Vivian

I.
Problems at the top. I am interrupted in conversation with my sister for something “important.”

I head to my office, a concrete junkheap of paperwork, old computers, and filing cabinets. In the corner, a small greenhouse lies beneath a vinyl tarp.

Roger Sterling makes an entrance, cigarette smoke trailing behind — he can tell I have something on my mind and so turns on his heels as though he is being called to dinner.

I reach out an arm and then give up. I begin frantically digging through papers searching for the phone listing.

After hours of search, I give in and retire to my garden beneath the tarp. I am growing dried fruit and wheatgrass and a flower I have never known before. Rows and rows of soaking fauna stretch out before me.

I brush the dirt from my hands and pick up the phone. We talk for a few moments but I am “barking up the wrong tree.”

I simply cannot locate the emergency.

II.
Outside, a crowd gathers by a small fenced-in garden. Bags of dried cherries and apricots line the dirt in neat little rows. I sell a handful for $20 and walk away to view the rest of the carnival.

A woman approaches and asks after the apricots. She hands me a wad of cash. As she walks away I realize she has overpaid. I chase after her, but she climbs a set if stairs leading to a balcony of sorts. She is running now, sweating, afraid. A man catches up to her and she is down. I head up the stairs to meet them and she is in cuffs. A large woman, pink hair, nose ring, black tattered flak jacket.

I peel the bills from my hand one by one, counting out $20 and hand it to the cop. I don’t imagine he’ll give it back to her, but I must fulfill my obligation.

III.
I return to the office to find I have won the gardening contest with my rogue flower. A competitor is flummoxed and upset, but informs me where I can claim my prize.

The boiler room is the size of many football fields and is abustle with activity. Crates stacked ten high, video monitors and servos. A security guard checks my paperwork.

A cafeteria with automatic bartenders sits in the corner, boilers and pipes churning behind walls of ramen, chips, and soda pop. I don’t belong in this part of the building and feel like an outsider.

I am led to Vivian who informs me she will take care my prize for now. Vivian, dark skin, bright white hair, tutu-colored lipstick. All plastic and smiles and business.

Back on the surface I am lost again. Nighttime falls on the lonely office building and I give up hope of ever learning the cause of this crisis.

IV.

The workers are going home. I get halfway through the doors before realizing I have forgotten my prize.

But I do not know how to re-enter the boiler room. I ask around and a security guard tells me: G104. I pretend to understand, flashing my papers and moving on, but I am hopeless.

Double doors part and I realize I am in the concert hall. Of course! G104. I push over a somnambulant concertgoer and pull down the seat, which flips like a Ferris wheel bench, revealing a bucket, just big enough for one.

I climb in and the seat spins back to normalcy, flipping me upside-down and back upright on the ceiling of the boiler room. I can hear voices and laughter hundreds of feet below, as a track careens myself and bucket along the ceiling, through various chambers.

I am flung quickly and down a spiral track to the ground, where dizzy, I exit my bucket among mechanics dirty with sweat and oil.

After interrogating a handful of workers I find Vivian.

She emerges from a ramshackle hut, high as a skyscraper, eyes dull and void. Above her hut, a tree bursts through the roof. On a branch, its head resting comfortably, is an infant, its right arm dangling awkwardly.

Vivian sees me looking at the child and nods, waving an arm vaguely towards the tree. As if to inform me that there, on that limb, is my “prize.”

I move closer and as I do, the child slips and like a ragdoll plummets end over end to the earth, landing with a sickening crunch. As I run to pick up the limp infant, Vivian leans in with little interest, before patting me on the back and walking away.

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