THE SALESMAN - MATTHEW C. FUNK
Harry was tallying the register at his tool and dye when the man walked in with a secret in his pocket. He pulled the barge of his body off of the stool and looked at the man, the man just looking at him. The man wore a tan work shirt and a field of tan hair, unruly like the fields of grass that cankered the West Kentucky landscape on his way to work, breaking up the greenery with yellow sores. The man wore pink features and carried a briefcase as thin as he was.
“We’re about closing,” Harry said. Harry didn’t trust the thin. He had read somewhere this was a good idea. He couldn’t remember where he’d read it, just that it was one of the few things taught in a school or a courthouse or a church that had any worth to him.
“Yes.” The man set his briefcase on the counter. “We are indeed.”
“I’m about closing.”
“That’s what I said.”
“A yup,” the man spoke as crisply as the sound of his briefcase locks as he opened them. “Yes, sir, you did. And I said that’s what I’m about, too.”
“I don’t follow.”
“I’m about closing. Closing sales, mostly.”
A salesman. That would account for the suspicion, right there.
Harry shuffled back a step, putting his bulk in front of the table of framed photographs and potted plants and certificates behind the counter. The men shared the air like it was a common disease. “I’m not interested in sales,” he said.
“You ain’t heard what I’m selling.”
“I don’t need to. I know I’m not interested.”
“I’ve got no reason to buy anything.”
“You’re Harry Garrison, yeah?”
Harry tapped the placard on his counter. “It’s what it says.”
“You’re a businessman.”
“What’s your point, son?”
“You know lots of folks.”
“That’s what the trade involves alright.”
“So maybe they’ll be interested.” The man opened the briefcase, the lid facing Harry and blocking his view of the contents.
“I doubt it.”
“Have a look.” The man drew out a charm bracelet and dangled it on his fingers like allure. It was plastic and as pink as the man’s skin—the pink of undercooked meat.
Harry did not like the look of it at all. “Not my size.”
“It’s made for pretty little girls.” The man slid his grin wide and sharp.
“I can see that. Do I look like a pretty girl to you?” Harry’s jowls sagged even lower.
“You know pretty girls, I bet.”
“Why’d you bet that, son?”
“I’m the observant sort.”
“What is it you think you’re observing?”
“See the way it catches the light?” The man turned the charm bracelet around in his hand, and the yellow stain of the tool and dye lighting kissed it and the plastic kissed back. “It may look like any other, but it can be something real special all the same.”
“What is it you think you’re observing, I said.”
“You got a daughter?”
Harry’s baggy skin cinched like it’d been bitten at. He didn’t like the taste in his mouth. He didn’t like the taste of sharing air with this man at all. “No.”
“Sure, you do.”
“What makes you so sure.”
“I told you.”
“You told me what?”
“I’m the observant sort.” The grin sharpened, widened.
“And I told you, I don’t have a daughter.”
“Who’s that, then?”
The man pointed to the picture Harry expected he would. Harry didn’t turn to look. He knew the face in the photograph better than he did his own, having seen it every night behind his eyelids. Every morning, he had to see it fade against the sunlight on his bedroom ceiling and that fading would set on his mind like a scraped stretch of skin until he saw the face again. The girl’s was a sweet, round face; the kind of white that floated atop an Irish Coffee. It was not the white of the moon—her face was present and round and sweet, framed by that coffee-colored hair.
“That’s my daughter.”
“And you told me you didn’t have one.”
“I don’t. I lost her.”
“Where’d you lose her, Harry?”
The memory stirred the hard soil Harry had packed it under. It had the same desolation to it as those grass fields. Harry found his hand rubbing his face, trying to get that memory off him.
The man did not frown. “That’s sad to hear.”
“You don’t know what sadness is, son.”
“You may be right about that.”
“God knows I am.”
“You share a lot with the Lord, mister?”
“That’s between me and Him.”
The man nodded thoughtfully and put his hands places Harry didn’t like: one in the briefcase, one below the counter. “Well, maybe He could bring to mind another girl that’d like this bracelet.”
“I think you need to leave.”
“I think I need to stay.” Out of the briefcase came a fistful of other charms. The man showed him.
“I’m not buying a thing from you.”
“I’m not selling to you.” And just like that, the grin was gone. The man’s features were blank now. There was only the sharpness behind them and the stains the man’s presence put in the air, spreading like a rash. “How about these?”
“How about them?”
“See anything you like? Anything for a pretty, little girl?”
“Mister,” Harry could hardly unclench his jaw enough to let the words out, “you sure seem to have an unhealthy interest in pretty girls to me.”
“I suppose I do.”
The answer turned Harry’s stomach. “Maybe we should bring the Sheriff into this conversation.”
The man frowned. “There’ve been better ideas expressed.”
“Your bringing up my daughter wasn’t one of them.”
“I beg to differ. I like talking about your daughter. She seems like a special girl.”
“Seemed she’d like pretty things. The kind of things I got.”
“She’d want none of you.”
“You just so sure, ain’t you? I’m pretty sure, too.”
And out came the grin again. And it was all poison. And the yellow charm bracelet the man pulled from his pocket and set on the counter was just that—just the color of poison.
For a time, the two men just shared the bad air.
After a time, Harry found that air too thick to sigh out. “Where’s this going?” Harry wheezed.
The man took his pistol from the briefcase. “You show me.”
The man waved the pistol toward the back of the tool and dye. “Let’s go see your daughter.”
In the basement of the tool and dye, the air was even worse. Cement walls shut in an animal stink that had built up and built up until it screamed the fact of human fluids into the tiny space. Harry could hardly breathe in that space usually. He panted in here. With the man sharing that evil air with him, Harry could not breathe at all.
“She don’t look nothing like her picture,” the man said.
“She looks exactly like it.”
“I see differences. Subtle and otherwise.”
“You’re not looking right.”
“For one, she’s alive.”
The two men looked down at the girl in chains and the girl looked back with tears in her eyes. Other fluids ran out of her. The smell of it all crushed the air into something solid.
“That was the point.” Harry didn’t like the sound of confession in his voice. The grief over his daughter and how he went about living with it was between him and the Lord. The man profaned that. The man made it smell as dirty as it was.
“Yeah.” The man took his cell phone from his pocket.
“She’s still alive, and my little girl was taken from me.”
“Yeah.” The man dialed. "I get it.”
Harry knew the man didn’t. The man didn’t know a thing about sadness.
Stagger answered the man’s cell phone after a single ring. “How’s you hanging, Delroy?”
“You can tell Mister Deacon we found his daughter.”
“Not for lack of effort on Harry’s part.”
“I’m coming over.” Stagger’s couch springs creaked from over the phone. “I’ll bring some of the boys. Anything else?”
“Naw," the man looked around the tables and racks in the basement of the tool and dye. “We’re fixed for saws.”
The man looked over Harry. “You’ll want to bring extra trash bags, though.”
Harry tried to summon that white, round face to mind again. He couldn’t. His mind had only one place to go: to the yellow grassfields, desolate and anonymous.
BIO: Matthew Funk is a professional writer in marketing for corporate America, a writing mentor and the author of several manuscripts thatilluminate the beauty of human extremes. A graduate of the ProfessionalWriting MFA at USC, his work is also featured on his Web site.