By Hannah Phinney
They called him The Carnival King, because it was he who lorded over every last caterwauling, meowing nincompoop sighing out his days shit-deep in the useless tradition of bean-counting on any of the skyscraper’s sixty below floors. His circus-freak charges swam in pools of paper, lock-stepped among sequined numbers. So many reams of paper, such long columns of numbers! So much clacking of keyboards all day long. And The Carnival King sat on his throne above everything – he sat on his plump, swivelly leather throne at the far end of a magnificent office which occupied the entire top floor, and drooled lushly over the numbers glinting on his desk. From dawn till dusk he drooled as he counted, counted, and recounted the enormous sums which had very long ago ceased to represent anything so real as diamonds or Jaguars, castles or private jets…which had ceased even to represent the silly but much-coveted rectangles of printed green cloth…which represented, in fact, nothing anymore beyond an extraordinarily abstract and velvety notion that had become his addiction and his disease. How he loved those numbers, The King did! They tickled him in all the right places. Whether the clouds thickened around his glassy box or the sun streamed in, no matter; he was blind to earthly climates. But he cackled in delight at the fattening numbers, grew heavy under their scorching light or sleepy behind their screens of coagulated fog. The numbers danced prettily for him, round & round, up & down, like giant teacups on a big spinning disk after the young pimply man in the top hat has pulled the lever; and their delineating commas were made of the sweetest cotton candy.
Then one day the caterwauling nincompoops sighing throughout the sixty below floors, heretofore trapped in cubes of particle board, heretofore sitting or standing or slugging coffee or clacking keyboards or drowning in glittery columns of numbers (what misery, getting nines up your nose)…well, one day they stage a mighty revolt.
“No more shenanigans!” yell the nincompoops.
“No more of this circus!” yell the nincompoops.
“We hate the numbers!” they chant with vigor. And there is much hollering and chortling and throwing of chairs in the air.
The Carnival King hears echoing of the great hullabaloo from his glassy box at the tippy-top of the concrete-and-steel tent in the sky. His numbers begin to quake on their reams of paper. The cotton candy commas dance out of order. The papers themselves rustle and jig.
“Stop this nonsense at once!” The King bellows, and he stamps his feet.
“Nothing matters but that the numbers grow!” he bellows, and sees flashes of gold like fireworks in night sky behind his eyelids. Gold fills his vision, a background of velvety gold with numbers falling as vertical chains on the surface.
Throughout all sixty floors, no one hears, no one listens. The caterwauling bean-counters reach an extreme beat, a frenzied crescendo. They shake the walls of their concrete big top until the very beams sway. One by one, as if dream-side, the ceiling-high windows of The Carnival King’s sixty-first-floor box shatter, and his precious papers go sailing out into the open air. He snatches frantically (eyelids filling up with black)…but when this proves futile, there is nothing for it but to make a wide jump and sail out after them. The light wind has no mercy, and he plummets, safety-net-less, to the blacktop far below.
Hannah Phinney is a graduate student in linguistics at San Francisco State, a bartender, and an aspiring writer of semi-surrealistic/sci-fi/postmodern fiction. Her poetry and prose can be found at: http://kingzoko.wordpress.com/