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The Great Wall

It was kind of strange, I realize now, that as I hung by my ankles from the cafeteria ceiling all I could think about was cannoli. I had never eaten cannoli, and had only the vaguest idea what it looked like — probably tube-like with a cream of some sort inside of it, or possibly ricotta cheese. Beyond that I knew squat. Nonetheless, I kept thinking of that scene in The Godfather where fat Clemenza takes Paulie, the Don’s driver, out into the cornfields to whack him and afterwards instructs, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

Interesting how the mind works sometimes. When I found the God-awful needlepoint rag shoved through the handle of my front door this morning, I realized that on that night, I never did think much about the electrical tape binding my wrists or about the rubber ball-gag strapped across my mouth. No, I thought about cannoli. Maybe it was a defense mechanism. Who really knows? All night is a long and lonely time to dangle like a bat, and the red leather S&M outfit had chafed. My mind must have needed the holiday.

Stanley’s needlepoint, sad and unframed, brought back all of those old memories. My ankles twitched at the memory of the ropes on them, and although I was in a way pleased to discover that Stanley was doing well, I’d be lying if I were to say that there wasn’t a bit of resentment caught up in it. Stanley had gotten through work so easily back then.

It started on a Tuesday at the office, and I know that for a fact because I had just whipped off a few memos after having completed the filing, which I always do on Tuesday. I looked up when I saw the shiny shoes at the end of my cubicle wall.

“Lawrence,” Jenkins said to me with a stern, lecturing expression, refusing as always to simply call me “Larry” like everybody else does, “did you move the wall again?”

I looked at him levelly. “No.”

“I think you moved it,” he told me, now tapping the padded surface of the gray upright panel. “I think it is approximately two inches further forward. I told you before, if you can't fit your plastic plant into the space at the edge of your desk, then that’s your problem. I shouldn’t have to have my wall moved to accommodate you.”

Jenkins was such a little bitch. He’s one of those people who pronounces the “t” in “often” and says “an” before words beginning with an “h” sound. I had found him intolerable ever since Mr. Davis moved his cubicle next to mine.

“Look, Jenkins, I didn’t move the damn wall. Besides, it’s my wall if it’s anybody’s wall, not yours. I’ve been in this little cube for three years, so I think I’ve earned it.”

He stirred importantly. “This has always been my wall. When I moved from Accounts Receivable, I brought this wall with me.” He smirked, and I found myself wishing as always that he’d fall into spastic convulsions right then and there, peeing himself and biting his tongue. He had an annoying habit of never obliging me in this.

“Oh, come off it,” I told him. “You just switched the walls because you didn’t want to take all of your effing pictures off in the move. Technically, it’s still mine.”

He pointed sharply at me and snapped his eyes so wide open that I flinched to keep them from hitting me in the face if they leapt out of his skull. “Ha! So you admit that the wall is mine! This is truly an historic occasion.”

“Quit arguing semantics. It’s mine and you know it. And by the way, ‘historic’ starts with an ‘h’ sound, so you should say ‘a historic.’ Only lazy, pompous idiots insist on using ‘an’ so that they can sound intellectual.”

He snorted and plodded sulkily to his side of the padded cubicle wall.

He thought I wouldn’t notice him inching the divider forward to where he thought it belonged (squeezing my plant’s potter out of shape in doing so) but of course I did. I spent the rest of the afternoon drumming the wall lightly, maddeningly, in retribution.

The next morning, I arrived at my cubicle to find that Jenkins had hung a planter of his own from the wall, so that the hook holding it up stuck over onto my side. I was livid.

When Jenkins stepped away from his cubicle to refill his coffee cup, I moved the wall back to where I wanted it and then spent the afternoon surfing the web for porno sites. I came across a dandy of a picture and used a photo editing program to put Jenkins’s head on the lithe body of the woman involved. I printed it out, tiled, to poster size, and lovingly taped it together and hung it from my side of the wall. It was a good thing that management didn’t have a clue what work I was supposed to be doing.

Around three o’clock, the Macaroni Man craned over the other wall of my cubicle and asked for my glue, as usual. He was this big, fat mother who spent all day every day gluing macaroni and glitter to sheets of copier paper. Nobody was really sure what his job was and we were all afraid to ask him.

“You got any glue?” he asked me in a tiny voice, through pinched lips that looked like they were trying to kiss me.

I handed him the glue without a word. It was standard protocol, since the Macaroni Man did not know where the stock room was and refused to learn. I used to tell him to get his own, but I eventually just gave up. That was about the time that Jenkins showed up, thin black hair plastered to his gleaming skull as if it was waxed there, and I had bigger fish to fry.

“Oh, gee whiz!” the Macaroni Man screeched. He was pointing at my new wall art, dancing and giggling like a preschooler. “Ooh, ooh! Boobies! Boobies! Billy’s got boobies!”

Jenkins’s waxed head popped over the disputed divider. He looked both angry and confused. “What are you talking about, you retard?”

The Macaroni Man was still hopping up and down gaily, pointing at the poster with one hand, then the other, then repeating the cycle. “Billy’s got big ’uns!” He giggled.

Jenkins stepped around the wall and looked at my new creation. His own skinny face looked gleefully back at him from the depiction while his nether orifices were seemingly being plundered. “Wh...?!?” he spat. “You’ve committed egregious petty crimes off-ten before, but this is one time too off-ten for me. I’m going to bring my grievances to an higher authority!” He looked around indignantly at the growing crowd, all of whom were gawking at my new poster, laughing and pointing.

“It’s my wall,” I told him. “You can put what you want on your side, and I’ll put what I want on mine.”

“This is too rich!” He nearly spit. “I’m going to complain. You’ll see!”

Of course, nobody in management cared. That afternoon, Jenkins pushed his other wall over so that it blocked the entrance to my cubicle, and pushed his desk against it so that I couldn’t move it back. I had to climb out over the top like a mountaineer to go home.

“Look-a my new one,” the Macaroni Man implored playfully the next day, hulking in his massiveness over the wall. He had created a real masterpiece this time, all right. It showed a crude dog of brown-dyed elbow macaroni howling up at a yellow sun. The pasta sun was haloed in silver glitter.

“Very nice,” I told him without looking back.

“Whatcha doin?” he asked in a voice that seemed choked with fat.

“Just decorating my wall,” I replied, snapping the six-inch bore bit into the drill that I had brought in. I flicked the switch lightly to test it. It hummed passionately back at me.

“What are you doing over there, Lawrence?” a disembodied voice asked.

“’S not gonna work,” the Macaroni Man said, thumbing his macaroni dog absently as if to make a final artistic adjustment. “Drills don’t go through metal.”

“Drills?” The nasal voice again.

“It’s not metal all over,” I told the Macaroni Man, looking down at the drill lustfully, so much like a lover with a keyless chuck and a saw-toothed black cup bit on it. I touched the switch again. Vroom!

“What are you doing over there, you moron?” the now-impatient voice asked me. I answered him by gunning the drill and pressing it against the wall. It exploded in a satisfying spray of cloth and stuffing and sawdust, whispering a thin wisp of victorious smoke up to my hungry nostrils. The smell was sweet and beautiful and I closed my eyes in rapture.

At some point in the middle of my drilling operation, Jenkins popped up and then snaked around the wall. He began hitting me with ineffectual, flailing paws and spitting incoherent obscenities. It was an outrage, he said, an utter outrage. I almost stopped when curious heads poked up all over the room like prairie dogs on the open plain, but then Jenkins said something about “an horrendous outrage” and I kept right on going just for spite.

As much as I hated having to look at Jenkins’s face through the new hole in my wall, I knew that he hated looking at mine more. He told me that I was way out of line, and I told him that I had just wanted a hole on my wall and that it was dumb luck that he ended up with one on his side, too. I guess that’s just the way that holes work, I told him with an innocent shrug.

Jenkins spent the next morning poking his genitals through the new hole in the wall. I ignored it for as long as I could, but it became intolerable after a while, the way that he would jiggle his parts around, humming, telling the air intermittently, “I’m so glad to finally be able to put testicles up on my cubicle wall. Gee, I’m glad I have this wall to put them on!”

When he drew a smiley face on his ass and poked it my way, I moved my calendar over to cover the hole. He started farting through the portal then, and the calendar did nothing to stop the disturbing emergence on my side. It just flapped in the foul breeze, oblivious.

So I tipped the wall over on him and sat down on it. He grunted and wheezed for a while, pinned to his desk under my weight, but then he passed out and all was calm.

The next hours were tumultuous ones, what with me sawing the wall into creative shapes such as a large swan, then a smaller deer, and then, when only a shadow of the wall's original size remained, into a cityscape. It stood there proudly, a miniature metropolis under the looming substructure of aluminum crisscrosses that used to back now-absent parts of the wall. It was that way even after Jenkins doused it with that butyric acid, making it smell like vomit. I wondered where he could have possibly gotten butyric acid but got it he had, as evidenced by the overpowering rank odor of food and stomach acids, as well as the empty brown-glass chemical bottle that greeted me when I returned to my desk after lunch.

“Do you want it now, wall boy?” He gloated at me with crazy eyes. His pate seemed to glow, and his teeth gnashed. “I’ll bet you don’t like this wall so much now, now that it smells like your toilet after a bad night drinking! Ha!”

That was when I ran out to the parking lot and set his car on fire.

So all things considered, I guess I got off pretty easy, being hog-tied in a hot leather gimp suit and strung up from the forty-foot ceiling of the building’s cafeteria. I was alive and still had not lost anything too important, or so I thought at the time. Later I learned that Jenkins had taken a wrecking ball and a team of bulldozers to my house. But life goes on.

There I swung like a seductive pendulum, bound at the wrists and chewing on a ball gag. On my chest in black tape was written “I like young boys.” It could have been worse, really. I had my thoughts to keep me company and to help me ignore the pain. I hung there all night and thought about cannoli. By dawn, when the janitor let in the news crews that Jenkins had called, I could almost taste the sweet, flaky crust.

The real insult was that after I had Jenkins framed and arrested as a kiddy pornographer, and slipped the guards in his prison a few hundred bucks to see to it that he got a big, mean, hairy sodomite cellmate with a weakness for white-collar boys, I discovered that my cubicle wall was gone. It was all I really wanted out of the whole sordid affair — a small trophy to immortalize my victory. It had been there after Jenkins’s arraignment, so I knew that he had not taken it. Maybe the foul smell and the stains from the various abuses which it had suffered prompted somebody to dispose of it, and, if they were merciful, to burn it. Still, I was crestfallen.

Then I found the needlepoint at my doorstep, dirty and smell like ripe puke. I was getting ready to throw it away when I noticed a note attached to it, written in a child’s looping script:

    Larry,

    You were a good friend to me then yes you were. You gave me lots of stuff. You will like this gift. Its from me. I made it myself. I remembr the boobies on yor wall. haha! I made this from the cloth on the wall. I took the wall. I like it fine. I dont use macarony anymore but I sew good! enjoy it.

    Stanley from work

 

Copyright © 2001 by Grae Yohe

Grae Yohe is a writer living in Ohio. For information about him and his work, visit his web site at www.graeyohe.com. This story appeared previously on his web site.