09/25/2021

Pat Foran ~ Engelbert Humperdinck

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.