I stand in the filthy hallway, watching dust fly through the fading sunlight as I look for a place to sit down. The woman’s Brit clipped voice fades as I walk further from the stage. There’s a bucket to my left and I wait for the small rat to jump down before I brush off the dust with his hat and sit down.
The actor flies from backstage and into the hallway. “Where’s the hat?! I need the hat!” he yells, just like every night for the past eleven years. I sigh and hand him the hat. He slams it over his white wig and runs back through the door. My stomach grumbles.
A flashing blue and green screen pops up on the opposite wall. “Smile, Gary! It’s your lucky day!” it bellows.
I shift on the bucket, turning to face the other direction, and the screen glimmers off. I think of the stored cans of refried beans under my mattress and my new roommate, Vanessa. She seems like the type.
A new monitor blasts on the door of the broom closet.
“Gary, setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible. It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.” it says, showing me hills and a green countryside. A girl. A ham.
I get hungry. The rat scurries over and sits on the tipped over broom handle, pausing for a moment to stare at me. I look in its small black beady eyes and wonder what it thinks of me. Can it think of me?
It only chippers and goes still again, staring. I think I see disdain in its eyes, or boredom. The sound system squawks and I hear the woman from the stage again. Her voice drifts back down into the hallway, rising. “And it is at the dawn of our new age, when man has risen to the occasion of his sacred duty, mounting the steed of destiny, the apotheosis of his heritage…”
An advertisement pops up near the window. The little movies like to talk to me from the walls, the doors sometimes, even in the floor. Sometimes I believe them. The stage actors only run backstage occasionally now, some glancing toward me, some not.
I try again, “Hello rat.”
The rat stares at me. I try making little squeaks but it only shuffles away. I put my head in my hands and try to weep softly.
The floor beneath me lights and turns into a blue ocean. There’s a little gold fish I recognize. The smell of shellfish fills the air and a woman’s voice this time, “You see Gary, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually buy like they know!” She emanates through the floor and rises. “You must take action. Our mission is to combine luxury with—“
I’m alternately squeezing my eyes shut and blinking them open, moving from her then into the blue ocean. “Can you see me?” I ask the fish.
The gold fish falters. A wispy paradise fish swoops in, colored blue and swimming fast. It hurriedly turns one eye to me, then back to the ocean.
The woman pauses, and then continues on haltingly. “…with strong brands and innovative products, Gary, we are producing, inspiring…”
“Hey fish, can you see me?” I watch the two fish closely. The blue one ignores me. I stand up and put the bucket over my head.
I hear a loud shrill. “…ethnic essentials …many comfortable blouses…”
I pick up the mop and start to bang on the bucket.
…Ferti-Lome F-Stop Lawn Fungicide Granules that give you the capacity to change any—
I bang faster, harder.
“…search the entire inventory, Gary, and meet any opportunity with preparation and…”
My ears start to ring and I smell a burning in my nostrils, something like smoke.
“…to imagine rolling along briskly on flat terrain, Gary, the 29″ wheels provide you the means to roll over obstacles better than smaller diameter wheels. And they roll super smooth on smooth terrain! And when it comes to…”
There’s a whisper, and then her voice clips out abruptly.
I take the bucket off my head. The woman is gone. So is the rat. I look around for the source of the smoke but can’t find it. I sit on the bucket.
After a while I see the blue fish float by and it glares at me through the floor. “Now why’d you have to go and do that?” it asks.
I shrug my shoulders and watch as it flickers away.