They say silence can drive a person crazy, but this silence—the one that’s sitting right beside me like an old friend I haven’t seen in awhile—well this silence is sweet. Even though I know it won’t last. In a second I’ll hear the knock on the women’s bathroom door. Just one. It’ll be the janitor or someone, or maybe another woman who’s noticed I’ve been in here too long. All inquisitive and polite, she’ll come at me with sweetness and smiles— “Everything all right in there, Miss?”—and hell, I might even run for it then. But really, by then, it’ll be too late.
That’s how Marcus says it happens—or said, before he was pressed.
So no, I don’t have time to sweet talk you. I’m just going to come right out and say it: I’ve done some bad shit. Let’s just get that out of the way. There are some dead, some injured. I’m not going to say they all deserved what they got, but most of them did. In the end, anyone who didn’t stand up and say what we were all thinking deserved it at some level. Shit, maybe I deserve what I get for waiting as long as I have.
I guess the next logical step is to tell you my name, but let me explain some things first.
Your world—our world—has gone to shit. And I don’t mean, “Oh, my political party ain’t in office…blah blah…not the right path for America…blah blah…” or like, zombies have taken over the world shit, I mean shit shit. I mean, the President of the United States rolls out for a speech in a Nike tracksuit and Reeboks and begins his State Of The Union Address by saying: “This is brought to you by Skittles, taste the rainbow.” That kind of shit. The kind of world where the average person has about nine lawsuits filed against them at any given time, most for slander, and the only pre-requisite for some of the highest paying positions in congress is a sponsorship by one of the Big Three: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or Frito-Lay. The kinda world where you walk out in the street and 3 out of 5 folks are tattooed head to toe in brand names and logos, just to cover rent. I have about nine tattoos myself, sad to say. But they aren’t the worst of it; that happened before I was born.
See, before you’re even born your fate is foretold, written, and run through a computer’s endless lines of code. While you’re safely nestled in the meaty bits of your mother’s womb, your family tree information is loaded into a database that statistically stacks up the likelihood of you becoming successful, or famous—in their eyes it’s the same thing. Then, in the boardroom of the Trifecta Center, where the greedy sons of bitches who pull the strings from their offices work, they fight for your corpse, for your name.
Breeding is a lucrative business. But in most cases, it’s the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. See, poor folk don’t got much chance of giving birth to a famous child. Most they could hope for is a serial murderer, drug kingpin, or, just maybe if shit works out, a success story. The son of a notorious murderer can make bank, and everyone loves a success story.
I’m neither of those. My name cost them a good chunk of change on account of my old man being an NFL Hall-Of-Famer and my mother being the most notorious escort of the century, maybe of all time. You can’t say her name without men within ear shot cranking their heads to see if they could get a glimpse of the exquisite Lilith Sweetwater. My parents sold my name to the highest bidder before I was even born. Yeah, I was pricey.
My name is Doritos Pepsi Williams. You can call me Dori for short, if you’re not afraid of getting sued. Which you will, the summons served by carrier pigeon on the third business day. It’s against the law. See, I’m a walking advertisement for The Big Three. Every time someone says my name—my whole name—everyone within earshot hears it. I’m a living, breathing pop-up ad. If people start gettin’ all rebellious all of a sudden and start calling me by nickname, The Big Three loses revenue. That’s their claim at least.
You might think this ain’t half bad, but when you can’t make simple decisions without pissing off someone because it’s not what’s expected of the brand, it gets old fast. Pepsi’s filed four lawsuits against me since I’ve turned eighteen. I’m twenty-two now. Most claim that I ‘purposely and maliciously’ (that’s the way they put it, purposely and maliciously) engaged in actions that hurt the brand. One actually charged that I refrained from spelling out my full middle name.
Exhibit A – Drivers License Signature:
Dortos P. Williams
(I was also hit with a lawsuit from Frito-Lay when they discovered I ‘purposely and maliciously’ misspelled my first name.)
And then there’s also the fact that I can’t visit my mom anymore. It’s damaging to my sponsors for me to be seen with a hooker, even though they’re sending a check to that hooker the fourth day of the month, every month. God forbid the name Doritos Pepsi Williams be spoken in the same breath as Lilith Sweetwater.
Truth is…I miss her. Sometimes she calls me at night after I’ve gone to sleep from a pay phone out in the middle of nowhere. I know it’s in the middle of nowhere because I can hear the nothingness around her, the crickets chirping and the reedy sound the wind makes when it passes through the tall grass, the weeping sound of the door keeping that nothingness out of the phone stall she’s in, as it shakes and shutters. When I think of my mom out there, I cry.
Sometimes I hate her too, though. In the end, she and Dad sold me. What else do I have, if not my name? At least she calls, I guess. Dad doesn’t. Maybe he wants to forget it. The few times I’ve seen him he can’t say my name without staring down at my shoes and getting all quiet-like. Starts mumbling something about how pretty I look all grown up. Like he’s remembering the days when I was small and giggled every time someone said my name.
Because I thought it was fun to be named after soda and chips.
• • •
Hiding here, sitting on this toilet in this bathroom, with an earpiece that I bought from a toy store in downtown Los Angeles, in a box labeled Doctor Xavier’s Time Machine —hear the future, watch the past!—you’d think I’d lost my mind. What other twenty-two year old chick goes to a toy store and picks up a package sitting between a box of Sea Monkeys and Ouija Boards and plans on changing the future? In my old man’s line of business they’d call that a Hail Mary.
I’m going to go back in time. Right. Sure thing, girl.
But let’s believe this works for a second. That I’m going to go back in time, right now, this second—my voice anyway. It doesn’t work all the time, and the instruction manual says I just gotta keep talking. Keep spilling my story, and hope that someone answers. Even though it’s just been static on the other end.
Marcus says going back in time is like getting water through a bag, you just gotta find a hole. “And trust me,” I remember him saying to me, “there are holes.”
I watch him from a spoonful of rainbow colored cereal, tipping the bowl up to my lips to get a sip of the cold milk. “Sure thing, hippie.”
“Shut up, Dori. Anyway, every so often everything in the world stops for a nanosecond,” he continues, laying on our bed, having barely taken the cobwebs from his sleepy eyes. He runs his hands through his sinewy almond-blonde hair, yawns, and spots me giving him a look, and smiles. “I know, in all the hustle and bustle of everything, it’s hard to believe, but it happens. Call it a cosmic brain fart.”
I laugh. He reads too much, filching books he finds dumped in trashcans or buying a box from yard sales and the Salvation Army. Sometimes I have a hard time following our conversations as they move from subject to subject. Smart guys like Marcus are always poor, and almost always get to keep their name, their normal name.
“Like the world took a moment to inhale?” I say, “To, uh…put it more gently.”
According to Marcus, most of these holes exist in the early mornings, or the split second after the phone stops ringing and the caller says hello. You ever woken up to the queer sensation that you were just having a conversation, or were talking in your sleep and you wake with only the last word on the tip of your tongue without the vaguest recollection what you were saying? Have you ever called somebody from your cell’s contact list, only to get some dude talking a complete other language? Well you just had the pleasure of talking to someone from the future. You were talking to someone attempting to rewrite the times with their own private agenda. It’s not a perfect science, of course, but it has its uses.
Thing is, no one’s ever really attempted to use this science to accomplish anything worthwhile, or succeeded anyway. Mostlycosmic pranks on our ancestors.
• • •
I’m getting pressed for sure this time. They aren’t going to slap me with a fine and call it a day with this one. I know it. Monday morning a bomb went off in the Trifecta Center, killing twelve people. One of them was a big shot. I, among others, was responsible.
Getting pressed is bad. I’ve heard about it and seen the results, but I’ve never seen it while it happens. It’s like getting your brain scrambled so it only plays the same couple of tunes that stick in the forefront of your memory. It’s like watching a channel of non-stop, 24/7 commercials, so that’s the only thing that dribbles out of your mouth. See, when you’ve tapped out, reached your limit, they come and take you. These Repo-Men, these shadows, come to your pad and take back what’s theirs, except they don’t just take your name, they take all of you.
You’d think shit like this might garner the attention of, I don’t know, everyone, but they go about it as though they were doing you a favor. See, they could put you in jail for life for all the money you owe in lawsuits, but what good are you for them in jail? Inmates can’t buy nothing. There aren’t any vending machines in a prison yard. Instead they give you the option of getting pressed, except they don’t call it getting pressed, they call it a debt repayment plan. And they make you sign your life away, except they don’t call it signing your life away, they call it a contract, and they don’t really give you an option.
Marcus was pressed two months ago. Went in wearing ripped Levi’s jeans, Chucks, and an unruly mop of dirty hair and came out a different man. Had his hair cropped up so I could see his ears for the first time, wearing a gray suit and a nice shiny pair of leather shoes. He had on a pair of Buddy Holly glasses taken right out of the 50‘s. The usual shit-eating grin plastered on his face was replaced with a charming, white-toothed smile, straight out of a toothpaste commercial.
“Marcus?” I said to him.
But Marcus just smiled down at me, holding me gently by my arms and breathed in deeply, as if for the first time.
“Take a Cheetos break, with Cheetos.”
• • •
They say you’re only under until you’ve paid off your debts, but this isn’t true. You’re responsible for returning back to them so they can reset you, and you’re so far gone you don’t ever go back. You can find Marcus walking the streets until the morning hours, pop-up adding anyone who makes the mistake of asking him a question, or just happens to be in his way.
• • •
The bathroom door clicks and the door opens. High heels tap on the linoleum.
“Miss?” A woman says. Inquisitive, polite. I can feel her smiling widely on the other side of the stall door, pearly whites gleaming. From this side she looks like a life-sized Barbie doll. Fingernails click like chitinous spider legs on the stall. One, two. Three. Fourfivesixseveneight.
From my vantage point perched on the toilet, her ankles look impossibly thin and perfect through the space under the stall door. As I’m staring down at them I hardly hear the muffled steps following behind her, I only feel their shadows on me before it’s too late.
• • •
I’m inside a simple office. Metal table, chair, and an old school wooden television set in the corner.
On the table the man in front of me lays out two items. “You’ve got two choices,” the man says, shaking his gold wristwatch and checking the time. He wipes his sweaty brow with a white kerchief and smiles at me, does the winky eye twitch like he’s pulling strings for me and it’s our little secret. He’s got a long centipede-lookin’ scar just below his left ear and every time he smiles a little bit of blood squeezes out. He’s got a good sized drop wetting the collar of his shirt.
One of my choices is a stack of papers set neatly in a pile. A contract of permanent servitude, he says. His pearly whites do that sparkly thing as he says it. The other is a syringe. A one way ticket to Pressville.
“You’ll be the new face of Pepsi and all its brands, Doritos, and Frito-Lay. You’ll be the richest advertiser in the world, Ms. Williams.”
“Excuse me for askin’ Mr…” I say, looking for a name badge that I was sure all folks of his type should be wearing—
“Mr. Reekstin. Call me Benny.”
“Well, Benny, excuse me for asking but I just killed a bunch of people, including your CEO. Why would you want me?”
Benny laughs and turns around, walks around the room. He flips on the television in the corner. It’s on mute but even then I immediately see his point, without a word. That stupid shit-eating grin that Marcus should be wearing right now, in our bed back home, is on Benny’s lips.
It’s me. There. On the screen. On every channel. Everywhere. “You’re valuable property, Ms. Williams.”
Mathew Allan Garcia
Mathew Allan Garcia lives in Hesperia, California with his wife, his three dogs, and his bear-dog hybrid named Zansa. He serves as managing editor at Pantheon Magazine, and writes to make the voices in his head go away, for at least a little while. His work can be found at Shotgun Honey, Swamp Biscuits & Tea, B O D Y Literature, among others. Sometimes, between it all, he has a chance to breathe.