The Big Flash
By Zachary Lutz
I first heard Kent called – Can't by a blonde-haired sandbag named Diamond Cory at the Town Pump in Nightmare, Indiana. He also called his fist a cannon. I didn't listen to him much longer, and then he started to rile the whole bar into a mob about some town-girl named Margaret. I showed his nose the wall. And then, the next day, at the office, I showed Al my transfer papers. I watched Al fake a pout at the cactus on his desk, and then I rolled a silver coin towards him:
"You think you don't need to water that, but, well, It might just be time."
"Once a week kid, that's safe," He said, and spat.
Al took up the coin and dropped it into his shirt pocket. Then he strangled his signature out of a pen and onto the document, and said I could ask him for a recommendation letter whenever I saw it fit. I said it didn't fit, and that it was kind of him to offer, but that I was ready to leave Nightmare like a baby crowning. Al coughed and then things got quiet and I knew if I didn't leave then, that he would start in on trying to keep me there. So I left.
In the rectangle that said branch, I had written the word Kent. I didn't even know if there was a branch. It was to spite Diamond Cory. And, there was a new city, which was the more benevolent side of myself that I was liking already. I would see about dominance later. I was at the airport. The ticket emptied my wallet, and then I emptied my stomach on the back of the seat in front of me. A doctor, who revealed himself later as a psychiatrist, said it was the cabin pressure. I told him to get me a rag and a mint.
The director of the Kent branch wore a crisp blue suit that looked like a stiff napkin, and a gold tie. I laughed when I thought of Al in his grey shirt, and the director glared me out of the laugh quick. His eyes were two blots of brown mud.
"So you know the job?"
"Yes, sir, McGilvrey."
There was no cactus on his desk. I laughed again.
"Is there something funny? Should you be telling me a joke right now?"
I wondered why I hadn't stopped him between sentences and apologized.
"You know the job?"
"Yes, sir. Nightmare College; seven years. I made considerable effort."
"Well, considerable isn't what we're after here," His nose was a downturned thumb.
I had only meant that I was a good worker, but he knew me already like I was his own unfortunate son. I started not liking McGilvrey when he started talking. I wanted my badge, and I wanted to find a hotel and draw a bath. My mouth smelled like a reptile house, and I could see McGilvrey's blunt nose hounding the stench.
I said, "On the plane. Threw up."
"Well, I suppose you'll be wanting this." He handed me a square of metal and on it, the embossed head of a snarling eagle.
"Our shield. And you don't show that to a soul." He blinked. "Unless you meet one."
"This is a state university, kid. Excellence in action."
I thought it was funny that he called me a kid, and I thought of Al again, and his cactus. But I kept that one to myself.
"Dolores will get you a map. And the rest," he paused, "is you. I'll expect reports every week."
McGilvrey turned and sat in his chair, ballooning the gold tie off his chest like a knuckle. I swiveled and grabbed the doorknob, waiting for something else. There was nothing. The secretary handed me a leather briefcase and said I had a nice smile. I said thanks, and that I didn't use it often. I asked her for the address of a hotel, and then I found the hallway. I looked back and then at the placard that sat on the wall by the door, in the foyer. "Library of Maps." I nearly laughed out loud. Then, on the sidewalk, I saw the side of the building. McGilvrey Hall. I laughed out loud.
Rain loves this city like a little sister. I saw this when I woke up. I was in a room at the University Inn and I lay awake all through the night. I watched that rude camera obscura of headlights filing across the back wall. I should have closed the blinds, but there was something about the hint of occasion. So I kept them hanging at an angle. Besides, I had been working nights in Nightmare for six of my seven years there. And there was no such thing as jet-lag from a red eye. I realized that quick after I found the couch.
It was nine in the morning. When I opened the front door, I was stepping into a whole new place. People didn't drive in Nightmare. But it seemed like that was all anyone did in Kent. I saw the choke of vehicles at the intersection, which my map indicated was Water street and Summit. Then the long vein of traffic down Water trying to get into the city. There was already an accident at the foot of the building. A big man in a black leather vest was berating a young athlete about her assured clear distance. The girl was kneading fingers into her cell phone.
If there were any dialogue here, I would include it. But there is not. There is only the rain, and my exchange with the gargantuan lady at the CVS. I bought a carton of milk and a package of brown eggs. I also bought a round tin of chewing gum. For the sake of thoroughness:
"This all?" she asked.
She had a cactus on her shirt and I immediately thought of Al. I will remember not to do this kind of reminiscing.
The rain was thin enough that I made it back to the hotel dry. I made it my midday-work to plot out Kent State to the extent of my comprehension. I didn't want to go into the place completely cold. I picked up some some criteria on the University Inn and other places of interest and dropped the pamphlets into the side of my bag. The steps were wide and concrete to the third floor. The door was burgundy.
If the phone rang I decided I would answer it, but it did not, and so I did not. I began research. I am a very effectuating analyst, and very encyclopedic.
There are too many buildings to list here, and I'll rely on exposition to cover them all. What I was most interested when I unfolded the map was the crescent shape of the front campus. These were the oldest buildings, a flyer maintained, and well-kept in their fashion. On a side note, the Kent State University Museum is an eight-gallery white house on Lincoln that houses some of the world's most definitive collections of fashion and decorative arts. I cracked two eggs in one hand and set the pan on a burner.
The five original buildings on the front campus, Merrill, McGilvrey, Lowry, Cartwright, and Kent, stand as behemoth blocks of classical revival, the construction of which began in 1912. The names have been amended or modified here for their modern names, for verisimilitude. I set the coffee maker on, as the Inn had provided me with two pouches of French roast for my arrival. I heard an almost rotating din of burgundy doors opening and closing, at odd periods through the day. The eggs were good, but I had absent-mindedly punctured a yolk with my fork and so tossed the rest of my plate into the garbage disposal.
I carried on in this way as long as the lobby information would produce. But I knew after my leg fell asleep that I had reached a boundary in things. It was one o'clock and it was time to find a library.
When I am at full blast I like a good solemn walk. The map, which I named Samuel, told me the library was down Water street and then left on main, and a few fingertips to the entrance.
For possessions, I had brought from Nightmare only my essentials. That was three black suits and one navy blue suit which inhabited a stuffed garment bag and two pair of black bluchers, which my sister Lucy had purchased for me three years past. I quit my informal attire and fitted myself well into one of the black suits. Then I gathered my paperwork and my shoes and knelt at the inside of the door like a track star and tied at my laces. The rain had stopped. The afternoon would be illuminating.