Perfection, by Andrew Kooy

Art: Her

Adam leaned his temple against the bulkhead and looked out the window while the plane waited on the tarmac. He watched for any mistakes made by the people in the tower that would allow another aircraft to land where they were and smash into his plane.

The couple next to him had a dog stowed in a box under the seat. “Don’t worry,” the man said, “she’s a good flier. Didn’t make a peep on the flight out to visit my folks.”

Still, Adam tried to keep his feet from moving. His knees dug into the seat ahead of him, and he could feel his restless leg syndrome kicking in. He didn’t want to bump the dog and set it off.

Adam continued to scan the runways as the jet engines ramped up, and the plane sped toward takeoff. He tried to keep his body limp. He had read that drunks often survived car crashes because they couldn’t react fast enough to tense up before impact. He tried not to think of the front of the plane being sheared off. The screams. The fire. He tightened his seatbelt, only closing his eyes when they were fifty feet off the ground. At that point it didn’t matter how vigilant he was. If something happened up here, only a miracle would save him.

Adam woke as the flight attendant came by with the drink cart. He ordered ginger ale and stretched his neck. He had been asleep for barely twenty minutes, but his left foot was cramped tight with an ache that started at the base of his skull. These seats were almost perfectly uncomfortable. They must have been invented by an economist: No thought for comfort when money is on the line. Fit as many people on the plane as possible to maximize profits. Take the average adult male and calculate the smallest amount of personal space that can be abided for a five hour flight, and then add one more row so they can sell six more tickets. Adam had four inches and fifty pounds on the average adult male, so there was no way for him to get comfortable. If the airline removed one row, there would only be about an inch more room for each remaining row. Even one inch would be nice, but this seat would still be torture.

There’s got to be a perfect seat out there, Adam thought. A seat all others are modeled after. Perfect back support and a place to lay his head. The seat would be the perfect height so that his feet would be comfortable tucked under him or stretched out while lounging. Could a seat be comfortable for all people? He couldn’t imagine how it would, but if it was the perfect seat he was sure it would find a way.

Adam remembered a college class that dealt with perfect forms, but he was pretty sure they used the word “ideal” rather than “perfect.” Perfection sounded better to Adam. More solid. More final.

Would the perfect chair have three or four legs? Four, he decided as he dozed again. The perfect stool would probably have three legs.

Adam waited for his bag to come by on the luggage carousel at SEA-TAC. He stretched his back twisting left then right, trying to work out the kinks. A bag went by with a camping chair strapped to it. He wondered if that was the perfect camping chair. Somebody obviously cared enough about it to bring it to or from Colorado. He thought about asking the middle-aged woman who picked up the bag, but his obsession seemed too strange to explain and besides, his suitcase was finally emerging onto the carousel, and he wanted to get home. He had to work in the morning.

Before going to bed, Adam sat in every chair in his apartment. The kitchen chairs were a bit too tall, putting pressure on his hamstrings. The couch was comfortable enough, but as he reclined, he noticed that there was space at his lower back where it should be snuggly pressed to support him. He lowered and raised his desk chair in an attempt to find the sweet spot of perfection, but soon realized that his tailbone still ached from the perfectly uncomfortable seat on the flight. He gave up and went to bed.

“How was the seminar?” Adam’s boss, Nancy, asked him the next morning. He was only in charge of data entry, but he had still taken it as an honor when she offered to fly him halfway across the country for training.

“The new software has a lot of the same problems as the old, but the reports it generates are real slick,” Adam said.

“Well at least it’s something,” Nancy responded.

The seats in Nancy’s office were too soft, which made sense. She met with high-end donors and the elderly men on the board. The plush faux-leather bespoke of success while still conveying need. Her desk chair looked pretty nice, though: good back support, it swiveled smoothly, and leaned back a little bit as well.

Adam went back to his desk and sat. His chair squawked as he shifted about, trying to get comfortable. Two of the wheels on the bottom of his chair were gummed up with age and he stopped moving when he heard a crack as a piece of the plastic wheel splintered off. Nancy had gotten one of the board members to cover the cost of the training seminar. Would she be able to convince one of the others to foot the bill on some new chairs? Maybe next year, he thought. The economy had everyone stretched pretty thin and he was only sent to the training because it was deemed a necessary expenditure. But if his chair broke completely it would become a necessary expenditure, wouldn’t it?

It will have to look natural, he thought. It will have to look natural and it will have to be irreparable.

He spent the rest of the day installing the new software on all the computers and giving Nancy a walkthrough of the changes.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Can you still import the figures into Excel for me?”

“Well yeah, but the reports will be—”

“Good, then you can keep doing that.”

“But if you want to make any changes, I’ll have to input them manually and then send you a new report.”

“That’s your job, Adam. I’ve been keeping books, wrangling accounts, and running this business for twenty-five years. When I started, we used calculators, not computers, to keep things straight. I was forced to learn Excel and I’ll be damned if I’m forced to learn another program when I could be doing my job with a calculator and a pencil. You got the training, so you keep the program in order.”

Adam had hoped that the training meant he would be getting a raise or at least a slight increase in responsibilities so he could pretend that his job was more important than moving information between two computer programs. He went back to his desk to make sure the new program was installing properly and started jotting down a plan for a spreadsheet to track the disintegration of his chair.

The Platonic ideal, Adam realized as another plastic shard cracked off his chair. That’s what he had been trying to think of in the airport. But Plato thought that the perfect form of things existed solely in an abstract realm. Adam didn’t like that. It was beautiful to hope that perfection existed in the material world. He pretended to tie his shoes while he measured what was left of his fracturing wheel.

It was a rare, sunny afternoon in Seattle and Adam was happy to walk home without having to open his umbrella. He lived about a mile from work, and this was the perfect day to detour from his usual path home to walk around Green Lake. It was man-made and looked like a quintessential lake: unevenly round with a small island near one side. Can man craft an ideal form or must it occur naturally, he wondered. Man must be able to create perfection from time to time otherwise what would we be working toward?

He stopped to wait for some goslings to cross the path and jump into the lake. Stupid geese. The small island they were heading to was called Duck Island, but he never saw ducks out there. The geese probably drove them off. The foliage on the island was so shit upon and downtrodden that it looked gray. Adam wondered if there was a perfect form of goose. Some ultimate, aggressive shit-machine that attacked people and dogs even though its neck would be such a simple thing to break. No, he thought, there is no perfect form of goose because geese are only an aberrant version of a swan: A beautiful bird whose long neck is part of its grace. Maybe that’s where their aggression comes from. Geese hiss and bite because they know they are shitty facsimiles of a bird that is praised in poetry.

He thought about the ideal form of swan and how its perfect grace would put to shame the common grace of common swans not to mention geese, but his revelry was interrupted by a sharp pain in his left thigh. Adam turned. An adult goose was flapping its wings and hissing at him. It was ugly and monstrous. It cracked him across his knuckles and he dropped his umbrella.

“Goddamnit,” he shouted as the goose charged him. He tried to circle around to give it access to the lake so that it would leave him alone and he could pick up his umbrella. Two more geese were coming toward him, hissing and waving their heads. A group of kids stopped to laugh.

“Could I get a little help here?” he pleaded as he tried to keep the geese from surrounding him.

More people were watching and laughing now. The first goose stood over his umbrella while the other two continued to attack.

Adam waved his hands and stomped, trying to scare the geese into retreating to the lake but they just kept hissing and snapping at him while the people pointed and laughed.

Just a fucking aberration, he thought as he decided to meet aggression with aggression. He ran at the goose standing over his umbrella and kicked at it to make it move. The goose stood its ground and Adam’s right foot connected soundly, sending the bird into the air to land at the edge of the lake and flop around in pain.

“Holy shit, that dude just booted a goose.”

He collected his umbrella and attempted to hurry down the path.

“What is wrong with you?” a woman pushing a stroller said and blocked Adam’s path. “You can’t kick geese.”

“I was just trying to get my umbrella,” Adam said. “Look, it’s fine. It’s swimming away.”

“Someone should call the cops. You’re a maniac,” she said to his back as he dodged past her down the path.

At home, Adam calmed himself by searching the internet for the perfect desk chair. He found lists of the top five, top ten, top twenty best desk chairs. The chairs were all beautiful and futuristic and extremely expensive. There was one chair he saw over and over: Aeron True Black by Herman Miller. He had heard the name listening to NPR. Public radio wouldn’t accept money from a bad company, would it? Plus, every single list put the Aeron chair in the number one spot. At nearly a thousand dollars, that chair represented almost two weeks’ pay. Clearly out of his price range. A pipe dream. But a pipe dream with a breathable mesh back, fourteen points of articulation, and a sleek black finish.

At work, Adam’s chair continued to deteriorate. He flopped into his chair as hard as he could without seeming obviously destructive and smiled every time another plastic shard broke free. According to his calculations, it should have taken nine to fourteen working days to destroy his chair. After six days, though, one of the wheels disintegrated completely and he tried to hide his pleasure when he informed Nancy that he needed a new chair, only to be dismayed when she got him a wrench and told him to take all of the wheels off because she thought the chair still had some life left in it. He had to be mindful of his balance in his crippled chair afterwards. The tension of keeping himself upright throughout the day left him with a constant pain in his neck.

As the quarterly reports approached, Nancy became even more demanding. She continued to refuse to use the new software and eventually stopped using her computer altogether. Nancy would have Adam print out reams of Excel spreadsheets. She would mark them up by hand and give them to Adam to put back into the computer, only to have Adam print them out again the next day.

Two days before the reports were due, Nancy put a stack of papers on Adam’s keyboard.

“It’s all wrong,” she said. “The columns are sloppy and there’s no header. Make it look professional, Adam.”

The papers Nancy left were covered with pencil marks. Little arrows and boxes and indecipherable chicken-scratch. He knew better than to ask any questions to clarify what it was that she wanted. She never wanted anything specific; she only wanted something different than what he gave her.

Nancy left her pencil as well. Adam picked it up and was about to call her back when he really looked at the pencil. Dixon Ticonderoga #2. No bite marks. Clean eraser. Sharpened to a point about three-quarters of its original length. It was perfect. Adam closed his eyes and conjured up every image of pencils he could imagine. They were all this pencil. He opened his eyes and searched his desk for another pencil to compare it to, but there were none. He brought the pencil up to his nose and inhaled: it even smelled perfectly like a pencil.

His hands were shaking, and he set the pencil on his desk so he could gaze at it. What could he do? What should he write? This was the perfect pencil. This was an instrument to write sonnets and plays and things a man could call his magnum opus. This was the pencil that could sketch a modern day Mona Lisa. This pencil could draw the plans for architectural wonders or jot the note that inspired the cure for cancer. Ad agencies would kill for even one look at this perfect pencil.

A board member walked in and knocked on Nancy’s door. The man was nothing but lines. Touching perfection had changed Adam. He knew that if he picked up the pencil he could draw the man with perfect skill. Through the pencil he could calculate where the man had been and where he was going to go. Everything was a series of lines and this pencil could connect them all. Adam looked at his desk and realized he could draw a map that led to the forest and the exact spot the tree was cut down to make his desk.

Adam reached out to hold the pencil to assure himself that it was real. His fingers slipped, and he knocked it to the floor. He reached down to the side of his chair and stopped. The lines were gone. It was only a pencil again. The tip of the lead had broken off and it was no longer perfect. In the shock of seeing something perfect become so mundane, Adam forgot about the precarious balance of his chair and fell to the right. He scrambled to find the pencil. Maybe he had been mistaken. Maybe it was just bad lighting that made the pencil look broken.

He found the pencil, cracked in half by the chair, and he started to cry.

“Are you okay?” Nancy asked as she peered over his desk.

He couldn’t tell her about the perfection. She wouldn’t understand now that it was broken. Adam lifted his hands to cover his tears and for a disorienting second, thought he now had two thumbs on his right hand. As he blinked, he realized that the chair and his weight had landed on his right hand. He had snapped his pinky finger at the base. It was jutting out sideways from his hand.

He raised his right hand to show Nancy and the board member, now gathered at his desk. “I think I broke my finger,” he said as he wiped his tears with his left hand.

On the way to the hospital, Nancy couldn’t stop apologizing. “I’m so sorry, Adam. I should have gotten you a new chair when the wheels fell off that one. I’m ordering you a new one as soon as I get back to the office. What kind of chair would you like? You can pick out the color and everything. How’s your hand?”

Adam smiled as he shifted the Lean Cuisine from the office freezer onto the backside of his hand. “Well, there is this one chair. Most online polls claim that it is the best office chair on the market. The company who makes the chair is pretty famous too. Their chairs are so well designed that they are even in the Museum of Modern Art.”

“Whatever you need. How’s your hand feeling?”

“Well, it is kind of an expensive chair, but you asked and that would be the chair I’d want in an ideal world. Spending forty hours a week in a chair kind of makes you want it to be nice.” His voice trailed off, and he winced as he shifted the frozen box to another part of his hand. She would never get him the Herman Miller Aeron True Black chair. He had reached too high too quickly.

“Oh, of course, of course. You’re such a hard worker and it’s the least I could do. Tell me the name of the chair and I’ll have it for you by Monday morning.”

He had underestimated her shame over his injury. Was she afraid that he would sue her? She laughed and joked as she waited with him in the emergency room as if to make him feel that they were not only boss and employee, but friends. Adam was happy. He felt like Nancy was his friend. She was getting him the perfect chair, wasn’t she?

His finger wasn’t broken, only terribly dislocated. The doctors set it and taped it to his ring finger and gave him a protective cast that strapped to his wrist. Nancy dropped Adam at home after taking him to get his pain medication and told him to take a long weekend to recover, assuring him that he would have a new chair when he came into the office on Monday.

Adam’s weekend was a mix of sleeplessness and dreams made strange by the pain medication. He read every article, every advertisement, every blog comment he could find about the Aeron True Black chair. On Sunday evening, he dozed off at his computer and dreamed of a website that allowed users to create avatars of themselves that could sit in a simulated Aeron chair and fiddle with the settings in order to familiarize potential owners with the chair’s controls and help them maximize comfort as soon as their chair arrived. When he woke he spent the next twelve hours looking for this website.

As the sun came up on his fruitless search, Adam was pleased to find that he was full of energy and ready for work. He swallowed a pill for the pain in his hand and headed out the door. It was mostly overcast and cool: the perfect weather for a brisk walk to work. He could hear the geese out on Green Lake, splashing and honking and probably attacking some poor jogger. It didn’t matter to Adam, though. He was taking the most direct route to work and didn’t have to worry about any geese.

Adam hurried to his cubicle in the back. He could see the chair behind his desk but not clearly until he turned the lights on.

This was not the Herman Miller chair.

This was not a new chair.

This was Nancy’s chair.

He sat down. The seat was too soft and sunk down to the point that he could feel the hard frame of the chair press into his right butt cheek. He leaned back. The back support was too short and did not even come all the way up to his shoulders. He swiveled. The wheels squeaked and he stood up to glare at the chair.

The light was on in Nancy’s office. Adam hadn’t heard her come in and didn’t know how long he had been contemplating this imperfect chair. He knocked on the door.

“Oh hey Adam, how are you feeling?” She was standing next to her desk holding a wrench and the armrest to a Herman Miller Aeron True Black desk chair. His Herman Miller Aeron True Black desk chair.

“You look a little pale, Adam.”

Adam focused on his breathing. You promised, he thought. My hand gets messed up because you were trying to save a couple of bucks, and you buy the chair you promised me for yourself.

Adam started to put his hands in his pockets to hide the shaking and winced as he bumped his finger. You wouldn’t have even known about this chair if it wasn’t for me, he thought. This perfect chair.

He cleared his throat. “Heh, so they make you put the chair together yourself? You’d think for that price they would assemble it for you.”

“Oh this,” she said gesturing with the armrest, “I actually just took this off. I kept bumping my elbow on it when I answered the phone so I figured no armrest, no problem.”

Adam closed his eyes as he leaned against the doorframe and rubbed his brow with his left hand.

“Whoa, are you okay?” Nancy asked. “You don’t look okay.”

“I’m just. . . I think I’m still getting used to the medication.”

“Well why don’t you sit down a minute?”

“No,” Adam said a bit too loudly. The thought of sitting anywhere near the perfect chair, purposefully mangled by this idiotic woman, was more painful than his dislocated finger. “Maybe I should just—”

“Go home and rest,” Nancy finished. “The reports are fine, there’s nothing pressing for you to do today. Just get some rest and come back tomorrow.”

Rain was lightly misting and he had left his house without his umbrella, but he still decided to take the long way home and walk around Green Lake. He felt like kicking a goose.

The piddling rain stopped as he crossed the street to the jogging path around Green Lake. Lying near the curb was a large orange tabby that had been hit by one of the drivers on their morning commute. Steam rose from the intestines that spilled out of its lower abdomen where it had been struck. A crow pecked at the offal, oblivious to Adam’s presence.

This seems like a good place to start, Adam thought as he took a couple of quick steps and drew back his right foot.

The crow hopped away and spun around to face him, spreading its wings and cawing at the disturbance. Adam fell to his knees next to the dead tabby as he looked into the crow’s yellow eyes. This was not a crow, this was Crow. The perfect form of crow that all other crows were modeled after. He could see that now, with its wings outstretched. The feathers were perfectly arrayed and of a black that would make the moonless night jealous. Its beak was sharp and covered with gore, and the sound that came out of its pink mouth was pure poetry.

As he stared into Crow’s eyes, Adam began to believe he could understand what Crow was saying. He had never truly really known perfection before: the pencil, the chair, they came close but were mere shadows when compared to the real thing. Perhaps man cannot make perfection. Perhaps true perfection was grown rather than manufactured. Adam thought of the perfect chair again. He did not see the Herman Miller Aeron True Black chair. His mind was filled with the vision of a lightning struck stump, carved by wind and rain to perfection.

Crow hopped toward its meal and Adam looked down to see a filet mignon steaming on the curb next to him. He could smell the garlic in the potatoes and the vinegar in the dressing of the salad that was arranged next to it. Crow bent down and pulled a cherry tomato from the salad, tilted its head back, and swallowed the beautiful red orb. Crow cocked its head to the side and cawed at Adam once more. This time he understood.

“Perfection,” Crow said.

Adam bent over and joined Crow, stuffing handfuls of the glorious meal into his mouth.

“Perfection,” Adam said between sumptuous mouthfuls and laughter and tears. “Thank you, Crow, this is perfection.”

A man came around the corner of the jogging path with a wiener dog and turned toward Adam and Crow. Crow called out to the man and Adam laughed, waving for the newcomers to join in the feast. The man did not understand, could not see the perfection of Crow, gagged and bent over. The wiener dog saw Crow and heard Crow and understood. The man gagged again and a fountain of buttery popcorn shot from his mouth. The wiener dog spun and barked, gobbling up the popcorn as it fell. Crow hopped over and picked at the kernels before inviting the wiener dog to the bounty in front of Adam with another cry of “perfection.” Next to Crow, the wiener dog was nothing more substantial than a balloon animal. It bounced over to the meal, trailing its leash. The dog sniffed at the mashed potatoes before opening its mouth and spraying popcorn across the salad.

“You didn’t have to bring anything,” Adam said as he laughed. “We already have all we need right here.”

Andrew Kooy received his MFA from the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans. His work has been published in Blood and Thunder and Barely South Review. He currently lives in New Orleans where he is a stay-at-home dad and a member of the Peauxdunque Writer’s Alliance.

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