Matter of Certain Gravity
||As I followed Arthur Lethe
down his disgustingly posh hallway, which held genuinely expensive,
yet generally useless items that he seemed to be hoarding for himself
exclusively, I felt like a kid who had begged to be let in an adult
game, and who, once there, realized that they hadn't the first clue
what to do, and wished they hadn't gotten in so far over their head
for all the embarrassment that was sure to follow. I couldn't help
gawking continuously at the precious items that seemed to have traveled
many miles, and over many decades or even centuries to be locked away
in the desolate house of Mr. Arthur Lethe. Here and there hung paintings
that I recognized but couldn't name off hand, and super-thick rugs
embellished the polished hard wood floors. He must have had someone
who constantly cleaned and dusted this private museum, but then I
remembered that he only had himself, as far as I knew.
We walked into what looked to be his den or library; the walls were
lined with volumes and volumes of books. He tottered over to an over-stuffed
leather chair and sat down, and motioned for me to sit right across
from him in an equally impressive, yet smaller chair. I was beginning
to feel a bit self-conscious, being naked in a room with a naked man
who I didn't even know, so when he offered me a drink, I gladly accepted.
"You'll have to make it yourself," he said, "I'm
afraid I'm not too steady with delicate procedures anymore."
I walked over to the bar, and tried to find something I recognized,
but all the bottles turned out to be expensive brandies and scotches,
so I just poured a healthy portion of scotch into a glass. As I was
doing this, I could feel him watching me, although it didn't feel
dirty or creepy, but maybe like he was just analyzing me, trying to
figure out what I was all about. Maybe I was just a bit paranoid.
I went back to my chair, although I was hesitant to sit on the thing
completely naked, for obvious reasons, but I sat down anyway, and
took a generous slug from my drink. There I was, staring face to face
with the most infamous citizen of Bramble, the answers to the town’s
enigmatic curse staring right back at me. I knew that if I maneuvered
through the conversation correctly, I could end up with prized information
that anyone in town would be dying to know. I tried to think of some
way to start the conversation, as Mr. Lethe only sat there staring
back at me, not looking in any manner to start the conversation himself.
I took another swig of my drink to drag some more time, and I felt
that the opportunity slipping away, that I was throwing away the chance
to have one of the most interesting conversations in my life. But
I was saved by the one advantage that I had, which was the fact that
I was female; and I suppose being young, and naked didn't hurt either.
See men, especially men of the old school such as Mr. Arthur Lethe,
have this feeling of obligation when it comes to starting and carrying
on a conversation with a "lady". Usually this only leads
to agonizingly long, one-sided dialogues with arrogant jerks, but
this time it proved to save my bare ass.
"I have a good
idea why you have come to talk to me," he started off. "I
know my position in the lore of the town of Bramble. I'm probably
the most widely speculated and lied about, and probably joked about
member of the entire county. And I'm fairly positive that you've come
here to find out why it is that I do what I do. Or rather, why I do
it in this particular manner." I could only nod mutely. I drew
a breath and was about to speak when he continued on. "Amazingly
enough, only a few other people have tried to make their way into
my estate, mostly media jerks and the like. You're the first pilgrim
from town that I've ever encountered."
for letting me in Mr. Lethe." I realized that I sounded like
a first class patronizing jerk. I decided to stop trying to kiss his
butt, and go for the honest approach. "It's just that I, well
we all, have been wondering about why you do what you do, and I was
just hiking up on Herman's Hill over there, and I saw your estate,
and tried to take a chance on it." He looked at me, and nodded,
like some old sage that knew everything about me and why I was here.
I actually started to get pissed off at the way he was beginning to
patronize me, so I attempted to take somewhat of a control over the
situation, and hopefully at least get some genuine words out of him,
instead of some speech that he had been thinking about making for
who knows how many decades. "I mean, you have to admit that it's
a pretty peculiar thing, just to start going around without any clothes,
burning them right in the middle of downtown, and then just locking
yourself up in this place for eternity." I knew that the best
way to stimulate genuine dialogue was to try to piss somebody off.
Unfortunately, his skin had gotten thicker as a result of being exposed
all of those years.
"Well, I suppose that I don't have
much time left on this earth," (I sighed quietly,) "so I
suppose it's about time that I let you in on my story. I realize that
people these days just want to 'cut to the chase,' but since I let
you in, and you are sort of my prisoner, I'm going to make you listen
to the whole story, drawn out, every last word of it."
Of course there was no way that I could leave now, so I resigned myself
to ride it out, and at least I had a good supply of expensive alcohol
to keep me occupied. "I started my company right after the end
of World War II, not more than two months after I had been discharged
from the army, and flown home from France. I never was one to waste
time, and besides the government was making it really easy for us
GI's to start our own businesses and such, to stimulate the economy.
What a lot of people don't realize is that I grew up in Bramble, in
fact my parents had a cabin sitting right where we are today."
He coughed a dry, shallow half-hearted hack, and resumed.
"So I decided that I was going to come back to Bramble, and start
my own company, and make something of myself, and give my parents
all the things that they never had. Which I promptly did, with the
help of the kindly U.S. Government. Being just a short rail trip away
from the Puget Sound, it was easy enough for me to import raw chemicals,
and transform them into pesticides that I could easily export right
out again." He looked down, and scratched at his ear. "I
built this small town into a fine productive, prosperous community,
and created more than enough jobs for everyone in the surrounding
county. In fact, I even had to truck people in, to fill all of the
positions, and consequently, that created the demand for more housing,
and services. The town prospered all around. Well, obviously that
wasn't enough for the fine people of this town," he started to
become sarcastic. "Because I eventually became the most despised
citizen within fifty miles in any direction. I could see by the way
that people looked and talked when I was around, and besides, I had
been on the receiving end of orders plenty of times. I know how it
was. Well, is. But I was starting to feel like some kind of politician,
or something, subject to criticism on every little thing, criticism
from some slob that only had to show up and push pencils or shovel
chemicals all day, not make decision one.
"Do you think
that maybe people wanted something more?" I ventured.
"Sure they did. I supplied enough opportunities for that. Besides,
we all can't captain the ship, can we? Then you end up with Communism,
and we know that doesn't work." I wasn't educated enough to make
any judgments on the ideologies of Communism, but I got his point.
"Well, I finally resigned myself to the fact that if I was going
to run the show, I would have to be the enemy, not the friend. And
it kept on working. The fact that I was loaded down with government
contracts didn't hurt either. I finally became so successful that
I could've had the Pope perform my wedding ceremony if I wanted him
to. I was that gorged with wealth." He looked me up and down
again, and I began to feel a little bit self-conscious, especially
because I could tell the spots that he was concentrating on most.
I shifted back and forth uncomfortably, and set my empty glass on
the fine table next to me. He snapped out of his trance. "Now
the final straw was when, all of the sudden, the government told me
that I wasn't going to produce chemicals anymore. It seems that they
had decided, on pressure from certain citizens' groups, that the pesticides
that I was making weren't safe enough for the plants and animals that
they weren't supposed to destroy. So they shut me down. Not only that,
but they decided that I wasn't going to do business anymore –
some sort of violation or another. Think of that! ‘Thanks for
your effort, Mr. Lethe, but I'm afraid that we don't need your services
anymore.’ Now it wasn't about money, for as you can see, I have
plenty enough to last me a few lifetimes, and what a lot of people
don't know is that I give huge amounts of it away each year to charities
and such. No, it was all a matter of principle, you see, and I suppose
that I directed my anger at the ungrateful people of this town most
of all, as trying to focus anger on the generalized and impersonal
government is futile, and non-satisfying. I supposed that they cursed
me up and down, for losing all of their jobs for them, which wasn't
really my fault, but the fault of their own kind, and this made me
despise them all of the more. And I suppose they thought that I owed
my wealth to them, although they were all so replaceable and interchangeable.
Besides, I was the one who started the whole show, and kept it running.
So instead of killing them all, I came up with a more longer lasting
and crueler form of punishment. I became a gnawing tick in the back
of everybody's brain, a naked reminder of what and who I was to them.
A malignant manifestation of their own bored and uninspired lives.
I knew that simply because they had nothing better to think and talk
about, that their thoughts would always return to me. And sure enough,
a new batch of kids would come out every year, as well as returning
gawkers to furnish their imaginations with my distasteful, yet infinitely
intriguing presence. It's almost like the morbid fascination that
people have with death. It's utterly scary and disgusting, yet you
all watch it over and over on the news every single night. The same
gloomy garbage; only the bodies change."
I sat there, taking it all in, quite amazed by this speech that he
had just delivered, as I had expected some sort of half-sane explanation
of why he had flipped his head and decided to be naked. Instead, his
rational explanation scared me more than any eccentric ravings could.
"So why didn't you give up on it? I mean, that's a long
time to carry a grudge, and besides most of the people that worked
for you are either dead or gone. And don't you think that you are
being unnecessarily cruel?"
"Cruel?" he asked,
incredulously. "Haven't you seen daytime television? People love
this sort of thing. I finally realized that it wasn't really doing
any harm to anyone; in fact I suppose that I did it mostly for myself.
And besides, I've gotten used to it now."
now you've given away your secret. Aren't you afraid that I'll spoil
it for you? You know, the mystery uncovered?"
this point, I don't really care. And besides, you were the first person
who came to me naked. I've been waiting all this time for someone
to bare themselves to me, as I have done for you all. So you're saying
that you are going to dispel the myth of Arthur Lethe for the town
"I'm not sure. It would kind of take
all of the fun out of this town. Besides, we all have our own little
skeletons that don't need to be disturbed."
he replied, "we all have stains in our underwear, don't we?"
"All of us, except you," I replied.
right. Everyone except me."
"But you're still only
human. And besides, you haven't really changed anything."
"Yes," he countered, "but while some people shovel
manure, others slay kings, and still others start new religions.”
He took a deep, wheezing breath. "And you must understand, if
we totally reveal ourselves, no one can ever accuse us of being something
which we aren't."
"But on the other hand,"
I replied, "we might end up getting burned in places that normally
don't and shouldn't see the light of day."
Isn't it funny how so many things end up being a simultaneous friend
and enemy?" He laughed. "And all this time I thought I was
playing the father, I ended up being the sun."
The remainder of the passing summer was quite anti-climactic after
my revealing conversation with Mr. Arthur Lethe. Except for the day
in early September when Arthur Lethe paid a visit to my house. I was
frying up fat at the "Pick N Pack" at the time, which was
unfortunate, because I would have loved to have been there when my
mother opened the door to find Arthur Lethe standing at the front
porch, in his standard lack of modesty, holding a check in my name
for twenty thousand dollars. It was for my college education, another
donation to the less fortunate. News of this event quickly spread
around the town, but I just shrugged and kept my mouth shut in response
to the endless inquiries from the influx of customers that swarmed
the "Pick N Pack" for the weeks following. Shortly afterwards,
Mr. Arthur Lethe put his house up for sale, and moved away to God-knows-where,
although I like to think that it was some other small town where he
could stir up some more intrigue before he collected his free ride
on the big trip to the after world. Some big time Hollywood-type producer
finally ended up purchasing his house as a vacation home, which helped
bring a little bit of the mystique back into Bramble.
In case you're wondering whether anything happened between Arthur
and I, which would have resulted in him signing over twenty thousand
of his dollars, I'm not saying. I'm not sure whether Arthur would
have wanted it that way or not. All I know is that's the way I want