Curtis’s yelled response was, “To Wildwood!”
The World Waltzes to Wigman; Welcome to the Unthank Home
The man was sitting on the sofa. A squat fedora was balanced on his knees. In his hands, he held a green bottle of Lemony Zip soda, which he sipped at politely. An array of magazines was laid out on the coffee table in front of him; he scanned the titles: Industrialist Weekly, DUMP!, Modern Mining, and The 1% Journal. None of them piqued the man’s interest, except for Industrialist Weekly, which he had a subscription to; but the issue was from October of 2006, and he’d read it cover to cover already. On the front, in block letters, it read: “Cigarette Holders: Are They Really Necessary?” He sipped again at the soda and looked out the wall of windows opposite the couch. He was on the top floor of a very tall tower, one that overlooked a vast landscape of smokestacks, warehouses, and chemical tanks. A thick layer of haze made a kind of translucent veil over the view that rendered the world almost dreamlike. One could imagine this landscape stretching on forever into the distance, but it stopped abruptly at a great, blank wall of green just at the edge of the man’s vision. Seeing this, the man’s stomach gave a turn. It was a view that he saw daily, and yet it never failed to dismay him.
A ding! sounded, and the man looked up to see the elevator doors on the opposite side of the room open and disgorge a plump man in gray coveralls. He walked over to a circular desk in the center of the room (it stood as the only obstacle between the sofa and the two giant ornate bronze doors on the far wall) and signed his name to a piece of paper handed him by the secretary. He then walked over and sat in one of the chairs near the other man’s sofa.
“Unthank,” said the plump man in greeting.
“Higgs,” said the man, Unthank, on the sofa.
They both sat in silence. Higgs picked up the copy of Modern Mining and began flipping through the pages. He smelled like pavement. Unthank sipped at his Lemony Zip.
Ding! Two more men walked into the room. They were both very, very tall. Unthank supposed they might be described as “willowy.” One wore a white lab coat, while the other was encased in a baggy yellow hazmat suit. They, too, signed the sheet of paper given them by the secretary and found seats near Higgs and Unthank.
The four men all nodded to one another. They greeted each other in a litany of surnames: “Higgs.” “Tumson.” “Unthank.” “Tumson.” “Dubek.” “Higgs.” “Unthank.” “Dubek.” Dubek wore the hazmat suit, Tumson the lab coat.
Joffrey Unthank sipped at his soda and stared again out the window at the dark green lump of vegetation in the distance. It continued to bother him. He twisted his wrist slightly and took a quick look at his watch; it was getting on nine forty-five a.m. He’d told Desdemona he’d be back by eleven. He glanced up at the giant golden doors on the other side of the room. The copper-cast relief of a massive shipping barge straddled the gap between the two doors, and Unthank briefly marveled over what the cost of the doors must have been. No sooner had he done this when the crack widened, the ship broke in two, and the doors flew open. A large, muscle-bound man in a tight-fitting three-piece suit walked proudly into the room.
“Gentlemen!” he boomed. He was flanked by two hulking men wearing identical maroon beanies.
The four men in the various chairs and sofas all stood up in unison. Joffrey’s fedora fell to the floor, and he stooped awkwardly to pick it up. Standing again, he realized he was still holding his Lemony Zip soda; he set it down on the coffee table. The man in the suit watched the action with a bemused smile on his face. “H’lo, Mr. Wigman,” said Joffrey.
“Please,” said Mr. Wigman, “come in.”
Opulent was the only word that could describe the huge room on the other side of the double doors. One wall was entirely made of windows; the other walls were covered in various advertisements for Wigman Shipping, as tall as the tallest men in the room, interspersed with framed magazine covers featuring Mr. Wigman himself, smiling widely in the vicinity of proclamations like: “Industrialist of the Year!” and “The World Waltzes to Wigman!” Short columns made of shiny metal provided a kind of obstacle course throughout the room; on top of each was some award that had been given to the great industrialist, as well as a few ancient-looking pieces of art that Joffrey im
agined had been acquired unscrupulously. In the center of the room sat a very long conference table, hewn from what could only have been a massive, ancient tree; the highly polished surface was lined with the tree’s gnarled grain. The four men waited for instruction; Mr. Wigman waved for them to sit as he stood at the head of the table. Joffrey set his hat in front of him and smoothed the front of his argyle sweater. When everyone was seated, Mr. Wigman turned his back and gazed out at the view beyond the windowed wall. The landscape was similar to the one seen from the foyer—a wide plain of multihued buildings spewing multihued clouds of gas, smoke, and fire—except the outer limits gave way to a wide river and, across it, the city of Portland.
“Darn it!” shouted Mr. Wigman.
The two attendants, the maroon-beanie-cap-wearing apes, jerked to attention. Wigman sounded angry.
“I said, DARN IT!” he repeated.
The four men at the table sat forward in their chairs.
Mr. Wigman took in a deep breath through his nose; his broad shoulders heaved inside the taut suit. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he whispered.
Everyone in the room gave a sigh of relief.
Mr. Wigman turned around dramatically. His hair was crisp and black and parted perfectly on the right side of his scalp; his jaw was cleanly shaven. His teeth were long and bright, and his chin jutted from his skull like a cliff-face promontory that would pose a challenge to the heartiest of mountaineers. “And it’s all ours, gentlemen.”
Mr. Dubek rapped his fist on the table. “Hear, hear,” he said.
The rest of the men voiced their approval as well.
“Stevedore!” yelled Mr. Wigman, and one of the beanied attendants snapped to attention. Mr. Wigman clapped his hands, and the stevedore drew from his pocket a blue squash ball and threw it at Mr. Wigman, who caught it easily with one hand. He began to squeeze it mightily.
“Let the meeting of the Five Titans commence!” announced Mr. Wigman. “Our quarterly review, shall we, gents?”
At the command, the men at the table produced individual leather briefcases from the floor and set them on the table; they snapped them open and began to sift through their contents. That is, all the men but Joffrey. He looked around uneasily as he reached into the inside pocket of his corduroy jacket and retrieved a single folded-up piece of paper. He opened it gingerly and studied it; written there in smudged pencil were the words Eggs. ½ n ½. Arugala (sp?). Lightbulbs. Meanwhile, the other men had pulled from their natty briefcases thick, neatly bound volumes of documentation; they began flipping through the pages while Mr. Wigman spoke.
“Nature, fickle nature, created the seasons. For centuries man was imprisoned by these seasons. He could only eat certain things at certain times. Certain activities had to wait till the appropriate season arrived. But then came the great, golden industrial age, and seasons were nothing to man. Incidental. A piffle! Instead, we count our time by the passing of the great Fiscal Quarter—and we do what we like, when we like. We eat whatever we want to eat. And we eat well, don’t we, gentlemen?”
A murmur of agreement followed.