Don Jackson was having a real shitter of a day.
It had rudely begun when his alarm had failed to go off and he had woken up forty-five minutes late. In a rush, he had scrambled out of bed, grabbing whatever clothes he could find in the closet. Then he remembered that the reps from Stokely-Hart were coming to the office today, so he tore off the polo shirt and jeans he’d normally wear and ripped through the closet, looking for anything that was ironed and ready to go. He eventually found a suit jacket that fit him so long as he didn’t try to button it up. He proceeded to the bathroom to comb what little hair he had left. The faint grey wisps curled over his scalp like tumbleweeds. Then he spilled toothpaste down the front of his shirt and was forced to blot it with water, hoping that it dried before he got to the office.
When at last he was dressed and ready to go, he raced down the stairs and out the front door. Stepping out into the cold November morning, his feet slid out from under him, bringing him down hard on his ass. Don pulled himself to his feet slowly, thoughts of murder in his mind. He penguin-shuffled to the Escalade’s door, then got in. He wondered if it was too late to move to Florida. It had been Dayna’s idea to stay in Toronto, her hometown. Now her parents were six feet under and she had the kids thirteen out of fourteen days, so Don wasn’t exactly sure where he won out in the deal. God knows it wasn’t financially; between alimony and the cost of living in Toronto, he was more fucked than he’d ever been before.
As he pulled out of the driveway and headed towards the highway, he spied the voicemail indicator on the console. He knew it couldn’t be good, but he pushed play anyway.
“Hey, Don,” began the message. It was Dayna. Don wondered if her voice had always sounded so harpyish, or if turning forty was the reason. “I was just wondering if you might be able to front me next month’s cheque? Shawn has a class trip to Ottawa that’s gotta be paid for by Friday, and we need to put a deposit down on Allison’s braces. I know it’s a pain in the ass, but I could really use your help he–”
“FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU!” screamed Don, slamming his fat finger to the END CALL button. He was now in the merge lane for the highway, the great belt of the 401 pulled tight around the city’s waist. He pushed the Escalade to one-hundred-and-forty, beyond what even the most aggressive drivers would try. Cops loved to earn their taxpayer-funded salaries by fucking over the common man, but Don was willing to risk it. He had places to be, and the debacle this morning had him way behind schedule.
Ahead of him, a driver signalled to enter his lane. Don put the pedal to the floor. He wasn’t about to let a fucking Sentra into the lane ahead of him. Experience told him they never went more than one-ten, even on a sunny, clear day. He had caught up and was almost parallel with the Sentra when the driver switched lanes anyway, cutting him off, forcing him to slam on the brakes and the horn.
Rage bloomed biliously inside Don, and he raised his finger defiantly in the most universal human expression, pointing it directly at the car ahead of him.
Without warning, the Sentra exploded in a great fiery plume, launching the vehicle into the sky.
Yelling, Don swerved at the last second, feeling the force of the explosion through the window. The road itself vibrated underneath him. Another car struck him, spinning him into the median. He watched impotently as cars piled up behind the burning sedan, sending shards of metal and plastic across the width of the highway. Don rolled down the window and raised his arm to shield himself from the heat. The air was filled with the sound of klaxons and the slow licking snap of the flames. He could see powdered snow melting in rivulets which streamed away from the Sentra’s corpse. Leaning out the window, he saw that the damage to his own car was superficial; he’d only really been redirected, not totalled. He was just about to bulldoze his way through the wrecks and on to the office when he saw the blue-and-red and heard the sirens approaching.
Don let out one final curse, then turned off the car and picked up his phone.
It was almost noon by the time Don pulled into the parking lot. He drove up and down the rows looking for a spot, but everything was full. When had they hired so many people? He missed the days when half the team had been working from home. He finally glimpsed a spot at the furthest reaches of the lot, hundreds of meters from the building. He parked the Escalade, then got out, shutting the door behind him, ready to move his two-hundred-and-fifty-pound-ass as quickly as he could.
There was a tugging. Then a horrific tearing sound joined it, and was roughly pulled down onto said ass. He sat on the ground for a long moment. He already knew what happened. Of course his jacket had been caught in the door. Why wouldn’t it have been? Clearly God hated him. Clearly God couldn’t cut him one fucking break. He picked himself up, using the door’s handle as a brace. He half-expected it to snap-off, but American engineering proved its worth. He got to his feet and began to limp towards the building.
It had taken painfully long for the police and firefighters to clear the wreck. Ambulances had shown, too. Not that they could do anything; Don’s view hadn’t been totally clear from his position against the median, but he couldn’t see anything – not even a charred body – behind the wheel of the Sentra. But bureaucracy loved to fuck over the common man, and so he’d been forced to wait while they took their time. Making things worse, he hadn’t even been able to get through to Mr. Holland while he’d been waiting. Instead, he’d gotten the secretary; a Debra who had icily informed him that Mr. Holland was in the boardroom with the delegation from Stokely-Hart. Don had asked her to leave a message anyway, but he knew it wouldn’t matter. He’d turned off his phone and then tossed it into the back seat. He wasn’t sure if his indifference was shell-shock from the explosion or the simple absurdity of the day he’d experienced, but his vision had narrowed and he’d come to see the world through pinholes, as if he was observing an eclipse; to consider it too closely would be to go insane. He supposed this was some method of self-preservation.
The elevator ride up took far longer than he remembered. Unfortunately, it also had a mirror. Don caught a look of himself, a man with bags under his eyes and toothpaste on his shirt and mud-snow stains on his pants and a great tear in his jacket. Don wondered who that man was. There was a faint buzzing in his head, and he cracked a grin. At least he still had all of his teeth.
The door pinged open on the twenty-fourth floor. Behind him, he heard a gasp.
He turned and saw Mr. Holland standing with a number of strangers. It was not a mystery who they were.
“Don,” said Mr. Holland. “I’m glad you could make it in.”
Don’s eyes shifted from Mr. Holland to the strangers, then back again. “Did Debra get you my message?”
“No,” he replied. “I’ve been in meetings all morning with the team from Stokely-Hart.” He paused, then sighed. “Mr. Prufrock, this is Donald Jackson, the executive who’ll be working with you on your account.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” said Don, extending his hand.
Mr. Prufrock’s eyes widened, and he only nodded as they shook.
“Tell you what,” said Mr. Holland, “Why don’t you all get a few bottles of wine opened for us at the restaurant? Give them some time to breathe. Feel free to order whatever else you’d like, too. I just want to catch Don up on the morning’s discussion.” Without waiting for an answer, he ushered the group onto the elevator. “I’ll see you very shortly! Drive safe.” He watched the door until the second it shut, then wheeled to face Don. “My office. Now.”
Don followed him without a word. People stared at him as he passed through the office, and he responded by staring back until they looked away. When they reached the corner office, Mr. Holland ushered him in. He shut the door behind him. Clouds rolled through the cityscape beyond the window, perilously close. Don wished that he could jump into them and float away.
“You can stand, Jackson. I don’t want that shit on your ass on my upholstery.”
“I don’t care what the fuck you have to say for yourself. I don’t care what the fuck you’ve been through. This is our most important account, and you’ve managed to royally cock it up. How the fuck are you supposed to work with these people now?”
“Sir, if you check the news, you’ll see there was an explosion on the highw–”
“Yes, I saw. It’s all over the news. But the funny thing is, they’re saying the accident happened at nine-thirty or so. You were supposed to be here at nine. Explain that to me.”
“My alarm. . .”
“Give me a fucking break, is this high school? No, you’re done. You’re fired. Clean your shit up from your desk, and I’ll clean up the rest of your shit. Get the fuck out of my office.”
“Sir, you can’t do this.”
“Excuse me? I can do whatever I want.”
“I have a family. . . bills to pay.”
“Don’t care. Should have thought of your family before you decided to fuck us over.”
“Mr. Holland, I’ve had a run of bad luck today. I can get things sorted out, I can run downtown and grab a new suit and meet you all at the restaurant as soon as possible. We can smooth things over.” Don hated how whiny and wheedling his voice sounded, but he didn’t care, so long as it worked – it had to work.
“Leave, Jackson. Before I call security.”
The pinholes had returned. Don saw himself there in the office. A bird flew outside, past the window. He had heard peregrine falcons sometimes roosted in the city. They liked to eat pigeons and other small birds. Skyscrapers kept them safe from humans, who almost never ventured to the roofs. Then he saw the office. The rich furniture, the television. The bottle of whiskey and the mahogany humidor inlaid with the company’s logo. He saw himself take a defiant step forward, and then his perspective changed. He was back in his head, looking out from inside at his middle finger. It pointed directly at Mr. Holland.
The effect was instantaneous. The man swelled inside his suit like the girl in that movie about the chocolate factory, but he kept swelling, turning red instead of blue, his face descending into his neck, his suit buttons popping and whizzing into different corners of the room. One of them pinged into the bottle of whiskey, shattering it. Amber poured to the floor. Don stepped back in horror. Mr. Holland’s eyes rolled wildly in his head, blue orbs in a sea of bubbling red. A low gurgle escaped his mouth.
Then he burst. A cascade of gore exploded like a bloody zit across the room, painting the walls with a sanguine palette, a chunky crimson that caused memories of feeding time at SeaWorld to swim to the forefront of Don’s mind.
Then it was quiet. The only sound was a slow dripping. Don wiped his face with the back of his shirt and it came away red. He tasted metal in his mouth. He turned his hand over, examining it. His mind had begun to form a connection, and a sick thrill rose inside him. He looked about the office and spotted a photo of Holland (no longer a Mr., no longer anything) and his wife. It was spattered with claret but otherwise unharmed.
“Worth a shot,” muttered Don. He gave the finger to the squat picture frame and a spidery crack appeared across it. Suddenly, glass burst out, sending shrapnel across the room. Don felt something whiz by his cheek, then hot blood down his face.
He didn’t care. A slow smile had begun to form. His mind began to wheel with possibilities. How did this power work? Was it only on what he could see, or was it on inanimate objects. Would it work on a person on television? What if it was a recording? Don stepped behind Holland’s desk to look for a notebook. He had to test this. He had just stepped aside in order to flip off the desk’s lock when his phone began to ring. Distracted, he picked it up and answered without looking.
“Don! Thank god! I’ve been trying to reach you for days. Haven’t you been getting my messages?”
Don cringed. Dayna’s voice was unmistakable.
“Sorry, hun, I’ve been busy.”
“Don, don’t call me ‘hun’. We aren’t married anymore.”
“With the amount of money I’ve been giving you, you coulda fooled me.”
“Look, if you’re going to be difficult, forget it. I’ll go to my sister and you can explain to your daughter why she can’t get braces ‘til next month.”
A lightbulb went off in Don’s mind. He practically heard it happen. “Wait! Sorry for being a dick. Are you home now? I can come right over and drop the cheque off.”
“Really? That’s be great! Thank you for understanding, Don. I knew you had it in you. See you soon.”
“See you, hun.”
Don ended the call and pocketed the phone. He caught a glimpse of himself in the inky reflection of Holland’s television. His smile was positively Chesherian.
This day was turning out to be pretty good after all.
Don drove the speed limit on the way to his wife’s house. He had taken off his jacket and used it to wipe his face down as best he could, but he was sure he hadn’t gotten it all. He considered leaving the jacket, then decided it was better if there was as little of him at the scene as possible. Besides, what could they get him for? He wasn’t aware of any murder weapons that could explode a man from the inside out. After that, he had walked through the office as swiftly as he could, ignoring the stares he felt boring into him. He reached the elevator and took it down and passed out through the lobby and across the parking lot, resisting the urge to run. Each moment bracing himself for the sound of sirens.
The drive to the house wasn’t long, but adrenaline and stress blended into a delirious cocktail, making every kilometer feel like eons. Don finally allowed himself to breathe once he pulled into the quiet suburb. Somehow it was impossible to envision cops finding him here. He drove through the rows of quiet houses, the pallid November sky hovering threateningly overhead.
He pulled into the driveway, then shut off the car. It had begun to rattle partway through, almost certainly a consequence of the morning’s accident. Insurance would cover that. If the cops didn’t find a way to blame him, his now-certain promotion would cover a lot more. The smile returned to his face. Just this last stop, and he’d be free. He checked his watch. It wasn’t even one-thirty. The kids would still be at school, and Dayna would be all alone. He wished he had something to say; some catchphrase, some pithy one-liner, but he had nothing. It didn’t matter. It’s not like she’d remember.
He walked up the stoop, noting the salt across it. He felt an odd kind of gratitude for Dayna’s foresight. He’d fallen on his ass enough times today. Still, it wouldn’t be enough to change things. He knocked on the door, then raised his hand, keeping his middle finger semi-curled, cocked and ready to go. He considered for a second, then raised his other hand, doing the same thing. His cheeks hurt from smiling.
There was the sound of footsteps on the other side, and the door swung open.
Several things happened very quickly.
Don’s fingers shot up triumphantly, accompanied by a roaring “HERE YOU GO, BITCH!”
Don’s daughter, Emma, looked up at him from below, smiling in her pyjamas. She had a box of Kleenex in her hand and a stuffed tiger under her arm. Her nose was red and her eyes watery, but she smiled and cried “DADDEEE!”
This was not a situation Don had considered.
The good news is that Emma was only five, and rather short for her age. Don’s fingers were pointed well over her head.
The bad news was that there was a mirror in the front hall directly opposite the door.