Farewell to You ©I wanted to kill him. The first time I saw his face, I knew. He was my new “boss” and I hadn’t heard much about him, except that he was British. Now, normally, I’m a bit of an anglophile. I love Shakespeare, adore the accent, and there’s nothing as tasty as a toasted English muffin with melty butter in the morning. I think, somewhere back, I have English blood in my ancestry. I just hope I don’t share that blood with him.
By Mark A. Keeton
Maybe it was the physical repulsion I felt when we met. The heart shape of his lips that made his face look almost innocent, bunny-like. Maybe it was the foul odor of his gingivital gums that obscured all fresh air in the vicinity of his person. Maybe it was the square black glasses framing the beady blue eyes. Most blue eyes are large and expressive, from what I’ve seen. But his were beady, and always in the same frozen stare – that of a weasel eating ravenously, oblivious to anything around him. There was no expression that could make his eyes look any differently.
In the end, it was probably his voice. The high pitch, the whiny-baby-boy lisp. The tone of a two-year old who never gets enough – enough attention, enough love, enough toys, enough food, enough, enough, enough. And the way every sentence ended in a droning, high-pitched whine. Yes, that was the final undoing. That voice.
Having not yet met him, I was open to working with Benjamin. I was willing to give him a chance and be friendly, despite my intuition that he was bad news. It was only later, much later, that I realized this was delusional on my part. I was trying to fool myself into believing I wasn’t a bad human being, that I would never loathe anyone at first sight so much that I would kill - regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, obesity, anorexia, or gingivitis so bad you could hear the teeth creaking when they spoke, I liked people. I never wanted to believe I could be “that person” who felt instant disgust upon meeting someone. I gave change to the stinking homeless, after all, ignoring their stench and realizing there was a frail, hurting being underneath the tattered clothes. I dated women of almost every ethnicity and had some great relationships. I didn’t hate people – I loved them. My name is Rick, and I’ll be your killer this evening.
When he walked into my office for the first time, my repugnance was immediate. He didn’t knock, and ignored the fact that I was on the phone with my girlfriend of the time, Barbara. She was black Irish – not black Irish, but black and Irish. Don’t ask me how that came about – I’ve never asked her, myself. And now I guess I never will.
He just barged right in! My door was shut and he just jiggled the handle and walked right in! The audacity of it appalled me. The nerve!
“..maybe we can do that afterwa…” I paused, looking in disgust at him, waiting for him to speak. He didn’t move.
“Uh, hello,” I said in my drollest “what the hell?” voice.
“Rick?” he asked.
“That’s the name on the door.” He didn’t move - again. I just stared at him. Who was this guy?
“I’m on the phone. Do you mind?”
“No, not at all. Go ahead.”
Like a weed that had found its fertile soil, he didn’t move. He just stood there, glancing around. I waited for him to go out again, waited for him to move. And waited, and waited…. Eternity passed. Nothing. Barbara had been blathering on the whole time.
Interrupting her, “Honey? I gotta…. I gotta go.”
“But why?” she replied, sounding so sad.
“I have a person here.”
“Oh. Call me back. I can’t wait ‘til..”
“Me either. Bye,” I slammed the phone down. It wasn’t directed at her, but it was that sense of being invaded that got me so angry. I was indignant.
“What can I do for you?” I asked caustically.
“I, uh, my name is Benjamin Wallace. I’m starting here Monday.”
“Oh,” I replied, attitude appropriately that of a dog who’d been caught peeing on the potted plant. “How do you do?”
I rose and reached out my hand as he sort of stumbled forward. The odor exuding from his mouth was gag-inducing. And the feel of his clammy, wet palm sickened me. I felt like I was touching an eel. I don’t think I’d felt such revulsion since the day my ears were drained and I saw the green, slimy fluid rolling out. I think I must have made a face or he could sense somehow that I hated him, despite my best acting job. I found him grotesque on an animal level, on a gut level, on a human level.
“It’s so nice to meet you. I’ve heard good things about you,” he said. His words curdled in the air on plumes of gas.
“Same here. What brings you up?” I asked. I wanted to escape from this as soon as possible.
“I just wanted to get a feel of the terrain. You know, meet the boys.” Meet “the boys?”
“Oh. Well who have you met so far?” I had hoped someone else had been nice to him before, to kind of buffer my reaction.
“Oh. Well, would you like me to take you around?” I asked.
“No. That’s alright. You’re to be my main subordinate, so I felt I needed to talk to you first.”
Subordinate. The word hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew this was not going to work.
“Well, do you have any questions? Anything that I can do?”
“Well, you know the design for the mid-rise?” he asked shyly.
“I was thinking. There are so many columns in the entryway. It looks a little like the Coliseum. Maybe it should be toned down a bit.” He had spoken so rapidly, I didn’t quite grasp it for a second. He wanted to change the design? At this late stage?
“But, you see, those columns are weight-bearing. They’re integral to the design.”
“Oh. Well could you, maybe, make four large ones instead of eight little ones? And make them squarer. That might make it look better.”
I paused. I was desperate to tell this guy off, but I had to be nice, didn’t I? “We can discuss that Monday, can’t we?”
“No! I want to see the new plans by then. You can do that, can’t you? Show me some alternative ideas when I come in?”
I looked at the clock. It was 4:12pm on Thursday afternoon. There was no way to do it. It takes days, even weeks to do something like that. Besides, it was a perfect design.
“It takes more than a day to do something like that, Mr. Wallace. It will take….”
“Call me Benji.”
I was astounded someone would want to be called that. But the immaturity of the name, I soon learned, matched the person. “Okay. Benji, it took us many, many months to do these designs. My team and I busted our backs. There’s no way to redesign the entryway in a day.”
“Then do it over the weekend,” he replied, rather curtly.
“But, my team needs to…”
“You’ll do your best, I’m sure.” And, as if a brilliant idea came to him,”If you have to come in Saturday, charge some pizza and I’ll reimburse you and the team. Just a little incentive.”
I almost laughed in his face. This is adults we’re talking about, not children. But I bit my tongue.
“My team wasn’t aware you’d need anything like that done before your start. I can’t make them work the weekend without any notice. And two guys are on vacation.”
Suddenly, he leaned over my desk. Those blue weasel eyes were piercing, “Then do it yourself, if you must.” I was practically blinded by the odor and speechless with shock.
Before I could gather my strength, “Good. I’ll see you first thing Monday. We’ll look over your plans and pick something new. Cheerio.”
He walked out the door. I watched him leave without a word, the smell of his last words hanging in the air. And fourteen calls to the developer and clients, and almost 90 hours later, we were sitting down to discuss the four new designs I’d done. By myself. Over the weekend. While everyone else was out living their life.
From there, the spiral down into the abyss was so gradual, so easy. My job continued as I worked with my teammates, who never seemed to work with me past five. The days grew harder and harder, with more late nights and weekend work. The phone calls were constant. The squeaky, feminine voice would come over the phone. “Oh, Rick? Could you pop by for a minute?” or “Oh, Rick, could you do me a favor? Change so-and-so - I think it’s better that way.” And that’s what counted. I didn’t count anymore – he did. And worst of all, “Oh, Rick? What’s on your plate today?” ON MY PLATE? Like having to redesign this whole building’s infrastructure because you want a column to look squarer isn’t enough?
The building was to be the cornerstone of our agency’s new business pitches and our hopes and dreams of the future rode on it. My beautiful building, the building I’d been working on for years. Our Manhattan offices overlooked the river - you could literally see the site from my window. Our clients had been happy before, I think. They’d loved the designs and as leader of an architectural team that was doing a “superb job,” they heaped praise upon me. The initial plans had gotten us the job over fourteen other firms. Beat that!
But nothing was good enough for “Benji,” as he insisted on being called. And I soon learned (but not soon enough) that Benji was actually the brother-in-law of the developer. He’d not had one minute of experience in any of this business. His brother-in-law was guiding him, influencing him. I found out that before this, he’d been in college for twelve years, finally earning a PhD in Art History. Art History. Need I say more? Yet he was more important than the architect who was doing the actual work. It wasn’t fair. And his changes sucked.
After a while, I started to drink when I got home at night, usually after ten. I wasn’t working out anymore. No time. My suits were getting tight because I could only grab junk food on the way home. Barbara fell off my radar. That was the toughest bit. I missed shagging that hot girl. Conversations had been like pulling taffy, but she was the best I’d ever had. But I’d get home late and call - she wouldn’t be home. She’d moved on. I missed her a lot, but I couldn’t blame her.
I began to disassociate a little. The building’s changes were not mine, therefore it was not my building. Every little detail was picked apart. Benji wanted it this way, it was made this way. Benji was always “right.” The client was always “right.” I was the only one who was ever wrong. I didn’t love my job anymore. I didn’t love anything, especially the building that I had once cherished with all my being. My attempt at immortality was being taken away from me bit by bit and I was helpless.
My mom called me one night and got the machine. “Honey? Are you there? I just wanted to see how you’re doing. I haven’t heard from you in weeks. What’s going on? I’m really worried about you. I love you. Call me back.”
I didn’t bother with a reply. I was too busy plotting. The daydream fantasies of murdering Benji had overtaken my brain one day during a meeting with him. We were going over a design and I was transported to another world mirroring this one. I pushed him down on the ground, knocking his glasses to the floor, clearly exposing the tiny dots of blue that passed for his irises. I stood over him and told him to shut up or I’d kill him. But his little bunny lips wouldn’t stop moving. He kept mewling over and over again, “But, Rick, I’m your boss. You’re my subordinate. You HAVE to listen to me. You HAVE to do what I say! Let me up.”
I jumped on top of him and pinned his arms down with his knees, straddling his chest.
“Shut up!” I screamed. “Shut your mouth or I’ll…” My eyes fell upon the table, locating a pencil. Grabbing it, I screamed, “Shut up or I’ll jab this pencil into your eye, I swear! Shut up!”
“You wouldn’t do that, Riiiicckkkk…. Get off of me right…” With that, I shoved the pencil deeply into his eye socket. The eyeball exploded and ooze gushed forward and blood spurted out, covering me in a spray. I felt his body twitch and writhe, then go limp. I sighed with relief, with such bone-deep satisfaction that I actually did it in real life.
“What was that?” Benji-wenji asked.
“Oh… nothing. Just thinking of something.”
“I really think you should pay attention to me when we’re meeting. Otherwise, I may need you to do this over again this weekend. And we wouldn’t want that.” The threat was obvious.
“No. Weeee wouldn’t.”
The meeting continued. And I found I was smiling to myself at the memory of the fantasy. Days later, it would flash again in my mind at random moments, the feel of his body going limp almost physically real to me. Despite my disgust at the idea of hurting anyone, despite my desire to expunge the thought from my mind, somewhere deep down I liked the idea of it. I liked seeing him cowering and begging as I jabbed his eye, struggling to unpin himself from beneath me. I had the power, now. I was in control. And isn’t that all any of us really want in our lives? Control?
I never thought I would do anything about it. It was just an impotent thought never to be acted upon. Impotent is a good word for my life. In six months, the building was not recognizable. It had gone from an architectural dream to a nightmare of never-ending complications and problems. We had to change the columns back in the entryway, though. That gave me a small hint of satisfaction. A whiff of victory in the utter defeat of it all.
I had to go to the Gap and get khakis. My suits didn’t fit anymore. None of them. Barbara saw me at a bar one night very late. She was with another guy. He was a musician type and looked to be about 12 years old in my mind. But he was beautiful, too – young and lithe, with a zest for life. I don’t think she recognized me – I didn’t recognize me anymore. And I couldn’t blame her for dumping the fat thing I’d become, the slob who couldn’t do anything but work and work and work and drink when he got home. Somewhere, it became pointless. It all became, well, just not worth it. Why bother anymore? I didn’t matter, so why care?
I had been working several days on the revised floor plan for the lobby. It had been done over about forty-seven times since my original design. It was picked apart bit by bit, step by step, and floor tile by floor tile by our little Benji. Benji, the angel on everyone’s shoulder. Benji, the light of our client’s eye. Benji was golden. Benji was the best thing to happen to the project. Benji this, Benji that. And the team loved him. They didn’t care about me anymore. They were suddenly working directly with him. Somewhere, I’d been demoted and was no longer leader to the team, though I held that title – it said so on my business cards, I’m pretty sure. But somewhere along the line, Benji became the favorite son and I fell in with the blackest of the sheep.
The latest change to the floor plan was almost done when it happened. He walked into my office without a knock, whistling. I blew the line I was drawing, the pencil breaking with the twist of my reaction to being intruded upon. I was not surprised he was doing it again, though. Early on, I’d even had the nerve to ask that he knock, but he’d ignored my request and continued to barge in on his whim. Normally, I let it go. Normally, I tried to pretend to myself he had knocked. This time, that wasn’t going to happen.
He didn’t look at me, but went to one of my shelves and started rifling though my books. He was whistling something familiar.
“Can I help you find something?” I asked, hoping to be rid of him quickly. The air had already begun to foul.
“Oh, I was just looking for a reference. I’m sure it’s here, I’ve seen it before,” he replied, returning to his whistling tune.
“Do you know the title?”
Abruptly, he turned to me and shouted, “NO, I don’t know the title. Now let me look in peace!”
Shock, then a deep burning anger seethed in me. Let HIM look in peace? Let HIM do whatever he wants? Let HIM turn my office inside out? I don’t think so. And then I realized it. I realized what he was whistling. It was…… It was the theme from “Sanford and Son.” One of the most mind-controlling tunes in history. That repetitive du-du-duh-du, du-du-duh-du-du-du-du….. How many years had I worked as a kid to avoid that song, how hard had I tried never to think of that song again? It used to take over my brain for weeks when I was young. I couldn’t get that stupid frickin’ thing out of my head. I hated it. I hated it so bad. Oh, God, why!? Why did he have to whistle that tune? It was torture.
I sat in silence as he whistled on, allowing it to go to my hate-filled core and engorge the anger within. He was rummaging through the upper shelf of my case and suddenly a bunch of books came crashing down. A cavalcade of volumes flopped to the floor, pages tearing and jackets falling apart upon impact. Unfortunately, they missed him.
“Sorry ‘bout that.” I waited for him to start picking them up. It was his mess. But he didn’t.
“Oh, there it is,” he said, picking up a volume from the shelf right in front of his bunny-loving face.
“Cheerio,” he said as he walked out, stepping over the books he’d dislodged from their proper place as daintily as he could, but still stepping cruelly on one of my favorite ones – “Themes in Architecture.” It was the one I had author credit in. Of course.
The door slammed as if he’d used all his strength to shut it. I slowly and calmly got up and walked around to survey the damage. “Themes in Architecture” was a great, thick volume, now rather smushed with a shoe imprint on the jacket. I didn’t pay attention to the damage. I just knew it was the perfect choice. Over 700 pages in length. I wasn’t consciously choosing to pick it up. It was mechanical, automatic. My mind was not controlling my body. I had no will against it. My body and mind were working in different places, or none of this would have happened.
I could see myself from above, as if I were one of Benji’s fog clouds in the air (without the smell, of course). I watched myself evaluating the book, removing the jacket delicately and putting it on the desk. As I did so, I suddenly started to whistle that damnable tune, myself. “Du-du-duu-du…” I turned, smiling cheerfully, and moved slowly towards the door and opened it again, that tune pouring forth fitfully from the smirk on my face.
I passed the cubicles to the right of the hallway, going towards that corner office. The one that was once promised me. The name on the door inflamed me. “Mr. Benjamin Wallace, Director.” ‘Director of what?’ I asked myself. Director of Destruction. That was perfect. He was the Director of my destruction for sure.
I swung open the door. He looked up, flabbergasted.
“What are you doing? You should knock when you come in here.”
“I should knock?!” I screamed as I angrily slammed the door behind me. I could hear the glass almost breaking with the force of it. “I should knock? What a joke!”
“What’s this about? What do you want, Rick?”
“Oh, I thought you might be interested in this volume. I figured, since you stepped on it, you might like to see it.”
“I… I don’t know what you mean.”
I was moving toward him with the tome in front of me, held by white-knuckled hands that couldn’t possibly be my own. I came around the corner of his desk. He started to cower in fear a bit. I could tell he was getting worried. Nervous. Good.
“Rick, whatever’s the matter, we can talk about it.”
“No, Benji. Talking time is over. It’s time for some action!”
With that, I raised the book above my head and brought it down. His glasses blew apart in two pieces as I heard the bones of his nose crack. He screeched like a chicken who’d felt the axe on his neck but escaped. The look on his face was exquisite. Shock, fear, pain. I loved it. He got down on the floor to his knees and started crawling away.
“How does it feel, “Benji?” I asked as he moaned and tried to keep the blood from gushing out of his nose. Volumes of blood. Beautiful red blood.
“Are you crazy? Get out of here! Get out!” his shivering voice barely audible under the rivulets of blood that poured to the beautiful Persian carpet beneath. Probably worth more than my year’s salary, that. Pity.
“No, I’m not crazy, Benji. It’s time to pay the piper.”
“Get out, Rick. You’re fired, do you hear me? Fired!”
He was in a corner now, leaning against the shelf. I’d followed him over as he huddled into it, as if it could veil him from me. Ha!
“Oh, am I, ‘Benji?’ Am I fired? Awwwwwwwww…” I sarcastically cooed, as if talking to a wittle fwightened baby,
”I’m so sad. Does Benji-Wenji not wike wittle Ricky anymore? Poorrrr Benji-Wenji.”
“You’ve gone mad. Get out! Get out or I’ll…”
“You’ll WHAT?! What will you do, Benji? What? You’ll mewl like a kitten? You’ll breathe on me with that noxious mouth? You’ll ask me for a ‘favor?’ What, Benji? WHAT WILL YOU DO?” I could hear myself. So shrill, so angry. So liberating.
“Everyone can hear you, you know. You’re finished. You’re fired. Fired I tell you. I’m your boss!”
“You’re no one’s boss, Benji. Not mine, not my team’s. You’re no one’s boss.” I stood on his calf, grinding my heel into it. He gagged and clutched at my leg, trying to get me off of him.
“Get off of me! Get off!”
“Awwww, poooor Benji Wenji,” I said as I ground my heel deeper and harder ‘til I heard a bone crack. He yelped. Then he passed out.
As I panted with effort exerted, I almost felt pity for him, lying there with blood drooling down from the tip of his nose to his stomach. He looked so innocent. So…well, bunny-like. I stood up straight, “Themes” still in my hand. I almost backed away. I thought, ‘This is crazy. I can’t kill him. No matter how I feel. I just can’t do it. I can’t hurt someone, I can’t kill someone.’ I turned to walk away.
Suddenly, I heard him move and looked down. His eyes, his beady little eyes, had fluttered open. He was staring at me with the cold hatred of a snake. So sinister, so suddenly repulsive again. He was breathing shallowly, that noxious odor emitting grotesquely into the air.
“You…you….you’re fired,” he almost whispered.
“No, Benji - you’re fired.”
I raised the book above me. He followed it upwards with his eyes, too tired or stupid to defend himself, to put his hands up. I reached the top of my wingspan and brought the book down as hard as any human being could. It hit his head with a thick, gurgling crack. His eyes fluttered, then fixed on me. His body ceased moving. Blood in giant gushes came forth as the side of his forehead flapped open, exposing the meat beneath. But the eyes continued to stare at me – I was the last thing he saw - my face over him, dominant. The winner. And I’m glad.
I don’t remember much after that. My olfactory senses were clogged with his last emissions. The image of his blood-covered face remained in my head. It was all a dream, in a way. It was otherworldly. I could see the way his dead eyes stared at me, the pinpoint pupils in the center of the blue irises. So tiny, rodent-like. And most importantly, the torture was over - he was dead. It was beautiful.
I like this room I’m in now. Not sure where I am. I know my mother passed through earlier and waved through glass. It seems the walls are white. I can’t move my arms – they’ve put me in some garment that keeps me from attacking them, I guess. Not that I would ever attack anyone. I’m not that kind of person. I love people. I’ve dated girls of almost every ethnicity and have had some great relationships. I give change to the stinking homeless, as I recognize there’s a hurt, frail being beneath the clothes. I’m a good person. Really I am.
Hmm…. I wonder if we’re having tapioca tonight. I love tapioca night. They sometimes let my arm loose so I’m able to feed it to myself. I hope that fat attendant isn’t the one serving me tonight, though. His breath smells. Bad. And he’s got the ugliest hair. Like a weasel’s nest. Yeah, a weasel….