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    A Matter of Certain Gravity
A Short Story - Page 3

  • A Matter of Certain Gravity
  • Dalipalooza
  • Internal Uprising
  • Slow Suicide
  • 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."

    "Well, thanks 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."

    "But now you've given away your secret. Aren't you afraid that I'll spoil it for you? You know, the mystery uncovered?"

    "At 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 of Bramble?"

    "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."

    "Yes," he replied, "we all have stains in our underwear, don't we?"

    "All of us, except you," I replied.

    "That's 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."

    "Yes... 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 it.

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