April 18, 2020—February 22, 2021
“I named it Lazarus. It went down at a slightly different angle about five years ago. Tree guys replanted and rigged it to the ground. Worked, as a long shot, and bloomed nicely every season. Tree docs telemedicined with my wife, Lazarus is not gonna recover this time. Thundercloud Plum.” Robert shows a photo of an uprooted tree—still in blossom—on the screen of his smartphone.
“I’d try it anyway, if you really like it. Plants can be surprisingly resilient,” replies Sarah cautiously. She knows that she has not been called into her boss’ office so urgently for sympathizing.
Robert Ritzy is about sixty-five. His eyes move quickly as if millions of computations happen every second in the supercomputer in his head. He looks impeccable—clean-shaven, finely dressed. There is something strikingly geometrical about his haircut; the impression is only enhanced by the equally striking white color of his hair. Mr Ritzy looks at Sarah with respect, like an aristocrat would look at the dog of his good friend. He sits in a posh, albeit somewhat old, chair behind a desk which presently supports an elegant metal case. The case is locked.
“We’ve got something on our hands and we wanna get rid of it. As quickly as possible. You’ve got two days to sell it,” says Robert and leans back in the chair which responds with a talkative creak.
“What’s that?” asks Sarah.
“In the case,” replies Robert with a slight nod.
Sarah unlocks and opens the case. Inside, there is a ·. She has seen better.
“The minimal price?”
“I think it’s a little bit too much. I’ve sold better ones for three or four. I can’t see anything special about this one,” remarks Sarah as she inspects the · with the look of a connaisseur.
“There is nothing special about it, Sarah. Get that?”
Sarah glances at Mr Ritzy and continues to examine the · in an awkward silence.
“All I’m saying is that it will be hard to sell it at this price,” she says after a pause.
“God is in the details,” notes Robert.
Sarah doesn’t know what to say. She looks at the ·, but what sort of details she should discover in it to justify this price is beyond her.
“Can we lower the price if people don’t buy it for five thousand?” she asks.
“Stop playing games, Sarah, and move on,” replies Robert.
Mr Ritzy’s employees got used to the fickle character of their boss. As his secretary puts it, “Mr Ritzy had a difficult life.” Even though not much is known about his life before he has founded this company, it is assumed that this life was full of fierce competition and injustice.
Sarah silently locks the case, takes it, and opens the door of the office intending to leave.
“The wind can come and get your tree at any moment. By the way, nice t-shirt,” says Robert. Sarah never knows what to answer to him in these moments. She leaves without replying.
Over time Sarah has come to appreciate how much her profession is about implementing a routine. There is something secure and comforting in routine: if it is followed consistently and with sufficient perseverance then success is guaranteed. For a philistine, Sarah’s routine is simply about moving from one prospect to another. Naturally, the more prospects are visited the higher are the chances. But the truth about her craft is that it is all about individual approach. Sarah tries to get to know each prospect and not to give up too easily. She remembers that many times she managed to sell things to people who at first appeared completely indifferent, but with a modicum of skillful manipulation they would give in and buy goods with a smile on their faces, completely convinced that they had got a good deal.
A · is a luxury object. Only wealthy people can afford it, and even for them it is not a necessity. Reasons to buy a ·? For a rational person—none whatsoever. Thus, it all depends on the presentation.
With men, it is simpler. According to an article Sarah has recently read, there are eighteen rules a man should follow to raise his status so that women are attracted to him. Possessing a · is not one of them. If it were, it would make Sarah’s job so much easier. Still, a man of status masters the eighteen rules all too quickly. He is bored; his restless mind craves for more. A finer distinction, to isolate the cream of the crop. This is where Sarah’s got a chance. There is no question whether or not the prospect can afford the ·. Of course he can. It’s all about a minor detail—signing the deal. Once that is done, the man will feel the difference. He will even be able to break one or two of the eighteen rules from time to time.
With women, it depends. For a successful woman a · can be just a nice beautiful item, one of many. It is different for lonely or bashful women. Life is short and rejection is painful. In the late evenings, what can be better than a cup of tea, or indeed, a glass of good wine accompanied by a ·? Such a woman can take it out of its case and enjoy it for hours. It is a work of art. Besides, if a woman managed to afford a ·, it means that she is way above average. And if even an average woman often happens to find a good partner, then a woman who is successful enough to buy a · will surely find someone special.
Where do the prospects come from? Sarah has a list. It is typically provided by the office. Personal information can be used for many things, but it is most useful to salespeople. Without this information they would have to navigate the medley of human minds in the dark, like moles in search of tasty insects, but much less successfully. Who is to say that products in the modern world do not have their own minds and souls? Lives in the digital realm are thoroughly logged. Different auras attract different ghosts. Sometimes a single word, a single thought is enough to make an appointment with an exalted phantom, to start seeing it smiling fatuously through your window, to have it come to your own home in the most inconvenient moment.
How does Sarah get to a prospect? By car. Here it is—a red sedan. The glorious accomplice. Sarah enjoys driving her car, especially when she doesn’t need to take difficult turns. She likes to put on good music, to drive fast, to watch road markings fly behind the windows. What can be worse than a fork in the road? Making decisions means making mistakes. It destroys the routine and lowers the chances.
Sarah checks the documents that prove that the · is genuine. A fake costs no more than two hundred bucks, so the papers make all the difference. In this case, they seem to be in order. Before closing the case Sarah studies the · again. It looks somewhat pathetic, but she cannot put her finger on what exactly is wrong with it. She tries to remember the other ·s that she has sold during her career. Some of those were really impressive. She even considered buying one herself several times, but always rejected the idea because of the high price—her job never paid well. Finally, Sarah takes out her handkerchief and cleans the ·. This hardly helps; in fact, it seems like the · looks even worse now. “This is a hideous little bastard, and Robert wants five thousand for it…”
One of Sarah’s strong traits is her fighting spirit. Strategically, Sarah has been cultivating this feature of her character for a long time and it has often helped her in the past. Now, as she stands on the porch of the first prospect, the fighting spirit encourages Sarah to find reasons to be optimistic about the present situation. Indeed, two days can be quite enough to sell the object; as for the price, perhaps it is slightly overestimated, but there are still good chances. The list of prospects is long, and every person in this list is likely to become a buyer. Reassured with these sentiments, Sarah is ready to make the feathers fly.
She is about to ring the doorbell when she notices sounds of kicking and panting in the house. For a moment Sarah is puzzled. “Maybe something unlawful is happening inside?” she asks herself. After a short hesitation she decides that she feels adventurous and ready to take her chances. At first, ringing has no effect—the inner massacre continues. Sarah becomes more and more of the opinion that she must try to stop whatever is happening in the house. In all likelihood, it may be a matter of life and death. So, she keeps ringing insistently. Finally, the sounds inside stop and are succeeded by nearing footsteps.
The door opens to reveal a woman about thirty years old, in shorts and a sportive undershirt. She looks fit and muscular, her bang stuck to her forehead with sweat. By the way she breathes Sarah can tell that those worrisome sounds must have been produced by this woman, Mrs Kate Jolt.
“Hello, Mrs Jolt! How are you doing? My name is Sarah. I represent Robert Ritzy’s distribution house. I hope I’m not disturbing you!”
“Hello, well, as a matter of fact, you’ve just interrupted my boxing session,” answers Kate Jolt dryly but without irritation.
“Oh, I’m so sorry! I will not take much of your time,” says Sarah and pauses trying to find a way to smoothly bring the conversation to the topic that occupies her mind. “Would you be interested in acquiring a ·?” she asks.
“I’m sorry, I’m not interested,” replies Mrs Jolt and starts closing the door, apparently considering the conversation finished.
The fighting spirit does not allow Sarah to leave this woman alone so easily—this is not how sales are done.
“I happen to know that you’ve bought such items in the past. Are you not interested in works of art anymore?”
“I’m interested in art, but I do not like it when people encroach on my life,” says Kate.
The answer hits Sarah like a good right hook.
“My visit is a courtesy to you, Mrs Jolt. Knowing about your past interest, I just want to provide you with an opportunity to see the object, given that it’s a limited-time offer and it won’t be available anywhere else.”
“Let’s be frank. You do not care about my interests or needs. If you did, you would have listened to the reply I gave you and left me alone. The only thing you care about is selling whatever you happen to have on your hands. I repeat: I’m not interested,” says Mrs Jolt and closes the door.
The answer hits Sarah like a nice left hook. She returns to her car thinking that the world is full of unfriendly and stressed people, people who misunderstand how business is done. For a moment it seems like her fighting spirit has been knocked out. But this does not last for long. What distinguishes Sarah from others is experience. She knows that a single prospect doesn’t matter much—her job is a game of quantities and probabilities. Sarah energetically raps on the steering wheel and exhales loudly making sounds that she wouldn’t want anyone to hear. Her fighting spirit gradually recovers.
Even ordinary people have interests and passions. They also often have money. Not a lot, of course, because someone who has a lot of money is not by any means ordinary, but enough to buy certain things—hence Sarah’s professional interest in the members of this social stratum. Ordinary people are to be taken seriously. Once you get to know such a person, it often turns out that their life is not devoid of appeal. Evidently, these people do not cease to be unremarkable just because you have talked to them: after all, they do not gain money nor do they climb the social ladder in the meantime. And yet, Sarah knows from experience that the gray mass, the filler of the human society, can surprise.
In the list of prospects Sarah notices a man named Sam Johnson. It is an ordinary name and the papers indicate that he is not rich. Still, the generosity of Sarah and her knowledge of life convince her to give him a shot. She drives to the indicated address and rings the doorbell. After a minute or two of waiting, Sam Johnson comes out in a threadbare red bathrobe.
“Hello, Mr Johnson, how are you? My name is Sarah and I represent Robert Ritzy’s distribution house. We have an offer for you!” begins Sarah trying to appear excited and exciting. Interestingly, the face of Mr Johnson seems familiar to her. She tries to remember where she could have seen him but without success.
Mr Johnson looks caught by surprise. After a pause he says, “Hello, Sarah, you know, I think I’m fine. I’m not really interested.”
The voice of the man, too, seems familiar to Sarah.
“Have we met before?” she asks.
“No, I don’t think so,” replies the man.
“Hmm, okay. Mr Johnson, let me just show you what I’ve got here,” continues Sarah and starts opening her case.
“Well, actually I’m not Sam Johnson. I’m his friend and I’m just waiting for him here,” says the man hesitantly.
At this point Sarah realizes where she has heard this voice. Of course it is not Sam Johnson. The face and the voice belong to David Glide!
David Glide is a famous singer. His music and his life are well-known to the general public. It has been a life of overcoming, a life dedicated to finding who David really is and proving that to the world.
Mr Glide comes from an upper-middle class family. Through the personal connections of his parents he would participate in a popular morning show from an early age. Later, he joined a boy band called “Resync.” As the time went by and the initial spike of the band’s popularity withered, David decided to start a solo career. Truth to be told, many musicians fail to do that—they fall into obscurity never to return to the musical Olympus. To prevent this from happening David’s record label hired the best producers of the time, bought rights for some catchy songs, and spent millions of dollars to promote the singer. The label believed that David is perfectly suitable for becoming a superstar and invested in him heavily.
It is a well-known fact that during the recording of his first album David suffered from severe lack of confidence. Sometimes he would stand in front of a mirror and say “I can’t take it anymore!” Truly, the pressure and the expectations were high from the beginning. But it is through overcoming this sort of pressure the character of a winner is forged. Soon, David Glide emerged from the recording studio to release “Glidering,” his debut album as a solo artist, the album which would sell more than ten million copies.
Later, David realized that his success is only partially of his own making. He came to the conclusion that many things are results of coincidences and that there are people who are simply less lucky, people who live much more difficult lives than his own. The ordinary people who need support. David started to donate to charity. His lyrics and voice deepened. His musical style became more diverse and experimental. His second album called “Double desire” proved to be an even greater success both commercially and critically. It included hits such as “Sexy ass” and “Double desire” and established the singer as one of the most prominent artists in the industry.
Sarah cannot understand what David Glide could be doing in this house wearing this pathetic threadbare red bathrobe. He said that he is waiting for the host, but why? What sort of an arrangement could David Glide possibly have with Sam Johnson? How could they have met? Is it a professional connection or an old friendship? Sarah has absolutely no ideas.
“Are you David Glide? You look just like him!” she exclaims. The man however pretends that he has not heard the question. Sarah is sure that she spoke loudly enough. The question must have been ignored on purpose. This is understandable: someone like David Glide could be here, in the house of Sam Johnson, completely incognito. In this situation Sarah’s curiosity overpowers her professionalism. She tries to remember if she knows anything about David Glide that could help to identify him now with certainty.
“Have you seen many such ·s?” she asks. Someone like David Glide should have seen quite a few.
“No, not really. I’m not a big fan,” answers the man.
“This one costs five thousand, I hope you don’t find it too expensive?” asks Sarah. Someone like David Glide would probably find the price adequate.
“I don’t know. My gut feeling is that it costs around twenty-three hundred,” says the man.
Sarah looks at his face—it is David Glide. She looks at the threadbare red bathrobe—it is not David Glide. A pause follows. The man does not look anymore at either Sarah or the ·. His sight is directed elsewhere, at the shrubs, where nothing of interest can be seen.
“It was nice to meet you, Sarah, good luck with your business,” finally says the man and slowly closes the door.
“It wasn’t David Glide,” declares Sarah in her thoughts.
Sarah decides to have lunch in a small cafe. She sits down at a table and puts the case with the · on the opposite chair. She is unsure what to order but when the waitress comes a decision is improvised. Vague desires often lead to concrete results—it only takes a few words to connect the two.
While waiting for the order, Sarah checks her phone. There are no messages from her family or friends; but, of course, there are a bunch of messages from Neil. Neil is a guy Sarah studied with in high school. They recently reconnected at a reunion party and exchanged numbers. At first, Sarah found Neil’s attention cute, almost as if someone got a phone number wrong but decided to stay for a heartfelt conversation. Sarah remained polite and answered something now and then. Soon enough though, it became clear that Neil is into her and wants to meet.
Sarah has always been friendly and playful even with guys who she did not consider as potential partners. Thinking about Neil, she vaguely remembers now that she flirted with him at the reunion party. Virtually unconsciously, but she flirted nevertheless. At one point she looked straight in his eyes and winked as if they both knew something others didn’t. That was fun—the poor fellow did not know what to do.
Sarah asks herself, “Why not Neil?” The answer comes immediately, not in words, but as a feeling—definitive indifference. Could she explain it even to herself? The chemistry of attraction is only partially known to mankind. Research it as thoroughly as you can and still there won’t be any guarantees. Little details that bind two hearts together are invisible to strangers. They are hard to study scientifically and impossible to fake. You can consult the classic love stories, your friends, your horoscope, and watch your romantic quest fail nonetheless. You may discover that it is time to swap the chemistry for alchemy. To take your heart and put it in a retort. To distill bitter tears. To distill spirit. To get drunk.
Sarah has had a turbulent personal life—a life of search. From an early age she had the example of her parents and friends. Then magazines, TV, pop culture. Articles and shows that explain things. Sarah accumulated the information and molded herself accordingly. She looked for an ideal man all her life—strong, confident, loving. True, she found quite a few, but the relationships never lasted. Currently single, Sarah likes to repeat, “I’m high maintenance, but I maintain myself.” This way she lets everyone know about her rather exquisite standards and, at the same time, about her self-sufficiency and confidence.
Sarah always tries to look cheerful. Every Friday is exciting: an opportunity to explore the night city, to meet someone special, to continue the philosophical scrutiny, to apply the tried-and-true wisdom. What good is a man if there is no mystery about him? No sweet unknowns that one can fill in with imaginary answers. Discovering a man is an adventure in itself. The endless fantasizing about the possibilities alone can plunge a girl in a state of a bliss. And then the conversations that uncover new details slowly, replacing fanciful answers with truthful ones, sometimes even more striking and thought-provoking. Fantasy-provoking. Metaphorical strip-tease. Once Sarah met an actor. Not really, but he almost was an actor. His true vocation was something akin to snake charming. Sarah would rise from her nest every time he called her…
Sarah gets a cheeseburger, a glass of orange juice, and a message from Neil. But lately Sarah does not bother so much with answering Neil’s messages. There is not enough motivation, not enough interest for the laborious work of composing an answer and moving a finger on the screen to type it. Maybe sometime later.
After a lunch break Sarah often feels a bit drowsy and lazy. Today is no exception. She decides to visit the nearest prospect that she can find in the list. It turns out that this is someone named Sam Forge—the man who has bought an “opulent divan” through one of Mr Ritzy’s partners. After a short drive to Mr Forge’s place, Sarah discovers that, apart from the couch, the prospect also happens to own a rather impressive house. She rings the doorbell and a young man appears on the porch.
“Good afternoon, Mr Forge!” begins Sarah. Immediately, something feels wrong, but at first she cannot tell what it is. It soon occurs to her that in the list the age of Sam Forge is specified as forty-eight, however the person on the porch cannot be older than thirty.
“You are Mr Sam Forge, is that correct?” Sarah asks.
“Hello. No, I’m his son, William Forge,” replies the young man.
“Ah, I see! My name is Sarah. I represent Robert Ritzy’s distribution house. Is your father home?”
“No, he’s on a trip. How can I help you?”
“Well, would you be interested in buying a ·?” shoots Sarah. She is unsure if talking with the son will be any easier than talking with the father, but there seems to be no choice.
“A ·? Hmm, why not? Actually, it’d be very interesting to talk about this business of yours. Please come in,” says Mr Forge Jr.
Sarah and William enter a large living room where an opulent divan can indeed be easily found, although it is unclear whether this is the divan that is mentioned in her papers. In a house like this there could be half a dozen fancy couches. It is not the divan that attracts Sarah’s attention though, but the full height mirror, which happens to be not less sumptuous than everything else. Sarah glances in the mirror to check how she looks. A confident and attractive saleswoman looks back at her. Sarah feels better. She is ready to be convincing and professional. Even the drowsiness has disappeared.
Sarah opens her case and proudly demonstrates the object as if it were a treasure of personal significance.
“Quite frankly, this is a work of art. One of the best we’ve ever had,” she says soulfully, believing her own words.
“Impressive. By the way, I had a question about your suppliers. If I understand correctly these items are not mass produced, so how do you acquire them?”
“This is something Mr Ritzy still manages himself. He has many useful connections in this area. I can’t really tell you all the details.” Sarah takes a pause and then adds, “Returning to the ·, would you like to look at it longer?”
“Yeah… I imagine that in this business personal connections are perhaps even more important than in any other, because everything is so unique and rare. I have another question though. How long does it usually take to sell something like this?”
“It depends. I’d say it takes about three or maybe four days on average. But really, Mr Forge, I’d like to hear your decision regarding the object,” insists Sarah.
“I see,” replies William. He starts thinking and walking around in the room. Soon his thoughts materialize as a monologue.
“There is a reason for my interest. Right now I’m studying, but really, I’m an entrepreneur. I want to create a startup. When you came today I understood immediately that there was an opportunity.
“One thing that many people still don’t understand is that software matters. It matters a lot. Let’s take banks for example. The software infrastructure of the existing big banks has been growing ‘organically’ for decades. This is why it’s very hard to change it now. It can be a real bottleneck for the services that the banks provide on top of their infrastructure. I’m convinced that even the CEOs of these banks don’t fully understand how hard it will be to update this sort of software system. The new online banks are, on the other hand, built on modern software, on modern engineering principles. This is why, in the long term, I think they will take over the old banks…”
William continues to walk around and talk. Sarah looks at the fireplace with an old ormolu clock on the mantelpiece, at the painting in a heavy frame on the wall. The painting depicts a goose. “Perhaps, it is their pet goose?” wonders Sarah. She makes an effort to return her attention to William’s speech.
“…Back to selling luxury, I can see how a good deal of what you do as a salesperson can be automated with today’s technology. Imagine that there could be a distribution house with a web site where all information about objects such as this · will be available, including three-hundred-and-sixty-degrees view of the item. When a new work of art arrives, this company just sends emails to all prospects automatically and then waits till someone indicates interest. Without being obliged to buy the object, that person will be able to order delivery to take a look and see for themselves if they like it. The item will be brought by people like you, Sarah, but here’s the difference: those prospects will be already eighty percent convinced of buying the thing. This business model would require a lot less human resources and as a result your salary would go up!”
William stops in front of the mirror and looks at himself. A confident and calm young entrepreneur looks back at him.
“Would you like to work for a company like this?” he asks.
Sarah is somewhat surprised by the question. This guy must be about twenty-five and he dares to predict the future of entire industries!
“Well, Mr Forge, the company doesn’t exist yet, and it’s not guaranteed that what you propose will work as expected. Luxury sales is a traditional business that relies on individual approach. I think it is more important than a fancy web site,” answers Sarah. She wants to get back to the question that actually interests her.
“It will work. To me, it’s just a question of whether you want to make it big or you prefer to paddle in a puddle,” says William with a friendly smile.
“Mr Forge, are you interested in buying the ·?”
“Sure. I’m certainly gonna consider buying it. Tell me just one more thing: how many people work at your company right now?”
There is no doubt that William has located and activated a hidden galvanic switch inside Sarah. A wild current passes through her brain. She is infuriated. She finds William’s personality revolting and annoying beyond limits.
“Here is my number, call me if you decide to buy the object. I must go now. Goodbye, Mr Forge,” says Sarah handing William her business card and ignoring his last question.
“Goodbye,” says Mr Forge Jr.
Sarah leaves. She passes by the mirror again, but this time she doesn’t even look at it.
Mrs Vera Ouais started collecting paintings, sculptures, and exotic furniture many years ago. For a long time she has been well-known to the people for whom art is a business. They valued her refined taste and the remarkable purchasing power that stemmed from her husband’s tight wallet.
Mr Ouais used to be the owner of a major retailing company. He was doing well until he died three years ago in a car accident. In particular, he did very well right before his death by securing some lucrative contracts and thus putting his company on a steep upward trajectory, trajectory that he was not destined to observe. After the death of Mr Ouais the appetites of Mrs Ouais ramified greatly: she would buy this and that, at times living beyond her bounteous income. The businessmen of art could not help but take her hunger to heart and would do their best to provide for the lonely widow.
Sarah sees the name Vera Ouais in her list and this name makes Sarah drool. She drives to the residency of the rich woman who is quickly informed about the unexpected visitor and the goods she has to offer. Fortunately, Mrs Ouais seems to be potentially interested in the ·. Sarah is ushered inside.
The large parlor contains a good deal of art objects: oil paintings on the walls, elegant porcelain vases that must be of Japanese origin, sculptures that speak for themselves. Sarah rejoices: she feels that she has reached a prominent node in the graph of wealth distribution, a constellation of outstanding works, a place where the · will be at home. Unless the · is not valuable enough to neighbor this splendor!
In the center of the room there is an oil painting on a massive stand. In the painting a naked voluptuous woman rests languidly on a sofa in a garden. Her loose black hair barely covers the nipples. In the corner of the garden, behind the bushes, the head of a boy pops up. His eyes, the eyes of a slavering admirer, are fixed on the plump, healthy body, enormous breasts, powerful thighs.
Sarah finds Mrs Ouais appreciating the canvas attentively.
“Oh, this is so beautiful!” exclaims Sarah with all her sincerity.
“You think so?” asks Mrs Ouais and squints.
“This painting and other objects here demonstrate an impeccable taste,” notes Sarah feeling that she can open her heart to the widow.
“This painting is my latest acquisition. It’s called ‘On the verge of reproduction.’ Jack wanted two hundred for this, but I told him right away not to mess with me. ‘You can’t always get what you want, Jack!’ I said.”
Vera Ouais pauses for a moment.
“So… let’s not beat about the bottom,” she says, “show me what you’ve got.”
Sarah is glad to oblige. She opens her case and demonstrates the ·. Mrs Ouais looks at it for ten seconds or so.
“I’ll give twenty-three hundred for this one,” she says.
“Unfortunately, I’ve been instructed to sell it for not less than ten thousand,” replies Sarah.
“Ten thousand for this? Don’t talk nonsense. This doesn’t look it. Don’t think that if I’m rich I’ll spray you with cash just like that. I can give you twenty-five hundred but that’s the maximum.”
“I’m sorry Mrs Ouais, but I cannot go lower than eight thousand.”
Mrs Ouais stares directly at Sarah. A few seconds pass in silence.
“Let’s set the record crystal straight. This · costs no more than three thousand and that’s what I’m ready to pay for it. This is my last word,” says Mrs Ouais.
Sarah widens her eyes slightly as if she has finally understood something of importance.
“Mrs Ouais, you truly force me to make you a special offer,” she says solemnly. “This · is available to you at a special price of seven thousand.”
Mrs Ouais starts to blush.
“Thirty-five hundred is the price,” she says slowly as if putting considerable weight behind each word.
“Mrs Ouais, I feel like we are close to reaching an agreement with me asking for just six thousand,” says Sarah.
Mrs Ouais turns completely red; her teeth and hands clench.
“Don’t hit my bolt, young lady! My final offer is four thousand and I mean it!” she shrills and stomps with her right foot.
Sarah feels that she is on the verge of reciprocation.
“I’ll sell for five thousand,” she declares.
During a long pause Sarah and Mrs Ouais hear brake clatter somewhere outside, then everything becomes silent again.
“Get out of my house. Now,” says Mrs Ouais quietly and decisively.
By carefully studying the list of prospects Sarah discovers that several months ago someone called Mark Andert bought a · offered by none other than Robert Ritzy’s distribution house at an impressive price of six thousand dollars. “That’s it!” exclaims Sarah in a paroxysm of irrepressible enthusiasm. Soon she stands on the porch of Mr Andert’s house and insistently presses the doorbell button. The host appears. He is a middle-aged man in a knitted vest and with avid curiosity in his eyes. It looks like Mr Andert has been waiting for someone like Sarah, or at any rate he is very enthusiastic about this sort of offer. Sarah is suavely invited inside.
“It is such good luck that you decided to visit me,” Mark says, “I’m in love with these little beautiful thingies.”
“We are happy to have such a devoted customer as you, Mr Andert!” sings Sarah. Without further delay she opens the case.
“Oh wonderful! Look at it!” exclaims Mark. For some time he admires the · silently. His brows go up slightly as he scrutinizes the beauty from different angles. Mr Andert’s mouth opens, closes, and re-opens again several times as if he is about to make a remark or pose a question. Sarah cannot help but compare him with a fish out of water.
“Hmm! This is an interesting one, very interesting. I can’t thank you enough for bringing it to my house,” finally says Mark and then pauses for just long enough for Sarah to start opening her own mouth in order to move the conversation towards the inevitable question. However, Mr Andert happens to be quicker than her.
“And the price?” he asks.
“Five thousand and I cannot lower it,” answers Sarah.
“I see. In that case, I wonder if you could put it aside for some time so that I could think about the purchase. I think a couple of weeks would be great.”
“We would be happy to do so, but this · is a limited-time offer. It’s only available today and tomorrow,” replies Sarah.
“I see. Limited-time offer… Right,” says Mr Andert and ponders for a moment. “Well, in that case maybe I could rent it for a couple of months just to see if I really like it?”
“I’m afraid it is not possible.”
“Maybe you offer a guarantee?”
“A guarantee? What could happen to it?”
“Well, you see, several months ago I bought a ·. Also very expensive. To be honest that purchase seriously undermined our family budget. But that was my decision. Maybe not a very wise one. It is not the price that is disappointing though, but the fact that after a couple of months the · that I bought degraded.”
“Yes, let me show it to you.” Mark disappears in an adjoining room and soon returns with a · in his hands.
“The filler went out, look!” he says and to demonstrate the issue Mark snatches a bit of the filler from a gaping stitch and shows it to Sarah. “Natural material, all went out like this.”
“Very strange. This is the first time I see such a problem,” replies Sarah in sincere bemusement. “Is it the one you bought from us?”
“Yes. A genuine one. I have the papers!” sadly notes Mr Andert.
“Did you, by chance, put it in a washing machine?” asks Sarah.
“No, of course not!”
“Maybe you tried to clean it in some other way?”
“No, not really. I just looked at it and sometimes hugged it. Not much of a strain for a high-quality object such as this. In fact, I was constantly wary of damaging it in any way.”
“I’m afraid we do not provide guarantees for works of art. As you probably know, they are not mass-produced. They are unique. However, perhaps you could find a restorer who would be up to the task of cramming all that filler back into the ·.”
“Yeah, I’m thinking about this myself…” says Mark and freezes in place. It is hard to tell what is going on in his head now.
Sarah waits a few seconds.
“I’m very sorry about the filling, however I need to know your answer regarding the · I brought.”
“Right. Limited-time offer…” repeats Mark and starts thinking conspicuously.
Sarah looks around at the wallpapers, the furniture, the ·s. Minutes pass. Finally, she looks at Mr Andert. His eyes, which until this moment were fixed on the · Sarah brought him, rise. The seller and the buyer make eye contact. Sarah understands everything even before Mr Andert opens his mouth.
While Sarah approaches her car she notices Mark running after her. What is this about? Did she forget to give him the brochure?
“I’m terribly sorry,” begins Mark breathing heavily after the short marathon.
“Mr Andert, what happened?”
“I just realized that I’m not ready to spend so much money again. I’d like to cancel the deal and get a refund.”
“After all the emotional investment I gave him?” exclaims Sarah in her thoughts.
Mr Andert is entitled to get a refund if he wishes. And so, he gets one. The worst part about this story is that the guys at the office will see that someone at first bought the object and then immediately returned it. This is not the first time that this happens to Sarah. Her colleagues will laugh at her again. The thorny darkness expands from the remote corners of her soul. Shame and disappointment overfill Sarah as if a skillful restorer decided to cram the feeling back into her heart.
Sarah is back home. Someone stuck a bouquet of flowers in the handle of her door. A rather gorgeous one. Anonymous, but there is no mystery about its origin. It is not the first time that Neil sends flowers. So far, Sarah thanked him every time, but today she is not in the mood. What started as a pleasant surprise has become a sort of “flower siege.”
The dark apartment looks depressing. It resembles a big closet. All sorts of little objects, magazines, and books are scattered around. It feels like one wrong move in the darkness may set about a chain reaction that will bury the unfortunate tenant alive. And yet, despite the abundance of junk, it is lonely. The place is a nest for one without an extension option.
Sarah hurries to turn on the lights, the microwave, and of course, the TV set. This way it is not so lonely. She finds an appropriate receptacle for the flowers. Even though she is not in love with Neil, the flowers are beautiful. It is nice to have them around.
What’s on TV? A film about wild nature. An old lion defends his position as the alpha-male in a fierce fight with a young contender. This time the old lion wins. Next, an eagle feeds her chicks. The little monsters look up with a silent demand—hungry beaks, wide eyes. They expect to get what is theirs. They want to survive. The big eagle obeys.
After staring at the screen for a minute Sarah changes the channel. The new program is a talk show, an interview with a celebrity. “She looks gorgeous,” notes Sarah. The content for the evening is approved.
Sarah sits down on the couch. She takes out the · and puts it on the little table between herself and the TV set, next to her dinner. Even though she is not particularly impressed by this specimen, she knows that it is genuine. It is a nice thing to have around.
Sarah opens a bottle of wine.
The celebrity guest in the TV show talks about the idiosyncrasies of her artistic process. How she manages to look so perfect. How she finds the right people, connects the dots, gets what is hers in this life. A life of search. From an early age this diva had the example of her parents and friends. Then magazines, TV, pop culture. They led her to success. Sarah is impressed. “It is unthinkable how talented some people are, while others are completely, completely mediocre,” she says aloud.
At some point Sarah stops listening. One thing about the guest catches her attention. Her teeth. It is hard to imagine anything whiter. The pure brilliance of the color is eye-catching and unreal. Sarah stands up at once, rushes to the bathroom, and looks in the mirror. Alas, her teeth are not as white; a dentist would say that the color is normal. After a meticulous analysis Sarah utters her verdict “I must whiten them.”
Somewhat sullen, she returns back to her lair. There is no more wine left. Water drips from the tap. The · sits in its place obediently. The celebrity speaks. Her teeth shine. Sarah falls asleep.
It is the late evening of the same day. Sarah finds herself in the perfect darkness of a hermetic pocket. The starless sky merges with the gloomy surroundings seamlessly. The air is absolutely still. Sarah stands at the porch of a prospect in total silence. The door opens but no light comes out of the house. The prospect remains mute, but Sarah somehow knows for a fact that if she shows him the · he will buy it without hesitation.
“Just a moment, I’m gonna show it to you,” she says. It is so dark that she cannot manage to locate the locks of the case. Her hands tremble. Opening the case is such a simple manipulation, yet Sarah cannot do it.
Suddenly, there is Robert on her side. He says, “Smile, Sarah.”
“Why are you here?” she asks.
“This deal is so important that I want to make sure personally that everything is okay. Smile, did you forget how to sell?” says Robert and nudges Sarah.
She obeys. Once she starts smiling, the case comes out from the darkness thanks to a faint blueish light. Robert takes the case, opens it, and demonstrates its contents to the buyer. Suddenly, the faint light ceases. “Smile, Sarah!” repeats Robert with irritation and elbows Sarah rather violently. She makes an effort and the light resumes. A weird guess visits her. She takes out her phone and uses its selfie mode to look at her face. Her teeth are white. In fact, they are so white that they radiate a faint blueish light in the darkness.
Suddenly, a strange growl comes from the buyer’s house. It intensifies and comes closer. The walls start to tremble because of the fierce knocking and roar. Something hits Sarah hard.
It turns out that Sarah fell off the couch. She looks around still half-sleeping, not understanding fully what is happening. The TV set is still on. The interview with the celebrity is long over and the film about wild nature has resumed.
“They need to diversify their program…” mumbles Sarah.
The old lion is big, mighty, and wise. Maybe he is not as handsome as he used to be, but he knows how things work around here. He knows the law of the jungle. A young pretender? Let him come closer.
Sarah finds that the huge paws are fun to move. The plasticity and the feel of the lion’s body are completely different from her own. Soon a young aggressor draws near. His fangs and claws are dangerously close. But the instinct of the old lion does not let Sarah down. She feels when to back off and when to counterattack. After a couple of minutes the young lion has to recede with his tail between the legs. Sarah celebrates the victory. No one can question her status here. Other lions look at her from far away and do not dare to come closer.
“The lion has defended his status. He is still the alpha-male. He can mate with all the females in the pride,” explains an invisible narrator.
And indeed, soon Sarah runs into a lioness. Without words Sarah understands that the lioness is ready for mating. To tell the truth, Sarah is intrigued to try to operate a penis. The problem is that the lioness doesn’t look particularly attractive. Sarah doesn’t feel anything. She tries to look at her penis to check its state, but it proves difficult. She looks at the lioness like this and like that hoping that the instincts of the old lion will automatically put his weapon on alert. Alas, Sarah the Lion stays impartial.
The savanna is always alert. Countless eyes are watching.
“Even though the old lion still can assert his status in fights, he cannot mate anymore. Nature is concerned with reproduction and it doesn’t like to be cheated,” notes the same voice from above.
The lioness changes her mind as do the lions in the distance. Now they slowly and menacingly approach Sarah. She is scared. She did not expect that a problem with erection could be lethal. Every lion around—males and females—starts growling and roaring at her. It seems that the voice of nature itself has resolved to sentence her to death; there is no pity and no compassion in this voice.
The lions attack. Sarah feels how the sharp and brutal claws tear her hide, the fangs go deep under her skin. Soon her blood is all over the place, it sprinkles like a fountain. The pain, the strange pain of dying—which is so different from normal pain—grows stronger and weaker at the same time. Drums. Voices. The ritual music of passing away. The sounds become louder and morph into Sarah’s morning alarm. Someone bites through her neck with a loud crunch.
Sarah wakes up.
The morning. Still life on the little table: empty glass, empty bottle, the ·, remnants of the dinner. Gray sky and black branches outside the window. It would be a perfect day to spend in bed.
Sarah applies the minimum effort to move the dishes and cutlery to the sink. There is no time to waste, no time to wash them. Urgent preparations for the coming day are on the way. Sarah navigates the small cluttered flat like a merry spider who has just caught something juicy in her web. The · jumps back in the case; the case flies downstairs and ends up in the car.
Sarah goes through the list of prospects. She wants to start this day right by visiting someone who will be truly interested in the ·. Soon her search is rewarded: she finds a person who bought a number of similar items in the past.
Sarah starts the car.
“Why do I feel so depressed lately?” she asks herself.
Sarah starts thinking about her situation and it occurs to her that the reason for her present mood is that some time ago she stopped positioning herself correctly as a professional. All this running around trying to sell this and that is nothing but a way to make a living. To survive, even. This is not what a salesperson is about.
Sarah looks at the people in the streets: running people, walking people, talking people, invisible people inside the buildings, people below, in the metro. So many people. They are not to be taken lightly. Everyone has thoughts, plans, aspirations, emotions, fears, ego. There is no filler in the crowd. And every day, every minute, every second, they intend. Intention gives impetus, impetus sets them in motion. And how fast they go! What is Sarah to these people? What is the · to them? Ninety-nine percent of the population cannot afford the ·. From the remaining one percent some are not interested in ·s in principle, others have already bought one. Finally, there are those who can afford buying the · and want to buy it; they just do not know it yet. These people have holes in their hearts. What is the · but a perfect plug for those perforations? So, Sarah is an agent of beauty. A vital connector. Simple?
The agent of beauty turns on the music. She likes this line of thought so much that she starts hopping and dancing in the seat of the car.
“The only thing that bothers me,” thinks Sarah, “is that despite this gift for creative thinking I’m still selling ·s.”
Soon Sarah reaches the house of Dr Michael Schulz. According to her records he bought at least five ·s as well as a number of other luxury items in the past. If there is someone who can appreciate Sarah’s offer, it must be him.
Sarah rings the doorbell and soon an elderly man with gray hair and in big imposing glasses opens the door. Before the man has a chance to utter a word Sarah takes the initiative.
“Hello, Dr Schulz! My name is Sarah. I represent Robert Ritzy’s distribution house. Would you be interested in acquiring a ·?”
“Hello. Possibly. Please come in.”
Sarah enters a nicely decorated spacious living room where Dr Schulz asks her to sit down on a couch and show him the object in question.
“Hmm, it looks like late Massimo Shmotti,” notes Dr Schulz as soon as he sees the ·.
It occurs to Sarah that she does not know the designer’s name. “I think it is him, let me check,” she says and takes the papers from the case.
“Yes, it is him!” confirms Sarah after a quick glance. Since Dr Schulz is leaning over the case, she puts the papers in her jacket for now.
“Yeah, so I thought, so I thought. Good old Massimo. You see this embroidery? It is inspired by the ornaments of an African tribe called Uck-shabloo. Do you know that what we know today as · is actually a very old concept? The modern · is most certainly based on a household item which was present in many ancient cultures. Some tribes in Africa still use it in everyday life. Women are still buried with items that remotely resemble the very · that we examine here. It was Massimo Shmotti’s genius to go back to the root of the concept of ·, study the design of the ·s found ‘in the wild’ so to speak, and incorporate it in his remarkable works.
“What is · today but a token of connection between the people from these ancient times with their quaint imaginative power and the technological prowess of today’s world? I find myself reflecting on continuity in history a lot these days. Human culture varies greatly across space and time. And yet, I believe that despite certain enigmatic elements that we find rather regularly in our studies, there is a unifying basis, a lingua franca of culture that remains unimpaired and does not fail to reveal itself to a perceptive observer. Of course, we do not use ·s to kill small animals before cooking them these days, but it does not refute my point. Once the superficial aspects are dealt with, they become translucent and allow for a deeper analysis. This is where we can find something of value.
“Value… Let’s not digress. Massimo Shmotti used cheaper materials for ·s late in his career because of the pressure from the environmentalists. Also, this model is a standalone work, not part of a collection. This brings its price down considerably.”
Dr Schulz pauses like a judge before the announcement of a verdict.
“I’d give twenty-three hundred for this specimen.”
As soon as Dr Schulz names his price Sarah knows that he is not going to pay much more than that. He knows his stuff and cannot be tricked. The number echoes in Sarah’s head like a death sentence. The game is over.
“I would be glad to sell it for twenty-three hundred, Dr Schulz, but it is not me who set the minimal price. In this case it is five thousand,” says Sarah.
“Five thousand is not a price I’m prepared to pay for this ·. Perhaps for a · from Massimo Shmotti’s Venetian collection in good condition I’d pay five thousand. But not for this one. No, it is completely out of question.”
Dr Schulz starts to shake his head energetically so as to deny Sarah any hope to change his opinion. She has no other option but to give up and leave.
Never before did Sarah realize so clearly the hopelessness of her task. “Why does Robert insist on this unreasonable price? I’m not an agent of beauty. If anything, I’m a sham. And it wouldn’t be so bad if I were a sham by choice.”
Choice. Some people have it. Sarah thinks about the celebrity she saw last night on TV. Surely, she has full control over her life. But she is up there and Sarah is down here. What about engineers that create all these new devices, programmers who make computers think, researchers who mix mysterious iridescent reagents in flasks and then write lengthy papers about their findings? They probably do something more meaningful than Sarah. In fact, it seems like these people are as remote and as unreal as the famous guest from the last night’s talk show. Finally, Sarah imagines Dr Schulz sitting at his desk and reflecting about continuity in history all day long until he falls on his couch absolutely exhausted and yet incredibly happy. What does it take to be happy? Being loved and doing something meaningful is enough, right? Or maybe even less: having an illusion of moving in the right direction.
Sarah gets in her car and starts moving in the right direction, that is, in the direction of the next prospect. Perhaps the idea of visiting Dr Schulz was not a good one. Well, there are others.
Another house, another porch, another person who doesn’t have a chance to preempt Sarah’s indefatigable enthusiasm. This time the prospect is a modestly dressed woman. She looks sternly at Sarah while Sarah explains the aim of her visit. After a few seconds of silence the woman replies. She speaks slowly with disdain in her voice.
“Why would I want to buy that? To join the hedonistic bacchanalia of the modern age? No, thank you.”
The door starts to close.
“Could you at least explain your point of view?” asks Sarah quickly before the door is completely shut.
The woman exhales and seems somewhat jaded, however she starts explaining.
“The world keeps moving away from God. Christianity is on decline. But what have they constructed in place of the church? The church of self. The temple of egoism. What do we hear everywhere these days? ‘Be yourself,’ ‘It is your choice,’ ‘You know better.’ I am not sure that they know any better.
“People think that the world exists only to satisfy them. That their partners exist to satisfy them. ‘How long is this one going to last?’ they ask. As if people are chewing gum or something.
“And where do people take these ideas from? Surely, they are not inventing these things themselves. They repeat what others say. It’s but a vicious circle.
“Or take the media for example. They all act discordantly and confuse people. Next thing you know we start killing each other, because one person read one interpretation and another person read a different interpretation. Don’t you see that we cannot live like this as a society?
“I am not interested in buying things that serve the empty cause of vanity. The only good use for art these days is promotion of God.”
“Actually the · that I have here was created to promote God. How can I address you?” asks Sarah.
“I’m Mary. If the · was indeed created with that aim in mind, it is commendable. Please come in.”
Sarah enters Mary’s living room. It is large but very modestly decorated. There is no TV, but there is a big crucifix on a white wall. Sarah’s mind starts concocting a plausible story.
“The designer that created the ·, Massimo Shmotti, was a Christian. He spent most part of his life promoting Christianity through his works. In this ·, for example, if you look at the embroidery, you can see crosses.”
“Hmm, where? I don’t think I can see them.”
“Here, look from this side.”
“Ah, indeed! Remarkable,” notes Mary. She becomes more and more disposed towards Sarah.
“I visit many people and they are usually inclined to buy the · because it is an item of exceptional quality and beauty. But the connection to Christianity, the symbols, the story behind the object and its designer put them off. They do not want to have anything to do with religion. Like you said, all they want is liberty and hedonism.”
“How much does it cost?” asks Mary.
“Oh, this is expensive!” says Mary, and yet it is obvious that she is interested.
Perhaps with right words Mary could be made to give in. Sarah remembers how once she had her trunk full of stuff and wanted to add just one more thing. It would not fit. But with a good kick it went right in.
“The fact that you share the same beliefs as Massimo and can afford buying his works says a lot to me. It means that you are among the people he worked for. By buying this · you can show everyone what you believe in and how resolutely. You can give others a good example. You can show what sort of things is worth supporting.”
“True. And you, are you also a believer?” asks Mary.
“A year ago I would have probably said ‘no,’ but now I’m getting closer and closer to God; I can feel it,” replies Sarah.
“In that case, consider buying some of our goods,” says Mary and disappears in another room. Soon she returns with a bunch of items: Bibles, crucifixes, candles, etc. The objects are quickly put on display on the table.
“These are high quality goods that help us support our cause. Any Christian should have them. Which ones do you take?” continues Mary, who seems somehow absolutely convinced that Sarah is going to buy something.
Sarah feels that she has entered a sort of barter with Mary: whether or not Mary is going to buy the · could depend entirely on whether or not Sarah buys some of Mary’s merchandise. The problem is that the money for this purchase would need to come from Sarah’s own pocket. Sarah looks at the wooden crucifix. It is not exactly cheap. The price tag says “one hundred dollars.” She looks at Christ’s face. It is the usual rendition of a face distorted by martyrdom. But not quite. Sarah looks closer and it seems like there is a hint of a smile on Jesus’ face. “It’s not a good time to be sarcastic. Better help me sell this ·!” says Sarah to the crucifix in her thoughts and puts it back on the table.
“I see that you are interested in the crucifix. It is made from ebony and carved by hand by one of our priests. The money will go straight to the church.”
“What about the Bible?” asks Sarah. She doesn’t know how to smoothly decline the proposition about the crucifix.
“Highest quality paper, hardcover. Illustrations in color. Wonderful typography. This edition entices you to read the Holy Book,” purrs Mary.
“I’ll think about it,” finally says Sarah.
“Well, if that is your attitude…” slowly replies Mary with apparent disappointment.
Sarah is thinking. A hundred bucks could solve all her problems and she could still spend the rest of the day doing something pleasant. It looks like Mary will buy the · once she is convinced about Sarah’s loyalty.
“Okay, I’m buying the crucifix,” says Sarah.
“Excellent! Here you go!” exclaims Mary as she sweeps the money from Sarah’s hand and puts the ebony artifact in its place.
“It looks like you are interested in the ·. Would you like to buy it?” asks Sarah.
“Oh, I cannot make this decision. All spending is decided on by my husband, John. Leave me your number and we will call you,” says Mary.
At this point Sarah understands that the probability of that call is about zero. And even if they call her it will be after the deadline. So much effort and all in vain. And now Sarah has the stupid crucifix in her purse!
Sarah walks out of Mary’s house into the refreshing chill of the gray day. The weather has not improved. Her phone rings. Sarah looks at the screen, it is Neil. “It is best to answer now than to have him calling all day,” she thinks.
“Hi Neil, how are you doing?”
“Hi Sarah! So nice to hear your voice. You weren’t answering for a while and I was wondering if something had happened…”
“No, I’m just very busy. Running all around the town. You know my job. By the way, I really loved the flowers from yesterday. Sorry, I wanted to thank you, but I was so tired that it simply slipped my mind.”
“Oh, that’s okay! You thank me now and I’m just as happy! Listen, what is your favorite band?”
“Hmm… The Ultimate Rejection?”
“Right! It means that I remembered correctly. So, I checked and it turns out that they are playing a concert in our town. If you want I can buy the tickets and I thought, well, we could go together perhaps? It’s next Friday.”
“Hmm, next Friday… Let me check,” says Sarah. She pauses for a moment pretending to be working out the complex plexus of professional and personal obligations that makes her schedule so unbelievably saturated. “No, Neil, sorry, I can’t. I already have something planned.”
“In that case, I remembered today that you deal with luxury and art professionally. So, I found an exhibition with all those strange items from acclaimed designers. Might it be something that could interest you? It is next Thursday.”
Sarah anticipated this conversation. She made up her mind in advance that she would politely decline the invitation to go out. However, something unexpected is happening now. Neil remembers Sarah’s interests and the present dialogue shows clearly that he cares. He has approached Sarah with sincere attention—something she has not seen for a while.
“Maybe it is okay that I do not feel attracted to Neil for the moment,” thinks Sarah. “Even though I do not know what to do with him, I do want to go. After all, going out with Neil does not oblige me in any way. Later I can always recede and say that we can only be friends. It will be a bit of a letdown for the poor guy, but c’est la vie. He will recover.”
“You know what? I think I can change my plans. Let’s go to the concert,” says Sarah after a short pause.
“By the way, Neil, I wonder if you need a crucifix?”
“Crucifix? You mean a figure of Jesus Christ on the cross?”
“No, I don’t think I need one. Why?”
“Never mind. So… I’ll write you this evening. See you soon, Neil!”
“See you, Sarah!”
The call ends.
“Maybe I should give Neil a chance,” thinks Sarah. Well, maybe indeed. It could be something new. An attentive boyfriend, a boyfriend who truly cares. It is not all about the looks, right? Sarah starts musing on the benefits and advantages a life with Neil could have and how those benefits could make up for his apparent lack of chic.
Sarah thinks about a new kind of life that she has not savored yet. She imagines how she returns from work having sold a particularly hefty · with some bizarre horns (expensive one). Neil greets her at the door of their apartment. He wears a colorful apron and smiles, having cleaned the flat while she was working. She cannot believe it—he also baked a pie! Silly Neily then wants to kiss. He starts from Sarah’s feet and she giggles charmingly partly because of the tickling and partly because she realizes the absoluteness of his devotion and admiration. “Now, take off your silly apron!”
Also, Neil is an engineer. This sort of occupation is usually stable, unlike with actors. Sarah imagines how tots—little Neils and Sarahs—toddle around in a much bigger house than her present flat. A house of their family. Why not? Eventually the time will come to grow that family tree. Where else could she get the manure for that?
Perhaps the friends will not understand such an aberrant choice, but what do they know? They will get used to Neil. “You don’t get it, he is reliable,” sage Sarah will say. She bets that everyone will nod in approval.
Sarah’s phone rings. She looks at the screen, it is Robert. She feels that her head is inside of a guillotine and the green button on the screen of her smartphone releases the blade.
“Hello, Mr Ritzy.”
“Hi Sarah, how are you doing? I followed your advice about Lazarus. Replanted it, just in case. We should give our loved ones another chance.”
“Glad to hear!”
“How are things going with the ·?”
“I’m doing my best, but people are not buying it.”
“I founded this company on two principles: quality of our goods and adequate compensation for our employees. Think about it. You still have four hours to sell the ·; and if you fail, there are plenty of people who will do your job better.”
The call ends before Sarah gets a chance to reply. Does it mean that she is going to be fired? Knowing Robert, it is not impossible.
Dejected, Sarah returns to her car and opens the print-out with the list of the prospects. Who to pick this time? There must be someone who will buy the ·. “I will sell, I will sell,” repeats Sarah and starts rapping on the steering wheel nervously. There is not much time left. The beautiful ideas about art and her mission melt and dissipate—they seem ludicrous. “I don’t care if they need this · or not, whether or not it will be enjoyable or useful, I just need to get rid of it!”
All of a sudden Sarah remembers the eagle chicks she saw on TV last night. The little monsters looked up with a silent demand—hungry beaks, wide eyes. They expected to get what is theirs. They wanted to survive. A supernatural force opens Sarah’s mouth wide. For a split second it seems certain that she is going to transform into an eagle chick.
“Stop yawning, concentrate!” Sarah says to herself.
She tries to focus on the list of prospects again. She feels lonely and exposed at the same time, like a solitary actor in front of a full theater. The tense silence inside the car embraces Sarah like a cocoon and separates her from the outside world more and more with every passing second.
The savanna is always alert. Countless eyes are watching.
Sarah decides to have lunch in a small cafe. She sits down at a table and puts the case with the · on the opposite chair. Everything irritates her. The waitress is slow. The music is annoying. But what disgusts Sarah most is an unkempt, poorly dressed man in the opposite corner. He looks suspicious. Time and again he runs his hand over his head as if checking for something. “What are you hoping to find there?” comments Sarah in her thoughts. “Maybe it is better to skip lunch today to have more time for visiting prospects?” Sarah considers that but decides to stay. “I’m hungry and I need a break. A pissed salesperson won’t do no good in this situation.”
Sarah orders a cheeseburger, a glass of orange juice, and a cappuccino. She starts thinking how poor and potentially dangerous people should never be let around decent and civilized customers. What made the man in the corner such a misfit? His family? His flaws? Unlucky circumstances? Suddenly, the man looks directly at Sarah as if he has been aware of her attention for a long time. He smiles and the smile is revolting.
The coffee arrives.
Sarah looks out of the window. Outside a light rain begins to drizzle. Gray clouds move slowly, solemnly, unsuspecting, or perhaps just arrogantly ignoring her predicament. “It is so cool to be a cloud,” she thinks and sips her cappuccino. The coffee is nice and warm. Something inside Sarah gets untangled; her eyes squint and for the first time today she feels better. “I still have four hours, and if I fail, let Robert do whatever he pleases,” she thinks.
Sarah closes her eyes. The music in the cafe starts to have a mesmerizing effect on her. She is depleted emotionally and so she does not even try to shake it off. Far away, she steps in the hollow grayness of an empty autumn street and the distant chatter falls down at her feet like lifeless leaves. It is cold and lonely; it is never warm here…
The abstraction is interrupted by the sound of a slammed door. Sarah makes an effort and opens her eyes. Her case is gone. The suspicious man in the opposite corner slurps his coffee and repeats the annoying gesture. “Not him?” Sarah dashes to the door and outside. In a distance she sees a man running with a case. His silhouette gradually becomes transparent in the rain, it fades and dissolves in the grayness. Sarah screams “Thief! Stop him!” Her voice reverberates strangely in the street but despite her screams no one interferes. She follows the man as fast as she can but she is not physically fit for the chase and soon she has to give up.
Sarah returns to the cafe and sits down. Her hands tremble. The cheeseburger and the orange juice are on the table and ready to be eaten, but the saleswoman has lost her appetite.
Sarah remembers the old wisdom that anyone involved in sales knows: “Make it up as you go.” A daring idea comes to her mind. She stands up in agitation, pays for the order, and runs to her car hoping to get home before the peak hour.
Once home, Sarah reaches the top of her closet and takes a case from there. The case is not as good-looking as the one she has lost but still fairly decent. She takes the papers of the original · (which remained in her jacket all the time) and puts them inside the case. She then starts making a replica of the stolen · to the best of her ability. There is a great deal of details to think about. What starts as a crude and uninspired approximation created out of sheer necessity grows and develops its own identity and soul. Time and again Sarah discovers new possibilities for enhancing the appeal of the deal. “It is all about the details,” she repeats. She works nervously and diligently; tiny drops of sweat appear on her forehead.
Sarah feels bad, but not because she is going to swindle someone. What she is doing is not wrong; it is just an attempt to render her fate fair. Everyone around her is enjoying a happy life. But in Sarah’s case the wicked demiurges somewhere above decided to make things complicated. Therefore, she has the moral right to redress the situation by any means available. The only thing that scares the incipient criminal is the fact that her fraudulent attempt may get exposed and things may get even worse for her.
The fine handiwork makes Sarah remember her childhood. Back then, she used to divide her dolls into two groups: beautiful and ugly. She cared about the beautiful ones trying to preserve their beauty and punished the ugly ones bent on making them even uglier. The ugly dolls were pierced, burnt, and stretched. It was as if her favorites gained something through the misery and detriments of the dolls in the opposite camp. It made perfect sense: if every doll no matter its appearance is treated kindly, then what’s the value of beauty?
Finally, the new · is ready. Sarah sighs in relief. She remembers that she has not eaten today. She looks for food to take with her to eat in the car but the only thing Sarah can find is a big pack of chips. “Not great, but better than nothing,” she concludes and grabs the chips.
Sarah leaves her apartment and heads back to the car. The rain has stopped. The sky is still heavy with clouds, but the sun has come out and its warm afternoon light changes everything around: it projects hope and promises a new beginning. Sarah notices a woman with a kid on a bench. The boy is about five years old. He spends a moment in deep concentration trying to figure out how to operate a toy gun. Then he points the gun at the woman, who must be his mother. The boy pulls the trigger and the toy mechanism inside the gun clicks. “Yessss!” says the woman loudly and slowly with obvious gusto.
Sarah gets into the red sedan, her glorious accomplice. She tries to muster her fighting spirit. Not everything is lost. Indeed, she remembers that salespeople can sometimes achieve remarkable feats. Her friend Stella once sold a broken chair for two thousand. Sarah’s colleague Neil bragged not long time ago that he had sold some wooden figures for the decoration of a garden. These figures cost five thousand even though they were made by Neil’s son who was twelve years old. All these examples reassure Sarah. She looks at the list of prospects again. In luxury sales, sometimes you do not have such luxury as time; you have to make a decision quickly. Sarah chooses Michael Kercuf.
Sarah starts the car and soon finds herself enjoying the familiar sensation of fast controlled movement. Drawn on the screen of her phone, there is a line of her trajectory. Strung on that line, there is a dot. Applied to the dot, there is a force and there is a purpose. Between the start and the end, a little bead slides along the thread.
Sarah opens a pack of chips intending to eat them on her way to the prospect. The intense smell of spices, deep-fried potatoes, and dill entices her senses and makes her salivate. Sarah picks a chip and puts it in her mouth. The chip melts slowly and gently leaving a delicate and delightful aftertaste. A gleeful smile appears on Sarah’s face: the pack is big and still full. She feels fortunate and secure. “By the time the chips are finished the hunger will be gone,” she thinks.
The streets live. Buildings, trees, and people keep flashing behind the windows of the car like evanescent snapshots of a removed reality. Sarah imagines vaguely the hidden side of life of which she sees only a feeble reflection. Incoherent thoughts amuse her. She feels safe inside her car and the safer she feels the more she sees the outside world only as a source of entertainment.
Minutes pass. Suddenly a new thought timidly knocks on the doors of Sarah’s consciousness. It is shocking and at first is not taken seriously. The thought is disappointing. The thought must go away. But it doesn’t, and there is something about it that rings painfully true. Sarah does not dare to admit it but eventually she finds herself confronted with a simple fact: she does not enjoy the chips anymore. They are disgusting. The hunger is still there—not diminished and even increased; but after having eaten a couple dozen chips Sarah has to force herself to take the next one. She is fed up with the annoying taste that brings no satisfaction, no satiety. And yet it is better to eat something when you are hungry than to remain completely without food. Sarah bunches a few chips and munches on them tensely. She tries to make herself like her food but it doesn’t work. She has had enough chips for today. Perhaps it would be better to go to a supermarket and buy something more substantial?
Bright lights keep popping up here and there marking the beginning of the evening. They gather in hives and move as if conducted by an ingenious choreographer. Their reflections glide silently across the windows of the car. The lights tempt to join them, to embrace the night, to become part of the refulgent scenery, to sit at a table and eat without bothering about anything.
Sarah decides against shopping at a supermarket. It would force her to deviate from her trajectory and lose time. Lost time, in turn, would further diminish her chances of selling the · today. She has to do what she must and play safe.
Nausea and hunger are having a fight. Sarah is almost ready to continue stuffing herself with the odious pieces of fried potatoes. She glances at them. More than a half of the pack is still there. For a moment Sarah remembers how nice it was at the beginning when she took her very first chip. But nostalgia, no matter how strong it may be, is often poisoned by regrets. Sarah feels naive for thinking that she was secure when she embarked on her journey.
The streets live. Impassive residencies house private individual lives. Sarah feels that there is something in the lives of others that she cannot even imagine and it has been there all the time. Could she learn about it and understand it? Maybe, but now it is too late and she is busy. She has something to take care of.
Sarah gets out of her car and hastens towards the entrance of Michael Kercuf’s house. She finds it rich and imposing but at this point the auspicious appearances are not enough to dispel her doubts. “Others also looked good,” she says quietly to herself. The conditions of the game have changed: before Sarah could always say that a single failure meant nothing, whereas now it is not about probabilities anymore, it is about one concrete and final case. Therefore, this last attempt should be special and the residency itself should better be outstanding. But the house of Michael Kercuf, albeit looking fine and affluent, has nothing about it that could grant Sarah the guarantees that she wants. For a moment, she wonders what has happened to her fighting spirit. Since when the athlete and achiever turned into a doubtful gambler? Ready or not, the time has come. Sarah presses the doorbell button and the insecure thoughts dart off like a flock of frightened gray pigeons. Her heart flutters with hope.
Soon the host appears. Mr Kercuf is about thirty-five. He has alert eyes behind small glasses and wears simple jeans and a t-shirt. There are no shoes on his feet.
“Hello, Mr Kercuf!”
“My name is Sarah. I represent Robert Ritzy’s distribution house. Would you be interested in buying a ·?”
“Thank you for the offer, but I don’t think I’m interested.”
“Mr Kercuf, let me demonstrate,” says Sarah and opens her case. “It is this · I’m talking about. Believe me, when it comes to luxury, Robert Ritzy’s distribution house knows its business.”
Sarah smiles and lifts the case quite a bit higher than usual so as to provide Michael with the closest and the most detailed view of the object. He instinctively backs away.
“This doesn’t look luxurious to me,” says Michael.
“Mr Kercuf, how many ·s have you seen in your life?” asks Sarah feeling that the time has come to establish who is the source of truth about ·s here.
“Well, I’ve seen a few.”
“I’ll tell you what. I’ve inspected dozens of them during my career and I must say that this · is one of the very best.”
“It is, it absolutely is. I’d buy it myself if I could afford it. The thing is, this sort of an item sets you apart from everyone else. Yes, yes, please go ahead, touch it!”
“Hmm,” says Michael as he caresses the · rather reluctantly.
“Normally it is sold for no less than seven thousand, but I like you, Mr Kercuf. Special price for you, only today, is five thousand.”
“Frankly, it doesn’t look it.”
“The sum may seem considerable but think about the price/value ratio!”
“I’m sorry but I’m not interested. Goodbye,” says Michael and closes the door.
Sarah’s smile fades. Once the vital connection with the warm and luminous bowels of the house is broken she finds herself in a dark and silent place. The silence is interrupted only by fitful gusts of wind. The cold piercing wind reminds Sarah that in this autumn evening she stands rejected and is not invited in the house. “No matter what I do the result is the same—they don’t want the ·,” she thinks. There is a difference between Michael Kercuf and Sarah. There is a gap, a precipice that makes her stand on the porch hoping that he will find the · interesting. But it is not interesting. It does not look right. It is overpriced.
“Is there kindness in this world?” asks Sarah. She does not remember feeling such strong a need for love and acceptance ever in her life. None of the people she has visited has shown even slightest understanding of her needs. Without realizing fully what she is doing, she rings the doorbell again making sure to hold the button for a couple of seconds. It takes more time, but the host reappears. He seems annoyed to see Sarah again, but not surprised.
“Anything else I can do for you?”
Sarah looks at Mr Kercuf and tries to guess if there is kindness behind the small glasses, the alert eyes.
“I’m sorry to bother you again. I don’t feel well. I wanted to ask for aspirin and a glass of water.”
Luckily, something in Sarah’s appearance or voice makes the host behave magnanimously.
“Come on in. Let’s go to the kitchen.”
Sarah follows Michael to the kitchen. As if fearing that a long silence may break her spell and Mr Kercuf may start revealing a lack of kindness, she finds it necessary to converse.
“This is a very nice house. Did you design the interiors yourself?”
“Me? No. I’m not a designer. Right now I’m mainly occupied with my latest project: we have created a charitable foundation that helps people born in poverty.”
“Oh, this is so wonderful!”
“Today’s world is, unfortunately, a very unfair place. Many people start their lives in squalor. From an early age they have the example of their parents and friends. Then magazines, TV, pop culture. In good families that’s usually for the better, but less lucky households work like traps that are difficult to escape. Poor kids see bad examples from their first days. They have no choice, no exposure to a different life. It is as if you are automatically and randomly sentenced to some sort of a life-long punishment. What can change this situation? What can make a person choose a different path? People are inert when they feel that their lives are predetermined.”
Sarah and Michael reach the kitchen.
“It is frightening to see the consequences of this inertia. A smart guy ends up doing an unremarkable job that he hates. His abilities are never discovered and his potential never burgeons. Or a girl starts to sell fake goods because she thinks that she has no other choice.”
Michael finds aspirin, then fills a glass with water and gives it to Sarah. She drinks voraciously and takes the glass from her lips only when it becomes empty.
“But what if she has to sell those fakes just one last time before she can change her life for good?” asks Sarah.
“When a true decision is made, nothing can stop its implementation. Everyone can find a way to live a decent life without deceit.”
“Sometimes it is too late to make the change…”
“It is never too late.”
Sarah looks away, at the window that frames a rectangle of dark blue. A few seconds pass in silence before she decides to speak.
“Mr Kercuf, I’m a very unhappy person. My life went downhill: I have lost my job and my apartment. Now I have to sell fakes to survive. But no one wants them, not even you.”
Michael gently takes Sarah’s hands in his and their gazes meet.
“I will not buy the ·, but I suggest you try out our program. It is not too late to learn a profession and live a decent life. We will sponsor your education if you qualify. Of course, there is also an entrance fee. This is just to guarantee that we can keep processing all the applications that we receive.”
“I understand. How much is the fee?”
“One thousand dollars.”
“Ah, that’s expensive!” says Sarah.
“Living an unhappy life is expensive,” parries Michael.
Sarah’s phone rings. She looks at the screen, it is Robert. For a moment she considers ignoring the call, but soon changes her mind.
“Hello, Mr Ritzy.”
“Hi Sarah. I hope you haven’t sold the ·?”
“Right. Tomorrow at nine AM the · must be on my desk. There is a friend of mine who’s willing to buy it.”
“For five thousand?” asks Sarah.
“Nah. He gives twenty-three hundred for it. See you tomorrow.”
The call ends.
“I need to go now, it was nice to meet you Mr Kercuf,” Sarah says dryly and with dignity.
“You won’t take the aspirin?” Michael asks.
“No, thank you. I really have to go.”
The evening breeze refreshes and soothes Sarah. The sky softly burns at the horizon and grades into deep blue above her head. Robert Ritzy is an expert. Tomorrow at nine AM he will fire Sarah for losing the original · she was entrusted with. Even so, life is an adventure and there is always more than one road to choose from. Sarah is going to choose a different road. She feels viscerally that an important change has been made. Good change. She is going to apply for a position in sales at Bibick Fond’s distribution house. As soon as her teeth become whiter.