The Scent Trail of the Soul

"Larry-Boy, are you all right? Do you need some help?" It was Lester Burdick. He said it so that everyone in the office could hear.  Burdick, with his short-sleeved, striped shirt and loose necktie, was standing up at his desk several rows back by the window with a coffee cup in his hand, and now he was laughing. "The way you froze there, I thought maybe you'd had a stroke."

Lawrence had worked at this office for two years and Lester Burdick had picked on him since the first day.

Lawrence walked to his desk at the back of the room, his arms full of file folders, but he kept his eyes on the floor.  As he passed the other desks, most of his co-workers laughed quietly or shook their heads. This had been his fault, by letting himself stop and daydream, like a goof, on his way back from the file room. He knew better than that. Burdick would always notice and say something to make fun of him. Lawrence blamed himself for the way people treated him, he always had, and he scolded himself again that he needed to think ahead more. If he paid more attention, people might not laugh at him.

Two months before, Lawrence had asked his boss, Mr. Thomas, to speak with Burdick and ask him to stop making fun of him. But Mr. Thomas had changed the subject and said that productivity had been down and there might be layoffs soon. Lawrence had given him a confused look, not understanding what one had to do with the other.  The boss then said that he expected his workers to be adults and get along with each other. Then he’d given Lawrence an “eyebrows up” look which Lawrence took to mean that the subject was closed. Later that day, he’d seen Mr. Thomas talking to Burdick in the break room and Lawrence had thought that his troubles were over, until they had both started laughing and clapping each other on the back. Things had gotten worse since then.

No, it was better just to let it pass, the laughter would stop on its own. At every stage of his life, it seemed that Lawrence had had a Burdick assigned to him to make his life miserable. In every grade there was at least one person who looked at Lawrence and saw the target in his soul. Some kids had talents and strengths, Lawrence had a bullseye. He was fodder for bullies, just another assignment for them. They would log in his presence and immediately begin to work on him.

Lawrence didn't have big ears, or long legs, or a pointed head. He had no physical features that made him stand out or attract those seeking to dominate others. He did his best not to attract attention. He learned early to not raise his hand in class, not to make eye contact with others, not to use big words, not to get good grades, all the things that made others mad or jealous. He sat on the sidelines at recess so as not to challenge anybody for a spot on a favored playground game or equipment. He made sure to wear something green on St. Patrick’s day, but he still came home with bruises. He made unsigned Valentines to put in the other children's Valentines envelopes, and the "two-for-flinching" rule was modified whenever he was involved.


In short, he was invisible to everyone except those on the lookout for invisible kids, the bullies. They found him unerringly, efficiently and without exception.

Lawrence also tended to attract the more persistent and virulent bullies. It's commonly held that, like bears, most bullies will tire of prey that does not react, because they're looking for stimulation and sport. But there’s an exception for bears who are hunting for food. Their goal is not stimulation, but sustenance. The same is true for bullies. The worst of them are in need of something to strengthen and maintain them and that something is in the souls of other people.

For some reason Lawrence represented a banquet for those on the hunt. It wasn’t his fault any more than a deer was at fault for attracting the wolf-pack, especially a wounded deer. His soul constantly gave off the scent of wounded and weakened prey. It not only attracted the worst bullies but made other prey, push him away so they wouldn't be added to the menu. That was the only way to explain it.

So now you’re thinking, in this story, he will finally have his day, the worm will turn. Lawrence will stand up to Burdick, and so, to all the others. He’ll smash Burdick's face with a stapler or stab a letter opener deep into Burdick's neck and Lawrence’s frightened, invisible life will bloom and he’ll never, ever be the same again.

But that's not the way the world works. The rabbit will always be the victim and some rabbits will always be less lucky than others. Rabbits are not secretly waiting for the day they will become tigers. Lawrence was not capable of turning on Burdick.

And so the day dragged on. Lawrence kept his head down and focused on getting all of his work done. He postponed even going to the bathroom because he didn't want to get up again and walk across the room, inviting another encounter. He ate lunch at his desk and worked through the time everyone else was taking breaks.  He worked on and soon it was after 5:00 P.M. and everyone was tidying up, closing down their workstations and leaving the office.

The office got quiet and the quieter it got, the more Lawrence's shoulders relaxed. Finally, it was 5:30 and he was alone. He cleaned up his desk and turned off his computer.

He picked up his lunch sack which contained only wrappers and an empty yogurt container and started to walk out of the office. He stopped by the tiny break room to throw the sack in the trash. As Lawrence turned the doorknob and pushed open the door, he saw Burdick stooped at the open refrigerator door, rifling through the items inside. He had a half-unwrapped submarine sandwich in his hand and he twisted his head and looked up to see Lawrence in the doorway.

Lawrence froze, motionless, eyes wide and Burdick stood up, smiling and took a big bite of the sandwich. Lawrence held his hands up defensively and blurted, "I didn't mean, to see you, uh, I was just --" Burdick’s eyes narrowed and he burst out laughing, sending bits of half-chewed sandwich flying from his mouth. Then, he took a deep breath by reflex, and the sounds stopped.

Burdick's expression changed to concern and his eyes flared open. He threw the sandwich down and put a hand up to his throat looking confused. Then he looked directly at Lawrence and waved quickly for him to come over to him.

Lawrence took a step toward him and then stopped. Was this a trap? In fourth grade, Dex Hinshaw had pretended that he'd broken his arm on the jungle-jim and called to Lawrence for help and then, when Lawrence had gone over to him, Dex'd knocked him to the ground and pulled his pants down in front of everyone on the playground. Even Mr. Towns had laughed at first, but then stopped and sent Dex to the Vice Principal. In sixth grade, Marty Harmon had told him to come help a girl with a bleeding nose, then kicked Lawrence in the nuts while two guys tripped him. He'd cut his elbow and had to go to the ER for stitches. His mom yelled at him for bleeding all over his new jeans.

Those were just two times that popped to mind, there were more. No, he wasn't going to walk over there to Burdick. There wasn't anyone else here. Who knows what Burdick might do?

Burdick's face turned red and his expression changed to rage when he saw Lawrence pause, and he started across the break room, with his hands clenched in fists. Lawrence didn't even have to think. He backed up, pulling the door shut.

Lawrence was in a panic, he'd seen the look on Burdick's face and it screamed violence. There was no lock on the door so Lawrence dropped his lunch bag and held onto the doorknob as tightly as he could with both hands, to keep Burdick from turning it. The doorknob felt alive in Lawrence’s hands as Burdick, on the other side of the door, tried to turn it with all his strength. Still, Burdick said nothing.

Suddenly Burdick began pounding on the door with his fists. Lawrence squeezed his eyes shut and started whispering the Lord’s Prayer as quickly as he could, trying hard to mean every single word of it. When he got to the end, he started the bedtime prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” again, as fast as he could. He hoped the door would hold, because if Burdick got a hold of him now, Lawrence was dead meat.

Suddenly there was kicking on the door, but it wasn't as strong as the hitting had been. Maybe Burdick was choking, and maybe he wasn't. It wasn't possible to tell from this side of the door. Lawrence had no experience with this kind of thing. He had no idea how many times he’d repeated both the prayers, but it seemed to be working.

It got even quieter on the other side of the door and Lawrence stopped the pleas to the Almighty so he could listen more closely. He knew there were no other doors out of the break room. This kind of reminded him of a Three Stooges show he'd seen once, except they had a gorilla trapped in a room instead of Burdick.

"Are you OK? Lester? Mr. Burdick?" Lawrence listened but heard only muffled sounds that could be anything. There was no more kicking or hitting. There might have been something like rubbing at the bottom of the door, but he couldn’t really tell.

"I hope you're OK. You hear me? I hope you're OK." Lawrence was afraid that if he was OK, he would beat him to death tomorrow morning when they both got to work. Maybe it would be a good day to call in sick, he never did that. Lawrence didn't know how to feel about this whole thing. He didn't wish ill on anyone, really. Especially himself.

"I'll see you tomorrow. Mr. Burdick. No hard feelings." He let loose of the doorknob and took a quick step back. Nothing happened. He reached down and picked up his lunch bag and began striding for the front door of the office. As he walked by the reception desk he threw his bag into the trashcan and paused at the light switches for a moment. Then he walked out of the front door.

Burdick would turn off the lights and lock up when he left. Lawrence dreaded the trip home, the bus driver on the 48 route always made fun of his haircut.


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writing JackVB
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A timid man is trying to make it through a day at work.
A Word from the Writer
Copyright © 2016 - Jack Vander Beek
Published Date
7/15/2016 12:00:00 AM
Published In
Originally Published 7/15/2016