Responsible Interested Party by Phoebe Reeves-Murray

It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. The letters on the sign on the interviewer’s wall were made of eyes—at least, that’s how they first looked. While I waited, I stared right at the eyes, and realized they were actually “eyespots,”—that one “eye” was a leopard’s spot, another an octopus’s ring, another a butterfly’s wing.

I knew that sign and all its eyes must mean something or they wouldn’t have posted it for the interviewees to study. The interviewer came in, appeared to smile in my direction from behind wraparound dark phoneglasses as he completed a call. In case he was smiling at me, I smiled back. In that same moment, I realized I’d missed that one of the “eyespots” was, in fact an actual eye, a chicken’s eye. The gobbledegook term for a chicken’s form of vision is disordered hyperuniformity. Chickens have impeccable vision, despite having eyes with different sized color cones randomly arranged. Their eyes get frustrated trying to find the optimal visual state, so the method to this madness is to end up transmitting light like both a crystal and a liquid.

The job listing had simply read: Responsible Interested Party wanted for critical, split-second decision-making and execution.  Only serious candidates need apply.  “I like you,” the interviewer told me, “so I’m going to help you out.  Keep it simple. Keep it within your own sphere of influence. Human interest is good—can’t go wrong with animals, dumb and cute, right?  Keeps the electronics moguls in business in perpetuity.”  He hadn’t taken off his wraparounds, but I was pretty sure he was referring to me so I squeezed my lips together in a frown of acknowledgement and raised my eyebrows. I didn’t want to seem inappropriately emotional. He leaned back, almost touching the sign. “Our supervisor is exact about this. So my advice to you is start out with something you can see coming a mile away.”

That little “our” was how I knew I had gotten the position. My new job title was Responsible Interested Party. As we left the agency, my husband pointed out that they were always advertising for the position. But I’m careful and I’m thoughtful, and they must have seen that, or they wouldn’t have hired me. I was excited because they said it was important, and I was expected to do it remotely, from wherever I was. I thought that was a fantastic deal. I also thought they were going to give me specific guidance on what I needed to be responsible for and interested in, and when to do it.

“’Start out with something you can see coming a mile away,’ the interviewer had said. What do you think that would be?” I shouted to my husband over the flapping, snapping rush of 70 mile an hour highway wind.

“Isn’t that your job to figure out?” my husband joked as we drove, shadow and sunlight flashing under overpass after overpass, bridge after bridge, away from the interview. When we were out on the open road and the sun beat down on me, I focused my attention on a lone low bridge over the highway, far in the distance, wondering how the job would start.

Something was on the bridge, a giant spot with multiple violet, red, green, and blue fragments.  Graffiti? Kaleidoscope?   I grabbed a pair of binoculars and pressed them hard against my nose. It’s an eye. My job starts now.

That’s when I saw them in my peripheral vision. The giraffes’ long, swaying necks grew like brown and yellow sunflowers out of the topless trailer truck as it whipped along the highway, slightly ahead and slightly beside our car. Their faces wore chain halters. They faced us, but they were blindfolded.

The sun was blazing—I could see everything. I thought. But there are gaps in how humans see—in the space between our eye’s rods and cones, in the liquid on top of our lens, in the lens, in the eye jelly between the lens and the retina. Floating at the end of those gaps, my mind choked—liquid only liability, I guess—and I could only register them in two ways: 1) zoo, and 2) children’s board books.

My husband shouted, “Take a picture!  You won’t see that again!”

I looked at the knobs on top of their heads, floundering to remember what they were for.

Other swerving drivers and passengers snapped photos on their smartphones.

I leaned out of the car, waving and screaming up the length of their long, beautiful, tiled necks, my stupid instinct believing they could understand, “Look out!  Oh please, look out!”

My husband dragged me back in.

“Pull up, cut off the driver now!” I told him as I laid on the horn and swerved the car.

My husband swerved back into our lane. “You trying to kill us?!”

The bridge charged. Now I could clearly see the eye on the overpass was a chicken eye. Disordered hyperuniformity. They can see everything. I must see everything.

 Giraffes use their horn knobs to protect their heads in a fight—but not when they’re blindfolded—standing backwards in a moving open air truck—against cement—

I shone the crystal of the binoculars off the sunlight and aimed the flash at the giraffes’ driver.

But the driver wore wraparound dark glasses.

The bridge charged.

The sound exploded, so loud that my husband thought someone was shooting at us from the overpass.

Blood burst from the giraffe’s nose, exploding liquid purple red smear across the painted chicken’s eye on the concrete overpass. Then we were out from under the bridge. I turned around. The truck pulled over, one blindfolded giraffe still standing.

The bridge retreated to the horizon once more.

My employer requires me to attribute my biweekly payroll hours regarding my Responsible Interested Party duties and activities into as small as one minute increments by categorical single events. I’ve yet to complete and turn in my first timesheet because my eyes can’t see clearly through so much liquid.

END


Phoebe Reeves-Murray has taught high school and college and worked in the non-profit world for the last 30 years. As a writer, a mother, a wife, and a daughter, she loves creating stories using Jungian archetypes, fairy tales, strange events that take place out of the corner of your eye in the everyday world, and the mysteries of childhood and adulthood. Her fiction has appeared in Pantheon Magazine, DAZ, Prima, Scorpius Digital, and Prentice Hall. Her original plays have appeared in the Maine Short Plays Festival and at the Next Stage in San Francisco.

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