To the Fullest

TO THE FULLEST
Elen Cox
Issue No. 3 – March 2014

To the Fullest

Attendance at Happy Hour was voluntary, but even the pregnant women and recovering alcoholics came to Thirsty Thursdays at the imitation Irish pub across the street from the office. The alternative was risking an image as a non-team-player, as being wrong for the work hard play hard, rising star of the start up world, products frequently featured in Wired magazine company culture. They knew the importance of being seen. This Thirsty Thursday though, no one was watching. The boss was absent. They gossiped at first, silly speculation that he was probably out shopping for new rotary blades for his helicopter, that he was lost in an erotic daydream about the company’s latest mobile app, that his Swiss watch had stopped and he had no other cues telling him it was time to leave the office. It wasn’t until the fourth round of beer that someone thought to ask the graphic designer.

The graphic designer was married to the boss’s sister. He would know if anything interesting had happened. He kept quiet during all the jokes and guesswork, but when asked directly, he pulled off his plastic framed glasses, rubbed at the permanent bags under his eyes, and answered.

“The boss is dying,” he said. “The doctor gave him three weeks.”

That the boss could be afflicted by something as common as death shocked the cluster of employees. The man eschewed sleep, food and sex. He subsisted entirely upon a diet of rising stock prices and corporate gift bags. How could a man like that ever die?

The head of human resources, a woman with sharp features and a tight, masochistic-looking ponytail was the first to speak.

“Ah well,” she said, pouring herself a beer from one of the foamy pitchers on the table. “Life’ll kill you.”

The marketing manager, a slight woman with watery eyes and a cartoon mouse voice, glared.

“That’s not funny. He must be so scared right now. Think of him, all alone in his apartment, knowing he’s going to die.”

The head of human resources rolled her eyes, drawing attention to their outer edges, where heavy eyeliner had smudged over the course of the day.

“Don’t get so worked up. We’re all going to die.”

“You’re being trite,” said the copywriter. He was taking notes in a Moleskine notebook, as he was wont to do. When asked about it, he would say he was jotting down observations of human nature to draw on for clever, manipulative marketing text. When asked after a few beers, he would admit that he was collecting resources for a novel designed to make corporate culture, and everyone involved in it, seem ridiculous and small.

“All I mean,” she continued, “is that it’s nice to get some warning. And three weeks is perfect. Enough time to do something, but not so much that you have to pay your bills.”

“I would go to St. Louis,” said the office manager. He was usually teased for his small-minded aspirations, but the context made this one seem charming. “I’ve always wanted to see the Budweiser brewery.”

“So what’s the boss going to do?” the copywriter asked. They turned to the graphic designer, who shrugged.

“No idea.”

“Well, what do you think he’s going to do?” asked a sales representative.

The graphic designer shook his head. He wasn’t going to play whatever game was developing.

“I bet he takes a hot air balloon trip around the world,” the head of human resources said. “Or tries to pay his way onto a space shuttle.”

“I bet he takes his whole family to his villa in Italy,” the copywriter guessed, watching the graphic designer’s face for confirmation.

“I bet he just sits and home and watches TV,” said one of the sales reps. “I don’t think he’s had a day off since he started the company. I bet he’s loving it.”

***

Parker’s eyes itched as he stared at the 19th page of Google results for the query ‘things to do before I die.’ He’d already clicked most of the links, some of questionable value. Seriously, what miserable lifetime of unfulfilled dreams would inspire a dying wish to draw funny faces on a dozen eggs?  To eat a slice of Spam? Though it was wrong for Parker to judge. It’s not like he could come up with anything on his own. Creative, abstract thinking was never his forte. He much preferred specificity, concrete challenges with the potential for outside-the-box solutions. So instead of trying to guess at the desires of the dying, he simply developed a methodology to pluck the diamonds from the slurry of online information.

He started with a qualitative analysis, identifying the core of each wish, developing and refining a taxonomy of bucket list items as he went. He found that there were, categorically speaking, only three different deathbed desires: ‘To See,’ ‘To Experience’ and ‘To Achieve.’ This made it easier than expected to organize the data. He just needed to build a bot to scan the pages, pull out the ‘verb’+’noun’ pairings and then rank the verbs from most to least passive: watch, hear, see, visit, swim, jump, climb, learn, complete. Once they were properly categorized, he ran a term frequency script to float the most popular plans to the top: ‘visit the Great Wall of China,’ ‘eat sushi in Japan,’ ‘write a novel.’ Next, he pinned the top hundred experiences from each category to an interactive map. It came out pretty well, he decided. His sister’s husband would have created something prettier, something with a sleeker font and a unified color scheme, but it functioned as a passable prototype.

He blinked, trying futilely to wet his eyes. Fifteen hours spent staring at a screen. He hadn’t worked like this, filling a solitary night with frantic, coffee-fueled ideas, since his company was just the seed of a plan. That was five years ago. But back then he hadn’t felt this kind of pressure to meet a deadline. Three weeks wasn’t much time and there was so much to do. He should go to bed. He knew that it was probably bad for his health to skimp on sleep, but he had one more task to complete before he could rest. He scrolled through his email contacts and gathered the names and information of anyone he knew in a relevant region. He BCCed each contact into the send field of his email and forwarded on his request for proposals.

 *

FROM: p.sullivan@intergy.com
SUBJECT: RFP for adventurers


Hello, I am seeking freelance adventurers to complete a popular activity in your region (specifics of the activity vary from region to region—please contact me for more detail). Ideally, these adventurers will have experience with video photography, as their actives will be live broadcasted. I need people with an innate sense of curiosity and an ability to follow instructions. Some assignments will be treacherous and an unwavering can-do attitude is a must. Proposals are due within the next 48 hours. Attractive compensation for any qualified applicant willing to start immediately.


If you are receiving this email directly from me, I am appealing to you as a friend and colleague: please help. I cannot overstate the importance of timeliness in this, nor the value I place on your assistance. Please take a moment to forward this on to anyone you think may be a good fit.

Thanks for your time,
Parker

***

The boss’s secretary walked into the Marketing Department and tapped the graphic designer’s shoulder. He pulled off his headphones and spun his chair around.

“What’s up?”

“Is the boss coming back?” she asked, her arms folded across her chest. She dressed down that day, wearing a tight sweater and jeans instead of her usual collared shirt and pencil skirt. It was Wednesday, the fourth workday since the diagnosis, and a number of people were dressing down. Even though Tom, the vice-president, was a capable business leader, he lacked the manic energy of the boss. He did not radiate the sense that everything in progress should have been finished yesterday, even if it had only been assigned that morning. Since the diagnosis, projects were slowing and the staff was making time for small talk in the kitchenette. Despite the increase in use of this room, the office manager noticed that they were going through only half the coffee of a typical workweek.

The graphic designer shook his head. “I don’t think so. Why don’t you call him?”

“I did. He didn’t pick up.”

“I don’t know what to tell you.”

The secretary shifted her weight from foot to foot. She was not accustomed to meeting problems she couldn’t solve. She was not accustomed to people avoiding her calls.

“Everyone’s bringing flowers,” she explained. “But since he’s not here, they’re just leaning the bouquets up against the door. It’s starting to look like…”

“Like a parade float?” offered the copywriter. He sat at the desk across from the graphic designer. He had been typing steadily since the secretary walked in, and he kept his eyes on the screen even as he spoke to her.

The secretary watched him for a few quiet seconds before turning her attention back to the graphic designer.

“I don’t have a key to his office,” she said. “So I can’t put the flowers on his desk.”

“Ask Tom what to do.”

She shook her head. “He referred me to you.”

The graphic designer sighed. “So you want me to deliver the flowers?”

“Would you?  They’re making me sneeze and the pollen’s staining the carpet.”

“Fine,” he agreed. The secretary thanked him and left.

“Is she still dating that guy in Sales?” the copywriter asked, feigning disinterest by typing a document full of garbled nonsense.

“How would I know?”

“You know everything.”

“I just know the boss,” he said. “And I don’t even know him very well.”

The copywriter shook his head and shifted his gaze to the doorway. “This is so totally macabre.”

***

One enormous, high-definition screen. Speakers embedded in the font and back of the room. Microphone. A dedicated T-1 link with enough bandwidth to stream high quality video directly from the cameras he sent out to his team of adventurers. Check, check, check and check. The project was ready to go. Parker wondered which, if any, elements of the set-up were patentable. He’d have to call his lawyer. In the meantime, he leaned back in his leather recliner and pointed his remote at the widescreen TV. When the screen lit up, he found himself in Paris.

He expected the project to suffer from a learning curve, so he decided to launch by going after the ‘To See’s: see the Grand Canyon, see Easter Island, see the Mona Lisa. It struck him as a strange instinct, this imperative to look at something and garner satisfaction from merely having basked in its presence. He wondered what prompted that desire, but didn’t spend much time considering it. The reason wasn’t really the point. The point was that this fruit hung so low he practically tripped over it. It would be facile to replicate that kind of experience. The high quality equipment was a major element, but the live streaming was the crux of the plan. The live action would give the viewer control over the experience, plus a sense of impermanence that mirrored real life. It’s what separated his project from a National Geographic television special.

The Grand Canyon went well at first. The pixilation was sharp enough to make the shadows appear drawn with a fine-nibbed pen, and the reds and oranges of the canyon walls smoldered with vibrant hues. He enjoyed the view around the South Rim for a full ten minutes before the sweaty adventurer dropped the $4,499 camera down the canyon. The fall, bouncing off those orange, stone walls, would have been thrilling if Parker hadn’t heard the sound of burning dollar bills roaring in his ears. Lesson learned: straps for the video cameras for next time. Better cameramen too. A poor hire was also the problem at Easter Island. That adventurer approached the project like he was filming a commercial, keeping the camera at a steady level, focused ahead, not following the natural flow of a person looking around. He didn’t eye up the statues appreciatively, he never jerked his head upward to follow the flight of a bird. It left the experience lacking the realism Parker sought. Ah well. It was all part of the process.

He was about to visit the Louvre though, and see the Mona Lisa. So far so good. The adventurer had a steady hand with the camera and a good eye for what a person’s attention would naturally be drawn to. Parker would have to keep the man’s details on file for future jobs in the region. The camera was still winding through the museum’s hallways when Parker’s doorbell buzzed. He could tell the adventurer to stop and tread water for a while, but he didn’t want to interrupt the rhythm of someone excelling at his job. Parker let the adventurer continue to wander the museum while he checked the monitor by the door. The screen display showed Julia’s husband, his company’s graphic designer, standing in the building’s foyer, arms full of…  Parker counted fourteen bouquets. He pushed the intercom button. “Come on up,” he said.

***

“So what’s he doing with himself?” the chair of human resources asked. After a week passed without the boss, and without any job losses or devalued shares, the issue had devolved to recreational gossip. There was a fair bit of money placed on how the boss was spending his time; hers was on a reckless, helmet-free motorcycle tour of South America. She poured a beer for the graphic designer and passed it down the table. All eyes followed the beer.

“He wrote a bucket list.” The graphic designer picked up the pint glass and nodded thanks. “Travel, art, food, adventure. And he’s going to do it all.”

“In three weeks?”  One of the sales reps looked skeptical. “You can barely do St. Louis in three weeks.”

“He’s doing it…”  The graphic designer paused for effect. He never liked his role as company busybody regarding the boss, but in this instance he felt there was no alternative to a dramatic build up. “Virtually.”

There was an unusual burst of silence from the crowd before the normal level of din settled upon them and they all spoke at once, diagnosing the project as interesting, misguided, brilliant or something only a rich lunatic would do. The office manager’s voice stood out among them all: “What does that even mean?”  They turned to the graphic designer.

“He’s paying people to have the experiences for him. He’s watching it all on TV. Directing it. He was having someone check out the Mona Lisa when I went over.”

“Twenty bucks says he has a deathbed revelation that he should have just gone for a walk,” the copywriter said. “One small, genuine experience trumps even the most elaborate artifice.”  He looked both surprised and impressed by his words and began scribbling them down before they finished tumbling from his mouth.

“I don’t know.”  The chair of human resources propped her elbows on the table and placed her chin in a bowl formed by her hands. “Do you really need to see the Mona Lisa in person? Wouldn’t TV suffice?  Maybe he’s got the right idea.”

“Why not just buy a poster?” the copywriter asked, rolling his eyes. “You lose the whole scope, the gravitas, of the piece when you take it out of context like that.”

“Lose the gravitas?”  She raised a thin eyebrow. “All you lose are swarms of chubby, underdressed tourists taking pictures with their iPhones. Besides, isn’t it tiny in real life?  I think I heard it was tiny.”

She looked around the table, hoping for some agreement from a knowledgeable coworker. No one could confirm nor deny the rumor; no one had ever been to the Louvre.

***

After an unemotional bungee jump in Hong Kong, Parker realized that ‘To Experience’ adventures required more than sight and sound to satisfy. The trick was added sensory effects. With the air conditioner turned up and a high-powered fan pointed at his face, he had another adventurer try a sky dive, this time over a glacier in New Zealand. His heart rate doubled, which constituted a major success. After that, the fan became a fixture of his adventures. Anything outdoors that involved even slight forward motion was enhanced with the fan. Scent made a difference too. He discovered this when riding a stationary bike (fan set to medium) through a colorful tulip field in Holland. The experience was more realistic than usual. For a few hopeful seconds, he thought that his mind had started accepting the screen as truth, but he soon realized that it was the scent of fourteen bouquets wilting in the dining room giving the scene an added layer of realism.

Still, there was an entire genus of experiences that he hadn’t tapped: ‘To Achieve.’ Those bucket list desires that had to do with completing a project, learning a skill or even ticking all the items off a list within the list: visit every continent, master a foreign language, write a novel, complete a PhD, run a marathon, learn to knit, watch every film to win an Oscar for Best Picture. In theory, it was easy enough to accelerate the completion of achievements. It wouldn’t be difficult to spend a day writing a novel. The book would be very avant-garde, full of typos and broken character arcs, but no one ever specified that the story had to be good in the conventional sense. He doubted this would satisfy though. What he needed to do was get to the bottom of the sensation these items were designed to evoke: pride. He had an idea, but it would take days just to set up. And he was running out of time to waste on mistakes.

***

Low morning sun pushed through the Venetian blinds in the kitchenette, casting tiger-striped shadows across the office manager. He leaned against the refrigerator, also tiger-striped, holding a postcard.

“But he’s not in Australia.”  The office manager looked up from the bright photograph of a clownfish overlaid with destination branding. “Is he?”

“No,” the graphic designer said. “He’s in his apartment.”

The office manager flipped the card over and reread the message on the back—Dear Julia and Ben, Spent the afternoon snorkeling. Reef is beautiful and colorful. Wish you were here (haha)!  All the best, Parker—when he noticed the stamp and postmark. “But it was sent from Australia!”

The graphic designer nodded as he sipped his coffee. “He had someone else send it. The guy who did the snorkeling.”

The copywriter walked in, nodded to his coworkers, and headed for the coffee machine. He held the pot over a mug only to be rewarded with a feeble, brown drizzle. He looked at the steaming mug in the graphic designer’s hand. “Would it have killed you to make a fresh pot?”

“Sorry, I got distracted.”  The graphic designer spoke with the lack of care only extended to friends.

“So you’re going to make a fresh pot, or what?”

“You can’t make your own coffee?”  He moved towards the machine.

The copywriter stepped back to give him space. “I can’t do anything pre-coffee. Not even make coffee. It’s one of the more consistent dramatic conflicts in my life.”

“Is that going to make it into the novel?”  The graphic designer threw the old filter and grounds into the garbage.

“That is the novel: 600 pages about one man’s quest to make coffee in the morning.”

The graphic designer laughed and ripped open a plastic pouch of coffee grounds, proportioned for their particular brand of coffee maker.

“So how’s the boss?” the copywriter asked once the coffee machine started gurgling.

“He’s in Australia!”  The office manager waved the postcard at him. “Virtually.”

“What I don’t understand is why he never went. I mean, if he wanted to go to Australia so bad, what was stopping him?  He had the money, he could make the time. Aside from workaholism, there’s no barrier to him visiting…” The copywriter squinted at the card. “The Great Barrier Reef. Ugh, I hate almost-puns. Let me try that again.”

The graphic designer, unconcerned by an inelegance of word choice, moved the conversation forward. “I don’t think the boss ever wanted to go to any of these places. He harvested all the ideas from the Internet.”

“What a weird way to spend your last days, living out other people’s dreams. I mean, I’m glad he’s finally decided to do something other than work, but couldn’t he think of anything on his own?”

“I’ll ask tonight,” the designer said. “I’m going over there.”

“Dinner with the wife?”

“No, he wants to see me. He probably wants an update on work. He must be dying to know what’s going on.”

***

Parker decided to learn French for the simple reason that it gave him an excuse to reuse the cameraman from the Louvre. Following that decision, he spent eight consecutive hours in a Skype meeting with a well-paid French tutor, working on vocabulary flashcards, verb conjugations, adjectival agreements and pop quizzes. Based on the parameters of his new knowledge, he spent the next day designing a list of challenging, but achievable, tasks. More French study, self-guided this time, in the evening. On the morning of the third day, he put the planning into practice. His helmet-cam-clad adventurer set out into the streets of Paris, guided only by Parker’s directions. Parker was guided by his task list.

“Stop that woman,” he instructed the adventurer when he saw someone he considered approachable, someone around his age, not wearing sunglasses or ear buds. “Tell her, pardon madam.”

“Oui?”

Parker spoke hesitantly, intimidated by the prospect of communicating in another language. He felt awkward and unprepared. He felt ripe for error. “Ask her, où se trouve le boulangerie?”  It was a feminine noun, he realized too late. It should have been la boulangerie.

The adventurer had been instructed to repeat every word verbatim, not to correct even the slightest of slips, but the woman didn’t seem to register error and she responded with gesture-supplemented instructions. Parker couldn’t follow every word of it, but he got the gist. He thanked her and instructed the adventurer to walk straight down the block, make a left turn, walk two blocks and then cross the street. Here, he found a small storefront with a window painted in cursive letters: BOULANGERIE. He drew a line through 1) Ask directions to the bakery and glanced at his next directive: 2) Buy two baguettes.

“Let’s go inside,” he told his surrogate.

***

After five hours of wandering around afterthought alleys and planned boulevards, Parker was beginning to feel comfortable. The sky was whitewashed with cloud, like a blank canvas. It gave the impression that everything that existed in this world had been deliberately built, and it invited him to appreciate the artistic care in every detail. Each chipped brick felt like it had been hand selected for its meld of macro symmetry and micro individuality, the names on the street signs sounded writ to walk the line between function and poetry, every potted plant seemed to be the perfect splash of softness for textural balance with the surrounding hard rock and metal. Even the people — enigmatic in their foreignness, thin and in a hurry, smoking cigarettes, talking on cell phones, walking their well-behaved, urban dogs to the nearest patch of fenced-off grass — seemed carefully placed, as if cast and costumed as extras in an Oscar-hyped film. He felt lost in solipsism, watching people whose daily lives he couldn’t envision behind the building facades and curtained windows.

Parker crossed almost everything off his task list, from 3) Buy and read a newspaper to 17) Ask a stranger what they hope to achieve before they die (He’d asked his lunch waitress. She wanted to go to culinary school.). The only task left was 14) Make someone laugh. When he’d created it, he’d not considered the cultural relativity of humor. Even though he was feeling more comfortable with the range of his vocabulary, he still didn’t know what was considered funny in France. He was about to give up that goal, to write it off as too hard and hang up the call, when he noticed the sun beginning to sink below the horizon. The adventurer was walking along the Seine and Parker requested he stop so they could watch the light change in the sky.

“You can go home after this,” he promised. “I know it’s been a long day.”

The adventurer stood on the ledge of the bank, giving Parker a view of the river tinged gold from the low angle of the sun. For the first time since his diagnosis, he felt the pull of a moment worth appreciating: a dusting of birds crossing the sky, children shouting made up rules to a complicated game of imaginary car racing, water slapping a lethargic tempo against the concrete banks and the sun turning the river a thick, yolky yellow he remembered from childhood breakfasts. His mother had been so fond of making soft boiled eggs — she had a theory about not leaving the house without some consumption of protein — that he found it impossible to remember his early years without seeing it gilded in a dripping, yellow coating. He thought about his mother and father, both deceased. He thought about his sisters, Julia and Kathleen. He had a lot of warm childhood memories: their closet full of board games; Saturday mornings sitting with Kathleen in the high school bleachers,watching Julia’s soccer games; lying face down on the floor of the living room, forcing out the answers to algebra homework while his mother baked lasagna; telling jokes over dinner. He smiled as he stared into the glistening, golden water below.

A little boy, maybe nine or ten years old, walked up beside him and looked down at the river, possibly trying to guess what Parker’s surrogate found so fascinating. Eventually, he asked: “Qu’est-ce que c’est?”

How to explain?  Parker felt the limitations of his French acutely as he tried to think of a simplified way of saying: Down there, I see the passage of my life. I see days long gone that were filled with the things and people that I love, filled with sacrifice and joy and hard work and reward and though it is ending before I expected, it’s OK. There is nothing for me to be sad about, there are only good memories behind and peace ahead.

“Il resemble un oeuf,” he said finally. It resembles an egg.

“Un oeuf?”  The boy looked down into the water, trying to see whatever Parker saw. The boy didn’t see any eggs though. He looked back up at the man. “Un oeuf?” he asked skeptically.

“Oui,” Parker said, wishing he could access more a sophisticated and nuanced vocabulary. “Un oeuf.”

The boy looked back down at the water and then started giggling. When he looked back up, a smile stretched across his face, giddy at the amount of sincere nonsense coming from the mouth of an adult. In an instant, Parker saw the conversation from the boy’s perspective: Egg/Egg?/Egg! He laughed too, laughed until there were tears in his eyes. He thanked the boy in French, which, to the delight of the boy, added another silly tag to the dialogue. He also thanked the adventurer and ended the call. He pulled off his headphones, unplugged the system and left Paris behind. Parker leaned back into his soft leather sofa. He had made a child laugh in a language he spoke not a word of two days before. The memory of happiness on the boy’s face, the boy’s thrill over a little silliness in a sunset, gave a weight to the whole project that Parker never anticipated.

“Holy shit,” he said to himself. “That was it.”

***

Nothing is ever perfected, he reminded himself, all you can do is pause somewhere satisfying. It was time to stop. It was for the best. He was moving with increasing slowness, struggling with fine motor skills. His mind felt fine, but that was the curse of his disease: he had to watch, cognizant, as his body fell apart. And it had certainly fallen apart. Parker felt too weak to even greet his brother-in-law at the door. The hospice nurse had to let him in.

“Hey,” Ben said, holding up a covered glass bowl. Chicken soup sloshed against the sides of the basin. “Julia made you some soup. She’s coming over tomorrow morning. How are you feeling?”

He must have gone home after work, to pick up the soup. Parker hadn’t expected that kind of effort. When he asked Ben to stop by, it was for a quick business conversation. The considerate detour touched him.

“I’m feeling it,” he admitted, watching the nurse take custody of the soup and disappear into the kitchen. He sat at his computer desk, pushed up against the wall in the living room. He had to twist uncomfortably to see his guest. “Getting tired, getting sluggish. It’s what the doctor described.”

Ben nodded sympathetically. “How’s the bucket list?  Did you get through most of it?”

“I finished it. Of course, there was only one item, so I don’t deserve too much acclaim.”

“Wait…”  He paused. “You had a whole list. The Mona Lisa, the Great Barrier Reef?”

“That?  No, those were other people’s list items. I hate traveling. Just a lot of looking at things, sleeping in strange beds and feeling awkward. I prefer home.”

Ben paused, confused by this information. “What were you doing all this time?”

“Starting a new business. Intergy was a fun company, but I never planned to stay so long doing the same thing. Funny how that happens, isn’t it?  We always seem to think there’s going to be time later.”

“So that was the last thing you wanted to do before you died?  A start up?”

Parker laughed, though it came out as a raspy cough.

“Don’t look so appalled. It’s what I love. There’s no better feeling. The brainstorming, the late nights, the trial and error. What a rush.”

Ben shook his head. “I guess. So what’s the business?”

He waved Ben towards the desk. “It’s called ‘To the Fullest’. It gives people one last shot at completing their dreams, despite limitations with time and physical ability. Here.”  Parker handed him a thick ring binder.  “This is everything I’ve got: mission statement, branding suggestions, corporate structure. I mailed a copy to Tom. He’s going to spearhead the project. I’d really like you to be involved. I really admire the work you do.”

The graphic designer opened up the binder and flipped through a few pages. He found a list of names and contact information organized by region, a model number for a high quality fan that, for ‘sensory enhancement purposes,’ needed to be included with every package, a recommended price structure and a marketing strategy for targeting the rich and dying. “This is really thorough.”

Parker nodded. “Feel free to adjust anything that you think needs adjusting. It’s all very tentative and it’ll need a lot of testing before it goes to market. But do it your way. Have fun with it. That’s the important thing.”

Ben looked up from the binder. “Fun?”

“Yeah, have fun.”  He watched his sister’s husband read over the product of the past three weeks’ work. Ben was smart and creative; Parker had always liked him, though they had never spent any real time together. They should have spent some time together. “Can you stay a while?”

“Sure,” he said, not lifting his eyes from the page. “I’ve got a few hours.”

“Good. Let’s play Monopoly. Julia and I used to play all the time when we were kids.”

“Yeah?”  Ben looked up, puzzled either by the invitation or the information about his wife’s old pastimes. “Sure. Why not?”

Parker pointed towards a cabinet across the room. “It’s in there. It’s the one we had growing up. Would you get it ready?  It’ll take me a while to make it to the table.”

While Parker took slow, deliberate steps from the desk to the table, Ben pulled the old Monopoly box from the cabinet. He handled it with care; the box was disintegrating from age, the corners held together with brittle masking tape and the paper so ripped, faded and covered in purple crayon scribbles that the branding was barely recognizable. He brought it to the table and pulled the lid off. A cascade of plastic hotels and houses slid off the board as he lifted it from the box. Parker smiled at the familiar clicking of hard plastic against cardboard and sat down as Ben counted out even piles of cartoon colored money.


Elen CoxElen Cox is a writer based in Washington, DC.  She holds an MA in Media Studies from the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand and her fiction has been published in a variety of journals based in Australia and New Zealand.





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