Short Stories. Mr. Swansong by Lance Manion. “An earthquake is the only time the roots of a tree get to sway.”
“An earthquake is the only time the roots of a tree get to sway” his neighbor began. Bob knew him well enough to know that this was only the opening salvo. He never had just one thing to say. There were no simple observations or quick platitudes with his neighbor Hank.
Bob decided to play along.
“So the roots of a tree look enough like brain synopsis that you’re implying that an earthquake represents a troubling event of some kind?”
Bob knew that Hank didn’t know what he was talking about and enjoyed the moment. Hank, standing slack-jawed while he attempted to absorb the new spin on his statement, began to nod ever so slightly.
Bob continued. “That would make swaying a triumph of sorts?”
Gathering himself up Hank replied “Yes, in a manner of speaking. Adversity and all that.” Hank’s face then took on the quiet serenity that can only be achieved by the complete moron.
Bob owned a small but thriving company that centered around Bob lending himself out to corporations and government agencies to speak about motivation and efficiency in the workplace.
Hank had been unemployed for going on six months. He was formerly a salesperson for gardening implements and before that he was a salesperson for a litany of unrelated consumer goods. His resume was a tour de force of mediocrity and low expectations.
Instead of pursuing the root metaphor Hank took a sudden turn and point-blank asked Bob if his company could use another associate. Bob would have been startled if he wasn’t so stunned. In all their year of pseudo-witty banter Hank had never broached the subject of employment.
“You know what would make me a good speaker?” Hank offered.
Trying to move past stunned and into the safe waters of being not remotely interested Bob adjusted his stance and braced himself for the incoming stupidity.
He was not to be disappointed.
“Half the people in the world are annoying because they are different than everybody else but don’t know it. The other half are annoying because they think they are different but they’re not. I can tell them apart almost instantly.” His face once again took on a serene quality.
“But” Bob interjected “What’s the difference if you find them both annoying?”
On the face of it a fair question but clearly one that Hank was prepared to answer. “You have to know who’s annoying you.”
“Ahh, I see,” answered Bob though he didn’t.
Feeling like Hank’s presentation was over Bob mulled over his situation. He was in a bit of tight spot. He didn’t want to offend a neighbor, whose lawn mower he had borrowed countless times in the past when the discount ones he always bought ended up engulfed in flames, but at the same time he could never inflict an empty-headed buffoon on a paying client. Then the answer came to him in a flash of inspiration.
“Tell you what Hank. If I’m ever unable to make a commitment to speak due to illness or a scheduling snafu you’ll be the first one I call.”
While not what Hank was hoping for, it seemed to do the trick and soon they were back to talking about topics that no other human on the planet but Hank would find palatable.
The problem, for Bob anyway, was that while he was done having a flash of inspiration Hank was just getting warmed up. The words “due to illness” had barely left Bob’s lips when Hank had a flash himself. Upon returning home, he went to his computer and, in less time than it takes to make a cup of coffee, he had found an over-the-counter medication that would cause the imbiber to immediately suffer side- effects that would render them useless for the better part of two days.
Three weeks later, and only hours before he was to depart for the airport, Bob imbibed it. One fortuitous phone call later Hank was hastily packing and heading to the airport. Halfway across the Atlantic, on his way to Uzbekistan, Hank decided to call his old pal to check up on him and to get some additional details about his upcoming presentation. Knowing that the call was being charged to Bob’s account he felt no pressure to keep things short. In fact, he immediately asked the sniffling Bob something off the subject; something totally and completely off the subject.
He asked him whether or not he knew if it were true that the European Mute Swan is silent throughout its entire life, only to sing one glorious song just before it dies.
Bob had to confess that he had no idea.
“It’s not true. There is no such thing as a ‘swan song’. It’s a myth.” Hank sunk back smugly in his first class seat and tried again to catch the eye of the stewardess to let her know that another glass of champagne would hit the spot.
Sniffing softly Bob grinned to himself and said, “I wouldn’t be so sure. Have a great trip Hank. Goodbye and good luck” and with that he disconnected.
An odd way to wrap up a conversation … unless of course you were somebody that knew you’d been poisoned and were having the responsible party met at the airport by a small group of dangerous men involved in sex trafficking.
“I hope you enjoy your new life you annoying prick.” With that Bob smiled and threw up.