The Satchel Of Fanciful Happiness
G. K. Wuori
Pete Heavy (a translated name) had been working for the sewer department for forty-three months now and it was good work. Parts of the work might seem disgusting to some people (although it was far cleaner work than generally thought), but he was doing a job that had to be done and that few others would do. It was good to be needed; he’d never been needed back in his home country.
He was a small man with thoughts about being small. A television program had given him exercises for stretching his bones and building up his joints. That hadn’t worked, but it was probably because he hadn’t sent in the $19.95 for the special unit that electrified the cartilage and relaxed the ligaments so they would stretch. As he walked to and from work each day, too, he carried bricks in his satchel along with his lunch. The boys on the job always said he had pencils for bones, and carrying the bricks did seem to help. He had fat muscles in his legs now, and his shoulders, he was told, could be used as a small bridge for a pathway. He was strong, then, and only wished he had more of himself to give to the world.
Pete Heavy liked the boys on the job. They were filled with scrappy words and boy gases and had no hesitation in letting any of that out, neither the words nor the gases, though they were not always quick in explaining their jumpy language to Pete. “Skirt-chaser” had escaped him for a long time, as had “poker princess.” “Nutface” was what they called Mr. Johnson, their supervisor. Pete Heavy thought it was because the man had big cheeks and jowls and looked like a squirrel.
Their work was hard work and Pete Heavy knew that when men did hard work they joked a lot about sex, any kind of sex, whether with inoffensive animals or offensive wives or entirely neutral objects like fruits and vegetables. Slim Jim, they said, had one time fucked a gas line down in a hole right in the center of town. For a week after that you could light cigarettes off of his penis. That seemed funny to Pete Heavy, who didn’t smoke, and who wasn’t even in America when that alleged lovemaking took place.
He did dream, however, of sexy things since there had been no woman in his life since he’d left home. Fanciful Happiness wrote him all the time. She told him of her dreams and of the things her fingers did in his honor because she knew her man would be rubbing himself against telephone poles or short trees with no trace of a woman in his life and she didn’t want that. As is common among the wives of small men, she had many thoughts about Pete’s dignity.
Always, too, she would ask if the money was there yet, if he’d found her ten-thousand dollars lying idle in an American street so she could finally talk to the fishermen and the waylayers and perhaps even the people at Profound Airways about flight and passage and all the bravery she’d been storing up so that she would not be anyone’s useless problem. Sometimes, she wrote, she put her feet in freezing water and then extinguished cigarettes on them so that the fearful moments of a long journey would find her resolved and silent.
Pete read those letters with sadness and grim hope. He’d already written her several times that she did not need to practice torturing herself, that it was not really like that for the high majority of travelers. He said it would be better for her to gain some weight and practice finding her silent places. The food on the journey wasn’t very good, he told her, and there were huge times of boring emptiness.
He had the money, though, all of it, in a plastic bag hidden in the toilet where he lived. The other men in the house, his landlady said, were “no good bums” who drank whiskey and were always trying to “cop a feel” (he couldn’t figure that one out until she took his hand one day and showed him, speaking aloud of her round bosoms and generous hips). Pete, himself, enjoyed the woman’s attributes, but only with a sideways glance or the heat that arose from proximity when he helped her carry something or put something away in an awkward closet.
Some of the men in the house used narcotic drugs and Pete knew it, so he was wary of the whole lot. He and Fanciful Happiness would be free of all that before long. They’d be together and they’d wear leather shoes and buy insurance and have credit cards. Children would issue forth and Pete thought they might join the Presbyterian Church. Mr. Johnson – a supervisor brought out of retirement because he didn’t cost the town a lot of money – often said the Presbyterians shit dollars and peed coins, why else had their crew been chopping and plumbing that Presbyterian street at least four out of the last twelve months? Pete Heavy wanted to say it was because there was a lot of old-time work under the ground there, but he would not argue with Mr. Johnson. He didn’t think he’d been in the country long enough to argue with anyone yet.
The story, though, about the Presbyterians releasing financial products, got Pete to thinking once again about the money, the travel money for Fanciful Happiness. It was all there, and it was truly time to take it to the broker and arrange for the passage, for her delivery and, thus, the completion of all those things they both dreamed about – waking dreams and sleeping dreams, even dreams he sometimes wrote down on paper so that he could expense them and find out if they were possible dreams or only the fantasies of a poor man and his wife.
There was great fear in his heart as he thought about her journey, a great reluctance, even though he was so lonely most of the time he wrote letters to his shoulders (as it was called back home) – a soldier’s term where a man weeps so savagely he has to bite his arms to stop. Fanciful Happiness was delicate, a piecing together of old sunlight and the last shadows of those who had died happy.
The journey, as he knew, was an agony, and it was said by all that those who left were never the same as those who arrived. He had, of course, lied about that to Fanciful Happiness. He’d begun telling her it was just a journey, a wearying thing, not terribly painful, at a time when he was certain there would never be a satchel full of money for Fanciful Happiness, that he could not do it, so he’d only wanted to reassure her that he’d made it in fine shape and, truly, her turn would be coming, not long at all.
Mostly, Pete wasn’t sure he was ready to lose the Fanciful Happiness of his dreams and memories, the woman whose laugh was long and faint like the call of a loon, the woman who knew poems in her mind that had been written by revered masters, who loved reading newspapers and loved reciting the good stories to Pete, the stories of harrowing adversity where monstrous problems were overcome by decent people who found failure totally distasteful. Fanciful Happiness, too, loved the American rock musicians and she could sing their songs like she was one of those American teenagers who had nothing but heartbreak and lots of money. There was holiness in the woman’s spirit, he knew, a sense that the universe was hardly more than a small shop where basic needs could be satisfied in the middle of enriching conversation.
Pete knew Fanciful Happiness would lose most of that as the ship men and border men and truck men held their own sad lives up to view and decided Fanciful Happiness was a discount on a purchase that no man could rightly refuse.
He, himself, had not had (as they said) the lonely pony thrust into his loins, but he had been tossed repeatedly, had been a game played sometimes near the ship’s rail – thrown and caught, thrown again, missed sometimes. On a damp day he could swear his spine rattled like the chain on a digger, but there was no way you could tell your friends it was because you’d been dropped like the baby of a clumsy mother. Could he imagine telling Mr. Johnson that on the ship there were those who called him Kitten? He did not think he could tell anyone such things, not even Fanciful Happiness.
She, though, of course, she would have her own travails, and he knew he was underestimating her strength. Her red hair, yes, that was one, not common at home; the hair of a brisk woman, it would be said, whose words could make you check your toes and check within your pants for the presence of a sharp knife. Yes, all of that did fairly describe Fanciful Happiness, a woman of both independence and compassion. But she could be haughty, too, no doubt about that, could come across as bait for a certain breed of human shark. Perhaps a long letter would be a good thing, something where he could confess his lies and his fears and prepare her honestly for what might happen.
She had to come, certain proprieties in the world demanding it, and there was no other way than by embracing the shadow world of Profound Airways or Hopeful Newness, Ltd (their ships all painted black). For weeks and weeks she had gone to the American Embassy, had received form after form and had filled all of them out with the help of a teacher at the Chicago School of English in the provincial capital. When she was done, she had a number from a waiting list, but it was exactly the same as the number of kilometers to the moon. If the Americans could do no better than that, she’d written Pete, she’d have to slip in like a bat at sunset and prove herself worthy later on.
Pete was carrying his money in the heavy satchel as he walked to the (translated) Bank of Only Endlessness on Main Street, one of those seemingly exotic businesses few Americans knew about, a small institution on the second floor over a sporting goods shop. There would be oblique talk, he knew, and the laying out of numerous compliments. Along with the official money in his satchel, he also had several hundred dollars in his wallet because there were always diligent men and resourceful women in such an office, people whose lives were never quite as happy as they desired. Pete would help with their happiness since his extra money was all in tens and twenties.
It was his lunch break and Pete and the other sewer men had been working only a block away from the Bank of Only Endlessness so he was sure he would have time. He was thinking about Fanciful Happiness – good thoughts, the possibility of her pains and woes no different now from diseases she might contract but probably wouldn’t – when he came upon the three women. He could see they were not quite of the neighborhood, which was not a bad neighborhood, only one of much business with the occasional loud disappointment or the occasional expression of some raucous temperament. Business, he knew, had never been designed to make people happy.
The three women seemed to be in their late twenties, and seemed as well to be greatly enjoying each other’s company, a trait he’d already noticed among a lot of American women. There was laughter and many skips and hops in their walking, as though their journey were governed not so much by a destination as by simple joy.
As they approached Pete one of them said, “Look at the funny foreign man.”
This surprised Pete, since he’d been in the country now for over three years and wore jeans and blue shirts with his name sewn on his shirt pockets.
“Hello, funny foreign man,” another one of the women said.
Pete didn’t like her hair – the gold of early rust – or the way her teeth looked like they could pop your kneecap off and leave you with thoughts that life was hard, much too hard.
“What’s in the bag, Tinkertoy?” another one of them said, her hand already on Pete’s satchel. “Oh, a heavy bag,” she added.
Pete was proud of his English, and he almost said “nice pun” to the woman except that it just didn’t seem to be a moment for that.
The third young woman, silent thus far, finally said, “I bet he keeps his foreign balls in there. Is that true, foreign man?”
The sewer boys were sometimes rough like this, only for them it was a way of being kind. They weren’t sure how to be nice to one another, but they knew down to the bones in their toes they had to be something to one another. A rough word became the person, and then it wasn’t hard at all to say, “Hey, asshole, you find that brain of yours yet?” Those things, yes, the word made flesh.
Pete Heavy saw sex in these women – he could smell it like dense molasses – what some of the boys would say was an instinct for partying, an odd expression. He could see them picking him up and bouncing him like an unresisting goat with the thrill to his loins being minimal. One of them said she’d like to hang him on her mother’s clothesline, a notion not familiar to Pete, though this tugging on his hand and his arm was, blood-red nails curling around the handle of his satchel, nails longer than the teeth of Fanciful Happiness. The woman wanted his satchel, and she put her pointy shoe on his foot. She didn’t know he had steel in his booty toes, but a certain possessive point was being made anyway. She reminded Pete of dragons and one-life spiders.
“Give me your purse, funny man,” she said, a caustic drool slipping through her lips, an acrid spray on his face that stung and made him worry about his future, especially the well-deserved, well-earned future with his wife whose skin was whiter than television laundry or coconut meat, although not the kind of coconut he could buy here in a food shop, those nuts more like rancid knotholes fit only for birds from another region.
Pete knew his mind was not attaching itself to this incident yet. He thought it might be hoping there was no incident.
Two of the women were laughing as they watched Pete struggle with their friend. One of them handed the struggling woman a small knife. She held the knife up near Pete’s eyes and told him again and again she was going to stick him in his eyeballs and Pete Heavy finally realized he was being mugged – mugged or tugged, he wasn’t completely clear on it, since he definitely was being tugged at his satchel – a robbery, only that, a mugging, yes, and now he knew why it was called that, the word itself sounding like something turned inside out, something that took your old life and folded it under a new one and not a very good new one. How in the hell could he ever explain this to Fanciful Happiness?
His friends in the sewers would think him both honorable and ordinary for having been involved in a mugging, much as they would had he said he’d blackened his wife’s eye the night before, stark amenities in a land of too much desire.
In a mugging you had something stolen which led to regrets and sadness, of places you wished you hadn’t gone to, of moments that would have been as different as the stars if only other moments hadn’t preceded them. Time had its own way of playing jokes on you.
Pete realized, of course, that he was about to lose his wife, that she was the central issue in all of this even if these women didn’t know it. Should they escape with his satchel there would be nothing to do but to write a short letter to Fanciful Happiness explaining that their love would have to stay within their fingers and that patience would have to fill their hearts. He would work even harder, he would say, but the slow speech of old age might fill both their mouths before a tongue or nipple or penis or even an exuberantly painted toe did.
Pete Heavy was afraid these women did not know the depth of his resolve so he said, in excellent English, “Everything important in my life is in this bag.”
The devil whose hand was wrapped around his own, whose other hand was now scratching his face and his arms and his hands with her small knife, laughed in his face and said, “Everything important in my life is in that bag.”
Pete thought that was about the story of conflict everywhere. You just couldn’t tell people, not so that they believed you, what was truly important and what was not. He knew this woman couldn’t buy a house with what was in his bag, not even a new car. He, however, was carrying the entirety of historical change in his satchel and he wasn’t sure what to do. Did he simply not know the right words in this American language?
One of the other women, sensing that too much struggle was going on, slowly worked her fingers into Pete’s hair, his long hair, her fingers, he thought for a moment, feeling caressing like that of an endearing lover, at least until those fingers were well woven into him and she tightened her grip and pulled on his head and told him this was the American way, this was repentance to be followed soon by redemption and rebirth. “Don’t you get it, you fucking creep?” she screamed.
She said it again and again until Pete, beginning to feel some real pain, screamed at her, at all three of them, “No! I am not here for your amusement!”
Then he twirled around not once but three times, a dazzling spin learned from the Action Channel on his AT& T Broadband. His satchel, containing the bricks and the money for the journey broker and all his dreams to stop waking up alone, containing Fanciful Happiness and the prospect of her dreadful journey – the satchel rose upward as he spun, became a mace on the end of his chain-like arm and the women were hit and hit again, causing them to duck, fall, roll, jerk, tumble. Pete saw, as his friends would have said, gams, bloomers, bush, painted toes, knockers, yams, and chainsaws. They must, he assumed, be more lonely than he, more desperate to have a calculated life of good plans and sweet events. How else to explain all of this? For all they knew the satchel contained only salami and old underwear not even washed in preparation for an American accident. Still, in his mind he could see the boys cheering him on, encouraging him, one petite David against this triple Goliath, although it was not a good cheering as Pete saw it, since he didn’t think the boys cared all that much for women to begin with, while he, Pete Heavy, wanted only to be kind to women, to be a pleasurable man of trust and confiding talk.
As he was spinning and spinning, as he heard the satchel of Fanciful Happiness breaking the hearts of these young girls, perhaps their bones, he heard the rip of splitting fabric and the sounds of buttons popping and of heels being wrenched off twisted shoes – good clothing encountering deep ruin.
Really, he told himself, seriously, his desperation teetering on the slippery lip of rage, he knew it was the same sound as the clothing of Fanciful Happiness being ripped from her body, of her bones being pounded into bad poems and old dirges. This, he knew, these young women with their entrepreneurial ways, was only the beginning of a struggle that would last for all the days of Pete Heavy and Fanciful Happiness (who’d already written him that in the American language she wanted to be called Deborah, perhaps Debbie), the struggle of love and distance and all the hard things that rose and fell when two lives said that one life was all they needed.