Thomas Denis Gibney

FICTION

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POETRY

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SOUND

Soliloquy: Jack Dunn

 

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You’re in a car. You’re in command. Your hand is on the steering wheel. The fields are blowing before you. The hills. The mountains, purple in the distance. The patchwork geometric slabs of properties, sloping, that cropping of trees, gangly beasts wading in mist, dew. Green fields, early morning blue fields, white fields spotted with horses, graying fences where lichen and locusts roost. “Fall Creek Falls”   “Strawberry Plains”   “Great Smoky Mountains”     the names on the green interstate signs flying by and the lesser, browner highway signs at rest stops. All kinds of green. Pea green, blue green, pond green, sod green, cicada green. There are greens for every field you can count. You’re in a car. The signs are whipping past you. This is you, in control. In the driver’s seat. Blowing through the interstate blue.

Quick: you’re in an office. You’re in a shiny skyscraper. You’re way, way up. You can see all the buildings outside your window and the busy streets below you, way far below you. You are paused at the window, taking in this vista. Your breaths are slow and confident. You will go to the brown leather office chair at your desk. You’ll sit in its plush embrace. It is familiar to you. It is comfortable to you. It is yours. This whole room, in fact: these walls and this painted oak desk, that framed picture of your wife, your children—everywhere they happen to be right now—they’re yours. You own this room. You own a vintage signed Mickey Mantel card framed under the glass coffee table where you receive your clients. You own a watercolor portrait of George Harrison with his weeping guitar, rendered by a Buenos Aires street artist: the one that your second daughter bargain-bought for you at what you were told was a steal of a price. You own a Duke University month-by-month calendar—remember your breaths are confident, collected—a gift, to be sure, but one you have come to abide for its 22 x 17 utility. You own this merchandise. You’re seated in your office chair. It reclines in that 30-degree manner of reclining office chairs. This is you. Take a good look. You are calm, collected. Composed…

…And now you’re on the beach, facing the water, watching the horizon ripple back and forth. You have a drink in your hand. The sun is on its way out. It’s the year of inexplicable increases in jellyfish beachings, twelve or fifteen of them in your immediate periphery alone, but you aren’t worried. You’re in control. You are drinking in this sunset with cool, commanding breaths. Everything is just as it should be. The South Carolina breeze picking up, the last hues of daylight stretching out as long as they can for you—just for you, in your straw beach chair, just for you—the cool drink in your hand, the tinkling of the ice in the glass. This is your turf. This is your picture of happiness. It has always felt comfortable to you. Even though the house was in your wife’s family, even though it was your father-in-law who owned the house, they turned the keys over to you in total confidence and said: “Look after’er good.” And you did. You brought the family down here every year, and sometimes the old man and his wife would join you—they always trusted you—your breathing is so composed and collected—and later on your sister-in-law brought her side down as well. You were all in it together. You were all in it but it was you—let’s not forget this—it was you he picked as trustee. You were at the helm. In control. It was your turf. You married well, J.D., little devil. That drink is so cool and so musical when you bring it to your lips. The jellyfish appear to applaud in the slipping light. At ease in your chair, the wind in chorus around you, you are here at the helm and you are so, so...in it, you are—just… and your breaths… just… so……so,  ,

Fuck.

Okay.

Okay, again. Again.

……

………………

 

Fuck.

Fucking fuck.

It’s one-fifty in the morning.

It’s a Sunday.

I am at my window.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck fuck.

 

Okay: again. Here I am. Collected. I can feel it. Composed. It’s a Sunday and I can just feel it: this will be a productive Sunday. There are things to be done. Things requiring attention. Things—and yet, and yet it’s important, Jack, it’s important to find this picture of happi—and I can just feel it. Production is in the air, good sir. So: again. I am at my window. Collected, composed. Production in the air. The sky, for example. Darkened with a kind of smeared white. An almost full moon, projecting this white. Smeared by some scraping convergence of charcoal nimbostrati. The air is pressing and dignified. The trees move with a sort of presaging twitch. A sort of nervous tic, may we say. Like hairs on end. It is the year 2011. I am at my window.

I don’t have many thoughts about happiness. I know it staggers in unasked for, like a rain, drenching. Leaves with just as much propriety. Like it owns the place. Trash your living room, trash your kitchen floor. Rain all in the windows. Buoyant rain—then bam. Gone again. Just a reminder.

The heat’s jacked way up but my forehead on the window feels cool. Months, probably, months before the winter lets up and I can steal away onto the screened-in porch on the other side. So many things. The budget evaluation for the Breznev Brothers Cooler Than Ice campaign. Ovid’s papers on the brownstone baby-stroller set. Craig and his godawful breathing exercises. Craig Gibbard, farmed in by HR to up the morale. I am looking out my window. It’s the look of cold night; night and cold and the scratchy scarecrowishness of trees thumbing the sky to the scratching of a lone dryer’s tumbling clothes at the mega-lit 24hr Laundromat at the corner. I have a view of the woman in the full-wall window who is there in the phosphorescent scream, just folding things. Over and over, it seems. I am up here, third floor—believe it, Jack, you are up, you are so up, brother—I have this view below me, this woman. Her puffy-jacketed figure through the screaming-bright glass is the only figure all up and down the street. (The trees scratch and shake a beat.) No brownstoners out at this hour. No lattes in one hand, no strollers pushed by the other, no smart phones positioned somewhere in between by some phantom octo-mom third hand. What are they doing now? Are they asleep? Are they visualizing their schemas of production—the Craig Gibbard Hierarchy of Productivity?—to the cool, collected rhythms of their breathing? So many things. So many things and but, Jack, and but—there is just such the right feeling to today. Think of all that you can get done today, all the nooks and cogs of your schedule to be cleaned and filled, all the rollover minutes and tiny accumulated fractions of downtime that you can capitalize and consolidate and redistribute into gainful schemas of output. Think about it.

The possibilities are so endless it keeps me up on nights like tonight, watching the trees prickle with such an anthropomorphic delight that it seems they’re refracting their pleasure into my vicinity, as a sort of conversation. What do I say back to them? I say yes, Mr. Eastern cottonwood, Mr. Populus deltoides, I am fifty-six and I am in demand—Senior Creative Director of Media Production—and if I choose the more sheltered accommodations of a peaceful Brooklyn brownstone neighborhood, it’s because I value tranquility in my life. And stability. I have to keep my head on at all times. You don’t know the pressures that come with this job, man. My imported ice, for example. Ovid comes to me this week and says, Jack. Big news brother. We got the Breznev Brothers account. Your bid was so fucking right on, brother. I feel pretty good about myself at that moment. Ovid goes on, They want you to head up the account. I know, you’re already the fucking rock star of Patterson Talk, but Sr. wants you to take on the extra load. Hot damn, I said. Get Martha to pour me a whiskey and let’s hack this over. Sr. wants you in his office at 3. I just saw Jr. out in the hall and he told me to relay directly to you, brother. That’s just enough time for a double whiskey, I said. And we hack it over before heading into Sr.’s office—Jonathan Patterson Sr., founder and principal—and I’m looking at this double whiskey with a few imperfectly cylindrical ice chips in it—chips? shards? blades?—and I think, you know what the brownstone baby-strolling set really wants? They want their ice to be like their water: refined, purified, artesian. Nevermind that Breznev Brothers is a Russian manufacturer, they have a refinery in Switzerland where they get their immaculate Swiss alpine water from a natural spring holed up somewhere in Switzerland’s artesian ass, and I can get the peons down in creative to whip up an idyllic alpine pastoral in like a 12-hour turnaround cause they’re not allowed to go home on weekends anyway (such is the life of a recent design school grad working at an ad agency, we’ve all been there, I tell them, quit your bitching), maybe a pinkish or rose-tinged sunset gracing the side of a mountain, a scene of unspoiled natural beauty, to plaster across the retail packaging for this ice, cause the client’s worried that Americans won’t buy a product that’s made in Russia, and for this reason Switzerland is a far better bet, in fact the name Breznev Brothers won’t even appear anywhere on the packaging, we’ll create a subsidiary that maybe has offices somewhere in Denver or the northern reaches of the Appalachians (Vermont’s a safe bet) cause these stroller moms are wising up to the whole where-your-commodity-comes-from and what-cause-are-you-supporting-with-that-purchase business, and we have to cover our tracks, especially for that subgroup that’s worried about the ecological footprint generated from shipping imported ice across the Atlantic. As long as it comes from Central Europe we’ll be fine, I tell Ovid. It’s amazing what ethical boundaries people will disremember when the right words are used. And I repeat the same thing to Jonathan Sr. Jonathan Sr. looks at me all hands-folded in reverent ad-speak, sitting back in his reclinable office chair at the holy altar of his mahogany desk. Jonathan Sr.: And what do you think about the Whole Foods venture? And me to Jonathan Sr.: Well, sir, it’s a strong foothold to have, especially cause we’ll levy considerable influence on the presentation of the product in a standardized fashion across all Whole Foods stores in the greater New York metropolitan area, meaning we could design some cheap promotional styrofoam display to be paraded near the checkout lines at all the Whole Foodses, say, some pyramidal structure of stacked styrofoam coolers—painted, of course, to make it look sophisticated; painted, in fact, as a giant triptych of the Swiss Alps, pinkened by the sunset, some baby deer lapping at a stream while the mother and a ten-point buck look affectionately on—you have to show this nucleity of the family, mirrored in the ad, because the consumer wants to buy a product that reflects his values, i.e., a product that reifies family values and the healthfulness and nourishment that good parents will in turn confer upon their children by purchasing this product—[Jonathan Sr. methodically nodding his head]—and the choice to depict these values in portraiture with this particularly exquisite scene of parental tenderness exhibited by a family of deer has the double advantage of diffusing any potential opposition the lay shopper may have toward the idea of a nuclear family, since this is after all Whole Foods we’re talking about, and in such a market you run the risk of disaffecting a substantial sector of customers when proffering your product as one that a typical, traditionally nuclear family might purchase, but with deer it’s different, you don’t have to worry about particular customers’ objections to the idea of a husband-wife-child trio marketing your product, as opposed to a woman-woman-child or man-man-child trio, with deer when you look at a scene such as the one I’m describing to you all you see is Family, that’s it, Family with a capital F, you don’t necessarily register that the buck is a male and the doe is a female and that’s the demographic that consumes this particular product, or if you do register it you do it on a level that doesn’t take into account shifting gender paradigms in the twenty-first century—so in the end, you get this incredibly idyllic scene smothering every single shopper who comes through that checkout line, and they can’t help but peek into the several open coolers perched at the top of this proverbial marketing pyramid, like opened treasure chests, revealing artfully-sculpted, perfectly-rounded spheres of imported ice that they can then take home to their Brooklyn brownstones and empty into luxurious martini glasses from which to sip expertly-chilled martinis and watch the quintuplets play with their i-Clouds on the living room floor while they get sophisticatedly trashed in their plush nightchairs.

Jonathan Sr.: Jesus Christ, J.D. That’s why we hired you.

The pleasure’s mine, Sr. I do my best.

Jonathan Sr.: Get your team together and have a report on my desk by tomorrow morning. Tag lines, sketches, 3D models of this pyramid of yours, cardstock renditions of the ice spheres, etc. I wanna knock this baby outta the park.

Not a problem, sir. I’ll set the creatives on it right away. [Starting to get up from my chair, setting down my second double whiskey.]

Jonathan Sr.: Jack.

Sr.?

Jonathan Sr.: I know you’ve been spending…outsized hours in shop since you got here.

It’s how I prefer it, Sr.

Jonathan Sr.: I take it you’re not the burnout kind. We want this whole thing—us—Patterson—we wanna see it work.

I’m a born workhorse. It’s how Jack Dunn operates.

Jonathan Sr.: [with a ventriloquial smile] We like to take care of our capital. And you’re one asset we’d like to see…’specially taken care of.

You got it, sir.

Jonathan Sr.: Do right by this one, J.D., and I can see us getting real comfortable together here.

Without a doubt.

Jonathan Sr.: You’re my rock star, Jack. Don’t forget it.

 

Watching the trees bristle and shake in the white night, I can’t shut an eyelid unless I lose this creative dynamo that keeps stockpiling in me like a cache of nukes. And God knows I wouldn’t want that to happen. I think that counts as happiness, right?

 

 

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