A Sham Man

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“There can be no greater force than capitalism, Mr. Culver, wouldn’t you agree?” the bespectacled old man, face speckled with the colors of his liver, and dark green cardigan specked with dandruff inquired.

“Yes, yes. I quite do. Of all forces, it must be the greatest.” Mr. Culver replied in his characteristic way.

“Now, Mr. Culver, may I lavish some tea and Turkish delight sweets on you? I’ve had these since I travelled to Istanbul in my twenties. Right before I began to work at the bank. It was my sort of jaunt or walkabout—if you will allow—before getting down to brass fixtures.”

 

Something about this character’s speech and mannerisms disturbed Jaye Culver deeply while delighting him as if his body were the tap of a sink, and the streams of conflicting emotions mixed inside of his soul to produce a tepid sensation.

“Yes, that would be delightful, Mr. Gaye.”

Henry Gaye smiled at his guest and began a shaky pour of scalding water into cups trembling in their saucers.

He then disappeared into the large china display cabinet, which occupied most of the wall of his living room and opened the central compartment from which he withdrew a battered box of sweets.

“I’ve been slowly going through these for as long as that carpet has held its post,” Gaye indicated the small rug on the floor; it was woven with an intricate gray sinusoidal pattern on a background of the deepest red and stormiest blue.

The carpet was, in some spots, entirely unblemished, and in others, worn through to the white fibers that kept the whole thing together.

“Perhaps the sweets won’t agree with me. I don’t even take sugar in my tea.”

“Nonsense, Mr. Culver. I insist…

Please.”

The pleading note of the final word swayed Culver in the most undesirable direction from his place of indecision, and he found himself hurtling into the unknown of placing a sweet—dusted and green (with mold??)—onto his tongue. It was reminiscent of marzipan, which Jaye Culver despised.

He forced himself to swallow, but the briquette was too large and he had to attempt to mash the thing—hard as ice—with his teeth. It could only be subdued when softened by the boiling tea that had just barely begun to darken. Culver’s tongue was now fully burned, and he would be unable to enjoy the sensual pleasure of taste for the next several days.

“There! That wasn’t so terrible!” smiled Gaye, who made no attempts at the offensive sweets.

“Won’t you have one?”

“No, no. Not me. I’ve got terrible problems with my digestion.”

This upset Culver and made him feel deceived. The handle of disgust was turned up slightly, and the mixture of emotions ran more towards the side of coldness now.

Gaye: “I’ve got to thank the brilliant capitalist system, upheld by our staunch positivist principles, and fortified by our unblinking adherence to the ideology of the free market, for absolutely everything.”

Henry Gaye’s living quarters were not Spartan. He seemed to have acquired some refined material possessions and inhabited what was considered a nice quarter of the living massive, right by the sewer canal. His multiplexed housing edifice was like the thousands of others that sheltered the stokers of the smoky flames and the polishers of the mirrors of the capitalist carnival. But this building was really well placed on the outer edge of the ring around the central city, right as the forest into which the Grand Sewer drained began.

“Mr. Gaye, I came to visit you because you are my mentor at the bank.”

“And it’s high time you did, Mr. Culver. You’ve been with us for nearly two years now. You’re transitioning from a headstrong young man into a serious minded caryatid of the structure of our society, so to speak.”

Jaye Culver was incredulous. How could this nondescript bureaucrat and senseless functionary make such easy references to ancient Greek elements of architecture— the columns carved in the form of women supporting a roof on their heads. Yet all day, at the bank, there were no words but acronyms and corporate clichés that issued from his mouth. In his business life he spoke as if his brain was wired into the Master_Beta-System, which housed all the bank’s official documents, edicts, and regulations.

“You’re a sham.” Culver whispered, as the realization suddenly dawned on him: Henry Gaye had been faking it his whole life.

“Now, Mr. Culver. I’d advise you to keep such thoughts to yourself.”