I called out sick from work. I told my boss at Gingko Wireless that someone robbed me with a fake gun which happened to be our newest model. Fake, but still terrifying.
He said, “You are literally the worst employee. HR really fucking dropped the ball with you.”
No matter, for I was to be all to myself—so I thought. Ramen simmered in the microwave. I booted up a brutalist fantasy on my PS3 which was guaranteed to make my face its ass-paper. My phone buzzed next to me on the couch and I chucked it across the room. The screen broke.
“I wish no one ever had to contact me at all,” I mumbled.
I used my joystick to make my elfish death warrior’s chin protrude and retract a couple of times. Fuck everybody! I thought after I finished customizing the character and got killed by the first skeleton I encountered. Fuck everything! I headed over to Master O’s shop to run an errand.
Master O was once homeless. I never met him pre-homelessness and only saw him have a place to live post-homelessness, so I wasn’t sure if he was new to things.
Now he owned a car repair shop outside the city. I drove up to it with my yellow 2002 Ford Ranger truck and read the sign out front:
MASTER O’S VERY REAL CAR REPAIR
I found him thrusting his hands in the rusted innards of someone’s Hummer, pouring oil in and screwing a multiplicity of knobs. He wore a pink shirt, jeans, and golden chains.
“So, no robes on the job?” I asked.
“Young one,” he responded, “a Master is like water, and flows like it into the necessity of the situation. Do you hear liquid complaining when it is poured into a jar?”
I shook my head.
“Then do not give me grief. You wouldn’t pick on a river for its nature.”
I watched for a while, admiring how much expertise he had hidden or learned in a short time. Just weeks ago, I was feeding him at a local sushi bar and gave him my coat so he wouldn’t freeze on his park bench. He yanked things at I couldn’t name and the dirtiness amazed me.
“Anyway,” I broke the silence, “my transmission is slipping again.”
He threw down the Hummer’s black hood and gestured toward himself.
“What are you waiting for? Bring it here.”
I drove my truck into the garage. He dropped the pan of the transmission and searched for shavings.
“I don’t see any structural problems. May be a karmic thing.”
“What do you suggest?”
“I’m going to top it off with fluid. Then we’re going to talk.”
He shut the hood and I followed him to his office which doubled as an impressive personal library—Pirsig to Crowley, the Bible to The Life Divine. He didn’t have a desk because he liked to avoid chairs. Instead, he sat in a lotus position on his meditation mat, surrounded by business documents and books.
“What is truly bothering you? It’s obviously not your transmission,” he said to me.
“Recently I’ve had nightmares about phones. Serious ones.”
“What is it about them that bother you?” he asked.
“It’s like this: The nightmare begins with me in a desert walking for eons. Eventually, I come upon a lake. The lake shrinks into a small cell phone as I get close enough to drink. I hear a voice saying, Drink it, it’s actually water. I believe the voice and as I put my mouth up to drink, the phone turns to brick. I break all my teeth on it, and roll around in intense pain until I wake up.”
“The desert of the real…” he trailed off, awestruck.
I nodded. “I think so.”
“Here’s what I think,” he explained, “You’re looking for something more concrete in your life, except concreteness is a metaphor—stable but not the rock you broke your teeth on. Why do you think I made this place?” he asked, motioning to his office and garage. “Little is more indivisibly itself than car repair. It’s greasy, tangible, and real!”
I considered this for a moment then got up off the floor.
“Well, thank you for the advice. I will be in touch,” I said and returned home.
A few days later and still not working, I went outside for a stroll. I decided I needed to do something more physical. I walked by the nursery I had passed on the way to the subway for months. Gardening! I went inside and brought a variety of seeds. There, I bumped into Georges, who set up my art gallery many months ago—my transformative debut.
“Gardening, eh? I hope you’re better with that than presenting your art.”
“Hope so!” I said with an ironic chuckle, hoping that was the end of it.
“By the way, has your phone been,” he hiccupped, “working?”
I reached for it in my pocket but remembered that it was home with a cracked screen.
“Well, I don’t know. It’s at home.”
“Take a look for me,” he said, shifty-eyed, “Because mine has…changed.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let me show you,” he offered. He slowly removed it from his pocket and I flinched. It had turned to brick!
“Like in my dream,” I sputtered.
“It’s nothing. I have something to do. We’ll talk later.”
I ran home and heard Georges bellowing from behind me in the store.
“Wait—I have something to tell you!”
Paranoia ate me at home, because my phone was not a brick.
Well, it was a brick, in the sense it did not work, but not a real brick, like the one I had conjured. Was it my fault?
I searched through my missed calls to see how many there were. The lines in the screen made it arduous to see. But there were many. In fact, a lot.
Georges called many times and I had no idea what he could want. My parents showed up a bunch over the last month. And Cleo, fuck—I hoped she’d leave me alone after the break-up but apparently not.
I gave Georges a call to see what was up. While the phone rang, I recalled that his phone was stone but then to my surprise he answered.
“Uh, hello? Oh, it’s you. Listen—”
“Wait, I thought your phone…”
“What about it? Anyway, the gallery from last time said they never want to see your face again, but I think I got somewhere else in the city, you know, for when you’re interested. I still really enjoy your work, you’re like the Warhol of cocks.”
He was referring to my series of “self-portraits,” which set me on course for disaster previously.
“I do other work, you know. But wasn’t your phone broken, Georges?”
He chuckled. “Apparently not, my friend. Just keep me up to date. For now, goodbye!”
The call went better than expected. I stared at the other missed calls in my phone and started calling back everyone. Nervousness shocked my spine when I realized my dad would be at work—because he did that kind of thing—and would realize I wasn’t. I called anyway. I reached his voicemail then dialed Cleo. That also went to voicemail.
“Cleo, hey. I’m sorry.”
I put the phone down and gathered ingredients from the pantry to cook a real meal: chickpeas, broccoli, and curry paste. When I checked it before boiling water for rice, I saw a new text from Master O.
It read, simply: “And what is more material than communication? ”
I grinned, returning to work.
Bio: Rory Fleming is a writer who lives in North Carolina, as well as at mehuggingspacecarrion.wordpress.com. He has been published in The Fiddleback, Gone Lawn, Punchnel’s, and others.