There once was a boy named Finito who lived in the grayest and coldest of cities. He lived in a palace of walls built from cardboard and wooden boxes. Each room had four sides and each side had another box until there were four boxes, one on top of the other. He hadn’t always lived in the boxes, he used to live out on the street with the rats, but he hated the rats.
They were mean, nasty, ferrol creatures with yellow teeth and smelly fur. They stole to live and grew tough to survive, rats were no good to talk to. They stayed in packs which were more like swarms of furry diseases all piled together in dingy places underground. When it rained or at night when no one could see them, they would dash out into the street to loot what they could out of life only to bring it back to the hideaway which they lived in.
Finito liked mice. They were quiet, minded their own business, and generally didn’t cause any problems. People gave them a bad rep, but he knew they were alright. The mice buried themselves into simple living. Cracks in buildings, closet space in some unfortunate woman’s kitchen, and inside ventilation systems. Mice were crafty and could always stay dry, this is what first allured Finito to live with the mice. They led him to the cardboard boxes in back of a supply store and he saw the sign immediately. Vacancy.
The living wasn’t nice, but it wasn’t bad. He liked the sturdiness of the boxes, somehow the four walls with their straight lines and their definite corners comforted him. Four equal squares. One line connected to the other and then to the other and then to the other. A square of boundaries so one could not easily waft away. Eventually he replaced the cardboard with wood and would stay inside the squares for most of the day. It was safe in there and if he wasn’t seen, he could block out the noise from the city.
One day, Finito was outside of his box collecting food when a man of circular proportion strolled up to him. Everything about this man was round. His belly was as fat as the moon, his eyes bulged with two, round, circles underneath, his hair was in round, thick, tufts that rolled off his circular face. He had a giant half-circle grin which gleamed and stayed from ear to ear as he talked.
“Have we met before?” His eyebrows jumped off his face.
“Uh…” Finito’s body was young and angular. His spine stuck out of his back like an awkward clothes hanger and his legs and arms were bony and pointed. “No, I don’t think so.”
The man wore a bright pink polo shirt with an alligator print sewed on the front. His shoes were expensive leather and stuck inside his grin was a fat, round, cigar that he puffed frequently.
“You look tired,” he observed.
Finito looked around, not knowing what to say. Conversation wasn’t his strong point.
“You poor thing,” the man said, sticking his head down against the boys, forcing him to see his eyes. The intrusive staring made Finito’s face burn against the cold and he squirmed, wanting to be left alone. “I’ll call you Alfred.”
“Excuse me?” Finito looked up at the man.
“Alfred’s my name too,” the man put his arm around Finito and led him down a different street. “I grew up a few streets from here myself, but I didn’t stay here. Oh no- the world had different plans for me and I think the world has different plans for you too.”
“What sort of plans?”
“The kind of plans that one takes to be wonderful. I live in a big house and have plenty of income, you can stay with me while we find you a nice job so you don’t have to stay out here in the street.”
“I don’t actually stay on the street…”
But Alfred wasn’t listening, he was directing the boy to his giant house several streets down. The house was one large circle. At first, Finito couldn’t believe such a thing was possible, the insulation would have to be terrible and the supports must not have been as good. Alfred opened the door to the house and instantly they were entrapped in a maze of small hallways that led off into different semi circular rooms.
Finito didn’t say anything, he felt oddly uncomfortable in this house. Alfred thrust himself into a large lounge chair and sighed loudly. “Gosh, I’m so tired, I’ve been working very hard today.”
Finito didn’t know what this man did, but clearly it must have been greatly important if he was able to afford such an odd yet distinguished home. “I can’t possibly make dinner tonight, yet I have all the ingredients in the kitchen.”
Finito stared at the man, the man stared back. “Would you like me to make you dinner?” Finito finally asked.
“Oh yes! What a wonderful offer! You may have some too,” the man smiled proudly as he leaned further back into the chair.
Finito found the kitchen finally after bumping into several identical rooms with fancy furniture. The kitchen was bland, no art and no color and looked like it had hardly been touched. The closet however, was stacked to the gills with every kind of food imaginable. Finito could feel a strange pressure building inside his chest up to his throat and then branching into his smile. He was going to cook everything he could possibly imagine.
Dumpling soup. Organic salads. Spiced Chicken. A cake for desert. This was going to be a feast of all feasts.
The fat man appeared in the doorway after an hour to ask why it was taking so long. His sour expression quickly changed when he saw all the food prepared at the table. “Aha! You have found my food!”
At first, Finito thought the man would be angry at his extravagant use of his food. He averted his eyes from the ever pressing eyes of the man at the other end of the kitchen. The man touched the solid jaw line of Finito’s face and stared at him again until the warmth curled back into Finito’s face.
“You poor boy, this is wonderful.”
Finito moved away quickly and started to eat part of the chicken. “No, no, we must eat in the dining room.” The man ushered him away from the kitchen.
So it went, every morning the fat man would get up and dress in flamboyant colors and go off to work. Finito did not know how to get a job or why he was there, but he stayed in the round house day after day. As the week wore on, the cooking became his responsibility. On Friday nights several other fat men with round faces and cigars would sit in one of the rooms and roar with laughter and drinks.
Alfred would call for Finito to come in and serve drinks. Finito did obediently.
“Alfred! This is my son Alfred!” The man would say to the other fat people. Finito did not know why he would say this, but he never objected and soon it was as if he were his son. The other men would laugh uproariously at the jokes Alfred made and they would all compliment Finito heavily on his manners or dress.
The next week, Alfred bought Finito several pairs of expensive clothing to wear for these dinner occasions. The next Friday he would be seen as the miniature Alfred.
This went on for months until one day Finito did not want to pretend to be Alfred’s son any longer. “Alfred, how do I get a job?”
Alfred looked startled and hurt. He peered affectionately into Finito’s eyes again and the hot flash of shame brushed through Finito’s skin again. “You don’t like it here?”
“I want to get a job now. I don’t like staying here all day just to cook and entertain people you know.”
“You won’t be able to get a job. I didn’t want to tell you earlier because it’s just so sad- but you will never find work. You just aren’t smart enough to make it out there on your own. I figured if you could never have what I have, I could at least provide it for you.” Alfred’s large smile was still plastered on his face, but his eyes looked sympathetic and yet burning.
During the night, Finito left the round house to make his own future. He hated the fat man and his fancy clothing and his fake care. Finito crept out of the kitchen window and hurried outside. He would find some place better and make sure Alfred knew about it.
So a few days later he applied for several jobs. He learned to laugh like the friends of Alfred and joke the way Alfred did. He wore his expensive clothes and smiled brightly even if he felt scared or even angry. He pleased people and complimented people and would do whatever he could to get people to like him. And they did! Much to Finito’s surprise and delight, he was offered a job in a hotel made of solid gold located right in the center of the city. He was to be the assistant to the manager. The manager of the hotel was another round man who was impressed with Finito’s modesty, innocence, and charm.
The manager would invite Finito to drink with him at night. They would sit at the top of the hotel and look out over the city while they sipped at their cocktails.
“Look how beautiful this place is.” The manager swept his hand over the city, it was all his.
“Yes.” Finito covered his mouth with the glass.
The next day, Alfred checked into the hotel for a meeting on the top floor. Finito stood in the doorway and smiled proudly.
Alfred did not recognize him so Finito didn’t say anything. His anger fumed inside his chest and while they rode the elevator to the top, Finito cursed him over and over again in his mind. Damn bubble. Filled with air. Doesn’t remember a thing.
By the end of the day, Finito longed to tell someone. The manager had dismissed him and was bored with conversation that wasn’t about him or the hotel. When Finito tried to tell him about Alfred, the manager only glazed over as if turning into a zombie. Finito quit that night and decided to go back to the boxes.
Lines and squares weren’t forgiving, they were statutes. He thought of the mice, at least they wouldn’t say anything.
A month later when Finito was feeling more solid, he realized it wasn’t a problem to go out and mingle around with people in the city. It was easier to find food while living quietly and comfortably in his square life. On one of his walks around the city, he bumped into Alfred standing at a nearby street. Finito watched with detached amusement.
“Do I know you?” The fat man walked up to Finito and squinted at him with sympathetic eyes.
Finito frowned instantly and waved his arms in front of him as if to dismiss this image from his very sight.
“No- I am Finito!”