Time passes. The snow melts. People quit. A female freshman is fired for insinuating sexual harassment. Benjamin fails the first level of the CPA exam. TJ Anderson is promoted to senior team lead, resulting in an increase of paycheck, but not responsibilities. Fred Herman takes a swing at Joey Velvet, receives a reprimand, and is fired. Benjamin wins the Twin Cities Amateur indoor triathlon, but fails the first level of the CPA exam a second time. A memo comes down from the CEO demanding a mandatory seventy-five-hour workweek through the busy financial months of April and May.
The administration begins their yearly investigation of freshman personal affairs. The head office delivers a referendum advising TJ Anderson to accuse Benjamin of focusing too much on athletic training and not enough on company relations and procedures. Benjamin writes a letter of resignation and signs it FUCK OFF in forty-eight-point font, but tears it up. Instead, he writes a letter of apology to the CEO for winning so many triathlons and promises to slow his pace and focus on the Adelphus & Smyth regulated goal of running a marathon between four and five hours.
Treadmill weeks come and go. Benjamin’s body refuses to keep anything down but yogurt and orange juice. He stands naked in front of his mirror and spits at the glass. “Stupid, skinny motherfucker,” he says. His reflection spits the words back at him.
All over, he is white and soft. The muscle tone in his once vein-covered arms has withered and his ribs stick out of his breastbone and sides. He runs his hands over his short hair, lean face, and vertical body. He wishes for the sinewy curves that used to define him, but they are not there. Only ghost white and ghost thin.
He balls his fist and thinks about
putting it through the wall. Instead, he drops to the thick carpet and does push-ups until his arms collapse.
The Memorial Day sun warms the cool grass and white tents at the annual Adelphus & Smyth company picnic. Administration encourages employees to wear casual dress, but many show up in ties and khaki-colored slacks. Benjamin wears a sweatshirt and jeans. After grilled lamb chops and mimosas, Todd Duncan and Joey Velvet challenge him to a game of bocce ball.
TJ Anderson, drunk off plastic bottles of Bud Light, taps Benjamin’s shoulder. “I’ll be your partner, 7,” he says. “I’m an absolute god at this game.”
Benjamin nods and he and Joey line up across from Todd and TJ Anderson. Todd takes first throw and scores two points off the team lead. TJ Anderson takes a long drink from his beer and threatens to fire Todd on Monday.
Benjamin’s first three throws set his team to win three points. Across the field, TJ Anderson howls and says that Benjamin is his boy—that they are long-lost brothers from the same wolf blood—but then Joey lands his red ball right next to the marker, leaving Benjamin only one chance to save point. Dropping his plastic bottle of Bud Light, TJ Anderson yells, “Hey, 7, don’t fuck this up like you did the CPA exam. Velvet kicked your ass at that, just like he’s going to do now if you don’t step up your game.”
Benjamin grips the heavy smoothness of the bocce ball, cocks his arm, but pulls back, refiguring the shot.
“Jesus, 7, where’s your competitive edge?” yells TJ Anderson. “If we were brothers, I’d kill you so I could be an only child.”
Benjamin pivots to throw toward the mark. But his body has other plans. Monster Ben is in control, and, instead of an aimed try at the marker, he turns on his heel, a turn that is fluid and violent at the same time, and the air around him becomes loud like it’s on fire. Loud like an aircraft dropping concussion bombs all around them. He will not remember screaming at the top of his lungs, only that the green bocce ball in his hand doesn’t feel smooth at all. It feels bumpy and hot like a dimpled grenade with the pin pulled, and he has no other choice but to get rid of it as fast as he can. No other choice but to stuff it down TJ Anderson’s throat and watch his chest explode in smoky red dust.
But what would happen if Joey Velvet stepped in the way? Would Benjamin know the difference? Would he stop his hand? Would he release and make Joey Velvet, the bocce ball, and the wire glasses hit the ground at the same time? And if TJ Anderson laughed and sprinted over, would Benjamin let his team leader fold him down? Would he listen to TJ Anderson’s voice, almost proud, saying, “You did it, Blake. You got him right in the head. Man, I hope he lives.”
Would Benjamin know who the monster was then?