It’s another Monday morning at your publishing job. You’re sitting at your desk wondering how to attack the day’s sales calls when a pale Carla sticks her face in the doorway. “Did you hear about Zack?” she asks.
“Our old IT guy”.
“No. Why?” Zack wasn’t someone you thought much about. In fact, you never really liked Zack. He was supposed to be an IT whiz, coming to them after a gig with George Steinbrenner, but seemed put out anytime you’d experienced an IT problem. He’d been laid off a few years back after a company merger, and had returned from Boston to Wisconsin, his home state.
“It was on Dateline,” says Carla. “Google it.”
You plug his name into your browser and hit enter. “Oh my God.”
He had been a big part of the after-work drinks crowd, which you weren’t. You think a few of the girls dated him, and by dated, slept with. You remember that despite being handsome, there was something opaque in his face. His eyes, while a pretty shade of blue, never registered much expression, at least that you could see.
“Sheila went out with him,” says Jeff, wide-eyed after he has been told.
“Didn’t Katrina date him, too?” asks Daphne.
“Well…she slept with him at least once,” admits Jeff.
“My God, did she?” you yelp. You go back to your office and open your Gmail, and type to the current publisher, Did you hear about Zack? Google it. You type the same thing to the old publisher, who was retired, adding, It’s a good thing he worked for the Yankees. Otherwise they’d be mentioning our damn magazine.
Both write back within the hour. Holy shit, it’s a good thing we got rid of him, from the current publisher, and a bewildered I thought he was a good guy from the old one. You Google Zack again and can’t stop reading, it so awful. Even though you never liked him, you had no idea what kind of person he really was.
“Did you hear about Zack?” becomes everyone’s opening gambit when running into former employees who had known him. The puzzled “No”, the look of shock, are all morbidly satisfying. You especially like telling people who had been his friends, which you know makes you kind of a bad person.
Zack takes up far more space in your head than he did when you thought you sort of knew him. You Google him again to read that the police say that Zack had a history of deviant behavior, going back to when he was sixteen. This comforts you. There’s order in it. He didn’t turn bad, he was always a little off, even as a teen.
You think about what it would mean to be the mother of someone like Zack. You wonder if she has other kids, maybe nice upstanding people whose model behavior would offset her perverted son’s. You wonder how Zack’s mom comes to terms with what her son did, and if she’s able to love him and disassociate from him at the same time. Did she move away, start fresh, a stranger in a strange town?
You google Zack’s mom. She has a different last name and is some kind of PR Executive in a big firm. She maintains that her son didn’t do what he’s in prison for life for. You wonder what she sees when she looks at his face. Does she see an impassive face with cold dead blue eyes? Or the baby he once was, a blessing, a life to be responsible for, at least for a while?
And the girl? You google her, too. She looks cute, naive, but nice, which takes you by surprise, given the kind of stuff she was into, including Zack. What do her parents see? Like Zack’s mom did with Zack, did they ignore the darker sides of her personality and focus on her as a victim?
You keep thinking that googling Zack will get old. You read everything you can and think, maybe it was an accident. Maybe Zack should have handled it differently. He didn’t, though, and you see no life, no remorse, coming out of his cold blue eyes against his bloated face against his orange jumpsuit. You want to feel like maybe Zack would be different if he got a second chance, but you know that’s not true.
You Google him again, to make sure he’s still in place.
Michele Markarian’s fiction has been appeared in Bridge Eight, Daily Science Fiction, Yesteryear Fiction, Furious Gazelle, The Prompt Literary Magazine, and five anthologies by Wising Up Press. A collection of her plays, The Unborn Children of America and Other Family Procedures is published by Fomite Press.