The Sace Between Us

Barnes & Noble
Flophouse Press

Other stories in the set:
Termites | Beyond the Buck | Smack Attack |
Jody's Journal | Zonker's Death | Banana Jackpot

Dwarfo's Tale

The silence in Mr. Hoffman's vestibule did not contain any celestial music or speculation about the magnitude of my success. It sparkled and sizzled with all the vitality of a burning fuse. Neither of them noticed the seagulls flying by the window nor appreciated that we were on the fifty-second floor of the Chrysler Building.

Mark had flinched the last few times Beth had touched him. My creator’s relationships all start with a kiss and end in bankruptcy.

I know what people have on their minds. I'm sensitive that way. The contents of their heads is as plain to me as a good view through a clear pane of glass is to my creator.

I was the glue; I drew men to Beth; I generated the excitement. Mark wasn't the first man to invest in my development, bed Beth, and disappear in a cloud of verbal claims that never lead to litigation. My creator didn't sign anything, because none of her suitor/investors could prove they loved her more than I, the plush-blue-prototype.

Her position was watertight and bombproof: Imperfect love. It was a terrific out.

Mark sensed the presence of toxic sediments in my creator's brain. She'd forgotten what she'd said on the threshold of the clinic: "I will get the abortion so as not to spoil our chances of success."

If I'd had a mouth to speak with I'd have told Mark to beware. The option from Big Time Toys had not blown out the window or been eaten by Pugde: Beth's cat. She'd crammed it into a crack between the oak flooring of her apartment. She hides lots of stuff there.

Mark feared zero a lot more then God. He feared a zero balance so bad that he caused the air around him to vibrate when he started thinking my creator's behavior might result in the loss of his nest egg. That’s what he was thinking when she touched him. The thought and the touch together caused Mark to flinch. He had close to thirty thousand dollars invested in my development.

When Harry opened the door to Mr. H's private chambers, and stepped into the vestibule, my creator smiled at him the way one smiles at somebody they want to smile back. Then she turned to Mark and whispered "Why haven't we made love in ten days?"

Those choice words threw Mark's entire being into alarm.

"Can I trust you?"

Mark wanted to punch something. That question had no answer. He'd done nothing dishonest. It was her. He knew it was her, she had failed to honor the kiss, and she denied it.

Mark needed help. He wasn't vicious enough to slam my creator against a wall and settle for a piece of flesh, or wise enough to find some kind of special leverage. Beth owed the IRS a bundle of loot, and they would like to know her whereabouts as would her last husband who wants the divorce finalized. My creator is the queen of mayhem and personal disasters. Mark couldn't compete. He could not believe anybody would refuse to sign a contract that started a mega-million dollar deal. He'd never thought seriously about persons who shoot themselves in the foot.

Harry hadn't heard a word Beth said to Mark. It sounded to me as though Harry were saying to himself - I can do it. I can do it - over and over again. The magic number - my net worth - made Harry's pupils dilate.

Seven hundred million, seven hundred million, that number kept humming around Harry's brain. He'd said seven hundred million to himself the moment he awoke. He'd said it aloud while shaving, and even taken a moment to tell the cashier at the Lincoln Tunnel (he commuted from Saddle River, a posh New Jersey suburb).

"Would you marry me if I gave the Dwarfo project to a not-for-profit organization?" Beth whispered in Mark's ear.

Mark knew she was dragging him toward zero. He saw Harry slip his manicured fingers around Beth's elbow, and knew those fingers were confirming his eagerness to invest in the Dwarfo Project. It was Harry's interest that inspired Beth to goad Mark. Harry was an option.

The stark white interior and Puritan simplicity of Mr. Hoffman's private office were not to my creator's liking. Beth studied the walls. She looked for a casual landscape, a family portrait, or whimsical object where she could escape "Mark's ugly silence," but she couldn't find any decorations to hide in. She ignored the picture windows; they made her feel fragile, even precarious.

Beth had dreamed of her own death on three consecutive nights (according to her, important dreams always come in groups of three). It was always the same. She swerved the big white car to avoid the little girl and hit the emerald rock.

Harry gave me an affectionate squeeze and petted me passionately (I can't feel a thing) while saying repeatedly that I was as adorable as a star-nosed-mole.

Beth glared at Harry with her black eyes that look as though they were stolen from a Panther that had spent too much time in a cage. Any attention directed in my direction infuriates Beth.

Mr. Hoffman snapped his dentures once quickly. That's how he called the meeting to order. Harry put me down. Mark seated himself beside Hoffman, and my creator shook her head slowly back and forth, warning Mark of a tryst with Harry, accusing him of siding with Hoffman, and scorning her. My creator was sharpening her claws, shredding Mark's money.

Mark remained seated in his chair, but he was squirming as much as a seated man can squirm. His bewilderment could not be contained.

Mark's expression caused a peculiar chain of thoughts in the old business man's head. It brought to mind the story of the Scorpion and the Frog. The way Mark looked was pretty much how he figured the Frog had looked at the Scorpion when he turned to ask why it had stung him. It's the way everyone looked who settled for explanations.

The Scorpion, recalled Hoffman, had explained itself to the Frog by reminding it that Scorpions were Scorpions regardless of promises or extenuating circumstances like riding across flooded grasslands on the backs of Frogs who'd rescued them. The thing Hoffman liked best about the story was the ease with which the Scorpion answered and the sweetness with which it closed. Mark wanted more. He wanted a refund.

Hoffman said aloud in his proud stentorian voice, "Harry will now read the letter from Big Time Toys." The old man didn't know what else to do.

Harry held the note from a senior vice president at Big Time in his trembling hands, but he could barely read, for he was blinded by imaginary gushers of hundred dollar bills spewing from my head. So I'll have to summarize. The note said, I cut the broadest swath through the largest cross section of the female population of any stuffed animal (ever) according to various studies conducted to quantify my charisma.

Before Harry had time to start kissing the air and doing the money dance, Mr. Hoffman snapped his dentures; he chomped down on them as though he intended to bite Harry in half. "We hide nothing from our associates. Harry has not quoted the letter from the people at the toy company in its entirety. It contains some marginalia. The property confused people in the development division despite the remarkable scores. It seems Dwarfo doesn't inspire shopping. Children, especially young girls, wish to cuddle Dwarfo, but they don't want their parents to buy him," concluded Hoffman who sat back in his leather chair to hear from Beth, but Harry interrupted.

He was outraged at his Uncle's lack of faith in me, and how Beth might perceive that. He spoke directly to Beth with the fervor of a recent convert. "That's (meaning my flaw) been discussed. A single computer chip, a smart card, the size of a pinky fingernail, could endow a Dwarfo with the intelligence of a stupid dog. Kids could name their doll. Lights would flash when you called it. We would personalize the property. Kids wouldn't be loving any Dwarfo; they'd be talking to their Dwarfo. Big Time would not have sent an option if the product was worthless."

Mr. Hoffman snapped his dentures once in Harry's direction. He didn't want to hear another laudatory word about me, he wanted to hear from Beth. He'd noticed that nasty gloat my creator had shown Mark while he was recovering from Hoffman's last remark regarding my value.

It had taken the old man a lifetime to realize the difference between the Scorpion in the story and the Scorpions in the office. In the fable, the Scorpion always answers 'because I am a Scorpion' while in his experience the Scorpion blamed the Frog. The old man pounded his teeth together like a gavel, looked at Beth in such away as to leave no doubt that he wasn't interested in dolls, and said, "if I were you, I'd sign that option, because as I say your toy has problems."

Beth was no slouch. It took more than an old man with a lot of money and noisy dentures to rattle her. My creator hadn't even blanched when one of the early investors put a shotgun to her head. She mocked them all. Beth started in with her mumbo-jumbo. "Dwarfo can't be mass produced. Everyone must make their own. It's simple. You find something that recalls love. Anything will do. A piece of stained glass, a candy bar wrapper, or strands of Grandpa's hair and you glue or tie or somehow connect all these love things together. Soon they'll acquire a shape. That's how I put the Blue Dwarfo together. Dwarfo is here to usher in the Wave of Beauty. I don't want to get any bad karma over this. Compromise will destroy Dwarfo's epiphany-producing power."

If I had legs that moved, I would have been jumping up and down and if I'd had control of my arms, they'd have been flapping. My legs, arms, and mouth would have been in motion all at once while I puked on my creator's glove leather boots (Beth had a penchant for fine things). I have no integrity and my creator has less. I'm the Indifferent-Blue-Love-Doll, a cork bobbing in four dimensions.

Hoffman took a slow look around the room. Harry continued drooling at Beth who might be playing footsie with him while Mark waited for Hoffman to tell him a Scorpion wasn't a Scorpion, to say Beth had not bitten the bottom out of his pocket.

The old man knew there was nothing left to say, but nobody else was prepared to leave. Harry wanted a piece of a deal that didn't exist, and Mark wanted a refund on money already spent. So Hoffman asked the questions that had already been answered to create the ending everybody had already agreed to, but had yet to arrive at. Hoffman asked Beth if she had any intention of marketing the toy only to discover my creator doesn't engage in public discussion about her private deals. She prefers pillow talk, naked negotiations.

Beth instinctively threw the question back, a gimmick that worked most of the time. "I want to know if Mark can be trusted?" said Beth to Mr. Hoffman; she expected the old man to lie, to turn on Mark. She believed my future net worth would shelter her from everything including her present bills. She waves me around and talks about my value when the landlord expects to get paid.

"Can you be trusted?" Replied Mr. H without pausing. "Mark has put all of his available capital into this project and you accepted it. Did you inform him; did you say, this is not a commercial property? Answer me."

Beth couldn't answer. She was so angry it looked to me as though she were snarling at Mark. He'd broken her most fundamental rule. Hoffman's comment about Mark's money proved they'd had a discussion she knew nothing about. Beth was livid. There were no longer any doubts. This was not a meeting to discuss the option. It was an inquisition. My creator hates to be questioned. She looked at Hoffman long enough to let him know that she was not frightened. "Have you met with Mark prior to this meeting?"

The old man smiled at Beth the way people who like a good struggle smile when the ante goes up. "Yes, Mark and I met."

Beth wasn't feeling too comfortable. Hoffman had answered her question, but not because she'd demanded an answer, but because he'd decided to. "What did he say?" replied Beth.

"That you refuse to sign the option."

"Did he say anything about love?"

"Did you tell him this property had no value?"

"What did you tell Mark?"

"The story of the Scorpion and the Frog. Do you know it?"

Beth does not tolerate much dissent or too many questions. She doesn't like getting pushed around, and has a magic spell that catapults her out of difficult situations. She stood up and said to Mark in front of all the others, "You would be a horrible father. I'm glad I had the abortion."

Beth purges irritants. I know of her gift because I am a casualty. She shoves round memories into square holes and deletes whatever displeases her. She ignores my thoughts. Her tactics are beyond confrontational. She often hides me in broom closets or hangs me from fire escapes because she finds my eavesdropping intrusive.

My creator marched out of Mr. Hoffman's office with Harry on her heels apologizing profusely for his uncle's rudeness and the lousy coffee. He offered her a ride to LA, a voyage to Big Time Headquarters in his white Cadillac.