He remarked on it.
She said, If the food's okay, what's the difference?
Nothing, he said.
He knew he thought there was—he did not know why he thought there was—why he thought something not a chain more desirable than a chain.
He felt that way.
Clean, spacious, airy.
People wanted, he supposed, some comfort. If they were traveling. Or busy. People had things to do and simply because he had nothing to do did not make him right. He thought she'd said that.
These people seemed attractive. Groomed. Affluent or at least of the class comfortable with being the consumer class.
Young girls, girls in their twenties, with light in their shining eyes.
He did not know if the light inhered in their eyes or was reflected—some angle of arrangement—the sun, the windows, the placement of the tables.
Impressive bar for this kind of place. Food going by looked good.
Other places, cities, whole states where chain or no did not matter. Some of the best places now—place that—say—started in the nation's capitol—replicated in other major cities as a chain and who said what or no one said a thing. People wanted—why would they not—a quality of life.
Chain reflecting mobility and increasing prosperity.
Who opposed that?
Airy and clean.
He misinterpreted. Always. The misinterpretation of everything.
Photographs of antique privilege on the walls.
To induce what?
Contrast the contemporary look and lay of the place?
She referred to the venison on the menu as game.
It was not game, he told her. It was domestic.
Farmed. Raised on a farm.
Week before was it he checked a tool box in the shed and found his skinning knife. Years since he'd been in the bush.
Mottled with corrosion.
Corroded maybe through lack of use.
Lack of maintenance more likely.
Drop of oil might have prevented it.
He did not like to oil things.
She said the menu was Mediterranean.
Must be from the coast, he said.
Nothing like that started here.
It meant something.
Not anything he would point out to her.
Pointing it out to her would only start an argument.
She'd say his limited view of the place was not the place, his view was about him, not about the place at all. He'd say she was not from here and could not understand the place as he understood the place.
No reason to do it again.
Less and less reason to talk.
The food was good.
He said that.
Told him to think about it.
He thought about it.
How could he not?
Letter of reprimand.
He could respond; it said so in the letter of reprimand.
What response might he have? That there was no way he could have done what he was asked to do, and he was set up by his colleagues, supervisors, and everyone else, including the author of the letter of reprimand?
Maybe if he did nothing, nothing else would happen.
Letter would come out of his file in three years if there were no further issues.
The letter said that.
So it must be true.
Though the letter was false.
Factually false but procedurally true.
Personnel file on him like a weight. A stock. A hobble.
He did not tell her about the letter; he would not tell her about the letter.
Piece of paper, three years.
Record of his behavior which would—most likely—almost certainly—go away.
Unless there was another plan. A plan he did not know about. A plan to undo him, to expose him, to sacrifice him.
Were they that devious?
No doubt of their malice, only the question of their ability to exercise it.
Tried to think of everyone gone in the last few years. Any pattern?
If there were a pattern, he might discern what the pattern might tell him.
What was his participation, his complicity, in the pattern?
Not that it mattered.
Not if he had not been aware of it.
Aware at all.
Lack of awareness saved him—or put him here with the letter.
Not a good time to look.
Last guy he knew who started looking ended up selling questionable investments.
Now the Feds had cracked down even though the Feds allowed them in the first place.
All right place right time now—where you were where there was money to be made before the whole thing blew up or burned down.
All anybody expected anymore.
All anybody wanted anymore.
He could not understand why he did not understand.
After some time some words on some paper no one was likely to look at in the future.
A thing sat as a thing—inert, doing nothing, affecting nothing.
Clip from the erotic movie once controversial now thirty years hence antique and nearly mannered.
The woman with the fine chain around her waist. The chain as jewelry—adornment.
Even the clip now no longer a piece of a narrative but a snippet advertising something else.
Temporal activity frozen—recorded to artifact—to become another thing.
He saw as one who had seen the original film and recalled the power of the original image.
Someone seeing it now for the first time would see it as something else.
He could not enjoy it.
Why must he think of implication?
Had she said that?
Did he know this?
As though he spoke only some language of his past—some dead language.
And what value in that?
Greg Mulcahy is the author of Out of Work (Knopf, 1993), Constellation (Avisson, 1996), and the new, Juniper Prize winning collection, Carbine (University of Massachusetts Press).