On a Wednesday morning in the loop that is this world without end, Engelbert Humperdinck cuts himself shaving. Above the Adam’s Apple.
I bleed, he says to the mirror as the trickle makes its way to the notch of his neck. Who knew?
The TV voice from the other room is telling a story: A 51-year-old Arnoldville man jumped into the Dorsey River to save two young boys. The man managed to save one of them, Engelbert Humperdinck hears, but couldn’t save the other. The man, who could not swim, also died.
This man embodies what it means to be alive, the TV voice says. What it means to be a man.
Engelbert Humperdinck dabs at the still-trickling blood.
On his drive to work — the former balladeer is now vice president of human resources for a multinational corporation — Engelbert Humperdinck is listening to satellite radio. A song comes on he doesn’t recognize. Then he hears the words. It’s a trip-hop version of “Release Me,” one of his biggest hits. The singer on the radio talk-sings the words, cool and slow: a nonchalant please, a reverbed release, a mumbled me.
Traffic’s at a standstill. Squinting, Engelbert Humperdinck adjusts the sun visor and extends his left arm out the window. He makes a fist and opens it, makes a fist and opens it. The morning sun touches his fingers; he imagines there’s a wind. A wind and windmills. He talk-sings along with the trip-hop voice, talk-sings about life and what wasting it means, what wasting it would be. About releasing and letting go, releasing and letting go.
Engelbert Humperdinck leans out the window to gauge the car line length. A sign — “Dorseyville, Next Right” — tells him how much longer he has to go, and he worries he’ll miss the meeting. He thinks about meetings, thinks about the missing of things. The missing of meaning. Of people. Of watersheds. The watersheds he’s missed and mistaken for mileposts.
The sun fights its way through the visor and momentarily blinds him. He hears someone in another car talk-singing along with “Release Me.” Engelbert Humperdinck shuts his eyes tight, his fingers dangling in the windmill-less sun.
As vice president of human resources, Engelbert Humperdinck must accompany the CEO to the meeting. The CEO is laying off 23 people because of what the economy has done, because of what the world that is this loop has done, to the company’s top and bottom lines.
The meeting is a Zoom meeting.
I am so sorry, the Zooming CEO says to the 23 people.
We are so sorry, too, one of the 23 people says.
And then, silence. The soul-stealing Zoom kind that begets more soul-stealing. And more silence.
The CEO averts her eyes from the quiet. Engelbert Humperdinck’s eyes water.
This world, this stretch of time we’re in — I get it, one of the 23 finally says. But I’m worried about you. Are you okay?
The CEO looks at Engelbert Humperdinck, as if to say, You got this.
Engelbert Humperdinck dabs at his eyes, scans the screen for visual cues, imagines eye contact, tells himself he knows how to swim, or did, once, or at least knew how to float, once, and thinks of a script, the script, the one that reads Yes, the one that reads You Can, the one that reads, in invisible ink, You Are, and, as the water fills in and around his eyes, in and around the loop that is this world without end, he breathes in and breathes out. He extends his arms toward the lifeless, floating pixels, he reaches, and lets himself go.
Pat Foran is not exactly a balladeer and not exactly anything. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tahoma Literary Review, No Contact, LEON Literary Review and elsewhere. Find him at http://neutralspaces.co/your_patforan/ and on Twitter at @pdforan.