carl’s head

At 37, wifeless and childless, I have been reduced to making lists while a small-headed man belittles and terrorizes me….”


by david erlewine

Carl’s head resembles a small globe, the kind you might see in a child’s room. It is too small for his broad neck and shoulders. It looks like a softball without stitching. Each time Carl rips my work apart, I try not to look at his head because doing so only reminds me of the image I keep seeing: a No. 2 pencil being slowly shoved into the back of Carl’s head until only the chewed red eraser shows. I have stopped talking with my shrink about this image. Several appointments ago, the good doctor appeared on the verge of determining Carl’s life to be in imminent danger.

Carl is now behind his desk, ripping the seventh iteration of my memo. The memo recommends the merger of three distinct Department of Homeland Security Offices: (a) Procurement Policy, (b) Procurement Policies and Practices, and (c) Practices, Procurement Operations, and Policy. He chomps on a reddish green apple. “Why in God’s name isn’t Levy mentioned in footnote seven?” Is Levy the name of a case? Is Levy another attorney in DHS? Did he too write a memo advocating for this merger? I nod and write down “Ron LeFlore” in my notepad. Next to it I write “robbery? A little B&E?”

At 37, wifeless and childless, I have been reduced to making lists while a small-headed man belittles and terrorizes me. Carl probably tells his neighbors at cook-outs that he supervises a bunch of idiots. He probably pictures me when they make jokes about stupid and lazy feds. He likely deems himself a success because he is one grade higher than me. Oil Can Boyd! I jot down his name and after a few minutes add “harassing his ex – phone?”. I need two more arrested pro baseball players before this meeting ends. Anything under 10 is pathetic.

Carl is staring. “You in la-la land?” I shake my head, mumble “sorry”. He grunts. I stare at my notepad, my face hot. What is it with me and figures of authority? I know he’s staring. I get this overwhelming sense that he’s about to lock the door and tell me to open my mouth. He’s going to hiss filthy things as he shows me his tiny-headed dick. He will tell me this is prison and I better do everything he says or he’ll sell my chunky ass.

“I’d like the next version by tomorrow afternoon, let’s say three.”

He turns around to check some files on the credenza behind his desk. In a few seconds he will turn around, shoo me back to my cubicle. I step towards him, aware of the pencil in my pocket. Carl’s head quivers slightly as he flips through files. I sigh and ease my way out of his office. I manage not to picture the eraser poking out of his head until I am sitting in my cube.

Originally published:
Issue Fifty-Five
June 2009

(illustration: kurt eisenlohr)

David Erlewine’s stories appear or are forthcoming in a number of journals, including The Los Angeles Review, Pedestal Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, FRiGG, and Pank. He lives near Annapolis with his wife and kids.

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