Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

Table of Contents

“On a scale of one to ten” – entirely too Sweet –

“On a scale of one to ten,” says Becker.


“On a scale of one to ten,” says Becker, “where one is very dissatisfied, and ten, ah, is very, very satisfied,” leaning close to the monitor that fills his narrow carrel, “how,” he says, “would you rate your satisfaction with, with your, ah, the welcome, you received, from the reception team?”

“Reception team. What’s that.”

“Ah, that’s what it says, sir.”

“Yeah, but, what is it? Is it like when a company decides they won’t call their employees employees, so, they’re like, associates, or cast members, or compadres, or whatever? I mean, reception team. The heck is that? The receptionist? Whoever it was gave me the new patient questionnaire?”

“It’s,” says Becker, “whatever it means to you, sir.”

“Well, that’s stupid.”

“Sir,” Becker adjusts the microphone of his headset. “Your experience with Pet Depot was, was yours, it was singular, unique – ”


“ – but if we take enough of those experiences – ”

“I would’ve said it was pretty friggin’ generic. Pardon the French.”

“If we rate enough of those experiences, sir, measure them, consistently, systematically, we help Pet Depot better determine, ah, where they’re doing well, and where they need to improve, in providing service to, ah, pets, and their people.”

“Pets and their people.” A snort. “That yours? Or is that just what it says?”

Becker drops the headset on the keyboard, frees a wrist from the tangled cord with a jerk. Twiddles his mouse, clicking, closing windows one two three on the monitor. All about people are pushing back chairs, getting to their feet, slipping into rainshells and light jackets, zipping up hoodies, backpacks, each before their own kelly green carrel, just barely wide enough for a monitor, a keyboard, a phone. “Good job,” says the kid who steps out from behind the one desk in that narrow office, making his way upstream as they file past toward the door, “not bad,” he says, “nice numbers tonight, good job, Crecy.” His discretely checked shirt of blue and green at odds with the silver dots on his tie. “Hey,” he says, crouching by Becker’s chair, and Becker still sat in it. “Yeah, I know,” says Becker, reaching for his messenger bag.

“No, you did okay, just,” says the kid, a hand on the back of Becker’s chair, “don’t try so hard.”

“Don’t try so hard,” says Becker.

“Yeah,” says the kid. “With everybody, it’s like, you have to do whatever you can to make them understand. Why we’re doing this. Don’t, you know. Try so hard. Just ask the questions, take down the answers, move on to the next.” Lifting his hand away when Becker pushes back his chair, gets to his feet, looking down at the kid. The knot of that tie’s too wide for that skinny neck. “Tell me,” says Becker. “How long have you been managing this shop?”

“The phone room?” Pushing upright, a shrug. “Couple months.”

The dining room is very bright and loud with laughter, folks sat and stood about a long table piled with books, a slither of unopened mail, half-empty glasses and half-laden plates, clink and clack of plastic and stainless steel, “Not till the third episode,” and “Only if you don’t touch!” and “They’re painting it beige!” and “Who had the mushroom bacon?” Becker’s in the unlit parlor, there by a couple of bicycles, a sandwich board that says Piano Lessons, Weekday Appointments, a low couch piled with coats. Arms folded, he watches a minute, maybe two, before somebody looking away from a joke catches sight of him, “Becker!” she says through her chuckles, and more of them, “Becker!” and “Hey, Becker!” and then, all at ragged once, “Happy Birthday!”

“It’s not my birthday,” he says, tugged into the light, the crowd. “It’s not anybody’s birthday,” says someone, and, “Well, not anybody here,” says someone else.

“I was merely reflecting, on Slack,” says a woman from across them all, in the archway that leads to a kitchen, “that I didn’t get to do much of anything for my last birthday, and Erick agreed, and Amy chimed in – ”

“I never chime.”

“ – and anyway, it snowballed.”

“Didn’t you get the email?”

“I’ve been at work,” says Becker.

“So anyway,” says the woman in the kitchen, waving a spatula, “pannenkœken! Savory, or sweet?”

“What?” says Becker.

“Pfannkuchen sind Liebe!”

“Pancakes for everyone!” says the woman with the spatula. “Do you want ’em savory? Or sweet?”

“I want,” says Becker, stepping back into the unlit parlor, “maybe, I’ll just, head upstairs. Keep it, uh, try to keep it, down?”

The futon’s shoved against one wall of that little room, curled along one edge to make room for a cinderblock shelf just long enough for a dozen or so albums, a handful of books, a sleekly slender turntable, a reading lamp, the only light. Something’s softly playing, a smoothly tempered jazzy line, past Hebrew kings and furry things to the birth of humankind. A thickset man in a long grey cardigan steps on the futon, over the messenger bag there by the pillows, gingerly making his way with a green glass bottle over the blanketed stretch to the window there, wide open.

Out on the tarpaper roof Becker’s laid flat on a rumpled quilt. The thickset man steps through the window with exaggerated care. “Arnie,” he says, sitting heavily, ostentatiously offering the bottle, “and if you’re gonna call me Jimmy, I can call you Arnie.”

“I didn’t call you Jimmy,” says Becker.

“I rest my case. Here,” waving the bottle, “cidre doux. Which, apparently, means entirely too sweet. But a nice fizz.” Becker takes the bottle, but sets it off to the side. “Well,” says Jimmy. “You’re a real stick-in-the-mud tonight.” Tenting the skirts of his cardigan over his knees. “You’re going to have to talk about it, sooner or later.” And then, when Becker doesn’t, “You dropped off the planet, Arnie. Quit your job. Got a new phone and didn’t tell anybody which, believe me, I understand the impulse. But the only reason nobody thought you were dead was Elspeth happened to see you out on the town with a particularly fine specimen of silverback sugardaddy and, forgive me, Arnie, but I honestly didn’t think you had it in you.” Tipping a fond look at Becker, who’s looking away, out over a dark backyard that glimmers with light and laughter from the party below. “And just as suddenly,” says Jimmy, “just as abruptly, here you are. Back – back! – back in the low-rent groove!” he croons. Trees and houses silhouetted by streetlights that smolder too brightly for the stars above, so faint, so few. “What happened?” says Jimmy.

Becker sits up, legs folded tailor-fashion, elbows on knees, fingers against clean-shaven cheeks. “I don’t know. I just,” a deep breath taken in, a plosive sigh. Those fingers sweep up through what’s left of his hair. “The last time I saw him, the look on his face,” he shakes his head. “Whatever it was,” says Becker, “it was, unforgivable.”

Jimmy leans close. “You, Becker, did something unforgivable,” he says. “Details, darling. Details make the story.”

“Details,” says Becker. “There’s a lot I just, I,” arms folded, still looking out into the darkness. “I don’t remember.”

“Drugs?” says Jimmy, with delicately skeptical excitement. Becker picks up the bottle of cider. “Yeah,” he says, handing it back unopened. “Sure. Drugs.”

“Well,” says Jimmy, sitting back on his elbows, “as I said. Mysterious depths, Arnie. I never would’ve guessed,” settling himself on his back, squirming his shoulders to smooth out the quilt, cupping his hands to pillow his head, “ah,” but then the one hand leaps to point, “look!” and Becker follows it just as the shooting flash fades away, a thin faint line of light drawn down the sky, low over the trees.

“How about that,” says Jimmy, lowering his hand. “And I’ll even let you have the wish, generous soul that I am.”

Flare from the tip of the tapering blade to the hilt of it wheeling falling fast, light stretched a line drawn down the sky to stop with a sudden crumpled pop, that building there, an angled bulk two storeys tall, or three, wedged into an awkward intersection, a little garden tucked on the roof of it. The poignard’s plunged upright in unkempt grass, and what can be seen of the blade is mottled with dark blood. The wire that wraps the hilt glintingly underlit by the streetlights below. A susurral thrum of traffic, engine-rumble, tire-whir, the sound of music somewhere, a beat too far away to resolve, the sudden rising rush of air through leaves, a disorganized stumbling thump and fall, a low, bewildered groan. Rustle of grass bent, shoved aside, she pushes up on hands and knees, rolls heavily over to sit, that knife stuck there between her shredded soles of red canvas and cracked rubber. Leaning forward, shirtless back ruddy even in this dim light, she lays a hand wrapped in a fingerless glove on the hilt, firmly still against the swaying grass. Cranes back her head, looks up, the starless night sky rusted with city light above.

“Shit,” says Jo Maguire.

Table of Contents

Slack, written by Stewart Butterfield, Eric Costello, Cal Henderson, and Serguei Mourachov, ©2019 Slack Technologies, Inc. Speed Racer, written by the Wachowskis, ©2008 Warner Bros. Pictures. Brite Nitegown,” written by Donald Fagen, copyright holder unknown. "“New York Groove written by Russ Ballard, copyright holder unknown.

  Textile Help