Sunday, February 08, 2009

Flammable material

We'll never know the cause - which simple sum

of the factorial weight of all the years of his career -

each themselves laden with numbers; revenue,

(variance to budget), throughput divided by headcount

and then divided again by defect then by fiscal quarter,

was the one that set it off.  Maybe

it was just the way each day's calendar was broken

into fifteen minute notches, each standing

for something someone else needed him to do.

Even the talk in the breakroom seemed to be algebra -

models of cars, their prices and horsepower,

or Sunday point spreads.  Until, in one idle moment

by the vending machine after he had punched the proper buttons,

he reached the number that every solid has

when it must change state - and he ignited.

The security guards never once looked up

from their box scores to see his grew wool suit

flaring brightly as he swiped his badge.

Burning, he'd get in line for his morning coffee,

and, burning, he would watch the elevator numbers

tick up to his floor.  No one said a word

about the smoke at the morning production meeting

or about the column of flame

that rose above the bathroom stall.

The only ones who became suspicious

were the cleaning crew,

but no one ever talks to them

except to say good night.  

They would sweep small piles of ash

from his keyboard and chair each night,

so they were the only ones not surprised

when he was suddenly gone, altogether.

Mark Aiello