J. David Osborne
Daamodar clocked in at the Studio at 7:30 and cleared the leftover Styrofoam cups from his workbench. He brushed loose pieces of paper and antron fleece into a steel garbage can and dragged it across the concrete floor to the corner. He started a pot of coffee and checked his Facebook on his phone. His coworkers showed up around eight cradling energy drinks and sweating booze. A woman with frizzy hair began mixing articulated polyfoam. A young man in a band t-shirt cursed a faulty machine. Daamodar shook his head and began to assemble the wire and rod that would be a puppet’s skeleton, which would bend and gyrate at the slightest touch of the puppeteer’s fingers. He smiled at the way the rods bent at the joint. He went to the breakroom after an hour and pulled a white cup off the spire. The coffee pot was empty. He sighed and put a new one on.
The workshop hummed. Hangovers dissolved by noon. His coworkers frequented the bathroom less. A few of them told jokes, the safety goggles pushing their hair into tangles on their forehead, one hip cocked out, gesturing. Daamodar kept his head down, engrossed in the skeleton, enjoying the way the steel came together, the way the whole thing moved, a reverse death, the bones picked from their coffin’s pile, reassembled, reanimated, then re-gloved.
At the end of the day Daamodar had a fully functioning skeleton. He made it dance. Finished with a twirl. He chuckled and left the bones sitting on the table and walked out, his footsteps echoing in the dark workshop. He unlocked his car and remembered he forgot to drink the coffee again.
Daamodar’s mother placed her hand on the nape of his neck and kissed his cheek. He dipped his naan into the hot curry sauce and wiped his mouth with a napkin. She left him to eat and turned on the television. After he finished his meal he washed his dish and sat next to her. She smiled, the lines in her face washed clean by the blue light of the TV.
The next morning he sat in the breakroom and took a sip of the coffee and pulled his phone out and began scrolling through Facebook, reading the thoughts of old friends. He watched a couple YouTube videos then set the phone down and looked out the door at his coworkers. He watched the last of the coffee slide away from the bottom of the cup and was about to get up to refill it when Jill sat down, carefully setting her clipboard in front of her.
Daamodar’s throat dried up. He motioned at the coffeemaker. “Want some?”
Jill shook her head. “Just aspirin for me right now.”
He got up and refilled his cup, then opened the cupboard above the counter and dug through the white cubbies of the first aid kit. He set a plastic single serve packet of Motrin in front of her and she picked it up and smiled. “Oh, I didn’t mean…I mean I took some this morning! I’ll save this for later, though, thanks.”
Daamodar smiled and sipped his coffee. “No problem. I thought when you said—“ and then he gestured and they both laughed.
“So how was your night?”
He shrugged. “It was okay. Didn’t really do anything. Ate dinner, went to bed. Boring.”
They made more small talk. Daamodar enjoyed her company. He liked her laugh and her eyes. He liked her curly hair and casual dress, the band T-shirts she wore. This one had a screen print of a man with long hair, from a band he’d never heard of. He stared at it for a bit too long, inexplicably fascinated by the simple black lines of the man’s face, then felt himself flushed as he realized that Jill might think he was staring at her breasts. If she noticed, she didn’t let on.
“Anyway, I just came to let you know that Rick is really pleased with how quick you’re finishing up your sets every week. He normally likes to keep everything on schedule so you’d be doing busy work for the rest of the week…” (Daamodar rolled his eyes/hated busy work/Jill gave a knowing eye roll back) “…but he told me that if you want to go ahead and finish your post-set tonight you can start a new one tomorrow. Thinks it’ll look good to have more puppets pushed out per week, if it can be done well. Which, it seems you can.”
“Well, great!” She smiled and Daamodar’s chest hurt. This was his least favorite part of the job. But all he could focus on was Jill walking out the door.
That night Daamodar’s mother had friends over. They sat around the table and laughed. When he walked in they all said hello and told him he was handsome. He felt his face get hot and he fixed a bowl of macaroni and cheese for himself. One of the younger women, wearing a beautiful green sari, was talking about her son’s wedding, the planning for which was apparently going well. He made eye contact with his mother. She winked and he took his bowl up and wished them all goodnight.
He closed the door to his room and turned on an aggressive song at a stage whisper. A small blue box sat on his endtable. Two antennae stretched toward the ceiling. He picked up the box and flicked a switch. The antennae, previously stiff, lost their tumescence and began to undulate awkwardly. First they looped around behind Dammodar’s back, then they panned across the room like a radar. He slapped the machine in the palm of his hand, but the antennae continued to grow and wobble.
He fingered the notch on the box’s battery cap and looked inside. The machine ran on ants, and a good majority of the creatures were dead and smashed. He tapped the underside and the ants fell out in a clump like wet strawberry tobacco.
Removing an old orange pill bottle from his top dresser drawer, he dumped a handful of live ants into the battery niche and closed the cap. The antennae snapped to a shorter length, bent at a joint and began pointing to the south. He grabbed his backpack and opened his window carefully and climbed down the fire escape.