The Evolution Rapist
I see the boy and girl relaxing in his shadow, and I think--they don't remember far back enough and can't possibly understand how all of this happened.
They've forgotten the first sketch. The one published in the University Paper. They don't remember the stickman: the balloon head with black dots for eyes, the flat-lined mouth, the thin arms and legs splayed, feet flat, no hands. Standing unashamed, his back a straight and solid line that passed between the inverted V of his legs and ended at the appendage that hung between, shrunken and newborn.
I'm tired of people thinking I'm a copy-boy. At this University there is no such thing. Copy-boys work at copy places. I work in an office. My desk is in a room that you happen to walk through to get to the copier. I don't know the insides of the copier. I don't know what it means when the green A lights up and it stops working. But I have enough sense to follow the instructions on the panel that tell me to open flap C and twist the green knob until a toner-smeared sheet of paper comes out. I know this because I use the copy machine as much as anyone else, and, just like it does with everybody else, it occasionally stops working when I need something copied, at which time I follow said instructions. Unfortunately, reasoning isn't what they do in my building. The people here are philosophy and theory.
The people that come into this office read a lot of books and talk about things that don't really matter (at least to me). Take for instance Antonya and Feddy. Antonya is getting her Masters in Rave Culture, which I'm sure is just an excuse to have the school fund her partying and her dope. She likes GHB. She says it's flavorless and makes her feel drunk but doesn't give her the hangover. One time I overheard her say it makes her horny, which I thought getting drunk did--a fact I can't really attest to because I can't afford to drink. But I watched a lot of TV when I had cable and the people who got drunk on it always seemed to get horny and screw. Most of the time it was somebody they shouldn't be screwing.
Feddy always wears the same clothes. In the same order. On the same days. Today it's a tight cotton shirt and a pair of jeans that bunch and hug his package and pull low when he bends over in front of me to check his mailbox. I am not a fan of this. Feddy studies the metrosexual in society and has big ideas on the ways in which the homosexual-looking-heterosexual is negating stereotypes. I don't know if he is gay or not. People ask me. They think I know because I have access to the computer log, which is connected to the Homeland Data Server. I tell the people who ask that the University does not concern itself with an individual's sexuality and that the computer log isn't a place to confirm gossip.
Mailboxes cover the walls of the room I work in, which means that, by proximity, I have met everybody in the department. Everybody except Rankhi Vorn, who never checks his box--the box in which I constantly cram free copies of Bi-Weekly Academic. One of my tasks is to sort and place the mail. I'm kind of like the university mailman, only I don't deliver mail to people outside of the building. The real mailman wears a shiny blue helmet. One time I asked him if his helmet was bulletproof, and he sternly stressed that the unfortunate death of anyone--especially a government employee--at the hands of a few radicals, is a tragedy. I apologized and he left in a tizzy, buckling his chinstrap as he slung the blue canvas bag over his shoulder.
Each day I pray Rankhi receives no mail. It is the graduate students' job to empty their box of junk, not mine, and it is getting harder to put things in Rankhi's box. Credit card offers, agencies interested in buying unfertilized female eggs for families who can't have children and who want to genetically engineer geniuses, travel agency brochures, fellowship notices, and, every other week, a new copy of Bi-Weekly Academic--all of which get a raw deal when I'm forced to cram them into Rankhi's box. The other day I gave myself a paper cut and fought the urge to urinate on his unclaimed mail. I'm sure I could take out the old magazines to clear space for the newer issues Rankhi won't be picking up, but, like I said, it's not my job. Besides, tampering with someone's mail is a federal crime and I already have two strikes against me. I can't have another.
Feddy is tucking in the waistline of the boxer briefs that always make a late appearance when he stands up.
Antonya says to me, "I think the toner's low. Some of my copies are a little faded."
She nods her head like I'm right on it and then leaves. Feddy follows her out, and I say to anybody who might be listening, "It's not my job."
For the second sketch, they put a beanie on his head and gave him a hoodie, the initial details that separated him from other rapists. No one suspected that he would be bold enough to keep them. They drew raccoon-like circles around the dots to intensify his pupils. Another crescent line gave his bottom lip a soft shape. A large triangle nose in the middle of his face followed. An evolution witnessed through the increasing number of incremental details, details that accumulated as the attacks increased. The early sketches were so simple anyone could draw them. I found countless student's attempts at the sketch on the walls of restroom stalls and in the margins of discarded copy paper. The progression was like flipping through the pages of the drawing books I had as a child; the ones that told me to draw circles, and then particular lines that connected them, and then to erase certain parts of certain circles and cross-hatch certain areas thicker than others, with a final instruction to smudge the lines so that it looked just like the horse at the top of the page--which mine never did.
The vagueness in the print description didn't clarify anything: dangerous, strong, quick with his hands and feet, a deep voice.
My mother died when I moved in with my girlfriend and I wouldn't have felt so responsible for her death if she hadn't told me on her deathbed that the thought of me living in sin was killing her.
My then-girlfriend and I had been from neighboring towns and had met on a group hiking trip through the National Park. We broke up months ago. It feels like years.
One day, after a particularly uncomfortable dinner with my parents, my Ex (not my Ex yet) asked what my mother thought of her and I blurted out that she thought she was a whore. It was the kind of candid disclosure that ended six months of co-habitive bliss. So here I am, working at the college she wanted to transfer to after her first two years of Community College. She told me this one night before kicking me out after a round of guilty post-breakup sex (by then my Ex). I remember those nights, listening to her talk and trying not to say anything stupid. The last night I saw her, I remembered her--for the hundredth time--telling me her plan for college and her future (never ours). I couldn't help being a bit skeptical, her life no further along than it was a year ago when we first broke up. I remember her listing the majors she wanted to sample and I like to think I said what I said because I wanted to protect her from disappointment. But, in hindsight, saying, "They're really smart over there," wasn't so smart, because she thought I was calling her dumb, which she wasn't (but she always had lofty goals--ballerina, deep sea zoologist, surgeon--ambitious for a girl who skated trays of fast-food to cars at a joint where they played fifties music and served soft-serve ice-cream). She never forgave me, and, looking back, I think the reason she stopped visiting had more to do with what she thought I thought of her and not what my mother thought.
I'd been living alone for six months when my city tags expired. I hadn't paid the fee or taken the blood test because I was in flux, living month to month. At the time I wasn't sure how long I was going to stay at the University. It was around this time that I found the first ticket on my window. Apparently my private parking space was under police jurisdiction. When I called up to question the morality of such a ticket, I spoke to a lady who advised me that our conversation was being recorded and that a persistence of my hostile attitude would result in marks on my public record. She told me all the consequences surrounding my failure to register, or any subsequent damages that might result from my failure to comply with federal and state security regulations, all of which would be my sole responsibility, and how--should I violate any of these laws--I would be held accountable and subsequent penalties could warrant a second or third strike, depending. The next day I had my picture taken and fingers printed, as well as the required DNA scan, all of which cost money I didn't have even though I was due for a raise. The University was suffering the effects of a state budget crisis and was in month eighteen of a wage freeze and all they could give out were promotions. I was now Department Recorder and Office Manager, who, as of yet, had not seen any extra cash. The President of the University constantly promises to deliver the number one ranking that will increase enrollment and give him a reason to raise tuition and salaries.
My second strike came two months after the first. I had parked in a thirty-minute lot at the end of the historic downtown mall and got stuck in a shoe store behind an old lady who kept trying to pay with a credit card the store wouldn't accept. For several minutes I watched her put the card back into her purse only to dig it out later and try again thinking it was something else. On my way out, the old lady grabbed my elbow and asked if she knew me. It was a brief conversation, one in which I assured her that I did not know her or her grandson. When I returned to my car I saw another ticket on my window, I looked at my watch. Thirty-five minutes. The old bitch had cost me five minutes.
Eventually the sketch grew big hands with long fingers and a gold nugget ring for his right ring finger that he never removed. It was after the tenth victim that they started calling him a "serial" rapist. It was a kind of promotion, elevating him into a different category, one reserved for the kind of crimes that made it into textbooks.
Rahim is in the office checking his mailbox and making copies. He is an African American Studies scholar whose focus is Colonial Slavery and the Jamaican day-worker. He is a prominent graduate in the department and periodically covers hip-hop news for Music Television. I've overheard him speak nostalgically about the militant movements of the sixties and how he thinks it would be ironic if they turned over the states with Rebel Flags to the black people whose slavery they seemed so proud of. He doesn't trust politicians; feels that the last time they did anything for African Americans was because they felt threatened. He claims that during the civil rights movement, blacks were bought off with moderate and insincere political reforms as a delaying tactic; that the assassinations of prominent black leaders in the newly mobilized political force was a stalling tactic so the government could have the time to pump drugs into once vital communities in order to pacify his people. His sub-interest is on institutional uses of fear and coercion as effective propaganda in mobilizing minorities for global corporations.
Rahim never washes his hair and has a set of dreadlocks that emit an unpleasant odor when he moves while in my personal space. Occasionally he will try to trap me into conversations by asking me questions to which I rarely know the answers. Thankfully this is not one of those days, but he does seem angry.
At my desk, I'm reporting who logged on where and what they looked at and am amazed at how much porn people look at. I wonder if they realize that the internet is just another traffic zone monitored regularly by the government and that institutions that receive government funding are not protected by privacy laws. For example: Jason Bennett loves Celebrity Skin and Hardcore Hospital. The only person whose name never appears in the web log is Rankhi Vorn, who I imagine is too good for porn, or the Internet, and spends his time at the library with real books, above his contemporaries, in a carrel, coming up with big ideas.
Rahim's continued presence over me shakes me from thoughts of Rankhi's study habits. An unidentified but inescapable guilt overwhelms me and I can't bear to look at him. In my mind I try to remember if I messed up his mail or made a false entry in the log, if I've done anything to warrant his focused attention. It's only after he puts the newest sketch of the rapist on my desk that it dawns on me that he might have asked me a question and I just didn't hear him.
"What about this?" he says pointing to the new sketch of the rapist. "What do you think they're trying to say with this bullshit? It looks like a flyer for a minstrel show."
I look at the sketch and I see what he's talking about. I'm not stupid. I see the less than subtle triangle nose, the exaggerated lips. He's trying to trap me, trying to get me to say what he thinks I'm thinking. I feign ignorance, I push my face closer to the drawing and say, "What, that he looks like a raccoon?"
Rahim snarls, I've never seen him work this hard to communicate his disgust with me. He points to the stack of papers in his arm, in which I notice are hundreds of copies of the rapist sketch.
He says, "The copier's fucked up. These copies have no tone." And then walks out of the office.
I make a note in the office computer that another student has complained about the toner in the copier and then put it out of my mind, focusing on my job, which must be important otherwise they wouldn't have hired someone for it.
Finally, after attack number twenty-eight, they give the rapist jeans. And then sweats. And then jogging pants. He begins to wear sneakers. He is a simple man. His face is still a blank caricature, only they've rounded out the features. Eventually his methods evolved. The attacks increased in randomness. In a park he approached a mother walking her son and punched her in the face, his nugget ring stamping her forehead and leaving behind a lumpy bruise. But he didn't rape her. He began assaulting men. A guy waiting for the trolley was hit in the temple and had his privates stomped on. At first nobody acknowledged these radical deviations, but the DNA evidence found in the wounds was a petri dish of some of the past victims. Citizens took note of the change in M.O. and told themselves that, despite the flat face and generic features, the person in the sketch looked like somebody they knew. False accusations sprouted and then died amid a flurry of defamation litigation. For a time the paper stopped reporting the attacks. Schools, public places, and government parks began to take extra precautions.
I'm late to work and having a bad day because, in an effort to limit the risk of getting my third strike, I've stopped driving my car anywhere. The reason my tardiness matters is because--for security purposes--the buses have added ID swipes and, in an effort to monitor our travel patterns, we are required to call and reserve our seat on the bus a day prior to traveling. I had been doing well with it, but this morning a day laborer putting in the electrical fence around my complex sliced through an underground wire and killed himself and the power to our building and effectively put me an hour behind schedule.
Since I live in the basement of my building and can't afford cable, I've taken to calling the local news station in the morning for the ten-day forecast so that I know what to wear. Today I'm told it will be partly cloudy with mild temperatures. They tell me if I would like to hear a joke to press six, but I always hang up. I don't have time.
On my way out the door, my phone rings and I answer it thinking it might be my Ex. I say hello and nobody responds. I hear the buzzing sound that indicates I've called back on myself. It happens all the time. But sometimes I imagine she's called to make sure I'm still in town and that I haven't said "sayonara", which I hope still makes her smile since it was what I used to say before putting my head between her legs.
I arrive at the top of the hill in time to see the bus driving away. The sign on the back features several local writers and encourages me to read in order to free my mind. From here it's a half-hour walk to work.
At the office, I notice the Department Head has already opened the door and turned on the computer. He is the Plan B in case I'm late, which is rare. Even he can't get in the way of students getting their mail. I check the computer log to see his opening entry. It reads: Arrived on time. The guy who works the office wasn't here. Opened the door. Made copies for ten minutes then left. Something wrong with the copier. The tone is off. I would change "the Guy" to Brian Kellermen if I could, but entries into the log are considered legal records and can't be changed.
Gallant Pakapolis comes out of the copy room with a small stack of copies. I quickly sit in my chair and begin the entry.
"How long have you been here?" I ask.
"Oh, I don't know . . ." he says, rummaging through the box of paper clips. "Five or so minutes." Gallant freeloads off the supplies. He likes to take handfuls of paper clips and rubber bands, along with any pens that might be lying around. Sometimes when the stapler is out he pretends to fill it, but what he is really doing is putting the staples in his pocket. He isn't sly about this and makes no effort to hide his actions from me.
I type in his name and time of arrival even though I am unsure as to whether or not he is telling me the truth. Soon they will be installing cameras at the entrances of the buildings, classrooms, and offices. I've been told that I'll have one and that I'll be able to verify whether or not a person like Gallant--a person I loathe--is telling the truth. When that happens, I can enter his lies into the log, documenting them so that they may be preserved for as long as we remain a civilized society.
"I say," he says, taking a handful of paper clips out of the box and putting them in his pocket. "The toner is calibrated wrong." Stray clips drip from his curled fist and land on the carpet. "When I look at this batch, I'm really not sure what I'm looking at."
He smiles at me as if expecting the sparkle from his teeth to blind me.
I imagine his head as the first brick of a vacation home made from the skulls of my enemies.
"Take it easy," he says with a nod before leaving, paper-clips tumbling out of his corduroy pockets.
I type in what time he left and stare at the paper clips on the floor. It's not my job to clean the office--especially after a prick like Gallant. I know I'll eventually pick the paper clips up. Still, I give myself ten minutes.
After three years and eighty-three attacks, the first detailed composite of the rapist's face hit the ground with a whump, like one of those old newspaper headline montages: Capone, Pearl Harbor, Black Monday, The Serial Rapist. Thirty-nine of the women attacked were students and The President of the University believed this was affecting the school's ranking, which had slipped to third after being tied for second two years ago. ID swipes were installed on the doors of buildings and classrooms.
Controversy erupted over the ethnicity of the rapist. With the exception of some detailed shading around the nose, mouth, ear and chin, one would think him not that evolved from the sketches of previous years. People whispered in like-minded huddles that they had known all along that he was a "person of ethnicity". Next to the rendering of the face was a small note that read: skin complexion may be darker than appears. He now had a small chin, soft cheeks, and fuller lips and a flat nose. His eyes were described as "buggish," but in the portrait they seemed soft, non-threatening. To be the repository of aggression from another human being who looked as peaceful and relaxed as him implied a failure upon you as a person.
To help distribute the sketch, children--honor students from the best schools enrolled in civil service courses--were given permission to take a day off from school and help post the sketch inside every Federal and University building. Since the children only had a day to work, they were given the authority to interrupt classes and were issued special key cards. The hallways funneled their laughter into classrooms as they ran through corridors posting flyers and playing tag with the rapist's face, sticky-taping sketches to the parts of their bodies that fell within reach and running away before they could be tagged back. They came into classrooms chasing each other. Girls plastering sketches on the cute boys and giggling. Boys patting sketches onto the backs of scowling graduate students and ran in circles around the professors as they tried to discuss hegemonic influences. They posted sketches in elevators, in hallways, on food trays and in the brochure stands on cafeteria tables. They posted them on windows, on the sides of buses and in stairwells.
It was on this day that I heard a small voice singing a familiar radio tune. I followed the song out of the office in time to see a young girl at the end of the hallway, alone. Hanging from her shoulders were sketches that, in overlapping segments, draped down her body and expanded out from her waist into a white paper gown. I watched her twirl down the hall. As she spun towards the doorway, the red neon of the "Exit" sign cast a hot-blooded red over her skin. The subtle breeze generated by her wake lifted the sketches along the wall and drew them towards her like lunar tide crests. As she danced, she periodically peeled a sketch from her body and--as if she were a daisy plucking her own petals--spun towards the wall and placed it softly on whatever empty space she could find.
The children left us having posted the rapist sketch next to award winners and advertised alongside Nobel laureates. He went to class with you and ate with you. He rode elevators with you while campaigning with presidential candidates.
"I don't mean to be a bitch--" Sandra says, looking over my shoulder as I slide the mail into the boxes. Despite the number of people who have left in my almost four years, Rankhi still receives mail and, according to the log, still attends the University. For months now I've been forced to pile Rankhi's mail on top of the mailboxes and stack his copies of Bi-Weekly Academic on the floor. "--but the toner is messed up on the copier."
She shows me a copy and I agree that something isn't right about the tone.
"I don't know if my students, or anyone else for that matter, will be able to make heads or tails of this."
"I'll see what I can do," I tell her. I make my way over to my desk, where I enter her complaint into the log.
Sandra is in the office with Sapa, both of whom are new graduates. Sandra's specialty is Rape Culture, which has become an offshoot in several departments and can be found now in Business, African American Studies, Pop Culture, Human Sexuality, American History, Economics, Psychology, Advertising, and Law. All of this is largely the result of an influx of new students that started after The Times ran a piece a few years ago about a "highly selective institution plagued by the world's longest active serial rapist." Initially the president played down the article and the rapist's impact on the University. But within a year a new sub-discipline had emerged, bringing with it an influx of new graduates from the best schools, eager to make names for themselves by making unique claims regarding this localized phenomena. Always responsive to the winds of academic change, the president modified his stance and sold the rapist as the cultural phenomena of a generation, a microcosm of society magnified for contemplation and discussion. The only University in America where history was in the making.
Sapa tosses her copy of Bi-Weekly Academic into the trash and says, "So, like I was saying, the women who decided to keep their babies are all locked up for, like, the next twenty-one years, with deals from all the major networks. Big money deals. Like, where are the rape children at five and thirteen, type deals. What is the prom experience for the rape kids? Do the Rape kids go to college? Do they grow up emotionally unstable as a result of their mother's decision not to abort? Multi-million dollar deals. People don't want to say it, but those girls hit the lottery. Literally, statistics say odds favor being a victim as opposed to actually winning the real lottery. It's almost shameful though, exploiting such a violation for economic gain . . ."
"But some people don't believe in abortion," Sandra responds, "and it's our failure as a society since we haven't caught the guy yet. I mean, it's exploitive, sure. But we owe them something for our failure to protect them, whether it's through our pop-fascination or some kind of economic reparation."
I don't mention that both of them are here on fellowships because of the rapist.
"Did you hear that another one of the frat guys died last night?" Sapa asks as she flips through the contents of an envelope containing spring break cruise packages.
"Well, I can't say I feel sorry for him after what they did. Still, did you see his picture in the paper? A hottie."
For Halloween, a group of fifteen frat guys decided to put on hoodies and beanies and paint their faces in black face. They came across a group of black students on their way to the same party and a fight broke out. One of the frat guys was killed along with one of the black dudes. The frat guy that died yesterday had brought the death toll to three.
"It was completely insensitive, what they did," Sandra said.
"I can see it though," Sapa says. "I mean, I couldn't think of anything scarier to be for Halloween."
"That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the ethnic sensitivity. There is nothing in the sketch that confirms that it is a black guy--I mean, what were those guys supposed to do when they saw them?"
"Not black?" Sapa asks curiously. "You don't think he's black?"
"I don't know. Where I did my undergraduate work, there was a guy you would have sworn was black, but it turned out that he was part Dominican, part Puerto Rican. He could be anybody. The bottom line is, the guy must be poor because there is no evidence of him in the DNA records, which he would have to have at this point if he had a job or went anywhere, so, as a society, we associate poorness with African American communities. I mean, Mexicans are poor--"
"You know, I heard somewhere that Mexicans were being rounded up too--"
"Right, right, exactly! I had a maid and we used to pick her up on Sundays to come live with us. And she didn't live in the good part of town, if you know what I'm saying. I mean they're other poor people out there--I mean, like--"
"But, is he black or not? I dated a black guy, so I kind of have an eye for things like this. Maybe not, but--wow, were my parents not happy about it when they found out."
"No, no--I see what you're saying, I mean it's why the police have been rounding up every black guy on the street. Did you know that they're using the rapist as an excuse to clear out the run-down buildings off Main Street? Their 'best' effort to 'catch the rapist'? The city is reluctant to expand with affordable housing so they're using the rapist as cover to drive out the homeless and make condos. Somebody even said that the Italians are involved."
"Really? Are there any Italians here?"
"Of course there are. They're into everything."
"Really? I've never seen one. I mean, a real Italian . . . . Here."
"Have you been to the pizza place downtown?"
"Well, the guys that work there are all Italian."
"Really? They look Mexican."
"No. They give orders to the kitchen in Italian."
"I thought it was Spanish?"
"Do you speak Italian?"
"Do you speak Spanish?"
Since security policies prevent the admittance of students into buildings that are not related to their discipline, our department has become a claustrophobic place to learn and work. People wander down to their mailboxes and shoot the breeze with colleagues they're tired of passing in the hallways. Invariably the conversation falls back to the rapist, which gets people's ire up. More than a few conversations have resulted in verbal fights. Some have come to physical blows. Sandra and Sapa have long been getting on each other's nerves for a while now, each one telling me after the other left that the other was a "know-it-all."
I've decided to leave my job at the next available opening.
Last night my phone rang and I picked it up. I hadn't called for the weather; so I thought it was a legitimate call from my Ex, maybe even my Dad, who I haven't talked to since Mom died. There was a faint whirring in the background. I said hello into the phone four times and called out for dad. I called out to my Ex, "Sarah?"
"Hello . . . this is Trace Morgan . . . And I'm here to tell you about an exciting new real-estate plan that will get you and your family in a home . . . Fast . . . With minimal effort . . ."
I didn't take me long to realize that Trace was a computer salesman. Still, he had a nice disposition. He talked to me about mortgages, his voice prompting me to press numbers if I was interested in certain packages or needed further explanation, in which he explained the importance and intricacies of home investment. I talked to him about how I was sorry about Mom and that I should have loved her more and shouldn't have treated her like an inescapable weight. I talked about how I was sorry I implied that my Ex was stupid and how she was the smartest girl in her county and how I had stayed at my job so long because I thought she would follow her dream and come here, and that when she saw me she would know that I hadn't forgotten about her for one second, even though I told myself I had every day. I told Trace about this place and how it was everything my Ex wanted and that she would fit right in because she was full of big ideas. I told Trace that the first day my Ex came to pick up her mail, she would know that I had put it there and that I loved her, that we were connected in a way that was about more than the sex we liked to have.
Trace responded with a few well-timed clicks and whirrs, before--in as friendly a voice I imagined one could program--saying he had several good offers, but, after processing my social security number, realized I didn't have the credit history applicable for one of his dynamite home mortgage plans and that my precarious legal situation made me a hazardous investment. He offered me a curt good evening and told me to remember his company once I demonstrated more financial and legal responsibility.
I told him to have a nice day and that I missed her. When he hung up, I held the cordless in my lap in case he dialed back.
Sapa huffs, rolls her eyes, and walks out of the room.
Sandra waits a good minute and then turns to me and says, "I can't stand that bitch," followed by, "So, are you going to adjust the tone?"
"It's not my job," I remind her.
"Really? Then what do you do around here?"
I point to the mail in her hand and the computer log and raise my eyebrows.
She scrunches her eyebrows in response and makes a disgusting face then says, "What a life," before walking out.
I realize that a certain amount of passivity has ruined my life and that I have accomplished nothing of substance in the four years I've worked here.
I decide to fix the toner and then turn in my two week notice.
But I don't know where the toner is. So I flip open all of the usual flaps of the copier. I spin the usual knobs. I even slide out a couple black cartridge-like thingamajigs that have their own mini-knobs and flaps. I take strict mental notes where each piece comes from and, once I exhaust all possibilities for tone, put them back into place. I repeat the act ad nauseam until I'm left with a final flap and a hidden latch on the backside of the machine. When I open it I see a milk jug-looking container that has the traces of what I assume is toner. I take out the jug and some black powder falls to the carpet, where I notice for the first time the faded stains of previous toner changes. I open the only box that isn't paper and pull out a similar jug filled to the rim with dusty black ink.
The cap is on tight, so I put the jug in a headlock and twist until I crack the neck. I turn back to the flap and slide the jug into the slot at the wrong angle, so I turn the jug over believing that there is a contraption in the machine that will somehow puncture the tissue--like paper on the outside. There isn't, and a half gallon of sandy black toner tears through the thin covering and spills onto my shoes and khakis.
I curse God.
Toner is all over me. My first reaction is to wipe it off my clothes and shoes, which is a bad idea. Before I know it, my hands are covered in a chalky black substance. A strong chemical smell--something akin to ammonia--fills my nose and I'm having difficulty breathing. My feet leave black shoe-prints on the carpet as I emerge from the copy room, lumbering around the office with toner trailing behind me in a leaden swirl of black smoke that I occasionally stubble back into, arms flapping. The air tastes like pen ink and I start to cough.
I see Rankhi Vorn's box and his stacks of mail.
"Fuck You, Rankhi!" I shout at his box. And then I'm putting as much of his mail as I can into my arms and running out of the office.
As I stumble down the hallway--the delicate spacing of the rapist's sketch from many months ago slowly shredding in tears, caricatures, phone numbers, quotes from politicians and the spotted fingerprint remnants of bits of white paper and tape--I think of all the people who have come through this office and can't think of a single person who's done less than Rankhi. I can no longer allow him to remain above the situation any longer. Who does he think he is? Nobody has the right to remain unaffected. He may think he's not a part of anything, that his avoidance and seclusion from what most people consider a normal life has ensured some kind of peace of mind, but I've felt the contents of his useless box: the magazines and brochures; I've seen glimpses into the life he's ignored, fragments he's kept hidden; in my hands I hold the stiff cardboard of greeting cards encased in pastel envelopes; I feel brittle onion-skinned envelopes of letters from distant overseas relatives; I crush the manila envelope sealed with peach lipstick. When Rankhi can deny these things no longer and eventually comes to claim them, he'll realize that his life, despite his best efforts, was affected by his choices, no matter how insignificant they might have seemed. But by then I'll be long gone and he'll be left to wonder why life is this way.
I push into the men's room where I cram Rahnki's mail into the nearest trashcan, my arms emerging from the trash with pieces of paper-towels stuck to them. I pick most of the pieces off, but some of it sticks to me as if moist.
When I am as clean as I can manage, I go back into the office and, using a ruler from the desk, shave off a post-it and record my two-week notice and place it like a peeling stamp on the corner of the computer monitor. After that, I sit and type my trip to the bathroom in the log. Thankfully we are still camera-less, so I am able to omit the meltdown and the disposal of a large portion of Rankhi's mail. I look at the mess on the floor and tell myself that someone will be in behind me to clean the carpet; and, while I sit and wait for the day to end, I think about the faded stains of previous toner changes, and imagine the janitor who I have never seen on his knees scrubbing what he can of my footprints out of the carpet.
I look out the window at the students walking to class and realize that they can't see me through the security glass.
I decide to take my break at the end of my shift. I want to go home early.
The historic grounds of the University reflect the philosophy of exploration that was the belief of the University's founder. A week ago, on the historic central grounds, they unveiled the rapist's statue in the hopes that a physical reminder of his presence would help encourage those whose vigilance had waned. Here the statue is surrounded by two centuries of architectural history--progressivism embalmed in the red-bricked foundations of buildings held upright by alabaster columns that symbolize the strength of liberal knowledge as freedom and independence. We find ourselves living in the shadow of a crime so horrible--so massive and great--that the only way to understand it was to memorialize it. The sketch is done; as citizens we've simply assimilated it as another terror tale.
On my last day, walking across the grounds on my way home, I see two students resting near the statue--boy and girl. The girl leans against the marble base. She is wearing a skirt and I see her thigh, tan and sculpted from hours spent going nowhere on an elliptical machine. As I pass, I wink and say, "Sayonara". She doesn't notice me and turns the page of her sketchbook. I see a slight relaxing of the tense muscle of her thigh, a passing invitation in the line of her calf. I think for a moment that I know her. This is replaced by the knowledge that I've seen hundreds of her. The boy sitting next to her uses the shade provided by the rapist's statue to shield his face from the sun. It's impossible to tell if they even know of each other's existence.
As I book it up the hill, I shake my head. They have no idea how all of this started. None of them do. They think we're near the end of it all. That it can't get any worse. But if anyone thought to ask me, I'd tell them: It never ends. It's always getting worse.