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Fiction #379
(published April 24, 2008)
The Missing String
by Errid Farland
Martin had long skinny legs and a short fat body. His arms, like his body, were short, and he kept them bent and tucked in tight. His skin was pink-toned, and he tended to squawk when he got agitated.

He was a man with power, but without accountability. Universities breed that kind of management. Martin couldn't be fired though he was profoundly inept. Everything he touched turned to shit.

Marjorie thought of him as a flamingo. She didn't even listen to him anymore. When he spoke, she'd think, "Squawk, squawk, squawk," then, when it seemed as if he expected a response, she'd nod her head as if deep in thought, and say, "Uh huh."

"So you're admitting it?" he squawked.

"Oh. No," she hastily said. Admitting what? "No. What I meant was huh uh."

"Then you didn't help him?" Martin said.

Help who? "No. Huh uh. No."

"Then where did it go?"

Marjorie shrugged. "How should I know?"

"I have a witness who saw you help him load it into his truck."

Who? Load what? "Well, I guess you should talk it over with your witness, then, because I don't know anything about it."

"I'll talk it over with my witness, all right. Then I'll be calling you into my office."

What could she say? She shrugged and said, "Okay."

There was a time when it would cause her stress, but not anymore. Martin hated her from the very beginning. He pretended to like her. He'd drive around and pass out little bags of peanuts to all his workers, slapping them on the back like a best buddy. "Bag of peanuts?" he'd say.

"I'm allergic to peanuts," she told him.

He took it as a personal affront and never forgave her. Oh, he kept up the pretense of the back slapping good buddy by carrying around packages of pretzels, just for her, but Marjorie hated pretzels. He gave her poor evaluations, always citing a lack of cooperation as the cause. He once tried to fire her, but because she filed a grievance, fought it through the union, and won, his resentment turned into a vendetta.

"Man, there's talk going around you're going to get fired," Ronald told her.


"Martin says you were the one who screwed up the string thing."

The art department had planned this massive, Cristoesque project for the university's fiftieth anniversary celebration. The idea was to string the buildings together with different colored spools of thick, rope-like twine. They planned to use red, white, yellow, brown, and black. It was supposed to represent the beauty and strength that could result when racial individuality coupled with united purpose. Marjorie didn't read the whole thing they sent around - clearly they got carried away with the symbolism. It went on and on, talking about education being a unifier, and how education could erase racial boundaries, equalize the playing field, yadda, yadda.

Unfortunately, the university was embarrassed when they didn't have enough black twine to finish the project. The black twine wrapped around the facilities services building and the student union and the gym before it came to an abrupt end. There was no black representation around the administrative offices, nor around Pete Sams Hall (the business and engineering building), nor around any of the other academic buildings. It dangled in the breeze, severed, between the gym and the library. The symbolism screamed an entirely different message than the one they had intended, and they ended up embarrassed. Angry letters appeared in the University Voice, and protests mounted. There were even shouts about a boycott.

Anyway, as Marjorie learned later that day when Martin presented her with his imaginary witness' testimony, someone had seen Marjorie and Johnson loading the missing spool of black twine into Johnson's pickup.

"I loaded a spool of black twine into Johnson's work truck to deliver to the art department," Marjorie said. "But it wasn't the missing spool."

"Then what happened to the missing spool?"

Marjorie looked at him. "It's missing," she said.

"Yes, I know it's missing," Martin said, and he had begun to squawk. "What I want to know is: Where did it go?" That last part was delivered in full squawk.

"If I knew that, it wouldn't be missing, now would it?" Marjorie said. She had gotten to where she loved to push his buttons. When he first came, and when he first started his campaign against her, Marjorie had been baffled; scared, even. But in time she learned that while he did have power, it was limited, and he could only make her life miserable if she let him. She decided long ago not to let him.

"So, your statement is that you know nothing about the missing string, is that right?" Martin said, sitting behind his desk, his fingertips meeting in front of his chest, tapping together to the unheard symphony of his agitation.

"Yes," she said. "That's a very astute summary."

"Don't think you've heard the end of this," he said. "I'm going to continue to look into it. I'll be questioning witnesses and filing a report. If it turns out that you are involved in its disappearance, you can count on an appropriate reprimand, a severe reprimand—very severe."

Marjorie got up to leave. She shoved her hands in her pockets and felt the bag of pretzels Martin had given her three days prior. She pulled it out of her pocket, and extended it to him. "Pretzels?" she said.

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