A Terrible Day and A Tree
By Melissa Marni
From: Henry Littlesworth
To: Marcus Trevan
Subject: Your Job
It’s over. Fax Me Up LLC is closing shop, effective immediately. Funny I should write this to you over email, the very thing that killed my fax business. Well, Amazon killed us, too. Damn devil of a company. People should know better than to order fax machines from a website named after the epicenter of malaria and yellow fever. But I digress. Don’t worry about securing the Hindler account (obviously). I spoke to Jerry last night and he seemed to understand. I only hope you do, too. Sixteen years as my best fax salesman and wham! All gone. Who would’ve thought? Also, no need to come to the office to collect your things. I had them shipped to the mobile and Sal is already renting our old space to a nice Korean couple. Vacuum business or something. I wasn’t paying attention when he told me. You know how fast Sal can talk and who gives a monkey’s sweaty armpit? He overcharged me on rent for years. So, that’s it. Nothing more from me. I’ll probably take myself up on that one-way ticket to Tokyo even if the damn Japanese subways are a little too clean. Never trust a man who looks too clean unless he’s selling you shower heads or bathtubs.
Have a nice life,
(Formerly) President & CEO, Fax Me Up LLC
And that’s how it ended or maybe that’s how it began for Marcus Trevan on a terrible day in June. But terrible days tend to arrive wrapped in the ordinary fabric of passing time, without so much as a fine-printed warning one might be headed your way. Wouldn’t it be kinder if a terrible day had a Terrible Day Skywriter attached to the front that would scribble in white cloud-ink across the sky? I’d imagine the message might go something like: “Hello, Marcus Trevan. Today is going to be terrible.” Then you could prepare. Maybe.
There’s no such thing as a Terrible Day Skywriter. At least I don’t think such a machine exists and if it does, Marcus never looked up to see the danger written above. I can guess your next question: How do I know so much about Marcus Trevan’s terrible day? Let’s add this inquiry, too: Why would I want to write about Marcus in the first place, me sitting here, a stranger hiding behind the comfort of my retina-display computer screen?
I’d rather not say how I came to know about Marcus’ terrible day or why I can detail the unsavory events that stuffed themselves inside of it. However, I will reveal this: I’m telling you about his terrible day now because the whole thing makes for an extraordinary story and whether you want to believe me or not, it’s also completely true.
Let’s get this straight from the beginning: The email from Henry Littlesworth came as not the least bit of a surprise to Marcus. There were definite signs the fax machine industry was fast sliding toward a bleak, black-and-white demise and Jerry Hindler was unquestionably wavering on a five-year contract that might have bought Fax Me Up more time.
After reading Henry’s email, Marcus had nothing but time, oodles of it stretching before him on a California road so dry and desolate it might inspire even the crustiest of businessmen to write a cowboy song or two. Not Marcus Trevan, though. He was the 48-year-old illustration of an archetypal bore, a company man with no company left to define him. So, who was he on this terrible day?
I’ll explain: Marcus was the vaguely underweight owner of a 1984 Chevy Caprice and a slim, graying mustache that clung to his lip for all its dear, hairy life. He had no wife, no kids, no family save a grandmother in the Florida Everglades with a nasty gambling problem — blackjack or craps he guessed — who never bothered to call except when her checking account ran low.
Who else was he? What might describe him? Perhaps his penchant for twig tea with a spot of goat’s milk or his ability to recite Walden and The Origin of Species by heart or his eternal fascination with the life of Fyodor Dostoevsky or the pinstripe navy blue suit he wore each day as he drove to fax machine sales meetings in a car that smelled of cinnamon air freshener and weeks-old sweat. Together, these details might provide a decent depiction of the man called Marcus but if you’re looking for the clearest way to understand him, you might start with his mobile home.
The mobile, a four-wheeled, red-striped contraption, was as far from mobile as you could get, rooted to the same spot in the barren underbelly of Silverado Canyon since Marcus found it sixteen years ago. Over time, the mobile became not just the place where he lived but an extension of Marcus’ being, the only example of permanence in a life impermanent as the summer breeze.
That’s why when he returned from his defunct trip to visit Jerry Hindler and found the mobile missing, Marcus wasn’t only missing his house; he was missing a piece of himself.
We’ve reached the part in the story where we get to the incredible (but unshakably true) turn of events: The mobile didn’t stay lost for long. Not more than five minutes after Marcus stepped out of his Chevy into the empty space where his home had once been, he saw it again, tied with black twine to the trunk of a nearby pine, suspended twenty or so feet above the ground. Unusual? Yes. But still not the crux of the incredible incidents I mentioned. On to those …
“What the? That’s my house!” Marcus yelled to no one when he found his mobile dangling from the tall tree. He flailed his arms in desperation and shook clenched fists at a blank, misty sky. “How am I supposed to get through my front door?”
“Oh ssssugar,” hissed a low voice behind him. “You need to get out more.”
He turned to see a snake, spotted brown and white, shimmying along the dusty ground before him. It moved in a seductive slither — maybe he did need to get out more — up the tree trunk where his mobile was twine-tied and trapped. “You’ve got to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can swim, ssssailor.”
“I’m not a sailor, I’m a salesman,” Marcus said, faintly aware he was arguing with a snake. Old, Fax Me Up Marcus might have had a better sense of truth but new, mobile-homeless Marcus wasn’t sure what in the nebulous uncertainty of a talking-snake world could be considered real.
“She’s right you know,” came a chirp by his left ear. “The business about not trusting snakes is bogus. It’s the toads you’ve got to watch out for and luckily we don’t have many of those slime balls in our forest.”
This next slice of advice came from a fat, charcoal-feathered goose, waddling by Marcus on its way to the tree. For some reason, it was at this very moment that Marcus heard Henry Littleworth’s gravely voice inside his head: “What’s so special about wild animals? They’re a bunch of haughty know-nothings who wouldn’t think twice about snatching your house right from under your damn overgrown nose hairs.”
“That’s not entirely true,” said the apparent mind-reading goose to Marcus. “And I ain’t no Mamma Goose neither so don’t get fancy with ideas about golden eggs or breakfast omelets.”
Then the goose, like the snake before her, disappeared into Marcus’ mobile home.
“We’re taking this sucker back!” Buzzed a bee, whirring frantically in the damp air beyond Marcus’ forehead. “You had a good run with her but it’s all over now, honey.”
One by one, strange animals of the wood – a fox, a beaver, a hawk, an antelope with a missing left antler – leaped, flew, crawled or slinked from some leafy refuge in the Silverado Canyon to Marcus’ mobile home.
And Marcus stood there, stupid in his pinstriped suit, hardly aware his mustache was wet and dribbling rainwater down his chin and neck. In all the animalistic commotion, the sky had stewed to a mess of thunderclouds and lightening — there might be a Terrible Day Skywriter after all — and if you believe nothing else of this story, hold tight to one single fact: In the battle between Marcus Trevan and Mother Nature, I most certainly won.
[This story is a collaboration with Sydney, Australia-based illustrator Thomas Jackson, who drew the painting that sparked the idea for this story. See more of his incredible, nature-inspired work here.]