Night shift at the copy shop.
Crappy office supplies. Copiers jamming. Cheap, see-through paper. A “business center” that’s a converted custodial closet with a fax.
The kind of place that feeds on dreams.
Homeless guy with UFO pamphlets and a story to tell. Claims he’s seen alien artifacts sitting in a storage shed up in Fresno. Needs to speak to the owner about a special publishing project.
Mr. Jessel isn’t in right now.
Don’t tell me they got him too.
Amateur preacher Xeroxing tracts. The Pope with horns on his head. Hillary Clinton dressed as a Nazi. Starts burning reams of the cotton fiber paper.
It’s what the Devil uses to print off contracts.
Jack. Client services associate. Bullshit title. Spell-checks résumés. Prints out signs. Forty-two this year and still working hourly for ten and change.
Mary Jane. Night manager. Looking hot in her green apron. Or so Jack thinks. Pockets filled with Post-It notes. Markers. Whiteout tape.
You couldn’t handle me, Jack.
Art student strung out on coke. Finishing portfolios at the last minute. Cropping. Glue stick. Paper cuts. Paying extra for the color machine.
Man in fatigues duplicating fake 1040s. Trying to gum up the system with made-up names and socials.
That’s a Federal offense, you know.
It’s why I’m wearing gloves, dipshit.
Poster lady arrives. Right on cue. She tears fliers off telephones poles and pretends they’re hers. Lost cats. Missing soccer moms. Runaway teens. Some guy with autism who wandered away from his group home. Snapshot of him in his Star Wars PJs.
Have you seen my boy? He’s at-risk.
Can’t tie his shoes, but knows pi to five hundred places.
Three a.m. Mary Jane’s in the middle of her nightly monologue about the black holes in her life. Purposelessness. Years where the narrative is missing.
I just hit these windowless periods, you know what I mean? Like my memories are shuttered up behind faded plywood.
Jack tries his best to block out Mary Jane’s noise. Jack’s been hooking up with depressed chicks all his life. But he’s finally learned how to read the signs.
The Professor arrives in style. Vintage baby-blue VW Bug. Blue striped suit and bow-tie. Used to teach classics at Harvard. But there’s something sinister in his past. A shadow he can’t seem to shake.
Mary Jane puts her head on the counter and tries to catch some sleep. She’s been working double shifts to pay off her credit card debt. Doesn’t even remember where the money went.
It went to surviving, kiddo. Went to keep you from fading away.
The Professor waltzes in with a box of Greek fragments to Xerox. Spends hours cutting them out and reassembling them on the table.
It’s an ancient epic love poem.
Jack does his best Groucho Marx.
Hey, Professor. It’s all Greek to me.
Benny the custodian empties garbage bins into the dumpster. The paper’s supposed to get recycled, but Benny’s too lazy to sort it.
Jessel’s the only one who cares about the trees. And he’s disappeared without a trace.
Benny lost his larynx to throat cancer. He talks with an electronic voice box. Jack calls him “Lord Vader” behind his back.
The art student makes copies of a dead moth. The moth landed on the glass of one of the copiers and the art student closed the cover, squashing it. The art student has a nose ring and a blue streak in her hair. She plans to hang the copies of the dead moth in public locations all over town.
There’s a small post office in the copy shop. Maybe a hundred mailboxes in all. The man duplicating 1040s rents box #57. 1040s refers to box #57 as “suite 57” in order to convince people he’s running a legitimate business out of there.
Mary Jane sorts the mail. She believes that the copy shop is an official extension of the United States Postal Service. She claims the FBI made her go through a background check and take an on-line training course entitled “How to Spot a Terrorist 101.”
Jack is printing a huge, pink banner for a breast cancer awareness auction. Jack runs over the poster with his big, calloused hands. Mary Jane imagines what those hands might feel like on her bare back. She wants to feel vulnerable in Jack’s arms.
Blue Streak the art student likes to go to raves. Designer drugs. Glow sticks. Synapses firing at light speed. She never comes down from her high.
Mary Jane finds an empty can of diet shake by one of the rental computers.
Barbie Troll’s been surfing again.
Blue Streak gorges on TV. Does one or two seasons without coming up for breath. Friends. Bones. Battlestar Galactica. Doesn’t really matter.
As long as there’s some plot to keep me from sinking.
The “business center” has an ancient blue iMac that customers use to check their email or work on their résumés. They’re supposed to charge ten cents a minute, although Mr. Jessel lets customers like the UFO homeless guy surf for free.
Carl from the lease company arrives to service the color machine. The machine is German and Carl is the only one who knows how to fix it. Carl thinks he is a surgeon. He keeps his precision tools in an aluminum suitcase with foam padding.
Where’s the old man?
Mr. Jessel’s not here tonight.
Mr. Jessel is supposed to report all suspicious web activity to the FBI but he refuses on principle. Mary Jane takes the responsibility a little more seriously. She thinks private citizens are the first line of defense against terror. She’s even got the toll-free tip line number memorized.
Carl always has a cup of coffee for Mary Jane.
Mary Jane is convinced that Barbie Troll is laundering money.
She has the look of somebody who’s on the run.
For years Mary Jane’s tried to catch Barbie Troll red-handed. But Barbie Troll knows how to block her history. Barbie Troll also has an uncanny ability to sneak into the copy shop unnoticed. Mary Jane is only left with remnants of her presence. Perhaps a jar of nail polish. A few blonde hairs. The smell of suntan lotion.
Blue Streak may be in art school, but she hates making art. Just the thought of painting gives her an anxiety she can’t seem to shake.
Jack is a recovering alcoholic. And he’s on parole. He avoids situations that might trigger a relapse. Jack made an oath that he won’t be working in this dump forever. But that was seven years ago.
Charlie Blister also works the night shift, although Mary Jane doesn’t really count Charlie Blister as an official worker. He’s more a special project of Mr. Jessel’s. Jack is also one of Mr. Jessel’s special projects. Mr. Jessel is Jack’s sponsor in AA. At first Mary Jane thought Charlie Blister was special needs, but now she’s not so sure.
I’m twice exceptional.
Charlie Blister claims to have a PhD in the mimeographic arts. He also has a tendency to speak in Xerox metaphor like “You can never duplicate a person’s soul” or “We all come from the same toner cartridge.”
I’m twice exceptional.
Charlie Blister lives in the back room of the copy shop. Mr. Jessel’s fixed it up with a microwave and cable TV.
Blue Streak once challenged herself to find meaning in the smallest of details. For an entire day, she stared at the ground, looking for significant trash. A crumpled parking ticket with a doodle of a cat. A condom wrapper stuck to a teddy bear. An empty packet of broccoli seeds.
Charlie Blister has a magical salt shaker. It’s his most prized possession.
The homeless UFO guy wonders where he’ll be sleeping tonight.
When he was a kid, Charlie Blister’s mother worked as a waitress. One day she got fired for something Charlie Blister didn’t quite understand. Charlie Blister’s mother brought a salt shaker home in her purse. She called the salt shaker her “severance package.”
The homeless UFO guy carries a briefcase with him at all times. The latch on the briefcase is broken. It’s all held together with silver duct tape.
This is where I keep my memory devices.
Once, when the homeless UFO guy was using the john to wash himself, Mary Jane snuck a peek inside the briefcase. All that was in there was a hairpiece and a roll of quarters for the bus.
Before he disappeared, Mr. Jessel ordered an expensive 3-D printer from South Korea.
Can it reproduce memory?
One day Blue Streak woke up and decided that people were far too attached to their things. So she went to the local hobby shop and bought herself a can of Teflon spray. She started spraying down random objects to give reality more of a slickness.
When Jack was in prison, he made up all sorts of crazy shit just to keep from going bonkers. He had lengthy fantasy conversations with his girlfriend from grade school. There was something soothing about talking to an eight-year-old who thought the world of you.
Sometimes the Professor mails FedEx packages to foreign countries that Mary Jane has never heard of. He marks “gifts” on the green customs forms that Mary Jane attaches to the boxes.
Jack was in for wire fraud, possession of a controlled substance, and making terroristic threats within two hundred yards of a school. According to Jack, the last count was bullshit.
Two cops show up out of the blue and start asking questions about Xeroxed twenty dollar bills.
Somebody’s been passing them off at convenience stores in the Valley.
The cops know Jack’s done time, and they question him in front of the customers to embarrass him.
Mr. Jessel knows about Jack’s record, but is determined to help out another friend of Bill W. Mr. Jessel keeps a little black book in his desk drawer with lists of amends he needs to make before he dies. Helping Jack out allows Mr. Jessel to cross a dead person off his list.
Mary Jane calls one of the cops “Crystal,” because she’s convinced toner is a solvent used in the production of methamphetamine.
Copy shops are notorious fronts for illicit activity.
Jack is a surrogate for Mr. Jessel’s wife. Mr. Jessel’s wife is dead so she can’t forgive Mr. Jessel. Jack is Mr. Jessel’s only alternative for making things right with her soul.
The night Mr. Jessel met Jack at the AA meeting, he was going to tell a story about his father but his mind drew a blank.
I remembered a few incidents, but incidents aren’t stories.
Stories have the weight of reflection. Embellishment. But incidents you remember exactly as they happened.
You can relive incidents all you like, but they never change. The shame never goes away.
Mary Jane asks Charlie Blister to fill the copiers with paper, but Charlie Blister tells her he’s too busy for menial tasks.
I got something more official in the works.
Mr. Jessel’s father started the copy shop back in the seventies. Mr. Jessel keeps it going as a public service.
Not everybody can afford a personal computer and a printer, you know.
Mary Jane thinks she should call somebody about Mr. Jessel’s disappearance, but the copy shop is all the family Mr. Jessel has.
Charlie Blister tries to convince Mary Jane that he and Mr. Jessel are running a shadow business. The entrance is located behind the FedEx kiosk.
We do basic cloning. Or we can print off an emotion for you to use later.
According to Charlie Blister, love thins each time you Xerox it.
Pain works that way too. You can copy pain over and over and feel it fade over time.
1040s used to be the leader of his son’s Boy Scout troop. But then one time he brought in an assault rifle for show-and-tell and the other parents complained.
Charlie claims Mr. Jessel bought the last breath of Einstein on eBay and duplicated it a hundred times.
He stored all the exhales in a balloon and then let it go on the beach. Just to reseed the Universe with genius.
Over the years Carl’s found all sorts of strange items in the machines he’s serviced. Salt. A goldfish. A thumb.
That one even made the local news.
A species of spider indigenous to Africa.
The fuser was just crawling with them.
They sent the spiders to the entomology department at UCLA, but nobody ever figure out how the spiders got in there. Last Carl heard, the spiders had been donated to the San Diego Zoo.
1040s gets to see his son on Saturday mornings and every other Wednesday night.
Mary Jane asks the Professor if he’s read any good books recently.
I stopped caring about books two or three years ago.
Fruit Boy comes in to check his mail. He rides a three-wheeled bike and smells like overripe bananas. Jack can’t figure out if Fruit Boy works in a restaurant or dumpster dives.
Maybe it’s one of those rare diseases. Like when your urine smells like maple syrup.
Charlie Blister sweats like a pig.
The Professor works up the courage to ask Jack if he wants to go out for breakfast after work.
Fruit Boy pays his box rental in pennies. He never gets any mail.
Mr. Jessel sometimes lets the homeless UFO guy sleep in the “business center.”
Mary Jane doesn’t knows what Charlie Blister’s big project is, but she sometimes catches him taking notes on napkins and stuffing them down his pants.
The amateur preacher is trying to save Blue Streak’s soul.
The anxiety you feel is your separation from God. That’s what causes the hole in your heart.
One night last week Jack caught Mr. Jessel Xeroxing money on the color machine. He claimed he was testing the cyan toner.
I’ve been using a different supplier.
Mr. Jessel laughed and put the copies in the shredder.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could get away with it, though?
Mary Jane is not feeling so hot. She hurts under her armpits and neck.
Barbie Troll tells Jack about a recurring nightmare where she finds a body in the trunk of her car.
Whose body is it?
My future daughter’s.
Sometimes Lord Vader feels like a copy of a copy of a copy.
Charlie Blister tells Mary Jane about a dream he had where he made love to a fire truck.
Poster Lady lives with a man who refuses to have sex with her.
Mary Jane starts opening up to Jack about her cancer. She tells Jack she’s thinking of stopping the chemo.
The amateur preacher doesn’t like the look of the new 3-D copy machine. He says it’ll be too easy for people to replicate the Devil’s instruments.
Carl the repairman has started shaking. First it was the tips of his fingers. Then his hands. Then his arms. At first he tried to hide his condition, but everybody sees what’s going on.
Some specialists told me it’s MS, but you know how those guys are. They just want to plug you into the system.
A gray hair wants Mary Jane to make copies of The Joy of Sex for an adult education class she teaches on senior sexuality.
Sorry, ma’am, but that’s copyright infringement.
Carl can no longer handle his tools. His arms just go numb without warning.
The gray hair sets The Joy of Sex on the counter. She lets the pages fall open to a man going down on a woman. Mary Jane hates herself for being turned on.
The Professor’s ex-boyfriend has all his books.
Most of them we’d collected together over the years.
Shame makes Mary Jane feel like she has to go to the bathroom. When she is shamed, it takes all her strength to keep from wetting herself.
Before he disappeared, Mr. Jessel started acting strange. He started talking to himself. Or he’d suddenly look over his shoulder like something was following him. He also started receiving strange calls at every hour of the day and night. “Restricted” as a caller ID.
1040s feels a familiar pounding in his head. 1040s goes out to his car to get a gun.
One night Jack and Barbie Troll were alone in the copy shop. They had sex in the storage room. It was just one of those things. They fucked like there was no tomorrow. Like they were desperately trying to ease their loneliness by becoming one. Jack lost his heart. Barbie Troll never visited the copy shop again.
Was it something I said?
1040s comes back from the car. He has a gun hidden in his pocket. He aims it at Mary Jane’s head. He won’t kill her. Not tonight. But he wants God to know that he could. If things don’t get better real soon.
Fruit Boy locks himself in the bathroom. All they can hear is the water running. Jack waits a couple of hours and then decides to break the door down. Fruit Boy is curled up in a ball, panting and bleeding from his mouth. Like a dying dog. There’s a needle on the sink and a piece of rubber hose on the floor.
On the night he disappeared, Mr. Jessel came out of his office, white as a ghost.
I don’t need this shit.
He tossed the master keys at Mary Jane. He walked out to the bus stop and caught the first one that stopped.
After Jack and Barbie Troll had sex, she went out to her car. She opened her trunk and stared at it for the longest time.
Mr. Jessel saw Jack watching Barbie Troll. He put his hand on Jack’s shoulder. He could tell he was in love.
Misery comes when you compromise your values just to stay with someone.
Isn’t that what separates us from the animals? The ability to willingly put our dreams on hold?
Charlie Blister thinks Mr. Jessel has skipped the country.
I saw him making a fake passport.
Blue Streak understands disappearing. One time, in high school, she went underground for a month. When she came back to school, she had a new haircut, new clothes, and a new name. She lost twenty pounds.
Nobody gave a shit, though, and so I quickly returned to my old ways.
Mary Jane’s mother also had cancer. Except she didn’t tell anyone. Not even Mary Jane.
The 3-D copier arrived in a huge wooden crate. Korean lettering on the side. Mr. Jessel swore he could hear it purr.
This baby will change the world.
1040s takes his son to the shooting range one early Saturday morning. He pulls the car over to the side of the road. He just sits there, staring down at the lights of the city. For what seems like an eternity. 1040s’ son starts to cry.
I’m dealing with some demons is all, son.
Blue Streak’s brother killed himself in the garage. He died in the front seat of his Mustang. He’d missed three payments and they were coming to take it away from him.
He loved that car more than people.
The repair company asks Carl to take a leave of absence.
Until your health issues get sorted out.
Carl has no idea how to tell his wife.
Mary Jane’s mother died, alone. They didn’t find her body for two weeks. She’d been drinking milk out of a china cup in bed. The cup was filled with hardened, sour milk. Mary Jane keeps that cup as a punishment. She stores the cup in her closet. Wrapped in plastic.
The morning before he disappeared, Mr. Jessel told Jack that every man fails.
But each man has to decide whether to wear his failure as wings or a noose.
Sometimes Mary Jane gets up in the middle of the night and smells the sour milk in the cup. But not too often. She never wants the smell to fade.