Standing outside an apartment. Low lying brick building with a large, black-top parking lot to its south side. Overhanging flat roof kept the sun from directly hitting the pane windows. Well lit, clean, but not new. A sense of disrepair but not uncomfortable. Perhaps a ’40s or ’50s construction. Stepping inside, the kitchen was open to the living room, literally defined by the West and partial North wall of cabinets and utilities. Against the South wall, beneath the window panes a green couch.
The apartment was company rented in conjunction with a new job I took. Not certain of the name nor nature of the company nor my role, but I was required to maintain two additional refrigerators to house what I believed to be biological samples.
There was also a large, above-the-counter oven or microwave (not certain), mounted to the wall, which did not retain a front door and housed a human form, crouched and folded into its interior, arms wrapped around the legs in a severly cramped embrace. An artistic endeavor more so than one of utilitarian intent. Perfectly smooth, white, and made from what appeared to be molded plastic. No fine details. No real sense of the underlying structure nor original master.
There was a woman from the company who delivered the units and helped with the placement. I neither recall her face nor name. We organized the two refrigerators against the North wall, pleased with the balance of the units in relation to the cupboards to the left and doorway to the right which led to the rest of the apartment.
I do not recall living there, as even that first night I had an engagement, a meeting perhaps for I was running late and in a hurry. I searched for my keys, finally found them, and as I briskly walked through the kitchen/front-entry room I was caught by what I believed to be a change in the body-form in the oven. The face was no longer an amorphous contour of plastic, but much more human like. I looked twice as I could not fully recall how it seemed to have appeared before, nor even if it had truly changed. But now I recognized a hint of blue eyes and pale skin in place of opaque, white plastic. Troubled by my lack of recollection for what was and what is, I was convinced the twilight was casting shadows. I kept moving in order to make my meeting.
The next morning [I don’t think I slept in the apartment that night, not even certain it was for sleeping, perhaps just for work], I returned to the brightly lit front room and continued to unpack, organize, and clean. Something caught my eye behind. I crawled beneath the left and South most of the kitchen cabinetry, a counter propped not on solid cabinetry, but a legged stand perhaps designed as an eating nook for bar stools.
Pressed between the back of the closed cabinet which housed the sink and the West wall, I discovered a half-cardboard box (the kind used for presentation in warehouse style grocery stores) full of shrink-wrapped Asian pastries. I was thrilled to find my favorite red bean cakes wrapped in sweet, white rice dough with a light powder coating. I simultaneously learned about the previous tenants and gained lunch for the next few days.
I extracted the box from beneath the counter, stood and I turned to walk toward the counter when I felt certain the body-form had moved. I turned, looked upon the oven and I realized the face no longer held any plastic mold at all, but was a solid, full human male face. Bald, pale skin, bright blue eyes which stared straight ahead– no, they moved, they now looked to the center of the room.
God damn it. It moved! A bead of sweat ran down my spine and I could hear my heart in my ears. It fucking moved! The head rocked forward a bit within the confines of its enclosure. I was backing from the oven and this living thing. I have no recollection as to what happened to the Asian pastries nor even how I found my keys, but as I turned to open the front door and leave, it, he was slowly crawling from the oven, stepping onto the floor. Clothed now in a contiguous skin-tight white garment that resembled the once plastic form, his movement was very stiff, robotic, and cumbersome.
As I tore myself from the horrific sight and turned to race to my car, the woman who had helped organize the refrigerators walked in. I said nothing for I could not speak. What was she doing here? And yet it was obvious by her determination that she knew of this creature, had no fear, and had come to its aid.
I ran to my car, not looking back. It was daylight yet my body trembled as it would have in a nightmare. I opened the door via remote, jumped into the driver’s seat, and started the engine.
While it was my intent to drive from that place at top speed, something held me there, kept me from leaving, the engine running. The man who emerged from the apartment leaned heavily on the woman, his body tall and thin and less menacing than when unfolding from the oven. His skin was less pale as movement seemed to have warmed him. And the woman was obviously not afraid. My hands were shaking. The image of his eyes moving for the first time flashed inside my head over and over along with his foot reaching the ground for the
first time. Strange, fascinating, and horrifying.
I wanted to drive away, but I could not. Both of them walked directly to my car, the woman obviously concerned for others seeing this event unfold. I moved the transmission into first gear and then neutral repeatedly, but could not bring myself to engage the clutch.
The man was then leaning against my rear passenger side door, the woman fumbling for the handle while keeping him upright. They slid in and sat in the rear seat together. The door to the apartment remained open. “We didn’t expect this to happen so soon. Let’s go.” We drove away.
* * *
Some time later, although I am not certain when nor where, I was present at an outdoor company picnic or luncheon. The man who had emerged from my apartment oven was the focus of everyone’s attention. His hair had grown in, sand colored and curly. He was thin, like an adolescent who had grown tall disproportionately to the rest of his body, slightly over six foot.
I shook his hand and said, “You gave me a real scare that day,” to which he responded in the English of someone who is learning, “I … I am sorry.” I could not quite place his accent. A former East block country? Romanian? In the background I could hear the laughter and banter of a hundred or more picnic attendees. He smiled. I smiled. He had a warmth to his face now that was pleasant and inviting.
We walked together, a small entourage of curious individuals gathered around, pressing against each other to hear the conversation.
I then asked, “How long had you been in that … that mold?”
He smiled, looked to the ground, the sky, and then to me again, “A long time.”
“Hundre–” I knew I was way off and corrected myself, “Thousa– no,” judging by his immobile smile which said, ‘Warmer … warmer …’ but my brain hurting at the prospect,”… tens of thousands of years?”
“A very, very long time. I was not … living, technically.”
“You could call it that,” again smiling the way a parent smiles at a child who has received an explanation which is appropriate, but intentionally incomplete.
We talked a bit longer about the transition from his home to here. My mind raced, trying to connect what little I knew about this man now, the company I worked for, the absurdity of transporting him in an oven and wondering what would have happened if I had cooked him by accident. Perhaps the mold in which he had survived so long would have protected him; a hibernation system so completely perfected –or was this body even his?
Wait, it started to make sense to me now. Something clicked.
I asked, “How does it feel to be … to be in this body of yours now? How does it differ from what you had before? Do you even remember after all this time?”
He smiled then laughed like a child, his eyes crinkling at the corners. He awkwardly darted a few paces from the crowd, standing in tall brown grass, spread his arms and looking first to his left and then to his right, he exclaimed (to everyone’s amazement, for this was his first bold expression), “I –I did not have these!”
And with that he moved them wildly, up and down while spinning in circles as a bird trying to take flight whose wings were not quite strong enough to carry the burden, yet growing stronger every day. Everyone laughed and applauded.
And then I understood. I laughed too, realizing I was part of something beautiful and historic and terribly important. His body was but a vessel and inside, a miracle that was just beginning to unfold.
© Kai Staats 2006