“Yeah, I’ve got a problem,” Jim said, heaving himself to his feet.
“Well, first off,” Desmond said, “I don’t think…I don’t think I could have imagined things as bad as they are now, I mean this is just—”
“Amen,” Jim said, glad to sit down again. His blue Powerade stained his moustache—Debbie had noticed that most times Jim had come back from the town hall; a faint blue tinge on his moustache, staining his tongue, but had never asked about it for some reason. Now she had her answer. There was not enough cooling in the town hall—the air-conditioner at the hottest part of the day was only running at half-capacity it seemed; just enough to supplement the fans and keep people from being too distracted by the heat. Or maybe to get them out earlier. It distracted Debbie. And she didn’t enjoy the slimy feeling of her husband’s forearm against her own.
“Cue the waterworks,” said a townsman with folded arms and several groans of acknowledgement issued from around him—at the front of the hall behind her desk Janet Smith had raised up defensively, grabbed, twisted the neck of her own microphone toward her.
“I don’t think comments like that are constructive!” she projected at Jim’s now friend Desmond, cratering him with her syllables, her glaring eyes, her head bobs. She said nothing, Debbie saw, and knew. She offered nothing. There was no remedy in her pocket, no consideration for the case at hand. She was a perfect psychological case-study in an ego projecting, thrashing outward, defending its own immaterial self at the cost of anything material or significant outside itself. Pure narcissism and unassuageable offence-taking. Jim frowned and sat down, passing the microphone back up to the young man in the generic black polo whose job it was to retrieve and deliver the microphone. Janet Smith maintained eye contact as she sat back down before shuffling her paper and looking to the microphone man. She seemed to confer internally on something—it was in her face, and Debbie imagined a woman planning out an ordered sequence of events in an environment of pure chaos, numbering the results and the elements and times sequentially and qualitatively—it was her own world that she was controlling, our world, she thought, my world. She nodded to a woman toward the front who had her hand raised, who she saw would say the right thing and ask only the right questions, and in Janet’s world was a number, a name, an element.
“Next year,” whispered Jim, leaning toward Debbie. “I’m glad you came.”