Jared leaned back in his chair. The new guys was shuffling a deck of cards and chewing on a stick of gum.
“Hey, Paul,” Jared sat forward.
Paul had been on the job longer than Jared, and was currently examining various details of the ceiling tiles while the cards made their rhythmic sound in the new guys hands.
“What’s up Jared?” He kept his eyes on the tiles above him.
“Tell the new guy about that thing you wrote.” Paul slowly bent his head back down so that his weary face was visible to the card players.
“Why would you want me to tell him about that?”
“What thing you wrote. I didn’t know wrote stuff.” The new guy was Barry. He’d joined us less than a week ago and we were still trying to find ways to mess with him. We had him looking for gear in the wrong building, looking for the Wednesday lunch room on another businesses campus, and convinced him that every fourth Friday was clown pants day and only the new guy had to do anything. He bought that until he tried to find clown pants.
“I don’t,” Paul looked at me with a strange look in his eye. “anymore.”
“You used to write things?” Barry stopped the fluttering sound of the cards long enough to give both of us a long hard stare. “Bullshit.”
“No, it’s true, here.” Paul pulled out a magazine from about ten years back. “Look at page forty-three.” The new guy flipped the pages until he found the page. His eyebrows raised.
“Well, that’s you. No doubt about it. You wrote this article? No kidding. I never knew anyone who wrote for a magazine before.” Paul put the mag away and we returned to playing cards.
I looked at Paul again.
“That’s not the one I meant.” Paul gave me a different look, one that might be translated with a grouping of inappropriate words strung together under his breath.
“Why would you want me to tell him about that?” Paul threw down three cards. I figured that meant he had aces, but I wanted the story out of him so I threw in two just to mess with him.
“You know, I remember reading it, too. Best damn piece of work I ever read.”
“Best damn piece of work ever written.” Paul spoke under his cards.
“What are you two playing at now? You going to try and make me believe that Paul here was a noble peace prize winner or something?”
“Nope, it never got that far.” I put my cards down. If He wasn’t going to tell the story, I damn well was.
“No, no you’re not telling it. You always get the details wrong and you have no idea what really happened.” Paul stopped talking but didn’t look away from his cards.
“Fine.” His cards hit the table. “About eight years ago I was sitting on a park bench, watching people go by. I had been sitting there every day for more than a month trying to get some inspiration for the next thing I wanted to write. I was trying to change from light journal stories to something with some meat in it. I was watching people go by, all day long, like I said, for a month. then it hit me.” He took a deep breath, no doubt remembering the park air on the day. He glanced away, his eyes partially glazed over. “It hit me.” His voice had dropped some. “I went right back to my apartment and sat down to write. Two days later I came out with this piece of work, no more than twenty pages long, that was sure to make me the most famous author to have ever lived.”
“Bullshit,” Barry hadn’t put his cards down, and now he was holding onto them even more firmly. “I don’t believe it.”
“I haven’t even gotten to the hard to believe part. Why are you so eager to throw what I say out? See? Why should I keep talking? He won’t believe me anyways.” Paul picked his cards back up and started sliding them back and forth to see if they’d become something else.
Barry traded in four cards and we played a hand.
“Didn’t you send it in to Time? and to all those literary publications?”
“Yeah, didn’t do me any good though.” We had had this conversation before. We went through it like going through an old tool box. Each word felt familiar and we let them slip off our tongues with the same comfort as we would put an old hammer to use.
“I still remember the last letter you got.”
“Yup, said the same thing as everyone else, but…” I looked up. There was a lot more to this conversation, ‘but’ was not the last word.
“‘But’ what?” I put my cards down. Paul wasn’t even looking at his anymore. His eyes were focused on something else, far away.
“I never told you about a letter I got a month later.” He stood up, went to his desk and pulled something out of a drawer. “Here, read this.”
I opened the letter and started reading.
“Damn, this guys sounds like he wants to turn you into a god.”
“I know. It has too much praise in it. That’s when I stopped trying.” He sat down again and reorganized his cards once more.
“What in the hell are you two talking about.” Barry had been completely forgotten.
“I wrote that essay, that article, whatever you want to call it, about the similarities and differences of human kind. It was inspired, to say the least. I had written the thing in two days and had it out to every publication in the city in a week. I got more rejections than the fat boy trying to go to prom. Each one was the same, too. ‘Your work is above reproach, but at this time we cannot ind a place for your writing.’ One letter went into detail as to why they wouldn’t publish it.” He put his cards down again.
“Well?” Barry was hooked, I was too. This was more than he’d talked about it than he had in a long time. Each time he told the story I learned something else I hadn’t known.
Paul stared into the distance and started talking.
“‘Dear Mr. Johnson, We regret, no I regret to inform you that we cannot publish your work. The entire office has read it and agrees on two things: it is the best work we have ever read, and no one can publish it. You’re attempt to find common ground for all peoples, religions, science and philosophy is as close to perfect as any of us has ever seen. The piece itself has solved a number of arguments within our own office. The problem is, however, that our readers want articles that will either agree with their prejudice, or show them how those they hate are still detestable. More than that, if we do publish your work we might lose a large source of our funding. Those who pay our salaries have very specific ideas about what is right and wrong and would not like to see this in their magazine.’ signed something or other.” Paul stopped talking and stopped looking at a horizon that wasn’t there.
“Well damn.” The new guy spat after a moment.
“I didn’t know you’d memorized the letter.” I leaned back again in my chair and lit a cigarette. Paul did the same.
“Well,” Barry looked at each of us. “Do you still have it?”
“The letter? Sure.”
“No, the article, the work, whatever!” His hands were on his cards, which were now laying face up on the table. He had three aces.
“Nope, burned it.”
Barry leaned back in his chair like someone had hit him with a bag of potatoes.
“Bu, but, wha, what would, why would, why not save it?” He finally managed to get out.
“Read him that letter.” Paul organized his cards and put them down, jacks full queens.
“‘Dear most revered sir, I do not dare to use your name, as you must be sent from heaven. A messenger of God himself sent to earth. I was not able to respond to you adequately at my office, but now I have time and leisure to tell you the truth. I have been waiting for you-‘ Do you want me to continue this drivel?” I looked at Paul. He put out his cigarette.
“No, you get the point. I realized that what I had written could be used to marshal the public in a new crusade. If it could affect one person like that, and an educated one to boot, then what would it do to hundreds? Thousands? No, I had to get rid of it, and kept these letters to remind myself why.”
“Anyway,” I said, “I think I beat you.”
Paul looked at me as shocked as Barry had looked at him.