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“Harry Linkletter’s Briefcase Comes Ashore” by Becky Neher

Becky Neher grew up in a small town near Las Vegas. She attended the University of Arizona for three years and then moved to the Deep South where she completed a BA in Philosophy. She is now a graduate student at the University of Georgia. Unbeknownst to her, the southern wilds have co-opted her mind and compel it to churn out tales of irony and misadventure. Besides conjuring up antiheroes with Rich Inner Lives, she enjoys nature and solitude. Sometimes she enjoys her cat. When she grows up she would like to be a rock star.

Harry Linkletter’s Briefcase Comes Ashore

by Becky Neher

Having driven to work in the same car on the same roads every morning at the same time for the 4,456th weekday in a row, the universe had had quite enough. Like a gnat at the brunt of a fly swatter I was dismissed from the living drama with a perfunctory smack.

This was an offense I took personally. For a while I seethed with righteous indignation. But slowly, softly, these feelings dissipated. Time cultivated within me a modest amount of perspective. I no longer blame the universe for any pleasure it took from my demise.

I still wonder, though, how it all began. I ruminate on the details and cosmic connections. What else is there to do, floating in the ether with who knows how long, perhaps an infinite amount of time on one’s hands?

It was sometime in mid-January. A warm, humid southern winter. I step outside with my briefcase into a post-rain mist swirling through beams of sunlight. My nostrils swell with the rich smell of damp peat. I look at the bare trees, limbs overlapping in some complicated geometrical structure, lichen glowing like neon up and down the gray trunks. It is all telling me something, I am sure of it.

I get into the car and pull out of the driveway. The tires make a slushy sound over the blacktop. Mist rolls in the light like an exotic form of matter. As the road curves a sunray reflects in the rearview mirror, and for a moment I can see only a bright yellow spot, radiating insistently.

I put my fingers to the Bluetooth. There it is. Safe and secure.

The road pulls the world backwards.

In my hand I balance a cereal bowl which for now functions as a coffee cup. At some point all of my mugs disappeared. Somewhere someone is responsible.

At stops and turns the coffee sloshes precariously up the sides. I try to drink it quickly but it has the quality of watered-down sediment.

Inside the car it is cool and humid. A doe looks up from the roadside with a keen faraway look. I watch her in the side mirror. She sees me recede, lowers her head, and disappears.

To pass the time I go over last quarter’s data set. Recalling the figures and their serene indifference. The patterns, the outliers, the random numbers, the one- and two-dimensional collations. Through these figures I watch the hay bales and eastern cedars that dot fallow farmland. The scene passes through window frames like panels on a movie reel.

I push out onto Revolutionary Rd. There is something different about this morning, I can sense it. Shifts in the magnetic field. Sinister exchanges between subatomic particles.

The sun twirls through the mist, a million tiny pixelated refractions eddying around my car in a silent hum.

I turn the corner onto Democracy Ave., passing a jogger who does a fine job of augmenting my self-loathing while I sit buried in a light blue Honda Civic, drinking coffee that’s as weak and tepid as an argument from a New York Times liberal.

Suddenly a call comes for the first time in three years to the Bluetooth.

I knew it would happen someday. I had only to wear the Bluetooth faithfully through the dearth of connections. Ideally the event would have occurred when I was downtown, walking among the lunch hour din with ample opportunity to have my professional status observed by the passing glances of others. But well. This would have to do. Anyway, I was grateful.

On the other hand it is this very noise in my ear which causes me to whip the steering wheel and careen majestically over the side ditch through a mass of kudzu and adolescent sweetgums.

It is this very noise that spells the end of Harry Linkletter.

That this is the whole story I find hard to believe. “Harry Linkletter. Died at aprox. 9:04 a.m. on January Nth, 2013, in the state of: Georgia. Cause of death: Bluetooth.”

Call it egotism, call it a conspiratorial neurosis, but surely there is a more satisfactory explanation than this meager electronic happenstance.

I think carefully back on the morning.

There was the jamming of the electric razor. The sound of tiny machinery slowing down and grinding to a halt with a wince, leaving me more anxious than usual. As the razor jams, a person somewhere, or perhaps (more likely) an automated phone calling machine becomes destined to ring me later that morning.

Perhaps this is what caused the tear in the space-time continuum, snuffing out the world that was Linkletter.

Certainly it answers the question as to why they found me in the loamy Georgia clay with grizzle on one side and a superb lack thereof on the other.

A jammed razor, anxiety, death.

Already I can see the connections.

I sit in death’s spaceless expanse and watch the flotsam collect in the gyres. Grotesque developing fetuses of the ocean. Who says it is not a living, thinking, willful thing? Capable of executing vendettas and meting out justice? This time it happens to be my own extermination.

The razor’s gears squeeze shut. The gyres turn; the flotsam condenses. The vendetta is loosed.

This is conceivable.

On the other hand there is the brewing of the coffee, made in haste, terrible. The subsequent 8:00 a.m. bowel movement, or lack thereof, during which, in a nevertheless valiant effort to succeed at this endeavor, I read the entire Business section of The Week. ‘HSBC launders billions for drug cartels, is fined a small sum.’ ‘58 of the world’s countries have a lower GDP than the value of Twitter.’ ‘Hong Kong deploys five-story rubber duck into harbor.’

Somehow I feel I am complicit in this madness.

From afar I see the fumes of industrial capitalism’s excretions, like tiny wisps from the extinguished candles on a toddler’s birthday cake.

I boil the water. The coffee brews. The steam is released. A machine in Nigeria decides to call me about a secret inheritance.

There is something here, I can feel it.

I float languidly in galactic nether regions beyond the firmament. There is something to be said for death. Things do not press in around you, as in life, where there is so much stuff. Some of it orbits earth; junk committed to eternal centripetal motion around the rock from which it was flung. A languid dance that arrests my attention like a mobile above an infant.

Even in death I cannot entirely escape stuff. There’s just too much of it.

I watch shipments being exchanged at ports. Buttons on high alert. Tensions. Error. Soon some stuff will explode and the problem of stuff will be resolved.

So I read The Week in the john under the threat of nuclear holocaust. Meanwhile a telemarketer in Ohio becomes destined to call me in order to discuss the merits of purchasing an Abtronic. This sets in motion the following: one, the terrible coffee is made. Two: its steam disperses to infect the surrounding air. Three: an algorithm places my cell phone number into a queue. Events are irrevocably put into motion. There are toxic emissions. Orbiting junk. Complicity. The coffee cools to room temperature during the interim in which I sit failing at nature’s basic activity. Shortly thereafter I careen over a tract of Piedmont, a mere subject of physics.

This is plausible.

I watch the earth, the violent meeting point of an internal and external destruction, rushing towards the scarcity of species (not, of course, of the cockroaches—the true survivors) and the crisis of humanity. The knowledge, the final appreciation, of their mere specieshood. Weeks must have past now. Months. Millennia. At some moment long since passed, I ceased feeling like Linkletter, southern beau, Software Personnel Analyst Specialist Data Manager (SPASDM) III.

I lost the sense of corporeal attachment.

I suppose death will do this.

Between the galaxies and supernovae I watch humanity (what’s left of it) scavenging and being scavenged. Animals again. The Media (a hardy organism) scrambles across miles of cratered dust bins and sleet storms, sprinting like Olympians, microphones stretched out like pole vaults, shot putting vapidity. I try to imagine what it’s like back on earth, alive and embodied. Instead I achieve a serene indifference.

There is a precipitous demise burgeoning within me. It feels like the onset of a second death. It pulls me into stratums of memory toward a nexus so dense with content that experience has no choice but to be obliterated. Somehow I sense that I have only moments to try to understand the forces that led to my mortal ruin.

Yet, despite a careful consideration of the events, I remain at a loss.

I think hard. Perhaps I had things all wrong. Perhaps the extra anxiety over a jammed electric razor heightened my senses, leaving me more attuned to the road and my surroundings. It is therefore in spite of this heightened awareness that I plunge without witnesses to life’s final destination.

Yes, there are other factors at play here. I must find them.

I pull out onto Democracy Ave. There is the lack of enthusiasm for the coffee. There is a jogger on the road, utterly innocent. A paltry level of caffeine trickles through my veins. It is for this reason that my reaction to the Bluetooth is not more exaggerated and violent than it actually was. I careen over the side ditch but spare the runner, who in another world where Linkletter makes exquisite coffee is blitzed by a mountain of tires and metal.

Okay. But who is to say that it is in fact the way I combed my hair that morning? The shirt I wore? The cereal I ate, that instigated these last events? Who is to say that, for some lengthy and intricate explanation, it was not in fact the unmoved bowels which were in reality the only potential antidote to the force of fate and laws of physics that presented themselves to me that morning, in mortal opposition?

The scenarios are innumerable.

Hair is combed. Shoes are worn. A cereal is chosen. Humanity rushes towards the brink of destruction. There are shifts in the magnetic field. There are low levels of caffeine. Physiological ramifications. I swerve into a ditch and breach the windshield.

This is possible.

But I sense that I have reached the end, the real end, and that no time remains to discern the true course of events.

As I dissolve at last into an adjectiveless negation I see a familiar object in the corner of the Pacific, rectangular and burgundy, with two shards of metal glowing intermittently in the undulating waves. For a moment, while I am suspended over the threshold, I am there on the shoreline, feeling the breeze through my shirt. The ocean is a field of dazzling points shifting in the sunlight. As I fall over the precipice I get a peculiar, human-animal feeling. The feeling I had one balmy summer day, thick in a drug-like haze, watching the lake shimmer silently in the afternoon sun. A natural grandeur, bright and insistent.

I marvel at the power it still holds over a dead: synthetic, man-made thing, a city-dweller, a SPASDM III. For whom unprocessed fare in any form was a poison like no other.

A nostalgia wells up through the ancestral line. A visceral allure, vague and compelling.

I strain to look closer at the object. It is my briefcase, pieces of torn material flapping in the water, bobbing its way to shore.

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