It was the inevitable next step. The only logical thing to do, they told her. It’s like breathing, her uncle had said at the last family outing, clasping her hands and grinning like a devil. Now was the time to make money. Forget about the misuse of the word ‘make,’ the fact that nothing was actually being produced or created mattered very little, it was the idea that now your efforts and time would be rewarded. The girl had spent a long time and considerable money educating herself. Now was the time to put all that hard work to ‘use.’
She found employment in the city with a Mr. H at H industries. Her role was limited, behind a desk—her own desk her uncle might add—arranging the inner workings, the logistics, of office meetings, money in money out, phone calls, the maker of graphs and charts. On occasion she would make visually stunning charts in which the others in the office would crowd around her desk to see, jaws agape, while Mr. H smiled and nodded meditatively.
One thing struck her as quite peculiar. At the end of each month, many of the documents she had created—company policy memos, invoices, graphs and charts—were collected and put into a nondescript black duffle bag. Mr. H provided her with a hired car and specific instructions to take the duffle bag out to a location beyond the city limits. There, where the unforgiving desert is constantly encroaching on the merry city, out among shrubbery and rocks, is a pit, not a very deep pit, but a hole in the earth nonetheless. Here she was expected to toss the duffle bag and its contents in and return to the city.
On one occasion she tried to broach the topic of the pit with Mr. H, but he refused. Waving her away, he said, it’s better that we don’t, for both us, dear. After an unsettling smile that he affected for longer than she thought necessary while he tugged at his mustache hairs, he said, let’s keep that our secret.
She was raised on a on a healthy dose of crime and detective television, and she wasn’t so naïve to believe that companies and industries became successful by abiding the law. So she decided she would view the whole thing as an exciting peculiarity and not probe any further.
And so, as they say, Time paraded on. It wasn’t long before she met a man at the teahouse she came to frequent on Sunday afternoons. He was her age and also engaged in the making of money. He owned his own car. He told a good story and often laughed heartily with the girl. They held hands, gazed into each other’s eyes, spoke of dreams and fears. The girl’s uncle was very pleased with the prospect of their marriage. A most sensible and advantageous union, he remarked one evening.
Before the wedding, the man thought it a good idea that they ‘lift the veil on all their deep-held secrets.’ He reasoned that as one they surely couldn’t be two, and therefore one shouldn’t be harboring or concealing anything from the other. This was all of course cloaked in a harmless game to pass the time while whispering in the back of their favorite teahouse.
The girl readily agreed. She hadn’t much to hide. After all, women rarely find the need for secrets when not in the company of men, and he was the first man she had ever accompanied. Her one secret was that of the pit where Mr. H sent her every month.
The man was taken off guard by this unusual story. What do you mean, you just toss it in? he asked.
I just toss the bag into the pit.
And then leave?
And what happens to them?
I don’t know, she said with a nervous laugh. I never looked down into it after the first time. It’s usually after dusk when we arrive anyways, so I doubt I could see much even if I tried. And Mr. H never talks about it. In fact, he refuses to talk about it.
Well, this won’t do, the man’s face reddening.
What’s the big deal? They’re just company documents. I admit it’s a strange way to treat company records and probably a violation of an environmental code, but beyond that I don’t think I’m aiding him in a serious crime or anything.
The man wasn’t satisfied, so that night they drove out to the pit in his car. The sound of their car doors closing echoed across the barren landscape and then was immediately lost in the howling wind. A gale was blowing and they had to cover their faces to protect themselves from the whirling sand. As they walked towards the pit, their clothes clung tight to their bodies, a comical tightness that revealed in outline everything beneath. At the threshold of the pit the man shined a torch down in. It seemed even shallower than the first time the girl had seen it.
There’s nothing here.
Well, maybe someone does come and retrieve them.
Are you sure this is the place? The man was skeptical.
Hey, what about over there? The man became excited and shined his light onto a black object sticking out of the sand.
I don’t know what that is. I can’t see it. The girl looked around. Beyond the pit was a menacing darkness. Behind her she could just make out the faint lights of the city. I think we should go, she said.
I’m going to have a look first. Come on, the man said, holding his hand out for her.
The pit wasn’t difficult to climb into. Inside the wind bellowed all the louder, occasionally even producing melodious tones like an Aeolian harp. The sand was also less of an encumbrance at least visually, however, the floor of the pit was composed of deep sand that their shoes sank into. Like two beachcombers they trod across to the black object in question. It was the corner of one of the duffle bags. With some tugs and wrenching, the man exhumed it from its sandstorm burial. In the impression it left in the ground they could see the corner of another bag.
The girl was relieved, smiling even, that her story was proven true.
You see, she said, I knew this was the place.
How many should be here?
The girl looked up into the starless sky, counting the months in her mind. Maybe fourteen.
And they’ve all been buried by the sand?
I guess. I told you, I don’t know what happens here or why they belong here. I just do what is asked of me.
The man, glowering, repositioned the bag and his torchlight so that he could examine its contents. Inside were the documents the girl had spoken of. There was even one of her beautiful charts that had caused such a fuss one morning around her desk. She smiled when she saw it and said aloud to the man, I made this, you know.
But among the documents there were also photographs. Large black and white matted prints with white borders. The kind developed at a home studio. The first one he pulled out was of himself and the girl sitting at their favorite table in their favorite teahouse—the very same place they had been earlier that day. The two of them were captured in the midst of a genuine opened-mouth laugh. The others were of similar poses. A study of their idle Sundays.
The sight of his own image stunned the man. He looked to the girl. She was equally shocked.
What the hell is this? Who took these? He demanded.
I don’t know. I’ve never seen them. Her voice was reaching the hysterical octave reserved for defense. These weren’t in there. I didn’t put them in there. I don’t know anything about them.
The girl, who had been squatting beside the man, sank back into the sand, mumbling a string of denials to herself, trying to make sense of it.
The man was now quite beside himself. With the erratic movements that accompany anger and fear, he dug up a second bag. This one also contained photographs among the documents but of a much different nature.
The first one he pulled out was of the girl lying on a bed. She was clad in a uniform of some kind, nothing like the suits she wore to the office. This uniform was like the ones worn by fast-food vendors. A cap and matching skirt and blouse. More unsettling than the unfamiliar garments and bedroom setting, though, was the look on the girl’s face. She was looking directly into the camera with a coquettish smile the man had never seen before on her lips.
The two of them, there at the bottom of the pit below a starless sky and a crying wind, were speechless. The man had felt as though he had just mistakenly stepped off a bridge and was now seconds away from the impact of reality. The girl was too confused and indignant to even think, let alone try to defend herself.
This series of photographs, as the man flipped through them, depicted the girl as the seductive victim—a poor naïve and submissive girl being ravished by the eye of the camera. As each article was disrobed, she cried out behind a coy smile for clemency. The last photograph was of her covering her bare breasts with the bed sheet she had begun to wrap herself in. She still looked into the camera as she did in all the images. Her smile was gone, though, replaced by an erotic gesture, the tip of her tongue pushing ever slightly at her swollen upper lip.
The man tossed the photographs across the pit and shouted an unintelligible phrase. He groaned. When he stood, the girl followed. She felt dizzy by the shock and horror. She couldn’t explain any of it. It never happened, though there it was captured on film. All the evidence they needed. How could she possibly deny it and seem reasonable, sane? But couldn’t he have guessed that she would have never brought him here if she had any knowledge of it?
The man trudged up out the pit with the dejected nature of shattered youthful expectation. Up into the droning darkness and blowing sand. At the mouth of the pit he could just make out a pair of approaching headlights from the direction of city.