Saturday, June 9, 2012

A magnetic personality.


“What the?” The heavy butter knife clung to Gabe Rossi's hand.

Gabe was making toast and peanut butter, and it was quite annoying how little Reggie, his eight year old son, always left a mess. Yet when he finally got the knife to drop onto the counter with a resounding clatter of steel on the finest Phrygian marble, he was surprised to see the knife was clean. He saw no peanut butter on the knife. He smelled his hand in a tentative fashion, but there was no real peanut butter smell. Without time to inquire further, he put it aside as just one more thing there was no time to deal with or even reflect upon.

Late enough for work as it was, Gabe didn’t have time to think about it. He was not a big fan of peanut butter. The problem was that there was no food in the house, as Francine was going through one of her week-long monthlies, and hadn’t been doing the shopping. The trouble with peanut butter was that you really couldn’t eat it quickly. You had to chew, swallow, and wash it down with something. There wasn’t much milk in the house either, he noted un-resentfully, as there was nothing he could do about it now.

With the end of the year coming up, Gabe had been staying late at the shop, working on the inventory, and then spending long hours over the weekends, going through the receipts. He had a momentary twinge of guilt at the thought of Reggie, whom he didn’t seem to see much of anymore.

Sometimes his son slept in late on Saturdays, so Gabe just stuck his head in the door for a moment and took a look at his son, and then gently pulled the door closed again, grinning slightly. Even at this hour, Reggie was already engrossed in cartoons, hyper-violent as they were, but at least the boy had enough sense to keep the volume down. Francine was in the en-suite bathroom adjoining their bedroom, so he used the other bathroom, and then he went to the garage.

Opening the door, he flipped on the light, stepped down the two steps and was distinctly annoyed to hear something thumping and banging and sliding across the floor.

“Sugar!” A set of electric hedge clippers slid across the floor and hit his foot.

He must have caught the short electrical cord under the heel of his hard shoe or something.

Gabe cursed again silently, resolving to clear up some of the mess in the garage. For several years now, he had been meaning to build some shelves, or purchase some sort of modular storage system, but of course he had never actually gotten around to doing it.

As he stood there in silent mental review, shaking his head slightly, he acknowledged that he would probably never get around to building those shelves. Then he got in the car and hit the button on the remote control device clipped to the sun visor, which opened the garage door, and Gabe started up the engine.

His shop was less than two miles away, and he was always thankful that he didn’t have to do the two-hour commute like many of his neighbors. While some of them made more money than he did, the impact that commuting had on their lives was obvious, at least to him.

For some reason people couldn’t do the math. They couldn’t see that twenty bucks an hour here in this little town was more than equal to twenty-five or thirty bucks an hour in the big city, when you took into account the price of fuel, and the wasted four hours a day of driving. They thought money was all-important, when time was the most precious element of all. Sure you had to support your family, but it was nice to see them once in a while as well. They all told him how lucky he was, when it was hard work and risk-taking that had given him a kind of independence.

Something caught his eye.

Gabe was bemused to see a nut, a simple, rusted little nut, perhaps a three-sixteenths hex nut, stuck to the side of his shoe. It hadn’t been there when he put the shoes on. He was pretty sure.

But since he had to focus on the driving, all he could do was try to brush it off quickly with his other foot. After a couple of forlorn attempts to brush it off with the edge of his left foot, he gave up to concentrate on driving.

It was a short time later when he pulled into the spot beside the building where he habitually parked. There hadn’t been much snow lately, or he would have sanded the sidewalks, assuming that the city had cleared them. But today he could open up without dragging snow and crud into the lobby.

Gabe sold plumbing supplies to farmers, contractors and professionals, otherwise he would have needed more retail space. But the warehouse was impressive, a real source of pride, and a testament to his orderly personality, with its rows of shelves, literally groaning from the weight of product after product. There were colorful little stacks of boxes, rows of little bins, each with their own code and stock number. He always took a certain pride, in that he had built this business from the ground up. This allowed scope for a kind of relentless organizational ability to shine. This was his own personal space.

He flipped on the switch to light up the lobby and the front service counter, and then made his way to the back to hit the breakers for the main lights in the warehouse. The big-box home improvement retailers had used real inspiration to put the old-fashioned lumber yard under one roof, so that women, who controlled the bulk of discretionary household spending, could now buy a spruce two-by-four, or the flapper valve for a toilet. This town was too small for the big stores to locate in. It was good to know that he would always have enough traffic through the store to earn a living. It was also clear he would never be rich, or even essential. If he failed, some other dreamer would step forward to take his place, he thought with a rueful smile.

As the thermostat clicked under his thick, strong, hairy fingers, he reflected that while money wasn’t everything, it sure made things a little easier sometimes. The furnace in the utility room thumped and whooshed as the fan kicked on and the gas hit the flame.

But lately Gabe had been doing some thinking. We all have to face reality, in the modern world you need money to live. And there was no doubt that he had initially started the store to make money, and at the time, the fact that he loved hardware, loved construction, loved the men and women who did that kind of work, was all fine and dandy. Lately something was missing.

Bearing in mind his responsibility for his wife, his kid and his home, and of course to all his faithful customers, there was something missing. He even knew what it was. It was that sense of adventure, that sense of possibilities, the sense that anything could happen and that his fate and the fate of his family was in his hands alone. He suddenly realized that it was possible to have a little too much control over one’s life, and that if nothing could go wrong, not much in the way of new, good things could happen either. Gabe had no announcements to make, but lately; he had been wondering what else he could do, or might have done, with his life.

A remark he had read somewhere, a book about the fur trade, was stuck in his mind, and it revolved through his thoughts once more: “He had virtually unlimited opportunities for self-growth, and had seized none of them.”

On the other hand he was not Governor George Simpson, and this was not the fur trade of a previous century, but…but. That remark bothered him for some reason. It held a haunting, annoying kind of meaning for him, and that was some kind of signal.

The place began to warm up reassuringly, as he put the water in the urn and spooned in enough coffee to brew up a batch. While it was just him until nine, when his sole employee Roger Wilkinson came in, Gabe could drink coffee by the gallon.

Gabriel had even cured himself of cussing and swearing after a friend had come in and jokingly told Gabe that his mother had found him, “Fascinating,” and explained that Gabe had been telling her, “This little son of a bitch here is the best one on the market…”

Even now, Gabe blushed to think on how stupid he had been. She was nice enough to buy the thing anyway, yet the incident caused Gabe to wonder just how many sales he had lost over the years due to sheer thoughtlessness. This was somebody’s mother after all. He had been so young.

They both had been, he and Francine and the tiny coddling that was growing into what would soon become a young man. Reginald was already eight years old! In the wink of an eye.

As he walked down the row beside the wall, to take up his post in the glass-fronted office where he could work on the books until opening time, Gabe heard a funny little rustling sound as he went along. It was time to put out the mouse traps again. This time of the year, the buggers were just looking for a warm nest, as there was rarely any food in here. Maybe the bag and wrappers from a fast-food lunch in the garbage can, but he was at a loss as to how the tiny creatures could scale the smooth metal sides of it anyway.

Gabe never cursed or hated the mice. He hated killing them, actually. It was just that he couldn’t have them in the store. A hungry mouse would chew on anything, even wiring, and he had a business to run. Customers probably weren’t that happy about mouse droppings in the packaging, either. Suddenly remembering, Gabe was bemused to see the rusty little nut still stuck to his foot. Reaching down, he pried it off of his shoe, and was surprised that while it required some force to remove it, it wasn’t sticky or goopy or anything, and so without further ado he tossed it incuriously into the wastepaper basket by his desk. It was such a small incident, and he had bigger things to think about. Turning on his desktop computer, Gabe opened up the files and went straight to where he left off yesterday.


Gabe and Francine sat side by side in the doctor’s office, as they awaited the verdict. They were just turning to speak at the same time, eyes meeting in search of some mutual reassurance, when the door snapped open decisively and Doctor Xianlin Chung entered the room.

Bustling with energy as usual, he seemed in a hurry, and then he had to take a moment to put some papers away in an unrelated file folder. Then he sat half-sideways, perched on the edge of a chair beside a tiny desk, while he quickly opened and glanced at another file, presumably Gabe’s. A quirky grin crossed his youthful mien as he regarded the patients, for in his role as healer; one paid attention to subtle cues from other family members. The wife was probably more worried than the patient.

“I have good news and bad news.,” He regarded the couple. “My people have a long history of medicine, both of the mind and the body, as well as the spirit. The good news is that there are case studies going back thousands of years; of just the sort of phenomena as you are presently experiencing, Mister Rossi. I can assure you, sir, that I take this problem very seriously.”

“And—and what’s the bad news?” Gabe's husky voice showed his courage was real enough, but the calmness enforced by will alone. “Is this going to get worse?”

“That is very hard to say.” Doctor Chung had a reassuring tone, as if to belittle the chances, not making a big issue of it. “But I am afraid I am going to have to prescribe something.”

Gabriel Rossi relaxed, settled into his seat. He was deeply grateful that finally, after weeks of searching, consulting with four different physicians, that he had finally found someone to take his affliction seriously. His relief that there was some treatment for this oddball malady, was palpably visible to Doctor Chung.

“Have you been spending enough time together?” Doctor Chung got no response, as both adults seemed to be waiting for the other to respond. “This is one of the first questions that I always ask when healing.”

Technically, that silence usually meant, ‘no.’ As for Mister Rossi, the man had worked himself into quite a state.

All these little metallic objects sticking to him—this, ‘magnetic personality,’ as Francine had so jokingly put it originally—was driving the poor fellow just plain nuts, no pun intended. But it was really nothing to worry about, all the pins and clips, and screws and other metallic items stuck to Mister Rossi.

“I’ll do whatever you want.” Gabe was committed. “Hopefully these pills will de-magnetize me? Or whatever? What do you call this disease, anyway, Doctor?”

“Oh, it is completely unpronounceable in English.” Doctor Chung smiled. “But we may call it a magnetic personality. That is a good name you and your wife have come up with.”

“We have a good drug plan, Gabe bought into it a few years ago,” Francine told the Doctor.

“Yes, will the pills be covered?” Gabe was ever-practical where money was oncerned, and ever-interested.

“I’m afraid not, but they are, ah; very cheap, and I shall send you to get them at a little place I know. It is just around the corner,” the Doctor assured Mrs. Rossi as he reached for his prescription pad and made some scratches in Asian script.

“Oh!” Francine's eyes lit up. “That fascinating little place! I’ve always wanted to go in there.”

“So what do I do? Take one a day, or how many? I suppose I have to eat with them, and stuff like that? Take them with milk? Don’t operate heavy machinery?”

Gabe was familiar enough with plenty of other people’s long and interminable health stories to extrapolate from the patterns he saw around him.

“Oh, they’re not for you, Mister Rossi.” The doctor would not be hurried. “They are for your wife.”

“What?” Gabe and Francine both spoke at once, an absurd awe evident in their voices and startled looks.

“I want you to start taking iron supplements, Missus Rossi. You seem a little anemic,” and the beaming face of Doctor Chung gazed back at them in empathy and a charming humour. “This will, ah, ah, have the added benefit of increasing the spiritual bond between you, for great changes lie ahead.”

“What?” Francine gasped. “Changes? What changes?”

“Huh?” Gabe had no idea of what he was saying..

The doctor indulged himself in this little joke, seeing that neither one of them got it.

The pair of them looked uncertainly at one another. Changes?

Doctor Chung was perusing the file. For ten seconds or so the silence hung on the air like the smell of butter outside a busy theatre.

“You have a son, and he is about nine and a half years old?”

“Yes,” they both said it at once, eyebrows climbing up both of their foreheads.

Was Reggie nine already, Gabe wondered wildly? Nine and a half? When did that happen?

“I have a son also. My Fujiyama is about ten. No, ten and a little bit. He has a book. It is a very funny little book, you know?” The doctor’s raised eyebrows carried portentous foreshadowing that some mystery was about to be revealed, and Gabe for one was about ready to scream at this infuriatingly inscrutable little man.

“So, so what? What about it?” He glared at Francine, and shook his head in sheer frustration.

Just when he thought he was finally getting somewhere.

“So!” The doctor began anew after a deep breath.

“It is a book called, ‘A Thousand and One Magical Tricks.” The doctor went on. “My son has this book. There is a glue. It is a dry powder, it leaves no trace, but it works, okay, you know? A famous man, I told you we have case studies? A famous man, a doctor, and a teacher, has noted that in the case of a, how you say, ‘a poltergeist,’ he says, ‘there is very often a very mischievous little boy of a certain age behind it all.’ You know?”

“No! I don’t know.” Francine was genuinely shocked. “Are you saying my Reginald is doing this to his father? But why? He loves his father!”

“Many scholars interpret the passage, such as to say that the poltergeist was a little boy ghost, a prankster, but not truly evil. But what if we take the story literally?” The doctor’s eyes gleamed, as he folded his hands across his lap, nodding at them in what to him was certain knowledge. “This was a very wise man, once upon a time, and we should not forget his wisdom was very practical,” added the doctor.

“Reggie! But why?”
“Why would he do this to his father?” Francine sounded a bit lost.

“Why, for fun, of course,” explained Doctor Chung, with an uncontrollable little quiver of the belly muscles of his own, making him shake upon his precarious seat. “Let me write up the special instructions for this prescription for you, Missus Rossi, and then you can go.”

“Reggie!” Gabe muttered as the pair rose to take their leave, and Doctor Chung got up to bid goodbye.

“That is my opinion.” The doctor nodded. “I think we can pronounce you officially cured. And plese promise me you won’t be too hard on the boy. It is behavior that will fade, I believe. It is perhaps better not to even mention it, ah, you must promise.”

“Yes, yes.” Gabe was lost in thought. “It’s just a little phase he’s going through. And I know I really should spend more time with the boy...”

“Thank you doctor.” Francine ushered Gabe out the door. “And thanks for the pills. I promise to take them every day, and, and, that was a really nice thing you said.”

She turned to go, but Doctor Chung patted her on the arm, and reminded her, one last time.

“Mind, and body, and spirit also.” He held her gaze for a moment. “Never forget that, Missus Rossi. Good job, incidentally.”


She stood there like a deer in the headlights for a moment, and then cocked her head to one side. Turning his head, he watched as Mister Rossi blundered off down the hall in search of his coat and galoshes, leaving the wife to wrap up the social loose ends. Francine gave a funny little smirk, and nodded goodbye to the doctor. Her plan had worked brilliantly indeed, and the doctor was a trustworthy sort of fellow who could keep a secret. For surely this amazing man had it all figured out.

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