Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Quality Control by J. Bradley


"Never stop the wedding during the ceremony," Michael said, pointing to the sickle shaped scar beneath his right eye, "The canyon dug by the bride's engagement ring last forever."

I swallowed the words. A week ago, I watched Michael stumble into the courtyard, the Old-Grand Dad on his breath a thumbtack in the dreams Marianne, my ex-fiancé, had. I don't know why I didn't have the courage to back out of the wedding, out of the gravity well of her arms. I thought in the Craigslist ad about preventing mistakes, Michael would have been more subtle, more clever. "You can't do this," Michael yelled, "you can't do this to us. I love you." I told Marianne's feet and Michael’s blood I loved him, too, before pulling him through the muck of his blood alcohol level and thickets of angry stares. It's amazing what a little bit of your past mixed with a loud lie can do to pry you out of the abandoned refrigerator she would become.

Michael explained that each time someone does this, they have to do it differently as not to get caught, so no one sees a pattern. The Blackberry he handed me not only is linked to the ad but also contains a list of what each person did to break up a relationship or stop a wedding and whether it failed or succeeded. "If you fuck up, break the phone and get rid of the pieces," Michael said, "I'll make sure you get another one. You only get one shot with each person and you don't get out of it because you failed. You'll keep answering the ad until you get one of them right." I waited fifteen minutes after he left to leave the building.


At home on the couch, I thumbed through the war plans and their outcomes:

  • "Slit subject's wrist, wrote "I can never love you" on bathroom wall in her blood. Ex-fiancé attends therapy three times a week.
  • Attempted seducing subject at bridal shower. Subject asked if she could share me with fiancé later. Politely explained only into women then walked away."
  • "Hired baby actor. Pretended baby was subject's and claimed subject was the father. Managed to doctor DNA results. Maury's audience howled for subject's balls.
  • "Hit on subject's fiancé. Fiancé broke four ribs, blackened left eye, swallowed two pints of my own blood. Subject broke up with fiancé as police entered the bar."
  • "Cut subject's brake lines. Car ran into tree. Ex-fiancé in coma."

An orchestral version of "Highway to Hell" came out of the phone. The e-mail read "Samantha 301-423-5432." I waited fifteen minutes then called Samantha. Anxiety bled out of her "hello."

"I understand you need a mistake prevented," the standard opening for this line of work.

Yes...I do. I'm getting married in a month," she let the swarm of that sentence settle in her stomach before continuing. "He's a great guy and all but I can't see myself with him for the rest of my life and I don't want to break his heart". I'm not allowed to let thoughts of if he's such a great guy, why are you doing this to him creep in.

"Tell me about your fiancé. What does he do? What is he into? Has he ever cheated on you?" Health inspector, Billy Joel and Pabst Blue Ribbon, twice. "Let me see what I can do. You won't know when it happens or what will happen. Play along and trust me and I'll get you out of this. Understood?" Samantha says ok. I hang up.


I worked the angles out in my head and they're all covered in lungs shriveled by smoke or poison in the kitchen of a sports bar, a gas leak and a manager with a smoking habit, a piano accident without the healing powers of animation and Mel Blanc, a bad batch of PBR combined with the conjuring of one of his former lovers. I checked the phone's done list and they're all there; my irises sky write "what the fuck on the nearest wall.


Samantha's fiancé will wake up the next morning. He'll trip on a rope that lights a candle that teethes a rope that releases a catapult that launches an egg into a bulls-eye that causes dominoes to collapse, spelling out "I DON'T LOVE YOU ANYMORE. SINCERELY, SAMANTHA." He'll marvel at the care she took to tell him, a metaphor for the needless complexity of emotions, before collapsing into tears. He will find her phone number no longer works, her furniture carefully removed like organs. In a week, Samantha will have the Blackberry. She will figure out if she too can stomach being the thumbtack.

J. Bradley is the author of Dodging Traffic (Ampersand Books, 2009) and the author of the flash fiction chapbook The Serial Rapist Sitting Behind You Is A Robot (Safety Third Enterprises, 2010). He is the Interview Editor of PANK Magazine and lives here.

Photo by Adam Lawrence.

Street art by Olek.

Home Video is a Brooklyn-based band releasing a new album through Warp Records on November 16th.

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