Will Gatti & Daniel Finn

Story Bag

The Mark Up

The Mark Up

Mark Up



The morning light was grey, but the room was warm. Kenny Junior Dory, christened Kingdom but always called Kenny, pulled back the duvet and lay staring at the ceiling. He thought about getting up and making his wife a cup of tea. It was a nice thought and he lay there thinking about himself thinking of making the tea and what a nice thought it was. He played out the whole scene like it was a movie: himself getting  out of the bed and stretching, everybody did that in the movies, and going downstairs into the galley kitchen; and then  standing there by the sink piled up with last night’s dishes, but he’d leave them alone and just stand  looking out of the window onto the street, nothing too much moving at this hour, while the kettle boiled; and then he pictured himself bringing up the tea to his wife. She’d like that. Janine. She slept with her mouth a little open and breathed like she didn’t have to get up for a while; she didn’t.

He closed his eyes, not really wanting to do that tea thing, not really wanting to do much of anything. At this point he should have rolled onto his side and hauled himself out of the bed but instead he opened his eyes and looked at Janine. She was still right there, still sleeping. He was still there too. No surprise in that. He tucked in his chin and looked down at his chest.

He blinked, like a hard long blink and looked again.

Then he hiked himself up on his elbows. No mistaking it! There was a thick, blue, loopy circle that ran from just below his left nipple across into the thin patch of hair in the middle of his chest and then back down and round. It looked, he thought, like the sort of circle that a kid might have drawn. He and his wife didn’t have kids. It was in the original plan, the long-ago plan; it just hadn’t happened yet, like some of the other things that hadn’t happened.

He was tempted to wake her and, instead of making her that tea, say: ’Why did you go and draw on me, last night?’ But he didn’t. He had no memory of her drawing on him and if they had been playing some sort of game like that they would have had to have had a couple of drinks or three, because they had never played any kind of drawing games before, not on each other, not even on drawing pads, like the sort you scribble on as a kid when it’s raining and your parents tell you not to hang around and do nothing but do something useful, like drawing. He never saw anything useful about drawing but he had liked to scribble a bit, silly stuff like a dog. He could do dogs biting the head off a chicken. Chickens weren’t so hard either.

He pulled the duvet down off his stomach and saw there was more stuff drawn on his stomach. Jesus! He thought. Jesus! What’s going on? What is going on? He rubbed his finger on the blue and looked at his fingertip. None of the blue came off. Permanent marker pen, he thought. Is that going to wash away in the shower or am I going to be scrubbing myself with that thing she has hanging up in the shower that looks like a dried-up, Dead Sea sponge. He didn’t think she ever used it either; they didn’t go in the shower together; it was too small, either that or he had got too big. It was true his stomach just wasn’t as flat as it used to be only a little while ago. Working in the office didn’t suit him; coffee and donuts didn’t suit him either. He would quit having them every day. Caffeine and sugar, didn’t that turn you into some kind of monster- a heart all fizzed up and ready to implode and a belly the size of Walmart. He really would quit… maybe just one donut on payday, as a treat, and he would work out. That’s exactly what he would do; she would like that.

He swung his legs out of the bed and sat up. Damn but it was weird having this stuff drawn on him. Then, as he looked at his pale legs, and thought that maybe they would look better if there were blue circles drawn down there, like one of those red Indians that had tattoos all over them, whirly circles. There were some Red Indians that did that. He thought maybe he had a seen a picture somewhere: a polished brown face with dark circles on it, a really fierce face or maybe not so much fierce as an expression of contempt. That was it. Contempt, the very word. How about that? He remembered it pretty well now. Deep set eyes, maybe the circles had made them seem like that, deep and looking straight at you and boy those eyes didn’t like you; and a long thin nose all ready to take a deep sniff taking in your donut smell and not liking it one bit. It hadn’t looked as if someone had drawn on that Indian with a felt pen. He was pretty sure Red Indians didn’t have marker pens, not back in the day they didn’t, and the second thing was that Indian looked like he would let hell freeze over before he let anyone touch his face with any kind of anything.

Kenny stayed right where he was sat right there on the edge of the bed and  wondered if he didn’t just have these circles on his chest but whether he had them on his face too. He thought about waking Janine and asking her. But she would think it a weird question and if she then saw that he did have circles on his face would think he was weird and maybe they would end up having an argument and that, right at the start of the day, would just be a bad thing.

So, he stood up quietly, pulled on his shower robe and edged round the bed, picking his way over the clothes he had dumped on the floor. She hated the way he did that but didn’t say anything because she had got fed up saying it early on when they moved in together. The trouble was he only thought about that tidy thing in the morning when he saw the heap of clothes there on the floor and then it was kind of pointless to worry about it because the bad deed had been done, and anyhow he would be putting some of those clothes back on right after his shower.


The shower was pointless too because even though he scrubbed at those markings with the Dead Sea sponge till his stomach went sharp pink, they didn’t come off, not at all. He just gave up and watched the water stream down off his skin. One of the marks was a damn X, right there in the middle of the circle across his stomach. What kind of a game is that? When you put a cross in a circle? It was like he was a target. He wasn’t a target. No one was going to mark him up for target practice were they? Why would they do that? Janine threw stuff at him sometimes but that was normal. Everyone threw stuff from time to time, though he never did, even when he felt like it. It was more a Janine thing.

Quit fussing, he told himself, the marks’ll  go. You lose your skin, just like a snake, except not all in one go like a snake, but you lose it all the time. He read that somewhere. Skin comes off in flakes, except if it was in flakes you’d see it happening and he’d never seen that.

Jesus! Maybe it wasn’t a felt pen sort of mark but a tattoo. How about that? Had he gone to the local tattoo parlour, the one on the corner of Lafett and Tyrrone , with the dirty tattoo sign sticking out from the wall above the door and a black window with a red Valentine heart the colour of blood in the middle. He sometimes saw the man, a big guy with thick arms, solid blue and green from all the tattoos, standing at the door. He had a ponytail, the man. He looked just like the sort of person Kenny wouldn’t want to go and have a drink with.

He finished drying himself off: good and fast, up and down his back and legs and then more slowly when he was rubbing his chest and stomach, frowning a little and shaking his head. Then he padded into the slip kitchen, put on the coffee machine – the idea of making Janine tea had long slipped out of his mind -and dipped two slices of white into the toaster. He only ever ate one but Janine liked cold toast, or said she did. The bread didn’t taste of anything so it couldn’t do much harm.

They said you could wear what you liked at work so long as you were smart and wore a shirt tie and jacket; didn’t say anything about trousers, maybe he should go in wearing short pants, that would turn a few heads. Or jeans, no one wore jean work pants. Why in the hell not? By the time he had thought about this he was already dressed in exactly the same clothes he wore every day, shirt a bit crumpled because Janine refused to iron his shirts, said she didn’t have time, though he didn’t know how she could say that since she had the whole day to do her own thing, just not his things.


The coffee machine made its gurgle and spit like it was clearing its throat. He poured himself a cup, popped the toast, skimmed spread on it and then ate it while drinking his coffee and looking out of the window, his mind a steady blank, registering the day hadn’t got up and started yet.

The light was still grey and hazy, though it should have burned clear at this time of year. A garbage float came slowly down the street, its lights on, mucky yellow in the haze, ghostly figures clung to the back. The one on Kenny’s side of the truck, stared right through the window at him, looked at him as if he wasn’t there at all. Kenny stared right back. He’d thought about lifting his hand in a kind of ‘Here we are, up before the rest of the world, the workers, you and me’ but he didn’t. He just finished his coffee, put down the cup, pulled on his sports jacket and then, just before going out the front door, he couldn’t help himself, he undid the middle button of his shirt and peered down. What the hell, it was still there, that damn blue circle and cross. Like a goddamn target.

Maybe it wasn’t early morning haze at all, more some kind of fog, good old down to earth city smog, except this town was way too small to be called a city, and there weren’t the cars, like in LA or some place like that, to choke up the air. You had to have a bit of class to get the real smog, or fog like they were supposed to have over on the west coast. San Francisco. He’d have liked to have lived there. Real cosmopolitan, with hills right in the middle of the city and hippies. Not that there were any hippies anymore. Still, there had been a time when he was sure he had said to Janine that they should just take off, throw a few things in the trunk of the car, turn the key on their boxy house and light out for the coast, like Huck Finn.

They hadn’t done that. And there wasn’t a car anymore; repossessed.


He turned right onto Lafett. There were more people on the sidewalk here. Bunch of ghosts. Someone whistling. He could just make out the orange letters of the Tattoo shop down on the corner, blinking at him. He should call in, check out the marks. Ask that pony tail man about them.

Could he really have dropped in there after having a few beers, got himself marked up and then changed his mind? ‘More like losing my mind,’ he thought. He had no recall of either having beers or calling in there. Well, he could ask. No harm in that. Or he could ask in the Drug Store, creepy Mr Hymes would likely know what the marks signified. Yes, one or the other he would do some asking. That was almost a plan, a something he would definitely do at the end of the day, and that made him feel a whole lot better. And anyhow maybe those marks would go away of their own accord. Why not? Leave something long enough and then it don’t matter anymore. His old man used to say something like that, which wasn’t quite the same thing as leave something long enough and it will disappear, but it was close enough.

He joined the thickening line of people heading into his own building, the tallest one on Lafett, seven storeys of grey stone, with REPLOY DEPLOY taking up the whole of the third floor.

‘Hey, Kenny.’


He shouldered in through the main door, wiping the damp from his face, nodding to the faces that had names and those who didn’t but whom he still saw everyday at this time, easing into the lift, small talking about that weird fog, wondering if Janine had got herself up yet. Maybe he would rent a car for the weekend and they would go someplace, up to her cousin’s place. She couldn’t stand her cousin, that was the trouble. He’d find somewhere else. She was always picky but that was her right. He woudn’t say nothing about her choices. She chose me, he told himself. He told himself this quite a few times during the day, when he wasn’t with her. When he was with her, he didn’t tell himself that at all, because it just didn’t seem a likely thing that she had chosen him at all.

He ran his finger round his collar. Damn lift had no air in it.

‘You alright, Kenny?’ Sharon, who sat in the desk right in front of him everyday now for the last four years, touched his arm. Funny thing about Sharon was that he knew the back of her head, better than he knew her face, all the little dips and curls in her hair though she had a nice face, round and comfortable but with a chin that slipped away just a bit too much and stopped her from being pretty. But from behind you’d think she was really something.

‘I’m alright, Sharon,’ he said to her, said it low because he knew all those people squashed up beside him were listening, soaking up anything anyone said, then holding on to it right through the day so they could spin on to someone back home or at Jelly Roll Bar where he knew some of the men took a beer or two before heading back home. ‘Some fog out there. Don’t remember it as bad this anytime before.’

She smiled and gave his arm another little squeeze before edging out of the elevator and walking out into the lobby of REPLOY DEPLOY. He waited till the lift doors had started to close before he stepped out and there were a few tut tuts from those going on up to the floor above, because Kenny did the same thing most every day, waited for the door almost to close like he had a choice and he just might not choose to get out and go to work after all.

He always did get out, though and always said good morning to the receptionist who had a bright smile, like she stepped right out of a television advertisement for soap or cereal, Poppa-chicksticks or anything that needed the actress to smile. Like nothing would ever be bought by anyone at all unless the company could show that their product was going to make you smile. The trouble with this receptionist’s smile was that unlike all those actors who smiled on TV, it didn’t have any meaning. It didn’t say I’m happy to be here. It didn’t say I’m happy to see you this morning. It didn’t say anything at all. In fact, Kenny had a feeling, that behind that smile, the receptionist was an angry person who didn’t like him one little bit. Maybe it was the same for all the men coming into REPLOY DEPLOY, but he felt that for sure, he was number one on her secret, behind-the-smile hate list. He said good morning to her anyhow, smiled and took off his coat and she said, as she always did: ‘Please don’t take your coat off in reception, Mr. Dory. Please go to the men’s room.’

‘Sure,’ Kenny said. ‘Funny. I just forgot that this morning.’ And he turned his back on her and went off to the men’s room before she could say brightly that he said the same thing every morning and then he would have to laugh and say he just  had to shake the habit. Sometimes he played out the whole scene and sometimes she laughed along with him, even though she was angry, and sometimes he did what he was doing now, hoping he would hear her mutter at him under breath. Maybe she did mutter just then, but he didn’t hear.



The office was a very big room, about the size he remembered the school hall where they would all be ranked up for assemblies with the headmaster or one of the staff, usually Coach, saying a prayer at them and telling them who was man of the match or to keep their jackets buttoned. Even the prayer was read as if they were being told to keep themselves buttoned, buttoned up and neatly pressed, faces shiny and blank as frying pans, that was the way he reckoned the headmaster wanted them to be.

He took his seat behind Sharon who was already clacking away on her machine, head down, earphones in. He looked around. They didn’t like you doing that but he did it anyway, always did, nodding to the man behind him, whose name he didn’t know, taking in the faces, the same as yesterday, the same as tomorrow, shiny and trim. Trimmer than he felt. He should lose those few pounds. He would. Oh yes. No one looked back at him, or caught his eye, or smiled. At REPLOY DEPLOY there wasn’t any interaction.

Too much to do, though what it was they actually did was a mystery; names and numbers, numbers and names, matching them up, tapping them into the system, scrolling to the next screen. Days and days of the same but at the end of each month there was a pay-check, never enough but it was something. And as his father said, a paycheck makes just about anything all right. But then his father used to spend most of his paycheck in the bar with his friends, or going hunting, with the same bunch of friends, so most weeks there was a row between him and Kenny’s mother, so maybe the pay-check didn’t make everything all right after all.

What kind of a day is this, he thought to himself. Every time I think of something that might make me feel good, it backs up, like an old drain.

He shook his head and pulled the keyboard towards him, took a breath and started, tapping away just like everybody else, except it was so hard to keep his mind on what he was doing. The screen up on the wall at the far end put up a string of messages that was meant to keep them all going, working away: ‘If you don’t complete; we don’t compete’ and ‘Your job is more important than you are…’

Did it really say that?  He glanced up and saw his own face in the screen looking right back at him. Holy smoke! That was embarrassing. He put his head down so it looked like he hadn’t seen himself and he hoped nobody else saw him up there on the screen, like some bad uncle Joe Stalin himself. Perhaps they would think he was a management spy or maybe that he was up there as the worst employee of the month?

When he thought no one was looking, he popped the third button his shirt and inched it open. The mark hadn’t gone any place. It hadn’t faded so he couldn’t have been shrugging off his skin too much. Maybe a bit more time and it would happen.

It was time he was out of there. So long, Janine, he said in his mind. ‘I’m out of here. I’m on a plane, a boat or train. I’m down the road, out to the big country. I’ll go hunting. I’ll take a canoe out on the lake.’ There were lakes somewhere and he’d get himself one of those pale birch canoes you paddled with one paddle but you still went straight, which was a puzzle.

He didn’t quite. He worked right till the end of the day, same as everyone else, packed up exactly when the minute hand hit the twelve and it was six pm, same as everyone else. He shut down the computer, pulled on his jacket, tucked in his chair and stepped into the aisle right behind Sharon, followed her nice head of hair, that looked, he sometimes thought, soft enough to swim in, which was something he would not tell Janine, though once or twice she would ask about work and who sat near him and whom he liked. He knew she wanted to know about the women, never said it outright but that’s what she wanted, and he would shrug and say they were just work people, didn’t have anything to do with them, which was true, but it would make her really irritated with him, like she couldn’t believe it was true that he couldn’t even describe any of them to her. He could have done that, but he didn’t want to, didn’t want to suggest something about Sharon that would give her ideas. He didn’t want Janine to have ideas.

Sharon went on, joining the queue for the lift. She didn’t look around for him. He went and picked up his coat from the washroom but before he put it on, he went into a cubicle and unbuttoned his shirt right the way down and shook his head. Still there. I’m a damn target, he said to himself. But it just didn’t feel like anyone was hunting him. Perhaps he could confide in Sharon. Just casual, once they were out of the lift, down on the street without people listening to him. Perhaps he could say. ‘Hey, you have something weird happen to you like …’ Why not? Better than asking the ponytail man in the Tattoo parlour.

But when he got back into reception, Sharon had gone.

He took the stairs two at a time and shuffled his way into the crowd easing through the main doors but there was no sign of her, no sign of much of anything. He pulled his coat round him and tightened the belt. The air was damp and cool and that fog hadn’t gone anyplace at all but was right here, thick as gun smoke, and all the work people pouring out of the building after him shook their heads and they said how it wasn’t normal and the weather was freaky and maybe that was because of the jet stream or the Chinese and then one after another they hurried off: one second solid, the next a dark shape in the grey and then gone. He didn’t even know which way Sharon would have gone, no point in guessing.

He stood and let the building empty right by him until there was no one else coming out, and the street just had slow moving cars with yellow lights, and a bus. It was like morning all over except his feet felt so heavy he could hardly lift them up to go down the steps and then he had a strong feeling that if he did go down the steps he would  become fuzzy and grey and disappear, which was about the most stupid thing he had ever felt in his life. On another day he might have chuckled it was so stupid and even told Janine about it, but he didn’t chuckle. His feet did feel heavy and hard to lift but since he had no intention of standing outside his place of employment all night, he forced himself down the steps and once he had taken the first step it turned out not to be so hard.

Then he turned right and walked until he thought he should be at the drug store, where he could talk to creepy Mr Hymes, but instead of the drug store, he found himself staring in the window of the store that sold TVs. There must have been about ten screens all on, more colour in that shop window than anywhere else in the street, all the TVs showing the same thing: one of those hospital shows, guys in funny white hats and masks and scalpels and…. Damn! There was a body on operating table with the same kind of marks Kenny had.

That wasn’t real! TV was never real. Just a waste of time. He really would forget about it, about the stupid marks and head home, maybe take Janine out for burger and fries. What the hell, he could start the regime, the fitness, the running and pumping, all that, he could start it tomorrow, easy as anything. It would be a good thing. It would be good to do a good thing.

He set off with a new purpose in his step. His feet didn’t feel heavy at all. Walking was the easiest thing in the world, that’s why you learned how to do it before you could even talk. Lafett seemed to have stretched out longer and thinner than a ribbon of pasta and the turning he usually took just wasn’t there, wasn’t any turning at all. He kept on, thinking how Janine would smile and the chips would be the real good ones that were triple cooked.

At one point he thought it was strange that he didn’t pass anyone else. Then the fog was so thick he couldn’t see the buildings down the side of the street or the cars on the road but since he couldn’t hear any cars, maybe it was all so bad everyone was home. Best place to be, if you were lucky enough to have one, he thought.


A Don’t be Smart Production