“What do you think of that, eh?” I leaned back and rippled my fingers impatiently over the arm of my chair.
“I think that I don’t believe a word of it.” My companion poked at the fire on which his gaze was fixed. I would have scorched his soul with the pain in my eyes if he’d have just turned his head.
“It’s true!” I wailed, “You have to believe me!”
He turned fiercely to me and spat, “Well now, what do we know about the truth?”
I stammered my confusion.
“That’s a poor start indeed, but I’ll forgive it.” He narrowed his eyes and slowly, malignantly, opened them before he bestowed upon me the old saying he’d just invented: “The fire of interrogation will burn up the lies; only truth can remain.”
The desperation that had been propping me up sharply from the inside retreated in the face of weary despair. I hadn’t a chance.
“What do you feed it?” he demanded.
“What? I don’t feed it; it just—”
His face bulged in triumphant outrage. “You monster! Perhaps it’s a bit out of line, but to starve it? If you’re going to lie you could at least do it with some decency!”
I tried to defend myself, but it was like trying to save yourself with a shield when your guts are forming a lost-and-found pile on the ground. He turned his back on me and alerted his extensive network of paranoids what kind of a person I was.
“Is it not strange?”
“I don’t see what’s so strange about it. Maybe it’s just lonely?” she yawned, resuming her book.
“But the very idea of it! Simply the fact that it has taken up residence in my duffel bag is cause for great wonder.”
“I don’t think so. I once lived in my sister’s oven for a month, and I can understand the appeal.”
I had no words.
“Really though,” she continued, growing more engaged, “Dwelling in such a confined space can bring clarity to a life that is filled with too many things. There isn’t room for them in there, and you are forced to confront yourself. It’s an excellent experience to have, for those who can handle it.” She seemed quite contented with her explanation.
“But in my duffel bag, of all places!”
Her face hardened a little at this, and said, “Life isn’t fair. We all have inconveniences that we have to deal with from time to time, and I think you ought to accept it as an opportunity for personal growth, or at least respect and support her decision.”
She turned back to her book and said nothing more. I let out a long sigh and left.
“Hmmm.” He stroked his beard in manner that was meant to be thoughtful. “Hmmmmmmm.”
“Well?” I said, “What do you think?”
He turned his startled eyes to me and coughed. “What?” My words had clearly entered his ears but they were still crawling through the muddled jelly of his brain to his mild attempt at consciousness. “Oh yes,” he exclaimed vaguely when I replied only with a cold stare. “I, uh, I don’t really know what to think. Have you contacted the authorities?”
“Authorities? There can’t possibly be any authority on such a bizarre, unprecedented, and wholly illogical situation as this,” I exclaimed peremptorily. Why was I talking to this imbecile who clearly had nothing useful to contribute? I had to get home and check in on the matter at hand, no matter how it squirmed.
As I shoved the door of his office open, I inadvertently propelled a weaselly, middle-aged man who seemed like a younger version of myself into a group of people standing in the corridor. I sneered contemptuously at the eavesdropper and put distance between the chaos I’d caused and myself with great, uncompromising strides until he tapped me on the shoulder and tried to converse. Being cautious to convey no remorse whatsoever, I declared, “I’m sorry, but I can’t talk right now. I have urgent matters to attend to.”
“Urgent matters, yes,” he muttered with wrinkled nose and brow, “I have urgent matters as well, and I believe we have them in common.” It was unclear if this was the sort of muttering I was meant to hear, but it caught my attention regardless.
“You don’t mean… you have one too?” The words tripped awkwardly out of my mouth, my tongue hardly knowing what to do with itself and getting in the way. My haughty, aloof manner had been wiped away and once again I was just a poor fool looking for answers. I had turned around and was stooping slightly to look more directly into his clouded eyes.
Now that he had me, he felt no need to elaborate on what he’d meant. He scuffled calmly onward and I followed him to my apartment. When he reached the door we stood still for a spell until I realized he was waiting for me to unlock it—I’d half expected him to have the key. We entered and when I showed him the duffel bag, now seemingly inanimate, he squatted carefully beside it and moved his gloved hand toward the zipper.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” I blurted out, “we don’t know what’s in there, after all, do we?”
He let a narrow smile take vague control of his lips and unzipped the bag without hesitation. He gave me a look of mild reprimand and I crawled back inside.