B2by Nathan Leslie
When I accidentally ended up in B2 I regretted it for years and years. Little did I know, B2 is the level underneath the basement. It’s the basement’s basement.
I was tired. It was a long day. I went all the way down from the twenty-sixth floor, where I work as a consultant’s consultant (I consult consultants on how to better consult, often consulting with my own consultant to know how to better consult mine). I usually end up where I’m supposed to – on G – but not that day. How did I end up on B2? That’s the unknown element. That’s the mystery here. Perhaps the elevator short-circuited. Perhaps I pressed B2 instead of G. Perhaps they beckoned me down to B2 as a witness through some sort of internal control panel.
At any rate, when I opened the elevator door a small man – a midget I suppose – was crawling into the stomach of a very large man. No. ‘Crawling’ is the wrong description. There was actually a hatch in the belly of the big man, and the little man was slithering into it. I saw the little man glance at me, then quickly crawl into the belly of the large man and close the hatch behind him. It was all very primal and gnarly so I diverted my eyes and just started humming “These are a Few of My Favorite Things.” Julie Andrews. Da-da-da-dada-da-da-da-da-dada.
“Whoa,” I said. I hadn’t said ‘Whoa’ in many years. I rarely had little to say ‘whoa’ about, but I said it then.
“What are you doing here?” The big man said. ‘Said’ isn’t right though. ‘Boomed’ is closer. He sounded like the wizard from the Wizard of Oz – that kind of ‘boomed.’
“I’m not doing here,” I said. “I wasn’t here.” I pressed, pressed, pressed the elevator door button. Nothing. He big man slowly lumbered to me. I think ‘lumbered’ is right. He slapped his arm on my shoulder. His arm must have weighed two hundred pounds itself. I was not a restful position for me.
“This will be our little secret,” he bellowed. Just then, I smelled the distinct odor of parmesan cheese. It wasn’t me.
“Yes, yes. Very little,” I said. “Tiny secret. Miniscule.”
Bing. The elevator popped open.
“Ta-ta,” I said, my heart throwing little gran-mal seizures.
Two weeks later I was walking down the short corridor from my office to the restrooms, fluttering with the ferns as I do when I pass by. I walked down the fern corridor every day, three or four times a day depending on my coffee intake. The little man stood at the drinking fountain, watching me. Maybe ‘peering up at me from far, far below’ is better.
“Who are you?” He glared. His glare rivaled his bosom buddy’s thump.
“I’m just a guy. I work here. I eat. I sleep. I have parents.”
“You. You are all he can talk about since that day. He’s very paranoid. He’s breaking out in hives.”
“I’m sorry,” I said with all sincerity. “I didn’t –”
“I’m sorry nothing,” he said. “He feels you’re going to blow our little arrangement any day.”
“Now why would I do that?”
“I don’t know. You tell me,” he said in a raspy squeak.
“I don’t have anything to gain by this.” I didn’t understand why I was talking in this way. What was I doing? I should have just ignored the half-pint.
“You do what you want. That’s fine.”
“Because you know we are a team. I can’t do without him. He can’t do without me. We watch after each other. We’re just trying to survive like anyone else.”
“That’s fine,” I said, leaning over him to take a sip of water. “Wonderful. What do you do for the company anyway?”
“Undisclosed,” he said.
“Oh.” Then he grabbed my pants leg, with his tiny pincer-like fingers.
“You’ll regret it if you do say anything,” he said. “You. Will. Suffer.”
But suddenly he was just an insignificant sound to me, a small insignificant squeak.
Suddenly I was curious. What would they do to me if I did say something? Castrate and strangle me? Smother and rape me? Torture and prod me? Ambush and annihilate me? I didn’t even know who I could approach to explain this odd turn of events. Nevertheless I walked down the long corridor to the assistant to the director of assistant director’s office. I could see the exposed silvery underbellies of the leaves as the wind whipped outside. However, the windows were tinted, so you could never tell if it is sunny or rainy. I guess it didn’t matter. I could still see the underbellies.
The director’s assistant opened and closed the door with a button on his desk. He buzzed me in, and the door whooshed behind me. He smiled in a way that made him look very pleased with himself. His hair was perfect. His skin looked moist and relaxed. This was all very predictable.
“What can I do for you mister…”
“Yes, Mr. White, you are in…”
“Yes, Mr. White and you…”
“Yes. What can I do for you today, Mr. White? Would you like a peppermint stick?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” he said. “I’m sorry. I just realized…I’m out of peppermint sticks.”
I didn’t know exactly how to put it, but I tried my best. Then, just as I was about to speak, I couldn’t seem to remember the name of the assistant to the director of assistant directors. I felt as if he was examining my commitment and passion for the job.
“Well, this may sound a bit strange,” I said. “But I accidentally pressed B2 on the elevator the other day.”
“Yes, proceed,” he said. What did you do that for? Why would you think to do that?”
“It was an accident, as I said.”
“Freud thought all accidents were purposeful. We’ll keep that in mind. Take note: nothing is an accident.”
“Well, as I said, I accidentally pressed B2.”
“Nothing is an accident.”
“I have no reason to press B2, since I usually press B1. The parking garage. Yet, nevertheless, I pressed B2. And when I arrived at B2 I saw a large man sticking a small man in his stomach. It was dark but that was exactly what I saw.”
“Are you sure this is what you saw? I doubt it. I mean, think about it. Is it unlikely? Are you sure it wasn’t a shadow? Or a series of shadows?”
“I’m sure. Unless shadows talk and look like people, and smell like cheese.”
“Hmmm,” the assistant to the director said. “We’ll have to investigate this matter. Paperwork will be initiated.”
“But sir,” I said.
“What is my name Mr. White?”
“Sir it is…I’m sorry. It honestly slips my – ”
“Yes. See, now this says something about you as an employee for this company. This says something about the quality of work you do for us. I will inform the other assistants to the director of assistant directors of your seeming ambivalence. They will be very interested, I’m sure.”
“But sir,” I said. “There are so many of you. You are just the closest one to my – ”
“That’s fine,” he says. “I understand. It will be investigated. Thank you.”
“Don’t you want to know what it was like to see a large man sticking a small man in his stomach?”
“Not right now,” he said. “Just ate the last peppermint stick. Indigestion and all.”
He buzzed me out.
The next day I was summoned back to he the assistant to the director of the assistant director’s office. His mood was completely different this time. He shook my hand vigorously and said that I would be promoted to a position like his own, if I was so inclined, if I wanted to. He offered me a cigar. He patted me on the back and asked the other assistant to the assistant directors to come in and pat me on the back. I remained cautious.
“What about the large man and the small man?”
“Vagabonds. Thieves. Would you like to see them?”
“Sure. Yes. I would.”
The assistants to the director of the assistant director escorted me to the thirtieth floor, a floor that is strictly off limits. They walked me through an infinite series of corridors, all with tined windows and ferns. Finally they buzzed me into a large white room, completely filled with an endless series of white file boxes inscribed by a series of endless numbers and letters. They walked me through the aisles, peering down each one. Finally we came to an aisle where the large man and small man stood shuffling through papers and digging into the file boxes. They sucked on peppermint sticks.
The large man smiled at me. The small man winked.
“We have put them to work, you will see, Mr. White. And, in fact, your duty in your new position as the assistant to the director of the assistant directors will be to act as supervisor to our newest employees,” one of the assistants said. “Be happy. Big promotion.”
My heart was racing. My palms were sweating. The large man was winking now too.
“And Mr. White, you will be positioned here, within this room. Just you three.”
“Wonderful,” I said. “Yes.”
The assistants to the director of the assistant director then left me alone with the large man and the small man. I watched them file for hours at a time without event. My heart raced. My palms felt like two quivering birds. Then, as night fell, the door locked. I banged on it, but couldn’t escape. I was there. I was trapped. I was forced to watch the little man crawl in and out of the large man – the oozing birth and reversal – over and over, and over and over.