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“Untitled” by Anne Adams

Character: Police station clerk
Action: Tightening a knot
Setting: A meeting for a subversive group
Prop: Decorative songbirds made from vinyl records

***

Untitled

by Anne Adams

His parents probably should have never named him “Hades”—and in fact they didn’t—but that was the name that he’d chosen to go by, at least for Sunday Amateur Anarchy. In strategy sessions at the Hammer Café, he’d say stuff like: “When we react to plutocracy with complacency, we’re just giving them a free pass to keep fucking us!” while he bounced Safire’s baby on his tattered black knee. When the baby fanned its chubby fingers toward someone else’s red mohawk, he’d pass it down a row of waiting hands. As it went along, it tried to grasp a few dangling dreadlocks in its little fists and slobber on their cottony tips. Safire’s baby loved Sundays as much as the grownup Anarchists.

“We are the 99%,” was their most resonant rallying cry, but of course there were others. They were equally keen on freeing Lumumba Ford, collecting books for prisoners, and protesting the foreclosure of Gresham area homes. Only the more hot-headed hobbyists wrote graffiti like “A good cop is A dead cop,” (with anarchy symbols for A’s) or jammed ATM machines with stolen linoleum samples…but they all ended up in the same paddywagons eventually, thrown on top of a tangle of limbs and taken in.

Her mother probably should’ve never named her “Mauve;” it denotes a dingy hue and sounds not-at-all youthful. At her mother’s porcelain doll shop, cheeks were always china-painted pink and lips, she learned, were typically mauve. The ladies who painted them assured her she would grow into the name; she’d like it once she became a grown-up lady. In the meantime, they teased, she could go “Pinky” if she preferred. When they finished painting the faces, they popped them in the oven on trays, gazing upward with empty eye-sockets. The eyes got popped in later, lowered through the back of the head by pliers. (Doll-making was, undeniably, a dying art.)

Secretly, young Mauve shuddered at the implication of ever growing older than thirty. She imagined a layer of dust settling over her like it did over the shop—a sigh, a dropcloth spun by spiders; a grey shroud of supplication. Once she truly grew into her name, she’d know it was officially over.

Mauve had never set her sights on police work of any kind, but you know how it goes: the Employment Department makes you feel like a big fat loser. You apply and apply and apply, and when somebody finally says, “Yes, here’s your desk,” you just surrender and say “Fine.” Then at least you’re out of the cold, even if it’s behind a sheet of yellowing plexiglass inset with lattices of bullet-blocking wire. The bell pings when you’re in back so you know to come up front. The door buzzes so you know when someone dangerous is coming through. Basically, Mauve manned a purgatorial passageway lined with cheap formica, the bank of the River Styx where people were ferried to their doom. She got to answer the phone and fingerprint the criminals.

Criminals have hot hands—literally. Mauve noticed this often when she touched their knuckles, rolling them in a gentle arc one by one. Whether their skin was coarse or smooth, whether the joints were tattooed with hieroglyphs or bloody right to the bone, criminal hands seemed hotter than the fingerprint scanner; the heat practically shooting through in beams. Unless, of course, they were high on heroin; then their fingers were as cold as carrots and their eyes as dead as fish. Scanning a junkie was like scanning your groceries—you just pushed ’em on through without a thought.

Hades wasn’t high, and Mauve sensed this immediately—in fact, as he held still so the officers could cut the zip tie from his wrists, he seemed almost hyper-normal, more so than most people, cops included. To Mauve, he seemed to broadcast decent well-meaningness at a higher frequency, to be (how would one put it?) preternaturally well-adjusted. His hair, however, had been swooshed to one side, and the collar of his t-shirt had become kinda stretched and roughed up. His papers said he had been tased, which might be why his nostrils flared like small sails filled with a taut wind of indignation.

Even in peaceful protest, there are so many actions one can unintend: becoming paralyzed with rage when a cop yells  “move,” unwittingly clenching a fist when an officer takes a fucking tone with you. Hades had under- or over- reacted (depending who you asked) when they tried to haul him off of the foreclosed lawn. Now that he was here, he’d repossessed himself.

“The banks shouldn’t be taking people’s homes,” he made a point to tell Mauve as she pressed each of his fingers into the scanner. Mauve thought firstly: His hands were the right temperature. And secondly: they were the right heft. Third, she was glad she only rented an apartment, and fourth, she hoped this guy would get off with a misdemeanor.

The particulars in Hades’ case were fuzzy, but the charge was noncompliance. “That’s what protesting is,” he said, and though the judge glowered, Hades could tell she conceded his point. The whole proceeding was very boring, not quotable like it is on TV, and Hades was somewhat disappointed to find less of a battle of wits or humanity, than a banal bureaucracy of compromise. The cops had been on the hook for a little too much brutality lately, and the judge wasn’t keen on rewarding them again for being zap-happy. Harold Jacob Meider was sentenced to 70 hours community service at a neighborhood food bank kitchen—which was a score; the perfect excuse to do something good that he’d told himself he should do anyway. Safire also worked there so, screw them, it was actually fucking fine.

This way he also kept loose tabs on Lucille, the old-ish lady who of course had lost her home despite his valiant eleventh-hour gesture. Bummer, but at least got to serve her some days at the kitchen. She never said much, just jerked her head hello. She’d started living out of a four-door sedan on Southeast Pine Street, along Car Campers’ Row (which Maude often heard the cops call “CCR” for short.) Here’s the thing about entropy: it’s shocking at first, but once enough people fall all at once, it quickly becomes very “whatever.”

We all live in our cars now? Cool. Can I borrow a baby wipe?

I have a crook in my neck that will probably be there the rest of my life.

I’m pulling out a tooth; you got some pliers?

I stood in line for lunch at the Gospel Mission; now I’m tired.

Oh, fuck! I was asleep and I missed it.

If you steal any of my shit I’ll kill you.

I’m serious.

Whatever.

The cops at the office didn’t love or hate Mauve, because she wasn’t sexy. This was partially deliberate but easily accomplished; all it took was leaving off the proverbial china paint, for which despite herself she sometimes felt guilty. “Mom would’ve never let a face go into the kiln looking like this,” she sometimes thought in the morning, “…but anyway, this one’s not for sale.” Since none of the cops thought to ask her out, nobody loved her desperately or hated her bitterly. Having been down both roads at other jobs, she already knew it was best this way.

But in the fleeting Portland summer, on a day when she had dolled up, she saw him on the sidewalk and said, “Hey. I booked you one time.”

Hades was inflating a bicycle tire, squinting in the sun, leaning his vehicle up against a signpost while he gave the pump a few good pushes. His forearms flexed, his forehead beaded, she suddenly worried that she’d burst in on something private. This was like watching him masturbate. But when he looked up, his expression was blank and guileless.

“Okay,” he said, rapidly refilling an empty brain. “Was it Kill Switch? The Bella Donnas? Rogue Runner? Bumpin’ Uglies? Two-by-Four? The Lawn Jockeys? Die Rheince Priebus? The Leather Bustiers? Was it Snake Head? Art Fag? Monster Rocket? Idiot Patriot? Marshwiggle? Jesus Boner? Love Hate Rape Mistake? Phyllis Killer and the Fang Gang?”

“Jail,” said Mauve. “Not a band. Jail. Sorry.”

“Oh–wuh,” he balked, “Well, you do what you gotta do.” He rose and sidestepped past her to the far side of his bike. “I don’t believe in a fucking oligarchy, okay? What can I say?”

“I don’t believe in anything,” said Mauve coolly, pretty much meaning it. She laid a hand against her eyes to block the sunlight’s glare so she could see him better.

“I mean, I’m sorry. I remember you. I know, that’s probably, like, just your day job.”

“It is,” she said. “And not all cops are dicks, either. Some are okay.”

Hades scoffed, cinching his backpack straps and impatiently knotting the ties at his waist. “Did you need something?”

“I don’t know, I just remembered you is all. I was…” she struggled, “rooting for you, which I don’t normally do. So. Just saying hi.”

“Awwwww,” he exhaled, lolling his head to one side and gradually snapping it back up as though he’d taken a very hard punch (or even a gunshot) in extremely slow motion. When he centered again, he was for the first time smiling. “What’s your name?” he asked, “‘You’re not gonna believe mine.”

Portland romances tend to be timid, trepidacious intellectual pissing matches over esoteric music memories, Mexican standoffs with matching toy water-pistols, slumber parties with booze and condoms. This one had all the warning signs, but at least from inside it didn’t feel that way. It felt more like a gradual magnetic meeting of foreheads, flurries of talk cut with languid lulls of silence. Hades and Mauve lapsed into mutual hibernation as the weather got colder—mostly at her place.

He was working from home, selling records online to make one-sixth of his house rent for a gaggle of vegan housemates. He’d collected a lot of good shit from freeboxes and estate sales all summer, now he was Ebaying it to Denver, South Dakota, and even Japan, digging the foot-end of his twin futon out from under the clutter one sale at a time. She had a car—a necessary evil—and once a week she’d transport him and his stack of packing-taped pizza boxes through the drizzly winter weather to do the shipping. If a record refused to sell for three months or more, they brought it to craft night at Marisol’s and used her pizza cutter to transform it into a weatherproof black silhouette of a flying barn swallow. These birds went up on Etsy, and a few moved every month. And they basically lived on rice and beans.

Mauve’s expectations were extremely collapsible, and she found she could compact her whole soul and tuck it right into the dip at the base of Hades’ neck while they slept. In the morning, she would drag her chin across his shoulder, rolling her soul back into herself, set it on “standby” as she went to work, where she knew she wouldn’t use it. Rolling over in the cloud of her white duvet, he’d mumble, “Say hi to the motherfuckers for me.” “Haha, okay,” she’d say.

One day she’d asked for a file she didn’t need. She said Officer Dorn needed it, but he didn’t either, nor did she deliver it to him. It was a classsic interception with a trip to the copier, which yielded a copy of Her Man’s mug-shot no bigger than a postage stamp. She cut it out and dropped it in her jacket pocket, and when she got back, she taped it to the bottom of her mouse. There was so much Mauve wasn’t allowed to know at the police station, she actually had a lot of spare time. Before, she would just surf wikipedia, but now she would turn her mouse upside down and hold it in both hands, staring at the black-and-white stamp of Her Man, marvelling that this Gentleman Anarchist, the  Zorro of class warfare, was and would be her own private cuddle-pup.

She had no pictures of herself with him; in fact, she kind of hated photo ops; they seemed like something people did when the moment wasn’t actually fun enough, but they wanted to prove otherwise later to their friends. Mauve knew there was nothing to prove.

In her Wiki-time, she was trying to get better at history, looking up events at random that she mostly only remembered by name: The Spanish Inquisition. Bastille Day. D-Day. The Battle of the Bulge. Who fought whom, for what? It was all so exhausting, but felt worth knowing. She was feeling a secret conflict welling up between her office and herself, because the cops in the back seemed to purposely maintain a very shallow level of understanding.

People would call them, of course. People would come in and complain. Unless the complaints were about property, by someone who had lots of it—she started to sense that they were mostly ignored. “Thank you; we’ll take it from here,” the officer on the end of a transferred call would say, but the red light that signified an active line would usually go dead within seconds. She couldn’t help but suspect them of simply saying “no.” CCR, meanwhile, pretty near her home, was blowing up. A crazy lady accused a drugged-up man (loudly and often) of sexual assault. (Was she imagining it? Was he denying an act he’d forgotten while high? Who could say?) Someone allegedly shat in someone else’s tent. Someone bashed a car-camper’s window with a brick. Someone stole someone else’s “kit.” Now, why would they call that in?

Such unfiled reports had become a running joke that blew through the breezeway as officers clocked off, and that made Maude mad, though she couldn’t say exactly why. She knew these people’s erratic moves posed an intractable hassle to the uniformed guys who were supposed to have to behave. Still, she resented her employers for laughing, for going home to wives and burgers and indoor soccer while Hades’ soup-kitchen customers had to sleep out in the cold. It wasn’t fair. And unfairness, even after all this time, always came as a surprise. You were supposed to get used to it, to tuck any reservations down deep in your Kevlar and assume that people sorta got what they deserved. But she was as incapable of  that as Her Man.

Mauve spun her coat off her swivel chair and hugged it to her shoulders. She felt like an extension of the office’s cold old paint-coated radiator, clanging and creaking—but she knew she’d be warmed up by the time she got home. Quickly, here was the parking lot, the slick streets, the windshield wipers, the stoplight, the green light, her street and the curb and the gate. Quickly she went in, she was before her front door, holding her key, she was through—and here were seven pairs of eyes. A couple heads of dreads. A few shaved spots and bright shocks of mohawk. One über-cute two-year-old. “We need you to do something for us, Hon,” Hades said.

There are so many actions one can unintend, like setting one’s own house on fire. It had been a total accident; Marisol had been melting wax to re-mold it into some toilet-paper-roll pillar candles ’cause they were home-making Christmas this year. But when boiling waxis neglected too long, it wisps up into oily airborne sparks that fly around like fairies. They land on carpet, corroding it into glowing-edged black patches. They leap up onto cupboard doors and feather into whispering flames that gradually possess the cracking, blackening doors ever deeper until they glow volcanic orange. the linoleum floor cracks, warps, and scorches. The flames break your windows and sway across your porch, toppling it into a sideways drift of licorice sticks.

The problem was the problem, compounded by another: They were all on the books from prior arrests that they got on purpose, on principle. And this was where, Hades explained, “we need you, babe.”

“Safire” was Samantha. “Demon” was Dave. “Lichen” was Mike, and “Marisol” was Maria. “Alistair” was actually just Alexandar, and Yarrow was just a baby, the only one not yet on the books. They’d be staying here for the night, then taking a Greyhound to the Olympic Peninsula, where Lichen’s brother had a treehouse compound pot farm. “All we need you to do, Doll,” said Hades, his hand hovering at her waist, “is erase us from the files.”

Mauve had not known til then that she wanted to be married. She hadn’t realized how smug she’d been, blessed by a paycheck and embraced by four walls. She realized she’d gone to work every day through a swinging door emblazoned with a badge and the slogan, “To Serve and Protect,” with the false certainty that it would never be her turn. Mauve felt a weight as though all the sodden sleeping bags on CCR were thrown on her shoulders. The weight felt so deadening, so damp and so cold. Then she remembered the porcelian heads, hands and feet, torsoes and toes. Crumbly grey clay on their way in, but so solidified on the other side. It wasn’t always the worst thing, she reminded herself, to get fired.

On Monday, she made herself prettier, and this was not hard. What it would mean strategically was catching them off-guard and making them assume she was either a nicer or a stupider person. Either misperception served her purpose; they seemed happier to see her everywhere she went, complimenting her condescendingly like a daughter they were seeing off to prom. And they had something for her, first thing: Would she be so kind as to pull up the following persons on the database? (Sure, use my password, Hon, that’s fine.) We need copies on these two desks by three.

You cannot let your finger linger on the “Delete” command; who knows how finely these things are tracked? Opened “Delete” window, 9:50am; clicked “Yes” on 9:55? That would never do! It had to be a flick of the finger with all six windows open, an unhappy accident by the pretty desk girl who didn’t know any better. “Delete All Open Records?” “Enter!” Which was to say, “Yes,” as the faces of her houseguests flicked from the screen, revealing a wallpaper of waving anemones. Oh, dear! Oh, me! Edit, Undo!

This Command Cannot Be Undone

She returned to her task’s assigner flushed and forlorn. “I thought I was pushing Print,” she said over and over, like a calming Buddhist mantra. “I’m so terribly sorry.” They were sorry to have put her in this position, novice that she was, but this grave clerical error would have to be documented, they explained. From 10:10 to 11:45, she filed an Admission of Grievous Clerical Error, resulting in Impediment to as many as six Criminal Prosecutions. Did they think she meant to do it? Surely not, they said. Would the police department press charges? Not likely; first error. Was it grounds for termination? Pending, they said. But at least Severance, they soothed. And Reccommendations. She was, they told her, A Good Kid.

Quickly, here was the parking lot, besot with fresh rain. Hopefully, the trunk was watertight, not leaking on all her clothes. Quickly, here was I-5 North, windshield wipers scolding. And suddenly it was slow forever on the 101, where she switched to directions given by gnomes: Sharp right at the red plastic plate stuck on the end of a mile marker. Park at this particular mossy clump of cedar stumps and walk it in the rest of the way. Don’t worry; we paid the ranger.  Here is how to find the yurt. The trailer. The treehouses. You can’t check your phone out here, but would you even want to? Turn it off, maybe permanently. You will never get the message that says “This is Seargeant Stephens with some follow-up questions, Mauve. Who’s this on your mouse?”

© 2012 Anne Adams

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2 Responses

  1. w00t! this rules Anne, love the idea of all the hippie-spirits being fettered by their boring old real names, plus the heist-movie strategizing preceding Mauve’s Great Deleting – good work! voted

  2. Amazing work masquerading as fast work! Sent a wee chill up my spine!

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