“He’ll see you now.”
Jerry stood up and tried to readjust his tie. A lump in his throat was in the way, though, so he swallowed that down first, then finished with the correction. He dropped his hands to his side, flexing them as he exhaled deeply, bracing himself to march into the office before him with confidence and composure. Not just any office. The office of Daniel Bronn, who was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the entire city. And Jerry’s new boss.
Jerry could feel the receptionist’s eyes watching him, but the moment of action he’d been summoning his nerve for collapsed. He instead looked downwards, shuffled across the carpet, and knocked timidly at the door.
“Come in,” a bright voice called from within.
Jerry swung the door inwards, feeling strangely glued to its motion so that he presented Daniel Bronn with his left shoulder rather than his front. Looking downwards he saw that his sleeve had caught on the doorknob and he shook it loose and righted himself, now entirely red in the face.
Daniel Bronn pretended not to notice, and only beamed at Jerry while waving him forward with his hand.
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.” Jerry muttered as he continued his shuffle up towards the great man’s desk. “Jerry, sir.” He extended his hand, then questioned whether he had the right to, and started to retract it. Daniel lunged forward though, caught the retreating appendage and shook it vigorously.
“Yes, of course, Jerry Blakeney!” Daniel boomed, as if recognizing an old friend.
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”
“Don’t be sorry, Jerry. Have a seat instead.”
Jerry nodded appreciatively and backed into the seat awkwardly, not daring to take his eyes off of the man. Daniel was probably about the same age as Jerry, in his mid-sixties, but his eyes twinkled with a boyish fire and the corners of his mouth were crinkled in constant smiles. He had a run of baldness scurrying down the middle of his head, but it only served to make his broad, pleasant face all the broader and pleasanter. The man was not obese, but he had a jolly girth that quivered with his every laugh.
“Jerry, I’m glad to have you on my team,” Daniel said, still smiling but now with a tone that indicated he intended to get down to business. “It was Mister Ray that offered you the position, wasn’t it? Yes, well, he told me he had high expectations of your capabilities.” Jerry gulped. “Yes, he very much liked you. And now that I’ve seen you…. Well, I like you, too.” Jerry gulped again, wishing Daniel wasn’t so taken with him.
“Well I will certainly do my best, sir. Really I’d like to get going on it right away.”
“Aha, a man of action! All the better, especially given the importance of the work you’ll be doing here. Our very image to the world!”
Jerry started at that. “Oh… when Mister Ray explained the position to me it sounded like I was just going to be delivering some packages.”
“I suppose that is the technical description. But don’t you see that that makes you a representative? Most of the people I distribute to will only ever interact with a single member of my business. And it won’t be me, and it won’t be Mister Ray. It will be you. You are my extension!”
Jerry nodded blandly. He had had employers like this before, ones who felt it was necessary to excite the rabble with how significant their position was. Jerry wasn’t fooled. He knew that he was the detritus of any company he worked for, a body filling a space that could be replaced at any moment. He was okay with that fact, for he had made peace with his role in the world long ago. Admittedly the wages Mister Ray had promised him was more than double what he ought to be being paid, but no doubt that would change once the company got wise to their competitors rates.
“When can I start?” he said simply.
“Right now, if you’d please,” and so saying Daniel Bronn pulled open a drawer in his desk and extracted a medium-sized, brown package, bound both ways with a healthy length of twine.
Jerry rose to his feet and took the package in hand. It was heavy. “Just the one?”
“But of course,” Daniel Bronn tutted. “Each package is important and deserves its own moment. A cart full of deliveries would make it an overly-large assembly line.” He pulled a sour face at the idea of that.
“I’ll deliver it and be back for the next then. The mail-room is in the basement I suppose?”
Daniel Bronn shook his head. “Each package is important,” he reiterated. “You will receive each directly from me.”
It don’t sound like a particularly prudent use of Daniel Bronn’s time, but if that was how he wanted things to be, so be it. It made no difference to Jerry. So he gave a curt nod, and then turned and made his way out of the office, the floor, and the building.
Jerry caught the first cab he could and for the first time read the address on the package as he recited it to the driver. As the car lurched into motion Jerry frowned. The address was in one of the poorest districts of the city, not too far away from where he lived himself. Perhaps there was a factory in the middle that made use of all the cheap labor? But then there was the matter of the name on the package as well. It was not a company name, it was an actual person’s name “Gladys Monroe,” with no following qualifiers like ‘PhD’ or ‘CEO.’
He shrugged. It didn’t really matter he supposed. Instead he leaned back against the moth-eaten upholstery, lowered his hat over his eyes, and allowed himself a little nap. Somehow he sensed when the car had slowed up against the curb of their destination, and he slid his hat back up, paid the driver, and stepped out onto the street.
If he had been confused about the address before he was thoroughly baffled now. There was no factory, no offices, no buildings of importance at all. Instead he was facing a row of the homeliest homes he had ever seen. Each of them seemed to be leaning slightly off center, the gaping holes in their walls were patched with corrugated zinc sheets, and their yards were completely bare patches of dirt.
Jerry spun around to examine the other side of the street but it was all the same. He read and reread the address on the package but it seemed to match his destination exactly. He saw a rusted mailbox in front of the house and he wiped away enough grime to make out the name on its side. “Gladys Monroe.” He decided that he would have to go back to Daniel Bronn and explain the mistake, and spun around to see if his cab was still near enough to be hailed.
“Hello?” a voice called from behind.
He spun back around and now saw the front door of the house opened, a weathered little woman emerging tentatively towards him.
“Ahem,” he said, “I don’t suppose you know a Daniel Bronn, do you?”
“Daniel Bronn?” she repeated slowly, shaking her head. “Who’s he?”
He smiled, pleased with her confirmation that this wasn’t where he was meant to be. “No matter. Clearly there has been some mistake, I’ll just be on my way.”
“Is he by any chance a nice, rich gentleman?” she said suddenly. “Balding, a little large, and with the nicest smile you can imagine? Like it would light a room even in the dead of night?”
Jerry paused, and licked his dry lips slowly.
“I only ask because I saw the package. Such a man gave me a ride home in his limousine the other day and said he’d send something to me, too.” She looked down as if embarrassed. “I told him he oughtn’t bother.”
Her eyes shifted sideways to the package in Jerry’s hand, and Jerry found himself instinctively pulling the parcel back. It wasn’t that he disbelieved her, necessarily, just that he didn’t want her to have it. Somehow it seemed…wrong.
“And your name was…?” he prodded, grasping at any chance that this still might not be the intended recipient.
“Gladys. Gladys Monroe.”
He sighed in defeat and extended the package back out. “I guess this is for you, then.”
She seemed not to notice his reluctance, and instead happily received the parcel and began to open it right away. In spite of himself, Jerry’s curiosity kept him rooted to the spot, anxious to see what the great and mighty Daniel Bronn might have sent to such a woman. The heavy brown paper came off and Gladys drew out glass jars filled with all manner of expensive spices, enriched flour, and high quality lard. Jerry couldn’t resist a slight smirk. No doubt this woman could hardly afford her daily biscuits, and he had sent her seasonings fit for a king.
Gladys, however, didn’t seem to find the gift strange at all. Instead her whole face broke in a wide grin and she chuckled pleasantly. “What a thoughtful gift!” she proclaimed, then looked up to Jerry with tears shining in her eyes. “You see he met me when I was out with my cart of food. Bought some of everything I had. Said he liked it, but a man of distinction like him must have a refined palate. My food isn’t fit for such folk. Not that I’m a bad chef, if I do say so myself, but, well, there’s only so much one can do with the ingredients I have to work with. Now though…!” and she shook her hands enthusiastically, jars of spices clutched between the fingers.
Gladys took a step towards Jerry and in a moment of horror he realized she was opening her arms to give him a hug. He clapped his hand to his head and quickly backed away. He muttered something like “Well, got to be off then. So long!” and then sprinted away to find the nearest cab.
There was no nap for Jerry on the way back to the Bronn Institution. He was quite shaken up by his first delivery experience and he wasn’t sure why. So what if a wealthy man was wasting his riches giving spices to a nearly-homeless woman? So the man was a fool, all the better for Jerry. The more foolish Daniel Bronn was, the longer it would take him to get wise to the fact that Jerry’s position could be replaced by the postal system at a fraction of the cost.
Was that it then? That this setup was too good to be true? Jerry didn’t deserve so cushy a job, and so it seemed only a matter of time before it would be taken from him. He shrugged his shoulders. So one day he’d be back looking for a new job. So what? May as well enjoy a break when it came.
But no, that still wasn’t it. It was something about the way Gladys had looked at him with such tearful thankfulness. As if she had mistaken him for someone else, someone better. It unnerved him.
Jerry was still lost in his thoughts when the cab pulled up to the Bronn Institution. He paid the driver and got out in a daze before shaking himself and making his way back in. Hopefully Daniel Bronn would have a more sensible assignment for him now. Something like giving an eviction notice to a tenant, or disposing of evidence of corporate malfeasance, or shooting a stray dog that had annoyed Daniel.
No such luck. After asking Jerry to recount his experience delivering the package to Gladys Monroe, Daniel Bronn had plopped an even larger package on the desk and sent Jerry out to deliver that as well. It had smelled of beef, and the address took Jerry to a poor butcher. Next was a small package with no address, only a description of a homeless man that frequented Bowery Street. Next came a tall parcel filled with quilts that went to the orphanage.
That was the end of the first day at the Bronn Institution, and the following ones only saw more of the same. Every day was delivery after delivery, all to people that were poor and had only the most tenuous of connections to Daniel Bronn. In fact, some of them had no connection whatsoever! One time, when returning to Daniel Bronn for his next assignment he had found the man thumbing through the city registry, looking for a random home to send his next package to. It was maddening!
Every delivery seemed to splinter Jerry’s conscience like ice cracking in a thaw. As he considered why he felt this way, he came to realize it mostly had to do with the profuse thanks most recipients tried to bestow on him. It made him feel like he was an impostor, like he had somehow duped them into thinking he was more than what he knew himself to be. It made him feel guilty, and he became progressively grumpier and gruffer with each passing day.
Strange as it sounded, Jerry found himself hoping his surly demeanor might get him fired! Fat chance of that. He was pretty sure Daniel Bronn had never fired a person in his life. Even if he did fire Jerry, Daniel Bronn would probably feel so sorry about it that he would start sending him gifts too, and that would be even worse!
No, sooner or later Jerry would have to out-and-out quit. He didn’t know exactly how to approach such things, he had never before been employed long enough to even consider quitting. But he would figure it out, no doubt of that, because he simply could not continue like this for much longer.
I feel like a lot of my stories lately have been quite serious, and it’s been a lot of fun to write something a little more humorous and lighthearted. That’s not to say that a lighthearted story cannot also be serious, and indeed I am trying to grasp at real issues I see in the world today.
As I promised on Monday, our main character Jerry is a confused individual, one with surface needs and core needs. On the surface he needs a job and he needs to be comfortable. He’s obtained one, but not the other, and so he feels divided about what to do next. Deeper, though, he core needs that are based off of a sense of self-doubt and unworthiness. He has his pauper’s pride and is therefore offended at the charity he is seeing such rampant display of. That’s something he needs to work out, and how he does so will be elaborated in the second half of this story. That piece will not only conclude this story, but also the entire series we’ve been doing, which has included The Last Grasshopper, Cursed, and A Minute at a Time.
There’s been a common theme across all of these stories. Actually more than one I would say, but there’s a particular one that I wish to focus on with my next post on Monday. That theme is one of a pairing of opposites. These have been stories about old and new, good and evil, bitter and sweet. Any culinary artist will tell you that opposite flavorings paired together is fascinating to us humans, and on Monday we’ll consider why that might be. Come back then to read about that, and then come on Thursday to get the conclusion of Gifts From Daniel Bronn…and Jerry.