It will seem like he is nothing but one of these weirdos we see on the streets. One of those guys we think are weird, even though we can't quite explain why, but we're 100% sure it's better not to get to know him too well to the point that we'd have to include him in our circle of friends. There is this excessive confidence in his voice and behavior, despite the fact that he himself thinks he is too weird. This characteristic probably increases the general discomfort we feel when we spend too much time in his presence. Actually this is the unveiled opinion everybody shares at the Municipal Construction and Road Works Department.
His hands might have that leathery aspect due to the routine exposure to the sun, but also the result of an unresolved case of psoriasis. Every day he handles copper pipes, but ignores the mandatory requirement to wear the gloves provided by the Department, so it doesn't help the issue. His knuckles are as thick of those of monkeys, and his fists look like tools that have become extensions of his hands. His flat-tipped fingers might be mistaken for one of those flange tools attached to his leather tool belt, capable of turning a check valve with ease, grasping red-hot copper elbows, and grabbing gigantic reinforced concrete debris, as if they were levers, while waiting for clean-up crew to arrive.
His interests―belonging to a conversational sphere that is a complete mismatch with the coarse interests of construction workers at the Department―are so specific that they deserve to be featured in a Discovery Channel show. And he dedicates himself to them with such passion that God would certainly would rather see him applying his efforts to painting on pinheads.
He'll take the nod a coworker may give him at the locker room as motivation to start up a conversation beyond the usual hellos and, without any formal invitation, he'll show the erythema he has on his left hand, on that chubby area between the thumb and the index finger, and tell him with utmost satisfaction how he is a guinea pig for a private experiment on changes to the reproductive cycle of bed bugs due to copper oxide ingestion and how he let himself be bitten by one of the six insects he raises inside a glass box with a piece of mattress in the guest room of his apartment. It is true that this information will soon reach the rest of the workers at the Department, even though it's hard to tell whether that will happen before they decide to unconditionally disregard any thought to ever invite him to take part in their poker nights on Thursdays at the Old Trajano's warehouse.
When you hear a story like that, no matter the context you may be aware of, it may seem that maybe he has some sort of dysfunction. However, it doesn't interfere with his ability to perform his daily activities with admirable skill: hooking, unhooking, maintenance, riveting, pipe elevation and deviation, installing elbows connectors, valves, joint crosses, reducers and extenders... He can do it even 13-16 feet below the rolling track line, even with a poor air filter that does not prevent putrid smells to cling to the cartilage of his nostrils, even with little light available and a higher demand for tactile recognition, rather than visual inspection, to make sure that he is following the correct procedure. All that under any given intersection, any given street, any given avenue running above the sewer system where he is working.
Something we will only learn later on―since we already know about the speculations surrounding his so-called dysfunction, disability, or whatever limiting terminology has become common-place when others refer to him at the Department―is that he preferred to avoid letting anybody know how much entertainment he got while pursuing his interests.
In court, the prosecutor will use the term “entertainment” while turning to the jury and holding up the index and middle fingers of both hands to make those little claws that indicate air quotes, just to emphasize the disdain for the word that he had already evidenced by his ironic tone while enunciating “entertainment.” Sitting at the defendant's seat, he will turn his gaze to the crowd present at court and see a co-worker, the beach-blond one who works at the Complaints Department, and she will be shaking her head and whispering the word “entertainment” in an undermining way.
It will seem that there isn't anything playful about his enterprise. He abandoned his biological experiments after the level of copper oxide corroded the insides of the bed bugs in such a way that he was unable to reach a satisfactory conclusion about the abnormalities caused to their reproductive cycle. The only thing he was able to write down on his spiral notebook was, “The black tint of the copper oxide did not darken the greenish secretion the bed bugs leave on the mattress.”
The truth is that nobody knew about piping parts better than he.
Workers at the Dom Pedro and Farrapos intersection―even those used to facing the complexity of the pipelines in Bento Gonçalves―were limited to following diagrams and had only learned how to read blueprints aptly after spending some time on their Daily Rituals. Nevertheless, these workers never showed the same commitment that he had. Even before the light on his helmet started to fail, he wouldd solemnly ignore all blueprints and diagrams while replacing stop valves, eliminating the ones he believed to be unnecessary, and altering the flow of the sewage according to intensity and pressure, which he identified by simply letting his hand rest for a moment over the main pipe.
After all his co-workers would take off to clock out at the Department at five, he would go back to the surface and be forced to wait an extra forty minutes for the company driver to go back and pick him up. That is why he would have a set of valves, elbow connectors, gauges, and reducers in his pockets after scanning the sewage line for unnecessary parts and accessories that a lazy colleague might have installed all over the place, just to avoid calculating whether the pressure in that particular area really needed another meter.
When in doubt, of course those people who were not as familiar with the piping as he was installed gauges, thermometers, and dozens of other unnecessary components that would make the sewage line “heavy,” without the good flow that his work would restore to the system. It was easier to just fill the truck bed at the Replacement Sector with parts and distribute those “band-aids” that actually harmed the entire sewage system.
His actions made it seem that he was removing parts at random, violating the Daily Ritual, grabbing components and combinations, collecting flanges and copper filters in his pockets without taking them back to the Replacement Sector. That was the problem: He never took the parts back to the Replacement Sector...
When the prosecutor show pictures of all those parts in his apartment, his lawyer will try to use the argument that he was trying to put together some sort of contemporary art installation, “a sensitive proclamation to the conductors of our waste.” That is what he will say, an instant before the majority of the court starts to laugh and the judge is forced to use his gavel to restore order.
It will seem that every action must be justified and that entertainment, in and of itself, isn't as strong an argument to explain what he was doing.
What he was doing... Even before he started, it was all about entertainment. It was an improved mechanical sequence of actions that, in the earlier years, came naturally to him at an almost biological level when his dreams had first started. Those were wet dreams full of rage, turbulent like volcanoes, cheating like children hiding behind the couch to spook their old aunts, dreams full of obtuse angles, improbable slopes, involuntary heating, and vertigo.
That was back then, before he started to tame his dreams.
Way before he learned how to turn those instants in a momentum that could make his toes curl, shivers would run down his spine and then focus on his warm area, shrieking between his legs because it would be too strong, too sharp, too intense for him. Then, as soon as he learned how to tame it and make it his unique, private moment, it became such a pleasurable entertainment that he could never share it with anyone else. It was HIS entertainment.
Later, that entertainment was transferred to a 12-speed yellow bicycle, paid in twenty-four installments, which opened up a world of possibilities to him. It was a practical science panel, more accessible and understandable than the old formulas written on the blackboard. The first step consisted in finding the container that would contain the hundreds of tiny spheres that bounced off the floor after he cracked the chainring open using a screwdriver as a lever―these were the times when the magnetism of the four-way wrench was very valuable.
He meticulously removed each of the long metal rods that were part of radius. The tubes and the frame were left aside, for they were too simple and lacked any complexity. He focused right on the gear, which was nothing but a bunch of cassettes, cables, and conduits. Dozens of precision parts were disassembled with an authentic feeling of knowledge and awareness. He instantly felt confident, as if he knew where he was going, even though he was still too far from it and certainly remained unsure of how it would all end. Still, it was worth it, it would be sublime when he finally got there, no matter where THERE was.
His lawyer got up quickly to object and roar at the prosecutor. It would seem those were premeditated actions. The lawyer then requested that the information be removed from the court records. Those one hundred and eight blocks had been found in the defendant's bedroom, along with those blueprints on electronic circuits, diagrams, notebooks, loose pages, manuals for high-pressure retainers, boilers, collages, and drawings made in graph paper on a 1:20 scale.
The lawyer worried that the material had potential to indicate a psychotic personality and requested that the privacy of the defendant be respected, as far as his “hobbies” were concerned. He said none of that was related to the case on trial. The defendant had to get a grip not to laugh upon realizing how unfortunate that argument was. Maybe his lawyer wasn't the most suitable professional in the world to make the court understand the meaning of entertainment.
They had told him that time would go by even faster. However, that is not true when he spent his time disassembling and assembling the water meter on the patio of the house where he grew up. He would arrange all the parts, some of them minuscule, on a sheet of A0 paper, numbering them according to the order they had been removed, so that he could put them back in place without any confusion and before his father would come back home.
After that, time would drag even slower. Maybe it was because his father would be there, in that garage that smelled like iron oxide, surrounded by cotton rags saturated in gasoline. And the image of those nails covered in grease wasn't really attractive―at least not to the point that would reflect his ideal entertainment, so that he could truly be willing to dedicate himself to disassemble engines, slouching over a workbench, like a jeweler over his work or a monk copying manuscripts.
Using tiny brushes, he would lick spark plugs, vents, piston rods and drive shaft yokes. He would then deliver the work that had become mandatory and minute, differently from the work that he would choose to do when nobody asked him to disassemble phone boxes on the street or open up drain pipes to understand the flow of the sewage pipe coming out of someone's house.
It would seem that he felt no pleasure in using his manual skills for a practical purpose, or in becoming part of someone else's valuable project. That wasn't the same pleasure he always felt in his little researches, but he wouldn't have applied for a job with the Sewage Division if he didn't feel some kind of joy from that kind of work. Otherwise, he wouldn't have taken ownership of his work and scrutinized every single one of the drainage systems in that huge city.
Contrary to what he had first thought, at the Sewage Division of the Municipal Construction and Road Works Department he realized he hadn't finally joined a group of people with the same puzzling interests he had, who would dedicate themselves as much as he would. The group of people he had imagined wasn't there at all. He was. And, sooner or later, the mere mention of a project that he thought would make everybody's heads turn would be the target of mockery, for they all believed he was a weirdo.
It was true that nobody working on his defense would admit that there was any practical sense to what he had done, even though they were trying to avoid painting the picture that he was a weirdo, an anti-social individual. Circumlocutions would only harm him, especially when someone insisted on emphasizing the fact that he was not an expert in reinforced concrete and, consequently, could not have calculated the potential that the installation had to make the floor collapse.
“Installation,” that was the word they were using. They didn't refer to is as a “useless piece of shit.” Someone would get furious in the court and yell, “It was just a fucking useless piece of shit!” Maybe that was his father who said that.
It will seem he is renouncing his blame by remaining silent and recoiling in his chair. With such a fearful action, he would be contradicting the preconceived idea people have of individuals with his appearance. The excessive confidence will no longer be in his voice and behavior. The leathery aspect of his hands will only make him look more revolting. Any involuntary gesture―displaying more anxiety than arrogance―will make him hurtle and grab on to the wooden rail in front of his chair with those rough claws. His monkey knuckles will look useless and he will be barely able to make a fist when trying to show a little dignity by adjusting the knot on the gray necktie―a necktie that belonged to his father and that he chose to wear for the one-day trial.
It will seem to everybody―and he will admit it―that Charles Trevisan, who is in charge of the Spare Parts Section, had no control whatsoever over his area and that the systematic disappearance of hundreds of pipes, elbows, valves, joint crosses, reducers and extenders, gauges and thermometers was something that went unnoticed by anyone and that somebody only really started to pay attention to the absence of several parts when a polypropylene tank, this gigantic cylinder that holds eighty-five gallons of sewage, actually vanished.
However, Charles Trevisan will never admit in front of everybody that he would constantly leave in the afternoon to go to the the Old Trajano's warehouse to drink little glasses of Steinhäger in a row, slurping it in little gulps with the same anxiety that he now tried to drain off the last dop of his negligence in the case. Had he noticed it before it was too late...
Charles didn't particularly like children. His wife always insisted on having kids, and his constant refusal was probably the reason why she decided to get up and go to the south, leaving him and the old cat behind. Still, his guilty will remain there, throbbing like an infection that no antibiotics can cure. He will have his share of blame for the fact that the first responder had to use a crane to hoist up the polypropylene cylinder and remove the small body from underneath it. How the hell was that imbecile able to remove an eighty-five-gallon tank from the department without anyone noticing it?
It will seem that everything was a big blunder: The structure was assembled in his living room. It doesn't matter how ingenious it looked and how the exposed copper pipes rested on supports that kept the pipeline exactly four inches from the wall, so that there would be no transfer of heat from the preexisting wiring. Who cares about it now? The truth is that, besides Charles Trevisan, the only other person who was to blame, the one who was truly guilty of it all, was Ms. Clarice. As a matter of fact, she shouldn't blame herself for deciding to place the baby crib in the living room, so her child would be closer to her while she ironed some clothes, since she wasn't sure whether she would be able to hear the baby crying or reach him on time in case the baby were drowning in the little nursery they had prepared to welcome him.
Every afternoon, the spring sun would shine on that spot, even though the heat emanating from the ceiling of the apartment could still be felt. It came exactly from underneath the structure that had been assembled within the apartment upstairs. The heat constantly worried them, but nobody voiced such concern. It was like an annoying itch that, at first, we think is just an insect sting but then come to realize it's eczema or something that demanded attention from the beginning.
And that is what it was.
Consequently, there will be blame to go around. Hatred will not be replaced with stupidity, the giant stupidity of building such a structure, assembling a polypropylene tank in the middle of the living room, supported by bars soldered with lead to the parquet floor, like the grand finale connected to a web of structures formed by all the parts that had been stolen from the municipal sewage system and should have been returned to the Spare Parts Section―well, someone from the Spare Parts Section should have noticed it before it was too late.
It will not seem, though, that he had everything under control, no matter how hard his lawyer tries to show otherwise while displaying some “evidence” on flip charts, arguing that he knew what he was doing and that it was all an unfortunate accident. The graph paper (Item D17) will be unrolled so that everybody in court can see the complex blueprint of the project, with pipes feeding the tank with the waste water and sewage generated within the apartment.
It will become evident―the lawyer will stress the details―that his ingenuity and preliminary care indicated that he did not wish to interfere with the sewage system of the building and, consequently, cause any trouble to his neighbors. Pressure, atmosphere, volume, flow: It is all represented by physical symbols that will look like hieroglyph to the judge.
One thing will be clear, however, even without the aid of any chart or list of symbols: Ms. Clarice crying when she takes the witness stand.
It will seem like he is nothing but one of these weirdos we see on the streets. One of those guys whose ambitions and aspirations we are unaware of, since we are making so much effort not to know him too well to the point that we'd have to include him in our circle of friends. His interests seem too distant from us. They are a complete mismatch to a conversational sphere into which we may find ourselves engaged. Nor would we understand his interests had we been at least familiar with the rudimentary workings of hydraulic systems assembled illegally within a residential apartment.
It is probable that we would have paid attention to the conversation―if he had taken a nod as motivation to explain the complexity of the structure―had he mentioned how he used a crane to hoist up a polypropylene tank, with capacity for eight-five gallons of sewage, so that it could fit through the hole he had opened on the wall of his apartment.
However, it is unlikely that any of us would be in his presence long enough so that he could explain it all before it happened. We will only pay attention when the sentence is uttered by a reporter on the local channel, while she is standing in front of the building and there are firefighters, an ambulance, and the first responders running in the background during the live feed showing the disaster on TV.
“A little one was killed due to a gigantic act of stupidity.” That will be the most objective sentence someone will dare to utter while trying to describe what Ms. Clarice saw. Nobody will understand what she felt. Later on, we will talk about the story with a sorrow tone in our voice, while someone may mumble something about how it was “God's will” and someone else may mention “never-ending pain and suffering,” and none of us sitting around the table at the bar will argue those points.
Still, the reporter on the local channel will tell the story on a media-like manner, uttering the sentence she wrote and rewrote several times on her notepad in order to measure the exact impact that the words would have on each viewer.
It is probable that it was exactly the most accurate description of what Ms. Clarice saw: “A little one was killed due to a gigantic act of stupidity.” She was there, in the living room, ironing clothes while watching her baby sound asleep on the crib and, a second later, the child disappeared under a polypropylene tank, killed on impact due to a gigantic act of stupidity. The polypropylene tank had come out of nowhere, through the floor of the apartment upstairs, killing the little being. It was a case of never-ending pain and suffering, a hideous wound that would never heal or never scar, to be more exact.
It will seem that he buildt the immense structure weighing several tons over a residential apartment floor without having sufficient knowledge because he was stupid, because he was in love with something that seemed to be ingenious, intricate, and brilliant to him, while blinded by his high level of stupidity.
It will not seem, though, that he only assembled that thing for his entertainment, no matter how he himself makes all possible efforts to tell his life story to the jury and try to convince them otherwise―even though, for him, that is what it had seemed at first.
ALESSANDRO GARCIA was born in Porto Alegre in 1979 and had his work published in literary magazines Ficções and Cult, in addition to writing to several websites, including Digestivo Cultura, Cronópios, Scream & Yell, Portal Literal, and Musa Rara.
He has contributed to anthologies, such as Cenas de Oficina [Office Scenes] and Ficção de Polpa [Pulp Fiction] Volumes 1 and 3. In 2010, he published A sordidez das pequenas coisas [The Moral Degradation in Little Things], which made the shortlist for the 2011 Jabuti Award and finished second in the prize sponsored by the National Library Foundation.
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