by Don Hucks
When Mrs. Bennett found him, he wasn't really pretending to be dead. He was only practicing pretending to be dead-- slumped in his chair, perfectly still, one hand resting on his mouse, as the other dangled, flaccid, from an armrest; head cocked onto his shoulder; staring blankly into a spreadsheet on his monitor, quarterly sales by department and branch; mouth agape, a strand of saliva hanging from his chin. He was very good at practicing pretending to be dead. He didn't even flinch when Mrs. Bennett shrieked or when her coffee mug shattered on the linoleum. Had he heard her approaching, he would have broken off his practice before she noticed. But Mrs. Bennett's corns, he was aware, had been giving her trouble, and she had taken to slipping out of her shoes whenever the boss, Ms. Talbert, was out of the office, as she would be all week at a conference in Duluth.
Now he was in a corner. He had no experience at feigning resurrection. Nor could he admit that he had only been practicing, not with everyone crowding around gawking, and Mrs. Bennett sobbing and cleaning coffee off the floor with a handful of paper towels, and Mrs. Holland pointing out to Mrs. Bennett that she had ruined her socks, poor thing, having stepped in the coffee, and Mr. Dillingham protesting, "Nonsense. Just slip them off and soak them in a cup of club soda. I remember seeing a bottle in the fridge in the break room. Does anybody belong to the bottle of club soda in the break room? Anyone? Would it be alright if Mrs. Bennett took a cup or so, to soak her socks?" Mr. Dillingham was a poet in real life, only selling bric-a-brac out of respect for the mortgage company and so his wife would not divorce him and, consequently, was prone to using alliteration unconsciously the way ordinary people used mild profanity.
Anyway, he was sure it was a serious breach of protocol to feign death during office hours. Ms. Talbert would be forced to conclude that he had done so just to avoid work. Such conduct was undoubtedly grounds for immediate termination. He couldn't actually recall such language appearing explicitly in the training manual. But he was sure this sort of thing was frowned upon, and he couldn't take the risk. How would he be able to face his wife? How could he go home and confess to losing his job? For practicing pretending to be dead? An avocation she had never understood, frankly, and had always considered a bit ghoulish. No, the thought alone was more than he could bear. So he didn't move, didn't blink, didn't prevent the strand of saliva from falling onto his silk tie. At this point, he really was pretending to be dead and no longer only practicing. This was the real thing. And his hours of practice were paying off. His mastery was thorough and complete, his performance utterly convincing.
But after he had fooled the paramedics with a combination of ancient Himalayan breathing techniques, acquired in his travels, and self hypnosis, learned in a continuing education seminar; and after the autopsy and organ donation; and after the embalming and the gluing together of his eyelids and of his lips; and after listening stoically as the preacher rhapsodized on what a loving husband and father he had been, and what a loyal and patient friend, and what a diligent and conscientious employee; and after the casket had been closed; and after the slow, jostling ride and the gentle descent; and after the rumble of heavy machinery and the sounds of earth raining down on top of him had faded into silence; and after an indeterminate amount of time in the dark, unable to ignore unsettling sensations he assumed to be worms creeping in and crawling out, he began to wonder if practicing pretending to be dead, in the first place, hadn't been a mistake.
But there was no point in dwelling on the past, he thought. The only thing to do now, and onward until the end of time, there in the dark and the silence of his box, was to cultivate the practice of pretending to be alive. So he went right to it. He started by pulling a long worm out of his nose, mashing it between his palms, and wiping his palms on his lapels.
"Take that," he said aloud, triumphantly, and he smiled. He liked pretending to be alive.
About the author:
Don Hucks's fiction has recently appeared, or is soon to appear, in The Pedestal, Clockwise Cat, Cerebral Catalyst, and Ghoti.