Issue #79

Summer 2021

The S-Man

by Daniel Schulz

The ringing of the alarm clock shook his whole body. His whole body was rattling with no possibility of turning it off. His hands trembled. He was awake. When the alarm clock finally calmed down, S shivered into consciousness: he could no longer fall asleep. He took the key and stuck it into the side of his hip, slowly winding the alarm clock up, in case of future eventualities. He also used the key elsewhere, applied it in turns between the bars of his ribcage. Readiness is everything: this was his torso. He stretched out for a moment. Then he wound his joints tight, one by one, one last time.

He was ready. He could start. But when S stood in the frame of the door, he paused, almost as if someone had pulled the emergency brake, forcing him to stand still and stutter. Startled about his own refusal, he let out a short sigh. – "You hesitated." the Boss said, "Why?" – S didn't know. – "Do I have to explain to you whose arms and legs those are?" the boss continued, "I can't do anything without you. Do you understand that? You are important. I need you." – S nodded mechanically. But his superior soon became disgruntled: "There it is again!" he pointed his finger at him. – "What?" the employee asked curiously. – "That hesitation! There, in your body! Do you want a cookie?" – The S-man said no and combed the hair of his employer, powdered his cheeks.

– "You can consider yourself lucky to have a position like this," the boss continued. "Other bosses rudely exploit their employees. I, however, am kind. Not every employer offers his employee a cookie, after all. Do you know how much money usually goes out for cookies?" – S paused. – "Or would you rather like a caramel? Is that too sweet? Would you, perhaps, like some other treat? Go ahead! Take a chocolate!" – S hesitated.

– "Am I not good enough that you can't accept a chocolate from me? –

S shook his head.

– "Do you perhaps want to pay for the chocolate?" –

S shook his head.

– "Or is this simply not a good day for you?" –

S shook his head and added, "Maybe I'm simply too tired." – "I don't pay you for being tired," the Boss answered and sighed. "You see S, you are a small man and I am a big man. And actually I should only be having you work 20 hours a week, not 50. But because I really, really like you and understand that the salary that I give you is below minimum wage, I let you work more than I would let anyone else work, usually. Believe me, I would not treat anyone else this way, not even myself. But you I actually like. And because I like you, I make you work overtime. It's a privilege. But here you are, frowning around as if I had wronged you, despite all of the favors I am doing for you right now. Cookie? Come on! Don't be like that! Take one! We all need a treat once in a while." – The S-man hesitated again and paused once more, but this time one breath longer.

– "I can already see that this is too much for you," the B-Man clapped. "It can't go on like this. Would you be so kind and put yourself up on the hanger?" – S opened the wardrobe and out of the sheer kindness of his heart hung himself up on the hanger. Contractually he was not obliged to do so, but what else could he do? As he hung in there, the B-man screwed off S' legs and arms, taking out a fresh torso from the wardrobe, one of those other guys hanging in there, in the closet, waiting for their shift, just like him. – "Aren't we all just small people?" the second S-Man contemplated, before the boss stuffed a cookie into his mouth. Silence was never so sweet.

S watched his employer wind up the alarm clock of his new employee with one key, while sliding another key into his spine. It made S wonder what he had been so wound up about earlier and what had let the relationship between him and his boss go so far in the first place. Only when the B-man had finally put his new S-man together, did the key to his fate become clear to him. – "Fear."– The word fell from his lips like an answer to all his questions, stirring up laughter in the bodies of his other colleagues. – "Fear!" the torsos rattled, almost falling off their hooks through the hardness of their own laughter. – "Fear!" – And then the door closed shut and the gears stood still.

Author Bio

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Daniel Schulz is a German-American writer and researcher known for his short story collection Schrei (Formidabel 2016), and work as curator of the Kathy Acker Reading Room at the University of Cologne.His work has been published in Der Federkiel, Luftruinen, Die Novelle, The Transnational, Electronic Book Review, Mirage #5, Gender Forum, Fragmented Voices, Divanova, Versification and the German anthologies Tin Soldier (Sarturia 2020) and Corona-Schnee (Salo29 2021). His other most recent publication is Kathy Acker in Seattle (Misfit Lit 2020).