Expecting To Fly-14 / by Lorraine García-Nakata

Lorraine Channeling "Smithers"
At three years old and several years following, my son Kanichi, now 21 years, would agree to go to bed at night if I made up a story on the spot. Tucked next to me, lights out, and my daughter Monica also joining us, I'd say, "Ok, give me two facts." Informing the story were facts he provided such as: name, gender, location, circumstance, or anything else he wanted to drive the improvised tale. I never taped them, but each time I finished, his eyes now closed and Monica not far behind, I'd think, "Hmm, that was pretty good." I guess I should have taped them, but I didn't. The story arch was always compressed and drove itself. I'd open my brain and just follow where the character(s) or plot felt like going. It's a similar process and territory I enter when I draw/sketch images or play the guitar sometimes creating a new piece of music.

Recently the name "Smithers" stuck in the front of my brain and hung there insisting on attention. It came forward after writing my recent edgy post about imaginary companies and their services. I first heard the name "Smithers" as a child, when I was busy navigating the 1950's. That was a trip in itself. I always liked that nerdy, quirky name. For me, the "Smithers" persona is intelligent, understated, a bit recluse, and most definitely underestimated. A complex person however, Smithers has the personal power to pull you, unknowingly, into his world or to his view of things. Smithers operates much like an event horizon (the last port of call before matter gets yanked into a black or white hole). Smithers is also the name of a town in British Columbia located on highway 16 in Northern BC. I wonder if the people are decently nerdy there? If so, I should make a point to visit. Smithers is also part of a responsible sounding business: Smithers Quality Assessments, a quality and environmental management systems registrar. You get my point.

The "Smithers" piece, I share below, was intended to be an expansion of the imaginary business name, description, and tag lines I created for my last blog post called "iKeep." Here it is as a reference and refresher:

 iKeep: When you can’t trust yourself to protect important things.

People vary in their ability to control urges. They gamble, drink, cheat, steal, insider trade or “appropriate” museum relics that really belong to another country. The list is long and crosses all sectors of society. You know who you are, and in some cases, so does the FBI. Denial is a daily structure you afford yourself when in fact it’s weight-bearing capacity will fail during the inevitable inspection. iKeep will store and lock away items that legitimately and ethically belong to you so that you can’t borrow money against them. iKeep will also help you identify items that you cannot be sure were ever really yours. Know what’s yours and protect them from your vices. Return what’s not yours without doing time.
Trust us to make you honest. Give it up, get, or get out of the country!

However, the Smithers character, that had been hounding me, and that I share in the following short story, decided it would follow a very different angle.This is what was was birthed as I again opened my brain, invited my heart to come along, and let the typing begin:

Author, Lorraine García-Nakata, June 2012 
Copyright ©2012

The name Smithers brings to mind trust. Smithers can be trusted to see that lint on your coat will never see the front door, shirts will be perfectly starched, pressed, and laid out for you on time, and that the stack of coins you leave on your chest of drawers will be organized in order of their value.

Brought up recognizing the invisible but clearly marked line between him and the gentleman he serves, Smithers is never summoned by his first name. As the headmaster’s butler, he prefers it that way. “Smithers!,” the Master of the house calls out. It is a house of few words, and Smithers is the most regularly used proper noun. In fact, Smithers would cringe at the thought of serving wealthy, “new money” Americans. They would disconcert Smithers. In his well-oiled mind, he knows they would likely address him on a first name basis to offset their silent conflict regarding how they came to have their fortune. Smithers believes a first name summand would diminish his worth and station. He’s old school this way. Formality to Smithers equals respect. Informality to Smithers is chaos. Smithers does not like chaos.

Not a tall man, Smithers stands perfectly erect, which gives him the appearance of additional inches. He believes swallowing is greatly aided the straighter the line is from his throat to stomach. He’s probably right. This upright posture also helps to avoid wrinkles in his own white starched cotton shirt that he smoothes flat before his outer black jacket is layered on top.

With great care Smithers notes detail both at home and during weekly excursions into a life that’s just his own. Sidewalks and doorways are a particular fetish. As Smithers walks down neighborhood streets, and to other parts of the city, he notes what dwells in cement sidewalk cracks. Items, both new and old, are wedged there. Besides small pebbles that have a way of rolling in, Smithers observes lost earrings, tiny precious stones, and residual droppings peculiar to Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter seasons. A man not inclined to bend or stoop unless absolutely necessary, Smithers never retrieves these items. Instead, he derives pleasure from recording them in a mental archive that spans forty-three years. In this way, it’s not surprising that the names Smithers and the Smithsonian are similar.

Slowing his walk, Smithers also scans doorways. They tell a particular story about its residents. Wide windowless heavy doors, painted black or stained dark with highly polished brass fittings indicate formality. A large brass knocker, stationed higher than usual, is used only by someone who’s received a clear invitation to visit. Recessed wood stained doors of standard width, set within a graceful arch, indicate residents whose hearts intend to beat warm. They invite, but also enjoy unexpected visits from sweet friends. Doors painted red, attempt to be auspicious, maybe because their former financial luck lost its luster. Doorways whose fittings are not snug and with paint chipped here and there, suggest a much older resident that has long since lost interest in unnecessary expenditure or first impressions. Doorways laced with iron bars are clearly fearful and attract few warm-hearted and lively personalities.

There are several doorway entrances to the Master’s house where Smithers resides. He is one of three servants to the Family. As the headmaster’s butler, the maid and cook look to him for direction. Smithers visits the front door of this home only when opening and welcoming invited guests or colleagues. The service entrance is where he enters. This intentionally well-manicured single door is recessed and well positioned to one side of the two-story brick building. French doors to the rear of the house, announce a small but expertly crafted garden. Here the sun finds poppies, many small well-placed shrubs, and white lilies that prefer the softly lit corners. When the Family is not resting there, those serving the house can also enjoy this space during off duty periods.

The life Smithers leads, at least the life most people see, is well-ordered. But, Smithers is a complex human. To every expected downbeat tick of his watch, there are equally regular, counter ticks. In the spaces occupied by these counter ticks, Smithers dreams, desires, imagines, and even wrestles with all the order he has created. The counter ticks of his pocket watch pay close attention to and attempt to sync with the natural rhythm of his heart. His heart is very aware of the list of dreams and desires. Smithers thinks of his heart as a muscle that pumps blood and keeps him alive. His heart thinks otherwise. As his heart pulls and pushes vital red liquid through Smithers, it considers the best way to send him a message.

Each morning Smithers wakes before the sun emerges. No need for an alarm since he has long since counted on an internal cue. At exactly five a.m., his eyes open. He rests for a moment working to remember the progression of events experienced in his sometimes very active dreams. In one reoccurring dream, he often flies without aid of a plane. Because Smithers considers himself a pragmatic, scientific man, these dreams puzzle him. They puzzle him greatly.

Days pass, weeks pass, months and years pass. Smithers moves through his finely tuned life in the service of others. He has trained himself to find comfort in knowing what each day will bring. Smithers knows his private room is exactly one hundred square feet, that there are twenty-three stairs between servants residence and that of the main floor, and that with seven white shirts, one will always be starched and ready to wear. Smithers is deliberate and considers the economy of both words and motion as he performs his clearly defined duties. Smithers, believes that he’s content and has all that he needs.

As the chill of winter acquiesces to the hopeful warmth of Spring, Smithers takes note of a troubling item about himself.  Smithers sometimes buys two items when his Master only required one. This is a recent development that even Smithers does not fully understand. In fact, initially upon review of his own accounting, Smithers identified these anomalies. The duplicate items ordered were modest and not readily noticed such as extra bars of finely milled soap or a coat brush with hand carved walnut handle. As Smithers noted these duplicate orders, his senses recalled the sensation he’d feel when opening the individually wrapped soap bars and inhaling the light spice of their scent as he’d place them carefully in the Master’s bathroom. Also, his thumb and forefinger slid across each other as he considered the perfectly crafted walnut handle and how it fit his hand as he’d whisk the finest of sable hairs across his Master’s collar.

It was later the first evening of this discovery, as Smithers finished his duties for the day, that he entered his modest room, removing his jacket and placing it in its proper local. Pulling open the top draw of his dresser, his fingers unexpectedly meet the texture of tissue. “What?” is the only word that escapes from his now-tensed mouth. A closer inspection, his hand discovers a tissue wrapped soap bar and also the smooth hairs of a sable-haird coat brush. At first Smithers is confused. Very confused. Now holding the coat brush in his right hand and soap bar in his left, Smithers steps back and sits on the edge of his bed. He pauses there for a long time. As his watch ticks, Smithers begins to recall, as if recalling a fleeting dream, his own pen in hand adding extra items to his monthly supply orders. As Smithers sits and remembers, he is disconcerted about three things. First, that the orders were made by him, and only him, secondly that he’d taken the items to his room, and lastly, that he’d entirely misplaced the memory of these acts. The later troubled Smithers the most because he normally remembers, everything.

Placing the items down, Smithers stands and walks to a modest sized mirror that finds home over his dresser. He studies himself, looks into his own eyes and asks, “Who are you?” And as if speaking to a stranger, separate from himself, he asks, “How can I not know all that you do? What is happening?” Smithers continues to stand there for a long time. An exceedingly long time.

As the days, weeks, months pass, Smithers continues to find items in his room. At first distressed, he is now accustomed to these discoveries as well as their record in his accounting. No matter how hard Smithers works to be more alert to avoid repeat of this recent quirk, duplicate items continue to be ordered and appear in his quarters. Initially, Smithers tries making sure he sleeps longer, he also walks outside often to breathe in fresh air, and asks for his tea to steep longer. But, the small duplicate orders keep appearing and soon he realizes this new part of him is just that, a part of him. What else can he do? If he can’t change this pattern, he  must manage it. Yes, manage it. Clearly, sharing this tick with his Master would result in his dismissal. After twenty years of service, this will not do. As long as the items remain small, and Smithers continues to place them in a storeroom, he believes it can be explained if, and when, discovered. Normally trustworthy, Smithers has no experience operating in a secret fashion. Also, not prone to denial, Smithers knows that one day he will definitely be discovered. Yes, most definitely.

Spring blooms, then summer stretches through. It's mid morning, and as the leaves on the trees give up their hold and fall, the maid drops a dinning room crystal candle stick holder as she works diligently to remove a spot of wax. “Oh, oh no,” she releases a hushed exclamation. Knowing the cook’s heart beats warm, she gathers up the two crystal pieces in her polishing rag and makes her way to the kitchen. Entering the brightly lit and aromatic room, she doesn’t have to speak before the cook can see what has happened.

Placing her spoon down on a central wooden counter and walking over to the young maid, the cook soothes, “Now, now, luckily those are not the finest pieces. It’s not the first time they’ve been broken. Because of that, I believe we have extras somewhere.”

Inhaling again, the young maid places the broken candlestick on a nearby counter and followes the amply-shaped cook through a rarely used walkway, toward a rarely visited storeroom. Smithers took her there once when another candlestick met a similar fate. The cook knows it will be easy to locate the extra candlestick holder because she recalls that this small storeroom only hosts a few items. Flour still on her hands, the cook’s right hand works the sliding door latch, then pulls the painted wooden door open in one quick motion. Wedging herself into the narrow door opening, she stops abruptly and blinks twice. She scans the five tiers of pantry-like shelving from left to right. The cook is speechless. The cook is never speechless. The maid waiting just behind her and observing the change in the cook’s expression, raises herself up onto her toes in order to peek over the cook’s shoulder. “What..?” was both beginning and close of her comment.

“Lord in heaven!” the cook finally comments. “What, on earth, is all this?”

In this moment, as another leaf on a nearby tree drops, the house ever so slightly shivers on its foundation. Smithers, sitting at his work desk, in his tiny office, on the same floor, raises his head. He isn’t sure what he just felt, but both the tick of his pocket watch and his heart seem to pound more loudly than normal. Placing his pen at a diagonal onto his pad of paper, he leans back, his spine still straight. Suspended there, he knows his orderly world, the one he’s known for over twenty years of service, is about to shift off its axis. All he can think of is a phrase in a Lewis Carroll book he’d read many years before, “The time has come, the Walrus said, to speak of many things.” As the words repeat in his head, Smithers feels a strange combination of both dread and relief. 

Now, in the orderly and clearly defined life of Smithers and the man he serves, there are no middle areas, no gray hues. The lights go on, the lights go off, doors are opened, doors are closed, there’s the upstairs and the down, servants are trustworthy or they are not. Words from the head of the house are not, “Oh dear Smithers, I know this is not you. Though I am disappointed, I believe we can look ahead to making things as they were.” No, in this house, this time, this situation, there is no training, no precedent for breathy forgiveness. No training on this line at all and why choices, decisions, consequence now lurk and insert themselves.

Time could be spent sharing what you already know. The cook immediately waddles down another hall to report the contents of the store room to Smithers. Not being a liar, Smithers cannot explain the many duplicate items in the store room. Being the head servant, Smithers reports himself to the gentleman he serves. While the Master’s breathing is temporarily stalled, he straightens in his evening jacket. Looking at Smithers, he begins to relay, with an economy of words appropriate to his station, “Smithers...” But, Smithers interrupts, the only time he has ever interrupted his Master, and relieves him of what he knows his Master must say. Standing erect, Smithers states, “Sir, I will be on my way mid morning tomorrow.”

The next morning arrives. Smithers has packed twenty years of belongings into a suitcase and one shoulder bag without need of any items he duplicate ordered and squirreled away. Luckily Smithers also stored away his modest salary and can now count on this for an extended period. For the first time in many years, Smithers is not at all clear as to where he will go or what he will do. But, as the bright morning light and crisp air brush his heavy wool coat, felt hat, gloved hands, and not yet mid life face, Smithers feels unusually light on his feet. No longer noting lost items in sidewalk crevices or considering the relationship of doorways to the lives of others, Smithers walks looking directly ahead. And in the spaces of living, that dream and hover in the counter beats of his heart and pocket watch, who by the way are now close friends, Smithers finds a new pace and walks, deliberate, toward a yet unknown terrain. Smithers knows he will be fine. He is, after all, Smithers.  

I’ll leave you with that for now,

Lorraine: Here my heart & "pocketwatch"
beats unite!

blog: lorrainegarcianakata.blogspot.com
web site: http://lorrainegn.com/

Copyright ©2010 Lorraine García-Nakata protected under U.S. and International Law. No part of this site maybe reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without prior written permission of the copyright owner and artist, Lorraine García-Nakata/Lorraine García. This includes all rights now in existence or which may hereafter come into existence, including but not limited to authorship, documentation, lectures, or any other creation or presentation by Lorraine García-Nakata/Lorraine García in any artistic medium, print, audio, electronic, video, CD ROM, photographic, digital, film, and any other medium.