SHORT STORY: Transposition
Preface: Evolution is inevitable, its outcomes deterministic based on myriad social, physical and environmental factors contributing to change. For thousands of years, homo sapiens have ruled the animal kingdom not because of physical size and strength but due to the cognitive abilities granted by a relatively large prefrontal cortex. For thousands of years, males have dominated the social hierarchy of homo sapiens not by cognitive abilities but by the very factor that predominately establishes hierarchy for all animals except for homo sapiens, ironically physical size and strength. This physical advantage males have over females is in large part due to dissimilar levels of a single hormone, testosterone. Is this physical advantage without end? Given the unpredictable nature of evolution is it reasonable to assume change is possible at any given time? What if?
Pure power. Decisive, unapologetic decision-making. A decision taken that asked for no opinions, sought no clarification and summarily dismissed months of hard work. "NO," the boss vocalized the foregone conclusion. Unsurprising as the decision was, the single syllable sunk into the skin, through the skull and into his subconscious mind, providing additional confirmation of Philip's utter impotence, further diminishing his self-worth.
Philip left the meeting room, hunched in defeat. Was the hunching organically reactive or was it an ingrained posture automatically assumed concluding these "meetings"?
Is the hunching conscious? Philip wondered.
No, and far from it Philip. The question itself is rather puerile, honestly. But Philip didn't realize this, trapped in a maelstrom of thoughts, thoughts whipping nauseously from deep introspection to paranoid self-consciousness. The teetering between the emotional counterparts left him raw, hyper-vigilant, so when he found himself holding what he believed to be the smallest, most incapable penis in the known universe he quickly aborted his attempt at emptying his bladder. He imagined his penis, shrinking flat with his abdomen, then inverting quickly into another dimension. A wormhole to his quickly receding penis, then a penis black hole into which his body (standing at the event horizon) was sucked slowly into the swirling nothingness creating by his infinitely tiny sex organ.
No, he realized, this urinary flow won't come now. Distracted, insecure, nervous. Too much mental energy allocated to the process of labeling himself an inefficaciously functioning entity in the universe. NO - dismissive in its flippant brevity. Philip and his non-existent penis agreed to a five minute rendezvous after lunch at the same urinal for a second go at pissing. "Success comes with dogged determination" was probably what our hero wanted to think. However, Philip seems to have suppressed motivational sentiments from leaking into the ether leaving this narrator to speculate. Perhaps Philip would feel lame for attempting to self-affirm? Perhaps Philip knows he utterly sucks and forced optimism only underscores the magnitude of his perceived suckyness? Either way, flush Philip, flush! At least make your bathroom visit appear legitimate to the world, or at least to your bathroom companions waiting for the formal confirmation of your successful completion of task number 1. Whoooshhh! Attaboy, chin up.
Concluding his demoralizing workday, Philip's brain launched into a personal inventory process, emotional force majeure, a process spawned by a physically superior man passing by, disrupting his periphery. Philip's insecurity demanded undivided attention be given to the obviously superlative specimen: crisp jawline, broad shoulders, a comfortably fluid gait exuding an easy confidence. Fingering the sparse stubble of his doughy chin, Philip wondered why he was condemned to walk through life constantly measuring the transition time between his steps, his arm swings. Inane, distracting self-observations, critiques. His ridiculous choices with respect to how far he let his arms swing upward (Christ Philip, are you marching to the store??) or how much distance permitted between footfalls (Really Philip, are you competing with someone?). Philip's inventory continued even as his rational mind confirmed that self-critique is a rabbit hole floored with punji sticks. Why don't I speak up? Why do I doggedly fear the unknown? Why do I always choose to self-deprecate, hat in hand, when I pursue something that I seem to want? Why did I just use 'seem' in that thought. Did confidence ever exist?
Shaking from his stupor like a wet dog, Philip looked around at adjacent cars, wondering if their driver's perceived his head movement choices as too generous. This was the precise moment that Phillip realized he was still holding his penis. There were no cars. The work day was not over yet. He zipped, flushed the toilet a second time and washed his hands in the hottest water possible so that he could relish the steamy odor of clean hands. A reward of sorts. Poor Philip's brain.
On the actual ride home, Philip felt the world closing in. Not in an apocalyptic manner, but in what he perceived to be the banal, very normal whittling-down of possibilities associated with mid-life. Both death and inertia creep into the heart of aging man. Tomorrow, Saturday was a predetermined outcome of oddly blessed comfort. To a minute the day would be reflective of the past fifty Saturdays, the precise moment at which any discrete event would commence and conclude was calculable. A precision so comfortably restrictive, so invariant and known, that Philip basked in momentary reverie beaming fatuous grins to his last-week-self just ahead of cue. Sunk in daydream, Philip only came up for air when his phone tinkled. His partner.
"Hi hun, how are you?"
"Fine dear, look, we're out of milk, get some on your way home."
"Sure, no problem honey."
"Also, just get the rest of groceries for the upcoming week, that way we'll be good to go for Monday."
"But I think we,"
"Just do it, it'll save time, see you at home."
Fear? No, this is my wife! Subservience? No, we are a partnership. This is cooperation. A diligent management of domestic tasks. Philip, the master rationalist.
A text from wife. Running late, you get Sophia.
Beep, beep. Bump, bump. Boom, boom. Elementary school.
"Hi sweetheart, how was school today?"
Who did you eat lunch with today?"
"Ok. Did you have gym class today?"
"Sophia, did you have gym class today?"
"Honey, did you have art class?"
"Well, what special class did you have today?"
"Oh ok, that's nice. Did your class sing songs today?"
"Soph, did you sing any songs in class today?"
Philip decided to end the inquisition fearing a nosebleed may cause him to lose control of the car, veer into oncoming traffic. In a corner of his mind, he wondered whether little Sophia had already come to realize his relative lack of authority in the world. So young, but perhaps she's capable of interpreting the small, unspoken social cues? Have the vast differences in physical size crystallized in her brain causing her to associate legitimacy with greater physicality? Worse even, has Pat pulled her aside and explained, in the most elementary context no doubt, the reality of unspoken social axioms? Does a rich baritone trigger certain synapses in a child's brain, elicit more acquiescence? Has Sophia noticed that her eight-year-old-foot is nearly the same size as daddy's (and what do the implications portend)? No Philip, ease up, you're back on a paranoid train-of-thought.
Grocery store. Irritatingly ironic that the most embarrassing item I'd like to snatch from the shelves, hide in the cart, is smirkingly located beyond reach on the top shelf, Philip thought. One could bitch about shelf design, a less-than-customer-friendly experience or even something as esoteric as the subtle reinforcement of power paradigms through tiny (seemingly trivial but loaded with meaning) product position choices. But, vocalizing such things is to encourage scorn, or worse, to encourage the opposition to exact a modicum of sadism at your expense. With this rationalization, Philip took the logical next step.
"Excuse me, ma'am, would you be kind enough to grab me that box of condoms up there?"
She retrieved it obligingly, happy to help another person in need. Her opportunity to exercise the muscle of heroism we daydream about. No, she's wasn't ripping the face off a terrorist, or saving a child from a pool's watery death, but she was assisting Philip in a task he was unable to perform. Only, her eyes, Philip thought. It wasn't judgment, that would be unnecessary. It was an underscore, a "you're welcome" before the "thanks". Philip felt the weight of the gesture, it's potential implication, but brushed it off as the latest paranoia in a day filled with them.
"No, I'm sorry, the smaller box, green on the left," Philip said.
Her smile, insinuating, it seemed to Philip. It's as though she wanted to pet me, perhaps put me on a shelf during next week's dinner party to show off to her guests..."Look everyone, look at this cute little man I helped get rubbers for in the store today! Isn't he just the most.....oooohhhhhh!, I just want to eat, him, up! Cute little thing."
She traded knowing looks with Sophia, told her what a big girl she was, touched Philip's arm with an endearing goodbye. A goodbye touch that tactilely conveyed her real desire -to condescendingly pat Philip on the head for being such a sweet little charity case.
Philip worked his way through the grocery store, careful to yield right-of-way to the larger specimens, knowing full well they tend not to realize the actual extent of their physical selves, oftentimes bumping or knocking unsuspecting passersby. Bosoms like watermelons. Hips swaying menacingly. The clop-clopping of draft horses' metal shoes. Last weeks' toe crushing incident had Philip on high-alert, vigilance was required for survival.
Distracted by internal dialog, Philip recognizes familiar tones dripping into his consciousness. Tones requiring immediate response, or else. "I'm sorry sweetheart, what did you say dear?"
"Honey we're nearly done here, we'll be home in a jiff and we can get a bite there, ok?"
"No. Snack. Now."
For the first time in his daughter's life, Philip realized this was more than a simple request for inter-meal sustenance; the day's cumulative events made it abundantly clear. She was coming into her self. Precocious yes, but the physical size, the self-assuredness - her awareness was gaining.
"Honey, daddy's in hurry, we need to get home, get dinner going."
Philip diligently went to work constructing his hedge. He saw no nascent tears, knew the hedge was a critical strategy for conflict avoidance in the event the issue was pressed. Would she lash out? Actually become physical in the store?
"No. I want a snack now."
"You know honey, we have some pretzels in the car, let's grab a few of those in a minute OK?"
"Dad, I'll have my snack now."
Have?...the fuck is this??? Of course Philip didn't say this, nor did he actually think it. Rather, he begun to process the thought then realized it's futility, regrouped, trashed the notion of his pretzel hedge and came up with a response that sounded an awful lot like,
"Whatever you want sweetheart, you grab it and we'll head to the checkout."
But Philip wasn't ready to label this exchange capitulation as he was still certain he could wrestle Sophia to the ground (literally physically) if necessary, and subdue her (this year anyhow) if required (though the tactic would come with all sorts of nasty ramifications). Again, Philip's brain did not actually think this thought. We are left to speculate that if he was inclined to further ponder the exchange with his daughter (rather than just dismiss it outright in a bid to protect his wobbling mental state at this point in the day), he most likely would have arrived at the aforementioned line of reasoning. ----Oh Philip, now your insecurities are causing the narrator to bend through odd mental gymnastics to glean character insight otherwise unavailable and hidden inside your paranoid, protective brain.----
Home. Philip has made it home. Sophia, licking the last of her parentally-unapproved snack, most likely didn't hear Philip's stern request that she take her shoes off before going in the house. Pat has a tendency to not remove her shoes and this behavior seems to set the tempo for how Sophia responds to shoe removal requests. Regardless, Philip's content in believing she simply did not hear him, was far too focused on ensuring the drippy ice cream didn't mess up the floor. Good girl Sophia, good girl. As he lays down to bed tonight, Philip will experience a little difficulty falling asleep as he replays this particular exchange over and over in his head wondering if perhaps he intentionally softened, to the point of inaudibility, his voice when requesting the shoe removal.
"Ah shit, what a day!"
Somebody had a bad. That somebody is Pat. Pat had a bad day. Poor Pat.
"What's wrong dear?"
"Everything! Horrible day at the office. Like pulling teeth all day long,. Some days it seems that brute force is the only way to get things accomplished. Leverage, pressing in on people, bootstrapping motivation out of veiled threats. Exhausting, all of it! The less-than-artful executive dance."
"I'm sorry to hear that. My day wasn't the best either."
"You get the milk?"
Philip realized that an overworked mind, a tired body, sometimes lacks the awareness to engage in mutually-beneficial dialogue, one that considers the feelings and circumstances of both interlocutors. Pat is given a pass for her Philip-perceived insensitivity, she's tired.
"Yes, got the milk, the other groceries honey. They're in the car. It's just that we had this meeting and, well, you know how those things go. How your ideas get pushed aside, the people making decisions seem to wear ideological blinders, or rather, simply want to deliver dictates."
"Oh, and the Chamomile? Did you see that on the list?"
"Yep, I got that too. Like Richard, he had this great idea about..."
"Sorry to interrupt, can you make sure you get Sophia's school shirt pressed for tomorrow? She has that assembly and you know she'll be upset if she's the only one not wearing red."
"Will do honey. Like I was saying, Richard, he had this..."
"And dear, not too much starch. She got that rash last time, remember?"
"Yeah, yeah, right, starch."
"You were saying?"
"Never mind." Philip swallowed his complaints, realized Pat was too frazzled and distracted from her day to soothe him with empathy. Maybe he could approach her later with his laments.
The neighborhood watering hole. Don was sitting there, his tiny body like a peel-n-eat shrimp curled pink around the bar's edge. Little hands wrapped around a mug, tip-toes straining for the brass foot-rail. Philip immediately proceeded to deconstruct every single one of Don's less-than-desirable physical attributes, compare them in-kind to each one of his slightly-more-desirable attributes, though he became entirely distracted from this analysis, thinking back to what he intended to tell Pat about Richard. Then Richard's less-than-desirable attributes started flooding Philip's thought process, until a passing memory from the day emerged and Philip couldn't help but reflect on the envious attributes that guy-with-the-really-sharp-jawline had and how confidently he seemed to move, swinging his arms perfectly, his legs taking casual yet smooth strokes across the pavement. This mélange of cascading thoughts muddied Philip's initial critique of Don. Panic! So, in order to arrive at his rendezvous in some semblance of a superior position (rather, the mental manifestation of a socially-superior position), Philip inwardly registered a super-fast critique of Don's limp, droopy eyelids on approach to boost his confidence just before extending his hand, remembering to smile, saying,
"Hey Don, how's it going man?"
"Yeah, not bad Phil, you?"
Philip flagged the bartender, ordered his usual.
"Typical stuff today, no sense in complaining," Philip said as he tested the beer foam's resiliency with a gentle blow. "How's Frankie?"
"Working late, again. Some big roll out, flies to London next week for the whole week. Looks like I'll be alone with the kids, again."
"I see. Could be worse, Frankie could be home all week."
"Eh, you're right." Philip didn't believe this, much preferred the cathartic Don. The Don who kindly took up the task of bitching about his own partnership problems thereby allowing Philip the ability to go numbingly quiet, lament vicariously through Don's articulate bitching. Philip was a lazy griever, a drowning sort of personality.
"Anyway, 'member how I was telling you Charlie wouldn't lay off with the jokes?"
"Oh right, yeah, I remember."
"Just kept pressing the shit, over and over and over again. Nothing directed squarely at me, but the innuendo was pretty damn clear. Now, if I were to retort, you know, get aggressive about it, it would be really easy for Charlie to take a single step back, claim I'm being overly sensitive about the matter and brush the entire episode off as me being paranoid, of course making me look silly, ignorant even, in the process. So the immediate thought about the whole affair boiled down to... just let it go, let it roll off Don."
"Yeah, I hear you. Pick your battles, blah, blah." Philip's highly tuned sense of workplace malfeasance was able to generate, by his rough count, twenty such similar incidents within the last year. Philip was a born commiserator.
"But then, yesterday."
"Yeah man, really took a turn for the worse."
"Ahhh, alright, let's hear it."
"Was sitting there, plugging these inane numbers into some goddamn forecasting spreadsheet after lunch, half awake mind you. Charlie strolls up, towering over me. Asks if I had a few minutes for a quick meeting. What to say? No boss, busy updating a spreadsheet, piss off."
"Probably not a good idea."
"Exactly. Anyhow, I followed. We head over to the big corner office. Shiny nameplate on oversized door, small army of servile assistants pecking away out front, expansive view of downtown, you know the scene. We're in the office, door's shut, curtains lowered."
"Yeah, lowered. Hang in there, it gets better. Charlie's now leaning on the desk, leg propped, this sort of expectant, smug look to where I almost feel as though I wasn't supposed to even be in the office. Does that make sense?"
"I think I understand."
"Right, so Charlie starts right off by bitching about this small mistake I made on a report last week, trivial shit. It was corrected even before the report went to print. A tiny error we had already discussed twice. So I'm a little defensive right at the start, but I hold it in, apologize again for the mistake. Done. Charlie then brushes it off as if it shouldn't have been brought up again anyway and now were both just standing there, me of course, cranking my neck something terrible to keep a professional eye contact. I'm a man! Twenty-some years in the industry! I know how to comport myself. This is nothing new."
"Right, yeah, go on."
"Or I think I do. Charlie takes this deep, contemplative breathe, blows it right in my face like a person who grew up in a goddamn animal crate or something. Fine, a little booze on the breath, the charred stink of recent cigarette. Eye contact, these heavy eyebrows, weighing me, weighing the situation. Odd, you know, it was just weird."
"First time with this sort of stayed eye contact?"
"Yeah, yeah, first time. So I'm like, what the fuck is this? Anyhow, Charlie then gives this strange little series of nods while staring me directly in the eyes, proceeds to walk to my side, does a little circle around me, stops right in front of me after the circle, looks me up, then down, then square in the eyes. Then, grabs me right in the nuts. Squarely in the nuts, fingers start working them independently like a couple of goddamn baoding balls. I actually felt like coughing, but I didn't. I stood stock-still."
"What?" Philip masked his immediate understanding by feigning disbelief, leaning in, lowering his head a touch, wincing through the manufactured fog of misunderstanding. "You're joking right?"
"Nope. Very real my friend. Eye contact the whole, entire time. Asking me, beckoning me, to give some sort of response and I'm just incredulous, don't know what the hell just happened. I'm scared right, like, all of sudden everything is laid on the line. I'm vulnerable six ways to Sunday and Charlie's just standing there as if my whole situation didn't just get really complicated."
"Wha..., well what the hell did you do?"
"Nothing. Not a damn thing. I just kept my eyes on Charlie, was shaking a little, just wanted to maintain presence, make it clear that I was there, in the room, fully aware of what just happened. I didn't say a thing, I didn't push the hand away. I was a brick wall, a silent, observant brick wall with a hand on my nuts."
"Well, what about HR, a formal complaint? Did you speak to coworkers, see if they had a similar experience?"
"What and risk everything? Ridicule. Disbelief. Dismissal? I can't afford that, and what would Frankie say? Oh, by the way hun, lost my job today...ahh, you know, Charlie grabbed me all up on my nuts, I complained to HR... I want none of that."
Walking home from the bar, Philip's brain dithered between comfy inebriation and chilly fear. A prisoner of his vague mind, the reveries took over. Snuggling on the warm couch with little Sophia, a pricking sensation in his hand, he looked down to find a bloody stump, red smeared on the mouth of a ravenous child. Walking naked down a busy, city street with cookie-sheet-sized feet, tripping over and over again. Sand as air, then blood, working into all the tiny crevices in his body tickling every nerve ending and clogging every passage. Philip was coming unstuck.
The Wednesday night dance. Philip noted that the lighting was perfect, the music soft and welcoming. Temperature just right, even the humidity of the air (something that Philip suddenly realized he had never really considered in the past) was perfect, didn't play off the skin clammy, itchy or otherwise. Pleasant. The satin was clean, pillows fluffed like little clouds into which your head would slowly fall forever. Positioned in the very center of this carefully crafted nest lay Philip's Pat, splayed in a tempting yet false vulnerability. Resigned, his tiny hand goes into hers. Her massive, enveloping hand feigns a crushing squeeze, tapers quickly to a cuddle. Philip realizes, for the first time, that this hulking woman's thighs had a girth easily twice that of his body. Twice Philip thought. I never even realized. He always knew she was much taller, one and-a-half but probably closer to two feet if not even a little more. They all were, these Pats.
And as the dance progressed through its ritualistic turns and steps, Philip's mind regressed into the day's earlier inventorial state. Pat's foot, a size 18. Pat's driver seat, my toes nowhere near the pedals. Pat's jacket, an ocean of fabric. These things, these values, he never really considered or put into acknowledged buckets. These Pats, all these Pats and the quantities, somehow missed. Philip's mind fixated on the quantities, their implications as Pat's massive hand gripped the entirety of his waist. Philip, a mere instrument for her enjoyment, his floundering body bouncing unwittingly as his mind finally caught up to reality.
Philip found himself back at the office, realizations from the previous night barely perceptible like tiny spent coals choking under a pile of powdery ash. A new day.
"Boss wants to see you," said Jon. Jon a petulant, servile little toady disseminating messages through the cubicles like a snake winding through the weeds.
"Got it Jon (you prick)."
Still raw from the previous day's meeting (utterly shutdown, publicly no less!, with a single NO!) Philip trudged to the corner office. Inside, facing Pat (oh the irony in a name!), he cranked his neck up but his eyes couldn't sustain it. Philip broke eye contact, looked down to the ground, defeated as time slowed to crawl. Creeping in from his periphery, the massive hand moved toward its inevitable target, a slow-motion world for Philip, underscoring the gravity of the moment. A delicately manicured thumbnail of fiery, buxom red leading the charge with its four basket-like underlings cupped below, ready for the squeeze. In the little vacuum of slowed time, all the little sounds echoed cacophonously. A cough rat-tat-tating from somewhere. Her domineering laughter, overlapping onto itself. A phone ringing, shrill, and recursing ever-shriller. Until, Philip felt the testicular kneading, the abject physicality of subservience.
- all story images are taken from either pixabay.com or google images (licensed for reuse) and are free to use under creative commons
- original story - content belongs to Daniel Shortell
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