Death is familiar to Benjamin. It creeps around the edges of his workouts, showing its face during the last three or four minutes, reminding him it is there, watching him, waiting for his life to give out—waiting for the red line to burst and dirty smoke to trickle out of his eyes, mouth, and fingertips. He likes to know death is there, that he can outrun it, outmaneuver it, take himself to the brink where the air is scarce and his breath comes in low deep pulses—where he knows, without a doubt, that he is alive because the alternative is inches from his throat. Benjamin knows all about death.
He cannot remember the sight, but he remembers the sound. He remembers his little brother Eddie pitching him a Wiffle ball and the plastic grip of the bat as he swings hard, trying to hit it back into his brother’s face, but he keeps missing until Eddie pitches overhand, like a big league player, and Benjamin connects with the fat part of the bat.
At first the ball is a frozen rope toward Eddie’s face, but it veers off at the last second and bounces down the driveway. “Get it or I’ll pound you,” Benjamin warns.
He does not know if it is Eddie’s scream or their father screaming from the backyard or the scream of tires, but he remembers the air around him filling with noise like it had suddenly caught fire. He does not remember his brother’s body. Instead, he remembers the stillness of the stalled Bronco on the pavement, the strength of his father’s hairy, rough hands on his shoulders, and the taste of blood and grass beneath his face. He knows Eddie is dead. Everything after that point is blank, or, perhaps, blurry like a neighbor’s television through a rainy window. The scene unfolds in front of him again and again: His brother is gone, buried in a wooden box with dirt and roots wrapping around his bones, and Benjamin is alone.
According to the high importance email Benjamin reads from TJ Anderson, the first day of March at Adelphus & Smyth is reserved for employee motivation. The team is required to join TJ Anderson for a pep rally in conference room 2B. Benjamin clicks the mouse with his middle finger, deleting the message. He imagines stuffing TJ Anderson’s dead body into a thumbnail-sized recycling bin. He clicks the mouse again and erases the deleted email from existence.
Joey Velvet sticks his head into the cubicle and tells Benjamin to hurry up.
“Let’s just talk,” TJ Anderson says as the team files into conference room 2B. “No big deal, right?”
They take their seats. TJ Anderson stands in front of the focus desk with a loosened tie and pocketed hands. He smiles and nods to them; sits in a chair so they can see him at eye-level.
“You’ve all been watching that show American Idol, right?” he says. “That Simon is a real scream, isn’t he? You know, that faggotty looking teabag in the tight shirts. The one that says funny things like ‘You are simply the worst singer I have ever heard in my entire life.’ That guy is deadpan-hilarious.”
TJ Anderson laughs. He rises and looks around the room. In a British accent, he says, “4, being around you is fun, like being around cancer patients.” He laughs again. “13,” he says, “your financial summaries are about as articulate as a retard’s diary.”
He takes a lap around the room, patting each team member’s shoulder. “It’s OK,” he says. “I’m just fucking with you guys. That was me being Simon. Like from the show.”
He stops next to Benjamin. He sets his hand on Benjamin’s head. “Tell us, 7, what is it you like best about working here?”