Friday Fiction – Lions, Tigers and Bears – Part 2

Lions, Tigers and Bears Part 1

Lions, Tigers and Bears Part 2

The rest of the week Larry buckled down and got to work.  He woke early every morning, had a quick cup of coffee and went right outside to paint.  He finished the scraping on Thursday and the trim on Friday.  For the main area of the house, Donna had picked a shade of tan called Desert Sand.  It gave Larry a good feeling to see the new paint go on.  He’d put it off for too long, he thought.  The house had started to look shabby.  He felt a sense of pride as the new paint covered the wood.

In a way the job was tedious, but it gave him time to think.  He knew he owed Jason for the interview.  Jason was top management and his word obviously carried a lot of weight.  But once he got in, Larry knew he would prove himself.  He’d put in the extra effort and show his true value.  The thought of being indebted to Jason was humbling, but he’d swallow his pride and, by making himself valuable to the company, he’d win in the end.  The truth of the matter was that he really didn’t have to deal with Jason that much anyway.   Larry only saw him a few times a year at family functions.  He would now see him occasionally at work too; but he’d just have to deal with that.  It would be worth it to be working again.  On Saturday, he called Jason and thanked him for setting things up.

Larry continued to paint and by Sunday night had nearly finished the house.  He still had to do a section in the back by the deck, but by the time he quit he was so tired he could hardly hold the brush straight.  He was still a little nervous about his interview the next day, so after dinner and a quiet evening he went to bed early.

That night he had a dream.  In the dream, he was walking through a forest.  The grass around him was an intense green that nearly matched the shade of his jacket.  The sky was a Technicolor blue and the trees were a dark ominous brown.  The place seemed familiar, but at first he wasn’t sure why.  It came to him when the tiger rushed out from behind the tree and pounced on him.

Larry felt the claws dig into his flesh.  He could smell it’s sour breath.  Though he felt he was about to die, he didn’t panic.  He pulled a paintbrush from his pocket and slapped it at the tiger.  The tiger’s stripes disappeared, covered by a coat of Desert Sand – but then the color changed to white and in a flash the tiger was gone.

Larry picked himself up and continued walking.  He was bigger now.  When the bear lunged at him, Larry just kicked out and punted the bear like a football, over the trees and out of sight.  He was even bigger now, and as he realized that, he also realized that the scenery had changed.  Now he was climbing the mountain.  When the Yeti appeared, it was more gruesome than he remembered – huge and misshapen, covered with dirty white hair.  Larry picked him up, put him in a helicopter spin and tossed him off the mountain.  He watched as the Yeti smashed onto the rocks below.

Then Larry was walking through the suburban lawn.  Now he was a giant.  He kicked the dogs out of the way and stepped on the sprinklers, leaving gushers of water in his wake.  When the gnomes appeared, Larry felt a surge of power.  He wanted to know what happened after he got past them – he never had before.

Larry towered over the gnomes.  He could easily crush them like bugs, he thought.  He grabbed them up, one in each hand.  But as he brought them up to eye level, he saw that their faces had changed.  One of the gnomes was Jason, the other was Nelson from the interview.

“How’s it going, Chief?” Jason gnome flashed a neon smile.

“You haven’t done this before?”  Nelson the gnome pointed his walking stick at Larry.  “Well, I’m sure you could learn.”

Larry felt himself shrinking.  Now the gnomes were nearly the same height as he was.  He wanted to crush them, but it was too late.  Nelson the gnome smacked him with his walking stick.

“No,” Nelson the gnome laughed.  “You’ll never learn.”

Suddenly Larry was on his back, weak and defenseless.

“No hard feelings, Ace.”  Jason gnome kicked him in the side.  “Sometimes you just can’t win.”

Larry reached into his pocket and pulled out his paintbrush, but Nelson the gnome swung at it with his stick and it sailed out of Larry’s hand.  Nelson smacked him in the ribs.  “You forgot about the magic rocks.  You’ll never learn!”

Jason gnome stomped on Larry’s hand.  “This’ll just about do it, Pal.”  He raised his foot above Larry’s head and stomped down.  Larry saw the heel coming down at his head like an axe on a chopping block. He woke up just before it connected with his head.  The room was dark and quiet.  Donna lay next to him, breathing softly.  It took him a minute to calm down before he could go back to sleep.

The next morning, Larry woke up refreshed and energetic.  While reading the paper he had one cup of coffee, more than that and he was afraid he’d feel fidgety.  After Donna left for work, he showered and shaved.  The interview wasn’t until eleven, but he wanted to make sure he was ready on time.  He’d picked his clothes out the night before, but he laid them out again to make sure they looked right.  He had some extra time, so he shined his shoes again before getting dressed.  Looking in the mirror he was satisfied.  The blue shirt brought out his tan and made him look healthier, he thought.  He looked confident and experienced – like the kind of man who didn’t need a job.

He checked his watch.  It was almost ten now and he didn’t have to leave until about ten-thirty.  Half an hour to kill.  He’d already checked the car for gas and planned a route where he wouldn’t have to cross any railroad tracks.  Last week he’d been too early and had to wait in the car.  If he was going to wait, it would be easier to do it at home, he thought.  He took off his jacket to keep it from getting wrinkled, and went out to the living room to watch a few minutes of TV.

In the living room, he noticed that the Atari was still hooked up.  He hadn’t played it since last week but hadn’t gotten around to putting it away.  He checked his watch again.  It would take him just about twenty-five minutes to get up to the gnomes, where he always got killed.  He had just enough time for one game.

He turned on the TV and the game set, inserted the cartridge and sat down to play.  His elf walked across the screen.  He stopped just before the right tree and the tiger ran harmlessly by.  Larry continued on.  It was almost second nature now; a learned behavior that made his thumbs move the right way a fraction of a second before his brain realized he needed to.  He easily cleared the first level, besting the giant beaver without a problem.  The second level was easy too.  He knew exactly where to walk and what to do to avoid the Billy goats and the avalanches.  Larry checked his watch as he fought the Yeti, but he was fine on time.  He moved on.

The third level was where he’d always had the problems.  He avoided the dogs and the sprinklers as he knew he would, then came up to the lawn gnomes.  He glanced at his watch again.  Ten twenty-two – right on time.  He’d just step in, be killed by the gnomes and it would be time to go.  But as he stepped forward, he tried something different than he’d done before.   As he moved forward he alternately punched down on the action buttons with both thumbs.  The first gnome swung at Larry’s elf with his walking stick, but an amazing thing happened.  The elf reached into his pocket and pulled out a magic rock.  He threw it on the ground and the gnome stopped in mid-swing.  The elf grabbed hold of the walking stick and swung it and the gnome over its head and pitched it at the other gnome for a perfect strike.  Both gnomes rolled like balls, end over end, away from the elf and out of the picture.

Larry nearly jumped out of his chair with excitement.  He’d finally done it! This had to be some kind of omen that things were finally going in the right direction.  He took a deep breath and checked his watch again.  Ten twenty-five.  It was almost time to go, but he was in uncharted territory.  He still had a few minutes anyway.  He tapped his thumb against the joystick and his elf walked forward.

Now his elf was on a sandy beach.  Larry noticed that he was humming along with the calliope music.  His elf walked over a sandy hill and Larry instinctively stopped.  A crab scuttled past and headed toward the water.  Larry smiled.  He’d never been here before but now he knew the signs.  He knew the game.  He tapped his thumb and the elf moved forward again.  Larry noticed the waves swelling and moved the elf uphill just in time to avoid the tidal wave.  He checked his watch again.  Ten thirty-two.  Now it was time to go.  But it was so hard to stop in the middle; he wanted to see what he’d have to face at the end of the beach.  He decided to play for just a few more minutes.  If he drove a little bit faster and made all the green lights, he could still make it on time.

Larry dodged another series of crabs and tidal waves.  At the end of the beach he had to battle an old lady.  She moved around in a circle, swatting at him with her umbrella.  But for Larry it wasn’t difficult.  He tried the same trick he’d learned for the beaver and the old lady’s umbrella opened up and the wind carried her away.  The elf moved on.

Larry was in a flow now.  The next level was a miniature golf course.  He moved through it like he’d been there a hundred times before.  It no longer felt like he was moving the controller and watching the screen, now he’d become the elf.  He easily evaded the windmills and swinging bridges; he knew just what to do when he fought the evil clown.  The next levels were easy too.  He sailed through the shopping mall and the zoo.  He had no problem with the haunted house.  He wasn’t an elf; he was a wizard – the Michael Jordan of Atari.

The next level was a circus.  The calliope music quickened in tempo.  Larry moved across the floor of the big top sidestepping the acrobats and walking under the elephants.  It almost seemed too easy.  Every move was the right move.  He had the pattern down.  He was unbeatable.

Then he walked under the last elephant and came face to face with the ringmaster.  He was tall, dressed in a black tuxedo and holding a whip.  Larry cautiously moved forward.  The ringmaster cracked his whip and Larry jumped his elf back.  He hit the buttons furiously, throwing magic rocks in the ringmaster’s path, but it didn’t matter.  The ringmaster cracked his whip again and Larry had to dodge out of the way, a near miss.  He tried all the tricks he knew, pushed every combination of buttons he could think of, but nothing made a difference.  The music played faster now and the ringmaster cracked his whip at a furious pace.  Larry tapped the joystick as fast as he could.  First left, then right; making his elf dance, narrowly avoiding the whip.  The music played at a fevered pitch.  The ringmaster cracked his whip again and Larry danced out of the way.  But this time the whip cracked backwards, snaking around the ringmaster, tying him up and tipping him over.  Larry felt a new rush as the ringmaster rolled away.

Larry sat forward in his seat.  He was ready for anything now.  The screen changed, but now his elf was back in the forest where he’d first started.  Larry felt a letdown.  He’d beaten the game, but that’s all there was.  He wanted new worlds to conquer.

He sat back and put down the game controller.  For the first time he noticed that the phone was ringing.  With a start, he realized how much time had past.  His heart caught in his throat as he saw the time – it was nearly noon.  Ignoring the phone, Larry ran back to his bedroom, grabbed his coat and hurried out the door.

It was late evening when Larry got home.  The house was dark and the garage was empty.  It seemed appropriate, Larry thought.  It matched his mood.  He walked through the house, turning on the lights in each room, making the house bright.  In the kitchen the answering machine blinked with three messages.  Larry punched the play button.

The first message was from Nelson at BDC.  Larry skipped the message; there was nothing there that he didn’t already know.  The second message was from Donna.  Concern in her voice, she said she’d just talked with Jason and heard that he hadn’t made it to the interview.  She asked Larry to call her as soon as he got the message.

The third message was Donna again.  On this one her tone was different.  A forced control with an edge of anger and hurt.  She said she was at her sister’s house.  She’d call him sometime in the next few days.

Larry listened to the series of beeps at the end of the message, then walked into the living room.  He flopped down onto his chair.  He deserved whatever he got, he thought.  He’d messed up.  Big time.  He knew that he’d hurt Donna and he was sorry about that. But in a way he was relieved that he wouldn’t be taking the job.  After leaving the house he’d driven towards BDC Industries with the vague idea of meeting with Nelson and groveling to get a second chance.  But after the initial panic wore off, Larry realized that he didn’t even want the job.  He drove around the rest of the day, thinking.

He wanted to work again, sure, but this job was just setting him up to fail.  It was a type of work that he’d never done before, in a company where everyone knew that the only reason he was even considered was because his brother-in-law was a big shot.  The idea of having to kiss Jason’s ass just turned his stomach.  Even if it took longer to find a job, he’d be better off on his own.

He hadn’t really tried to find a new job – not like he should have anyway.  At first he’d expected the perfect job offer to just land in his lap.  When it didn’t he’d basically given up.  He hadn’t approached it the right way at all.  There were a lot of avenues that he hadn’t even explored yet.  He’d set his sights a little lower.  There was something out there for him and he knew that with the right effort he’d find it soon.

Donna was mad at him now.  Mad and disappointed, but she’d get over it.  They’d been married for a long time and had been through a lot of hardships; they’d survived.  They would survive this one too.  Larry decided that he’d call her tomorrow and try to make her understand.  She wouldn’t be happy, but she’d understand when she saw how hard he was trying.  She’d be proud of him again.

Tomorrow would be a big day, he thought.  It was a new beginning.  He’d already played over in his mind all the phone calls he needed to make – all the contacts and headhunters he needed to network with.  Tomorrow was a big day. He needed to put everything behind, get to bed early and get a good night’s sleep.

As he pushed himself out of the chair, he noticed the Atari game on the floor.  Along with the elf game there were two other games.  One was a skiing game, the other was called Knight’s Quest.  Larry hesitated.  Tomorrow was a new day but he still had some time tonight.

    He picked up Knight’s Quest, popped the cartridge into the machine and began to play.

Friday Fiction Lions, Tigers And Bears – Part 1

For Friday fiction, this is a story I wrote quite a while back. It’s fairly long, so I have split it into 2 parts. The second installment will post next Friday.

Lions, Tigers and Bears

Larry slumped down in his chair and let the newspaper fall to the floor.  It had taken less than 5 minutes to scan through the entire Sunday job section.  Five pages of engineering positions and he hadn’t seen one new ad that came close to what he was looking for.  All the jobs listed were either in another specialty so he wouldn’t be considered, or else they were entry-level positions where his experience and past salary would be seen as a disadvantage.  Either way he was screwed.

He picked up the remote control, switched the TV on and half-heartedly clicked through the stations.  With fifty-some cable channels there had to be something worth watching.  He raced through catching glimpses of cooking shows, old movies and professional wrestling.  Nothing held his interest.  He clicked the TV off, tossed the remote back on the coffee table and closed his eyes.

It was two-thirty on a Sunday afternoon.  Not much different than any other afternoon really.  From outside the window he could hear the lazy drone of a lawnmower down the street.  He listened to the kids splashing around in the pool next door.  That was the only real difference.  On the weekends more people were home.  Larry stretched his legs, trying to get comfortable.

After five months of unemployment and no sign of change, he’d settled into a routine.  His wife Donna still woke him up each morning before work, but as soon as she left he’d get back into bed.  He usually slept until eleven.   He would then get some breakfast and watch the soaps for a few hours before settling in for his afternoon nap.  Today was Sunday though, and because Donna was home his routine was different.  But she was outside now and there was no reason he could think of to stay awake.  Larry took a deep breath and sank into the chair.  Yawning, he was just about to slip under when he heard the back door creak open.  He opened his eyes and quickly tried to sit straight and at the same time reach for the paper he had dropped.  But it was too late.

“I thought you were going to mow the lawn?”  Donna stood in the doorway, hands on her hips, head tilted to the side, passing judgement with her eyes.

“I thought I’d do that tomorrow.”

“That’s what you said yesterday.”  Donna brushed her hair out of her eyes and stepped into the room.  Though nearing fifty, she looked much younger.  Unlike Larry, she’d maintained her weight and, with Clairol’s help, her hair was as blonde now as the day they’d first met.  She nodded to the paper on the floor.  “Anything look good?”

“Nothing new.  It’s all the same thing though.  I’m really overqualified.”

Donna opened her mouth to speak but closed it without saying a word.  She folded her arms across her chest and stared at him for a moment before crossing the room and sitting down on the couch next to Larry’s chair.

“Why won’t you ask Jason if he can help you find something?”

“Donna, please – ”

“Larry, it’s been five months.  We can’t go on like this much longer.  Why don’t you ask Jason if he can just put in a good word or something?”

Larry slouched back in his chair.  “We’ve been through this.   I’m not going to ask your brother for anything.  He’s a phony, and besides, I’d never hear the end of it.”

“Well if you don’t ask him, I will.”

“Donna – ”

“Don’t Donna, me.  It’s settled.”  She leaned back in her chair, a look of triumph on her face.  “Oh by the way, I forgot to tell you; Jason’s going to be stopping over tonight.”

“What?”

“He and Rose have theatre tickets.  I said that we’d be glad to watch Charley.”

Larry gave a low moan as he settled deeper in his chair.

“Don’t act like that.  He’s not that bad.  Maybe you can hook up that old Atari from the basement.  That’ll keep him occupied.”  As she stood up to go, she reached down and ran her hand across the stubble on Larry’s cheek.  “And it would be a nice change if you shaved before they got here.”

Larry waited until she was out of the room before he picked up the remote control again.

Larry was on his hands and knees connecting the Atari when the doorbell rang.

“I’ll get it.”  Donna called as she hurried out from the kitchen.  Larry cursed under his breath as he tightened the final screw.  He heard the door opening but stayed where he was making no effort to get up.  He heard their voices from the entryway.  Maybe if I just stay here they’ll leave quickly, he thought.  Larry leaned against the back of the TV and strained to hear what they were saying.  The words all blended together.  He heard the tones and could tell Rose’s high-pitched whine above the others but couldn’t make out any of the words they were saying.  His knees were beginning to ache as he shifted uncomfortably and kept his face down, hiding behind the set.

“What are you up to there, Chief?”  Jason leaned over the TV, looking down on him.

Larry stood up guiltily.  “Oh, Jason, I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Well, we’re only here for a second but I wanted to at least say hello.”  Jason’s thick blonde hair was combed straight and his skin had the perfect shade of golf course tan.  He looks like a Malibu Ken doll, Larry thought.

“Well, hello.”  Larry said.

“How’s your job search coming, Ace?  Any good leads?”

“Oh sure.  There’s a lot out there for someone with my qualifications.”  Larry tried to keep eye contact without success.  “I’m just trying to make sure that I pick the right position.”

“Sure, I can understand that.  But listen, if you’d like I can check around and see if we have something that might work for you.”

Larry fixed his gaze on Jason’s teeth, they were so white and perfect they had to be plastic.  “No, thanks for the offer; but I’m really fine.  It’s just a matter of deciding which position has the most long-term potential.  But thanks for offering.”

Jason nodded, then put his hand on Larry’s shoulder and squeezed lightly.  “Look Larry, Donna told me you were having some problems.  I know it’s a hard thing to admit when you need help, but don’t worry about it.  I’ll see what I can do.”  He smiled, gave another squeeze, then glanced at his watch and turned away.  “Well, we better get going. I’ll let you know.”

Larry tried not to shrink as he watched him go.

Later that night, as he watched Charley play the video game, Larry wondered how things had turned out like they had. It wasn’t all that long ago that his life had seemed so promising.  Everyone always said he had so much potential.  Only two years before he’d been made the lead engineer on the Dabney Cable project.  If the system had worked as planned, he’d have gotten a big raise and a shot at management.  Maybe even some stock options.  But the program didn’t live up to expectations; after the merger his group was among the first to be cut.  Now it was as if his life had zipped ahead on fast forward and suddenly he found himself old and unemployed.

Larry looked down at Charley.  He was sprawled across the floor, a pizza slice in one hand and the game controller in the other.  He chewed open-mouthed while he tapped on the joystick.  His eyes were glued to the TV while effortlessly maneuvering his man through a maze, avoiding obstacles from all directions.  The game music was too loud, an annoying calliope tune that Larry knew would be playing in his mind for days to come.  As he gazed down at Charley, Larry tried to remember what it felt like to be ten.  He vaguely remembered having a paper route.  He woke up early each morning and rode all over town to get the papers out before getting ready for school.  Looking at Charley, Larry wondered if he even rode a bike.  It didn’t seem likely.

“You’re really zipping through this, Charley.  Do you have one of these at home?”

Charley didn’t look back.  “No, this is boring.  I’ve got a Playstation 2 at home.”  He stuffed the last of the pizza in his mouth, pushing the controller away and looked back at Larry.  “Do you have any ice cream?”

Larry just nodded.

The next morning Larry was up at his usual time.  After breakfast he scanned the newspaper and checked the help wanted ads before heading out to watch TV.  He’d promised to mow the lawn before Donna came home, but there was plenty of time for that.  He settled into his chair and was about to switch on one of the soaps when he noticed the game controller on the floor.  Donna had found the Atari at a garage sale a year ago, figuring it would be a good thing to have for when the nieces and nephews came over.  It had gathered dust in the basement until last night.

Curious, Larry picked up the controller, popped a game into the machine and switched on the TV.  The goofy calliope music came up again as a menu appeared on the screen.  Larry chose the new game command and sat back to play.

A cute little elf dressed in green with a red hat, looked back and forth as he walked through a forest.  The graphics weren’t that good, Larry thought.  The figure was jagged around the edges and walked in a jerky motion.  It really wasn’t that sophisticated at all, nothing like they were able to do these days.  He was just about to put the game back down when a tiger jumped from behind a tree and attacked his elf.  Larry sat forward in his chair.  He hadn’t seen that coming.  The elf was now back where he’d started.  Larry moved forward again, but this time he concentrated on the game.  He remembered where the tiger had appeared and right before he got to that point he noticed a striped paw sticking out.  He stopped his elf and the tiger ran harmlessly across the screen.  This isn’t that hard, he thought.  He moved the elf forward again – more confident than before.  That’s when the bear mauled him from the other side.

Larry almost threw the controller across the room.  He’d been ready for the tiger, he hadn’t expected a bear.  He moved his elf forward again. He was ready for the bear.  But his mind was concentrating so much on the bear that he forgot about the first tiger and when he came upon that tree he was attacked again.  This time his elf sprouted wings, fluttered up to the top of the screen and the game over sign appeared.

He was breathing harder now.  This was tougher than he’d thought.  The next game he got past both the tiger and the bear, but was killed by a lion.  The game after that he made it past the lion only to be pounced on by another tiger.  He kept playing.  By the end of the afternoon, near the time that Donna was due home; he’d gotten all the way through the forest, past a series of lions, tigers and bears, but was killed each time by a giant beaver.

Larry hummed the calliope tune as he mowed the lawn.

Larry’s routine changed over the next several days.  Now, when Donna woke him in the morning he stayed up and played the game.  By the end of the week he’d gotten past the giant beaver and picked up a magic rock; gone through the mountains where he had to avoid the Billy goats, avalanches and the Yeti. Again he’d won a magic rock.  He was now navigating the suburban lawn, where he’d learned to avoid the dogs and lawn sprinklers, but kept getting killed by the lawn gnomes.  He now had an intuitive feel for the game.  Just a tap on the joystick and he could move in any direction.  It had become almost like an extension of his body.  In a funny way he felt a sense of accomplishment that he was mastering the game.  The only frustrating thing about it, was that now every time he died he had to start over.  It took a lot longer for him to get back to where he’d left off.  That, and he felt guilty about how much time he spent playing.  He resolved to get some projects done around the house over the weekend.

Friday night Donna cooked veal scaloppini for dinner, Larry’s favorite meal.  The veal was fork tender, the sauce perfectly seasoned and delicious.  It almost tasted too good.  After working a full day, Donna had shopped for ingredients then came home and fixed a perfect meal.

Larry sopped up the sauce with a piece of the bread.  He glanced at Donna then looked away.  “This is delicious,” he said.  “Thank you for making this.”

“Well, it’s been awhile, I thought it would be nice.”

“It’s perfect.”  Larry cut a piece of meat with his fork and moved it around his plate.  He hesitated a second and put it back down.  “You know, I’ve been thinking.”

“Oh?”

“I’ve been thinking, there’re some projects around the house that I’ve been putting off.  As long as I’ve got the time maybe I could work on some of those.  I was thinking that maybe I could start painting the house.”

“It does need it.”

“I think I’ll pick up the paint tomorrow and start with the scraping.”

“That would be nice.”

Larry ate another piece of veal.  It tasted even better now.   Now he felt like he’d earned it.  He chewed slowly, savoring the texture and the taste – just the right proportions of garlic and wine, heaven.

“By the way,” Donna carefully cut her veal.  “I spoke to Jason today.”

Larry gripped his fork tighter. “You did?”

“He passed your resume on to somebody at the plant.  He says they’re interested.”

“Oh.  Really?”

“They’ll probably be calling next week to set up an interview.”

“Oh.  Well, that’s great.  Just great.”  Larry set his fork down.  He didn’t feel hungry anymore.

On Saturday, Larry woke up early to get everything ready for painting.  He spent the morning making a list of supplies he’d need for the job, determining how much paint it would take to cover the house and calling around to see who had the best prices on everything.  By the time he got that all handled it was lunchtime.  After lunch he went out to the hardware story to buy supplies.  While he was there he came upon a demonstration on wallpaper application techniques.  He sat through the whole thing.  By the time he got home it was getting late; so he decided to wait it out.  The sun came out in the afternoon, but by then it was too late to start.

Monday morning after Donna left for work Larry planned to go outside to start the scraping, but was having a hard time getting motivated.  He finished reading the paper, drank his fourth cup of coffee and then changed into his work clothes.  He got out the scraper, inventoried his tools and brushes and had one more cup of coffee to finish off the pot.  He looked out the window.  It was a beautiful day, clear and sunny, no excuses there.  He gulped the last of the coffee down.  He’d procrastinated long enough he thought.  It was time to go to work.  But first, he decided, he’d play just one game of Atari.    Larry sat down at the TV, popped the cartridge in and began to play.  He felt a rush as he moved the elf across the screen, moving in and out, getting out of harms way just in time.  He cruised through the forest, effortlessly scaled the mountain and easily got though the lawn.  He was doing great until he came to the lawn gnomes.  Larry was ready for them though.  He moved up cautiously, ready to retreat.  One gnome moved in to attack, Larry tapped backwards and his elf moved out of the way.  Larry moved him forward again. But this time, before he had a chance to react, the other gnome smacked him with his walking stick.  Bam!  Larry’s elf was back at the start.

“Damn!” Larry gripped the controller hard.  He glanced at his watch, it had taken twenty-five minutes to get there.  He took a deep breath and started over.  This time he was in such a hurry to get back and battle the lawn gnomes that he was careless when he fought the Yeti.  He cursed when the Yeti threw his elf off the cliff and he had to start over again.  The third time he paid more attention to what he was doing and made it back to the lawn gnomes.  But the result was the same.  The game over sign flashed on the screen.

He nearly shook with rage.  Too much caffeine, he thought.  He hit the reset button and was about to start all over again, when the phone rang.  He put the controller down.  Let the answering machine get it, he thought, it’s probably a telemarketer anyway.  It rang again.  The sound was jangling on his nerves.  He pushed himself out of the chair and hurried into the kitchen to pick it up.

“Hello?” he nearly yelled into the receiver.

The voice on the line sounded hesitant and unsure.  “Uh, hello?  Is this the Forberts?”

“Yeah, what are you selling?”

“Um, is Larry Forbert in?”

“That’s me.”  Larry growled.

“Well Larry, this is Ronald Nelson from BDC Industries, I have your resume here…”

Larry felt his stomach drop.  “Oh, I’m sorry.  I thought you were someone else.”

Nelson laughed nervously.  “Well, no problem.  I have your resume here.  Jason Mills recommended you quite highly.  Your experience is in a somewhat different field than what we do, but I think it could still be a valid fit.  I was wondering if you would come in this Wednesday for an interview?”

Larry tried to catch his breath.  “Wednesday, what time were you thinking?”

“Around two?”

“Let me check my schedule.”  Larry thumbed loudly through a phone book on the counter.  “Sure, I can make it at two.”  He wrote down the details, thanked Nelson and hung up the phone.

Larry leaned against the counter, his heart pounding and his breath short.  This was his first interview in almost two months.

The rest of the day Larry felt energized.  He started scraping the house and kept at it long after Donna came home, not quitting until it was almost too dark to see.  The next day he got a haircut in the morning and worked the rest of the day.  He felt better than he had in ages.  The possibility of working again, having some purpose in his life, an identity, was exhilarating.  It bothered him that Jason was involved, but he could live with that.

On Wednesday, he felt like a teenager getting ready for his first date.  He worked some in the morning, but the anticipation made it hard to keep at it.  He laid out his best gray suit on the bed.  Donna had ironed two shirts for him, one white, one blue.  He spent half an hour matching the shirts and suit with his ties.  He finally settled on the white shirt and a red tie with yellow crests.  Larry smiled as he looked at himself in the mirror.   His collar felt tight and his pants weren’t as loose as he remembered them, but he looked good.  He looked industrious, important.  Larry decided that he’d have to wear his suits more often.

He left for the interview early and arrived with half an hour to spare.  He sat in the parking lot and listened to the radio until it was time to go in.  He checked in with the receptionist and was quickly ushered back to a small private office.

“Hello, I see you found us OK.”  Ronald Nelson sprang up from his seat and rushed forward to shake Larry’s hand.  He was a slight man, about Larry’s age, and his thin hair was combed over to the side.  “Sit down.  Have a seat.”

Larry sat down as Nelson went back to his chair.  Nelson picked up Larry’s resume and appeared to study it.  “This is a very interesting resume.  I see your experience is primarily as an electrical engineer.  We’re one of the leading suppliers of water pumps for the automotive market.  Have you ever worked with anything like that before?”

Larry thought for a minute before replying.  “No,” he said.  “Not that I can think of.”

Nelson smiled nervously.  “Well, any kind of mechanical engineering?  Any experience with it at all?”

“No, not really.”

“Maybe back in school, did you ever study anything along these lines?”

Larry shifted in his chair.  “I could have.  I really don’t remember much though.”

Nelson picked up a pencil and chewed on the eraser.  “Mr. Mills spoke very highly of you,” he chewed some more.  “Well, I guess you could learn then.”

For the rest of the interview, Nelson told him all about the job and the benefits.  They set a second meeting for the following Monday, when Larry would meet the head of the engineering department.

Donna was already there when he got home, waiting on the edge of the couch.

“Well?  How did it go?” she asked.

Larry shrugged.  “Pretty good, I guess.  They want to see me again next Monday.”

Donna jumped up and hugged him tight.  “That’s wonderful news!”

“It’s a lot different than what I’ve done before.”

“But it’s something you could do, right?”

“Sure, I think I could do it,” he nodded his head.  “With a little time, I’m sure I could do it.”

Donna kissed him on the cheek.  “That’s wonderful news.  We should celebrate.  Let’s go out tonight.  Somewhere nice.”

“Well, I am wearing my suit.”

“You make the reservations while I go and get ready.”  She gave him another squeeze.  “This is so exciting.”

Larry smiled.  It was exciting.  On the way home, he’d fantasized about what it would be like to work again.  He already felt more confident, more substantial.  It would be an adjustment – getting up early, learning how the company worked, the particulars of his job and how to fit in with the people there.  But that was exciting too.  He reached under the counter, picked up the yellow pages and leafed through the restaurant section.  Some place nice, he thought.  Some place expensive and romantic – this was cause for a celebration.  Maybe he didn’t officially have the job yet, but it sure looked like he’d get it.  After all, Larry thought, he was a damned good engineer.  Nelson had clearly been impressed with his resume.

Larry had been running his fingers down the page, scanning the listings for something Italian, when Donna came back into the room. She turned her back towards him.  “Could you zip me up?”

Larry leaned in to fasten her dress.  She smelled good, with just a hint of the perfume he’d gotten her for Christmas.  He leaned in closer and nuzzled her neck.

Donna arched her neck as he put his arm around her waist.  “I’ve been nervous about this all day,” she said.  Larry pulled her in tight and nibbled at her earlobe.  “I don’t know why,” she said.  “Jason told me it would work out.”

Larry fought the urge to clamp his teeth on her ear.

    To be continued – Lions, Tigers and Bears – Part 2