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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes

The Wedding Gift
Joseph Grant

The first thing Garrett Mitchell noticed as he crossed over the Queensborough Bridge into Long Island City was the way the radio station came back in clearly. The drive over the bridge had given nothing but static and he was very nervous about driving his sporty new import from Manhattan into Queens. Going to Queens was like traveling to another planet from New York City, as far as he was concerned.

The car had been a wedding present for him and his young bride from his new in-laws. It made him uneasy to drive such an expensive car and it bothered him the way people drove here. While a status symbol to own the import, it could just as quickly become an eyesore, should a scratch or dent occur from any of these reckless drivers.

He felt the soft, creamy velvet seats and breathed in the smell of the plush, new interior and tried to take his mind off of it. He was not from New York like his bride’s family; he had been born and bred in a WASP-ish Connecticut community and rather unfamiliar with the City and unaccustomed to its ways and sometimes desperate melting pot means.

His mind drifted back to his young bride, Kiera, waiting back at their room at the posh Upper West Side hotel, The Mayflower. She took the news badly when he was ordered by his boss in Hartford to go to the General Services Division of the Apex Photo Offset Company on 21st Street in Long Island City. After all, he could not blame her for being irascible with him. They had just gotten married the day before at First Presbyterian over on Fifth and the reception was very riotous and hence, had not yet been on what could officially be defined as their honeymoon. What should have been a consummation of their love was instead, a heaving night of her stomach, rather than her bosom and his subsequent unconsciousness.

He drove; passing ancient industrial brick and ivy-covered warehouses that over the years had become marred by decay and more recently, by graffiti. He drove on, past other lesser decrepit buildings of smaller stature but equal vandalism.
He continued down an extremely lunar-looking Route 25, which unexpectedly turned into Queens Boulevard. The area was now getting less commercial and more retail. He was told by the warehouse supervisor that the company was located right off the Bridge. He looked at the texted directions his supervisor sent him but, he could neither see the warehouse nor the street. The old man told him he couldn’t miss either, but somehow he had.

He drove along the Boulevard and looked for a shoulder. It reminded him almost of the Connecticut Turnpike. There were no shoulders to drive onto and the most he saw on the side of the road were shredded truck tires and rusted mufflers. At about every one thousand feet increments, there were construction signs, followed by a sea of bright orange cones grouped with grubby highway workmen, contemplating work. He spotted the Bridge in the distance behind him and the familiar sight of Shea Stadium ahead and was well aware he had gone too far.

After numerous attempts of trying to re-enter the causeway, he finally jutted out in front of a slow-moving garbage truck, much to the cursing and finger-waving of the driver and his refuse understudy. He floored the import and saw a sign for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and entered Woodside.

He looked at his MapQuest directions and took the BQE through Jackson Heights, over Northern Boulevard and onto Grand Central Parkway, wound up back towards Manhattan and when he got within close proximity of the Queensborough Bridge, lumbered onto Astoria Boulevard. As he edged slowly towards his destination, thousands and thousands of gleaming white headstones smiled up at him in the mid-morning sun, back-dropped by the skyline of Manhattan. The vision of endless tombs lined up in the green grass with spring trees overhanging them shook him. Suddenly, it seemed as if all the air in the car dissipated and his chest clenched for breath. The hangover had awoken into a panic attack, full throttle.

After turning in and out of a few residential blocks, he finally spotted 21st Street but could not turn down it as it was a one-way. Strangely, the cars that mobbed the entire block were all parked up on the sidewalk. It was going to be a bitch to find a parking spot, he groused.

He eyed a tiny space in front of a textile manufacturer around the block and pulled up half-assed onto the sidewalk, along with the other cars parked likewise. He was certain to lock the car and walked along the uneven sidewalk in the cool, morning air and deep gray shade of the textile building. It would be best to resolve the matter with the warehouse supervisor at Apex rapidly and get the hell out of here, he reasoned.

Two things struck Garrett about the warehouse. The first was an odd humming noise and second, how old the building seemed. It looked as if the place had been built during the last breath of the Industrial Revolution and appeared to be straight out of Dickens. Everywhere he turned, dust held precedence and there were endless wooden doors with smoked glass and chicken wire with the names of what were most likely long-dead employees stenciled upon them. He noticed that the doorknobs were either brass or crystal, the kind one didn’t see any more.

Calling out several times to no avail, he walked through a doorway where he heard voices. A fossil of a man looked up as he gummed his sandwich and then as quickly, went back to his sports page. Garrett looked over at the secretary and for the first time, around the office. The office, as well as the secretary, appeared to be out of a time-warp. The woman wore a bee-hive hairdo, horn-rimmed glasses, pearls and a beaded librarian’s tassel holding her glasses in place. He cleared his throat as she went to answer one of the many old rotary-style phones that dotted the desks.
"Hello, my name is Garrett-.." He got out before another phone ring cut him off. The woman held up a withered finger.
She placed the phone back down after a few minutes and asked: "Now what did you say your name was?"
"I’m from Greater Connecticut Life Insurance Company."
"We don’t need no life insurance." She said gruffly.
"No, I’m Garrett Mitchell. I’m here to see John Martino. I’m from the Greater Connecticut Life Insurance Company. There was a problem?"
"Oh, you’re Garrett!" She beamed. "I’m Claire!" She picked up the phone. Instead of calling the man, she slung the phone over her polyester–draped shoulder and screamed at the top of her lungs: "JOHN!"
A man whom Garrett thought looked more at home in an old fighter’s gym lumbered through the door. "Yeah?" He slowly mouthed.
"This guy’s here to see you." She said.

The two men looked at each other. Garrett was dressed in a suit and tie, while the man was dressed in greasy workman’s clothes. The man stared back at him silently. Garrett held out his hand. "I’m Garrett Mitchell…I spoke to you over the phone earlier?"
"You’re the guy I spoke to, huh?" He mumbled. "They keep getting younger…" His voice trailed off. "Your boss is an idiot." He said suddenly and then shook Garrett’s hand with a calloused palm.
"What do you mean?" Garrett asked.
"He sent you down here. There’s no need for you to come all the way down here. We could have done this whole damned thing over the phone, really. It’s just a problem with the vendor, that’s all. She’s goin’ to be here at ten-thirty, so in the meantime, why don’t you just sit or somethin’." He said as Garrett looked at the endless line of unoccupied desks and nodded blankly.

He reached for his cell phone. Shit, his cell phone was not in his jacket pocket but down the block back in his car. "What I’d really like to do is call my wife."
"Yeah, go ahead. It’s local, right?" He said without hearing the answer as he disappeared back behind the door into the main plant where Garrett could see large machines and printing presses and now figured out what the humming noise had been; it was the last screaming gasp of the previous century, he smiled.

Claire directed him to an empty and absolutely filthy cubicle where he placed a call back to the hotel. He dialed the extension back at the hotel but did not get a response. He sat for at least forty-five minutes before the warehouse door popped open again and John Martino stood there with an agitated-looking woman. For the rest the morning and until sometime in the early afternoon, talked about the vendor’s employee health benefits. When the meeting concluded, Garrett stood.
"May I use your phone?"
"Make sure it’s-.."
"Yes, a local call." Garrett nodded and walked towards the front office where Claire was still sitting. The old man that had been there initially was gone. Garrett surmised in his weary state that the man had either died or was now making his afternoon deliveries. The meeting had taken that long. Claire’s head shot up at the sight of Garrett.
"Can I help you?"
"I’m just going to use the phone."
"Who are you here to see?" She asked, confused.
"I was just in with John, remember me? I’m Garrett. I was in here this morning?"
She shrugged at him. He walked past her to the dusty cubicle he had been to before and saw the handprints he had left earlier and though of how it resembled some forgotten and pathetic archeological dig. He got through this time.
"Hello?" His new wife answered.
"It’s me. You feeling better?"
"Hi, my big, strong handsome executive. You better believe I’m feeling better. I ate. Are you come back soon?" She purred.
"As soon as I can get out of here. It shouldn’t be too long."
"I’ll be waiting for you, honey. I’m very lonely here in this hotel room with this big bed here, all by myself."
He laughed. "I’ll be back soon, okay…just hold on. Don’t run away with the bellhop, okay, my naughty little bride. Just hold on, baby. I’ll be coming soon. Okay?"
Kiera breathed heavily into the phone. "Good, cos I will also."
Garrett hung up the phone when he noticed Martino standing to his side, staring at him.
"It was nice meeting you." Garrett extended his hand in Martino’s direction.
"You goin’ somewhere?" Martino asked with a wrinkled face.
"I have to get back to my wife."
"Whipped, I tell ya. You gotta stand up to them or they’ll carry your balls in their purse."
"Look, I don’t need you to tell me about how me and my wife should-.."
"Aw, don’t get yer panties in a wad! I was just trying to give you some fatherly advice, ya see. Anyhow, I was about to give Mrs. Pritchett here a tour of the warehouse, you in’erested?"

Garrett thought about young Kiera, alone in that hotel room, being crazed with desire and thoughts of a bellhop not far from her, even though they had both been kidding. "I think I’ll take a rain check."
"Oh come on!" Martino said and put his greasy hand back on Garrett’s shoulder. I’ll have you back to that wife in no time, you’ll see."

For the next excruciating half-hour, the old man showed them the inner workings of the Apex Photo Offset Company, much to Garrett’s chagrin. What had been a drone when he arrived at the front office of the warehouse was now a deafening roar that the supervisor had to shout over. They walked on the slippery, soot-covered factory floor past the giant printing presses, the endless paper rolls that fed into them, the ink it took to make the insurance booklets that Garrett’s department handled and the slicing implements that cut them to size order and the plastic wrap that was shrink-wrapped by heat to fit around the books and how all of this was supplied by what appeared to Garrett as this side of slave labor.

Martino concluded the tour with a stop at a dirty and most likely virus laden cafeteria. Garrett passed, leaving Martino and the vendor to their dubious fates.

It was now three-thirty. Had he not taken that senseless tour he would be now walking into his hotel room, into arms of his beloved bride. He burst out of the door into the bright, warm June sunshine and along the uneven and broken pavement down the block. His throat was scratchy and his chest felt tight and he wondered what toxins he had inhaled inside that dumpy warehouse. He stumbled at the corner and walked towards Vernon Boulevard. Thank God, he thought and quickened his pace, the car is still there.

It was in one piece, the tires and hubcaps still intact and as he walked past the furniture repair business and the moving companies that dotted the block.

His eyes shot to the car door. Inexplicably, the lock was up. That could not be. He made sure in such a dodgy neighborhood to lock both doors and rolled up the window. Cautiously he opened the door of his new car. Bizarrely, he saw his phone but the scene that met his inspection shook him to the core.

‘31 condoms’ the police report read.
He didn’t even remember going to the police. All he remembered was showing up at the precinct after Martino and Claire shuttled him out of the building, saying something about how they couldn’t handle a hysterical man in their offices. He remembered the police telling him something about how prostitutes preyed on cars along that road to have their tricks in and he had just been unlucky. They told him something about how he could try to get the seats steam-cleaned but they would always most likely be stained for good, velvet does that, they smirked.

As he rode the crowded "N" and "R" train back to Manhattan, he recalled how the one cop told him to leave the keys in the ignition and that the new car would be off of his hands in a matter of minutes and how he explained could not do that, as the car had been a wedding present from his new in-laws. The police informed him that he could do as he pleased but very easily it could be reported stolen and that all it would take would be for him to fill out the right forms. That way, they explained, he could still get the sticker price for the car and not have to say anything to the insurance company. The train buckled as it crossed the bridge back to Manhattan. It sounded like a good idea. It was not so clear what he would tell his new bride or her parents

© Joseph Grant November 2008

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