#3

Somehow the goddess-pearl marbled grid, forming the better half of his kitchen, seemed off. Slightly yet tragically askew. Todd lowers his face to parallel the countertop, peering at each quarter-inch of grout, moving up and down its measured lanes, slightly right, then up and down, channeling a mathematically precise lawn mower in the heavy sweat of July, until the entirety of the cross-hatched surface is accurately surveyed. With each inch, his impatience grows exponentially, like a line graph depicting an upward-rising slope of feverish irritation. Inch by inch, each X and Y axis increasing in value, until fuming, face to grout, eyes wide white and blue and black, he stops. With forefinger and thumb, he reaches toward the grout, massive forearm, wrist, hand, fingers creating shadow on tile, vindictive Allah eclipsing Earth. He lowers his hand and uses the sharpness of his fingernails to carefully procure one piece of obstinate foreign matter: a mustard seed.

Waving one hand in front of a mechanically-inclined trash receptacle, the lid opens, and the matter is forever cast away, as if by magic, if not by the will of his mighty fist. A mustard seed.

Twenty flights beneath him, Danika Cromwell is waiting patiently next to a wall of flowering Schizophragma, forced into a lobby greeting wall despite its preference for the outdoors.

“It’s meant to soothe our residents,” the receptionist says. Danika stops staring at the plant. “We like to re-appropriate serene cultural elements from East Asian locations. We’re really into the Himalayas right now. Next week, maybe Beijing or something.”

“Were those miniature zen gardens out of stock at Walmart?” Danika asks, crossing her arms over the front desk.

Walmart? We would never support the inhumane treatment of Chinese sweatshop workers,” the receptionist says, disgusted. “Plus, their products are cheap… and incredibly tacky. We don’t appreciate tacky here.”

“Oh, I see. Yeah, the giant outdoor plant really makes the most sense then,” Danika says. “When am I able to go up to the unit?”

“Well, since you are not on Todd’s list of permanent visitors, I need to first confirm your brief stay with him.”

“He is expecting me, I’m sure.”

“I would love to believe you, I really woul–   Oh! Mrs. Bankstetter! Good afternoon! Did you just get your hair done? You look absolutely gorgeous. Oh my God, I would die for that new Chanel, too. You’ll have to–oh, yes. Ok, bye, Mrs. Bankstetter!–   But I can’t allow some megalomaniac shank-shifting serial killer who might waltz in here with some fake friend in unit whatever, to just roam the building on a bloody spree… all because I didn’t check for confirmation. See? Not to suggest that you’re a serial killer, but you know. Regulations.” She begins dialing the number for Todd’s unit.

“Right,” Danika says. “I’ll just be here, then, in the meantime. Prodding my eyes with the branches of this enormous, misappropriated plant.”

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