Margaret escorts Allison to a smallish door near the kitchen. “This is where you’ll start,” she says. “That’s Herman Kim’s room. He’ll be handling your orientation.”
“So like the benefits paperwork. Sexual harassment policies.”
“Herman Kim worked as a mechanic in the war. He grew to love the act of taking things apart, examining each piece individually, polishing them, making repairs, adding new components of his own design, then putting it all back together and have it be better than it was before.”
Allison says: “I don’t like people examining my parts.”
“I told you you wouldn’t like this,” Margaret says, knocking on the door with a single rap.
The door opens immediately and Herman Kim peers out, a head shorter than Allison, immaculately dressed in a dark grey suit. “Allison Hull,” he says.
“Hey man,” she says, extending her hand.
Herman Kim looks at the hand and then back up at her. “Your brother was complicated, and I do miss him.”
He gives a little nod to Margaret and she returns it and heads back to her office. He then takes Allison by the shoulders and looks up into her eyes, a deep furrow between his brows. “You are not your brother,” he says.
“Uh uh,” Allison says. “I’m better.”
“We’ll see,” Herman Kim says, pulling her through the little doorway into what was probably a storage closet in a former life, severe and overlit, barely enough space for the two of them and the stacks of pornographic magazines piled against the far wall. (Personal Valet, Wooden Soldier, Mons Celebre, et al.) There are two short stools and a brass hook from which a cape or poncho hangs. Too-large paintings with ornate frames are hung on three walls, each one featuring a posed and sour-faced monarch of some kind. And P.S. Allison knows soundproofing when she sees it.
He closes and locks the door, points at the stools and they sit. He reaches out to touch her neck and she recoils and he says, annoyed, “Please,” and she lets him and he touches a spot just under her throat and she is suddenly in the worst pain of her life, blinding, deafening, paralyzing. Every muscle clenches and she can only manage the tiniest whimper. Blood bursts from her nose and mouth. Her mind is burned clean, and then it’s over and she finds herself on the floor, shaking.
Herman Kim helps her back up. “How do you feel?” he asks.
Allison does her best and clumsily punches his ear. He ignores it and says: “How do you feel?”
She collapses on the stool, takes a long breath, says: “Fantastic, actually.” She looks at Herman Kim and the little room and the paintings and magazines and sees everything with an intense clarity. She sees lines of meaning between the man and the things, between him and her. I am in this body, in this room, in this structure, in this ocean.
“Did you soil yourself?” Herman Kim asks.
Allison glances down and says, “I don’t think so.”
“Maybe you are better than your brother.”