you Janet? Is Janet you? I think not. I think that you are you and she is she. You guys are not the same entity. You are distinct. Is her kid your kid? Is your kid her kid? No, her kid is her kid and your kid is your kid. Have you guilt? About what you have done? Please do not. Please have pride. What I suggest? Think of you and Janet as branches on a tree. While it’s true that a branch sometimes needs to be hacked off and come floating down, so what, that is only one branch, it does not kill the tree, and sometimes one branch must die so that the others may live. And anyway, it only looks like death, because you are falsely looking at this through the lens of an individual limb or branch, when in fact you should be thinking in terms of the lens of what is the maximum good for the overall organism, our tree. When we chop one branch, we all become stronger! And that branch on the ground, looking up, has the pleasure of knowing that he or she made the tree better, which I hope Janet will do. Although knowing her? With her crappy attitude? Probably she will lie on the ground wailing and gnashing her leaves while saying swear words up at us. But who cares! She is gone. She is a goner. And we have you to thank. So thanks! This is the way organizations grow and thrive, via small courageous contributions by cooperative selfless helpers, who are able to do that hardest of things, put aside the purely personal aspect in order to see the big picture. Oh and also, you might want to be out of the cave around ten, as that is when the deed will be done
.

BOOK: Pastoralia
6.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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