Cost Plus Ten Percent

Skiing—it’s in your blood. Or is it the other
way around?

The cut was deep and long. The heat of the slash cauterized the capillaries and they held their breath to bleed. In half a blink the box cutter slipped on the hidden staple below the thick folds of cardboard, caught my forearm, and carved a deep white trench into my soft summer-tanned flesh. The box cutter flew end over end through the air as I grasped my lacerated left arm by the elbow and held it aloft.

The pasty slash penetrated just below the inside of my wrist, arced deeply downward and toward the outside into the meat of my forearm, and then gradually carved back inward becoming shallower where the sharp blade finished its work. A slender half-moon trench. At is apex and at its deepest, I noticed that the outside edge of the cut was raised higher than the inside; a translucent flap hung over the side of the wound like a wave about to crash, or the cascading sluff from a steep, powerful powder turn.

The box cutter finished its descent and clanged on the concrete floor like a headache. The noise seemed to wake up the sleeping capillaries and they released their pent-up torrent of heat and pain. Thick red blood filled the deepest part of the trench, flowed past the unweighted point of the turn down to my elbow, and dripped off the edge. The entire cut, point-to-point, a perfect, painful portrait:

                                                            Silent:
                                                     As quiet as
                                               the grave.

                                            
                                         No screams or yells.
                                     Let the wind
                                 speak while
                               you descend.
                             Muted calm.
                           Graceful: No
                          awkward flails.


                        No panicked
                      reaching or
                    desperate grabs.
                   The calm of the
                 mouth echoed
                 in the body.
                 Prepared:
                 Limbs held
                 with no tension for
                  the bottom could be
                  six inches under.
                    Or seven miles down.


                      Be loose be ready for
                       anything. Peaceful:
                           You may die.
                               You may not.
                                   Accept this now,
                                         and be peaceful for
                                                 the sudden stop
                                                           at the end.

The thick maroon stream dripped off the precipice of my elbow like a leaky, rusty faucet. Tap. Tap. Ta-tap. Tap. It pooled into little puddles around my sandals. Some of the puddles joined and formed ponds. It splashed and spackled my exposed feet and toes with tiny red freckles. I turned to see where the box cutter landed and my rotation splattered the red paint around me in a half-circle. I turned back and swore I heard the faint chict-chict-chict of a lawn sprinkler on its return. It echoed off the dimly lit walls of the shop basement. It dripped onto the freshly unpacked skis.

I picked up the skis and gently slid them out of their protective plastic. I held them aloft and admired their girth. Tap. Tap. Ta-tap. Tap. They were fat. Obese even. Vertical laminate. Swallow-tail. They were the fattest skis I had ever seen and I instantly fell in love-lust. I caressed them. I flexed them. My blood smeared over their shiny newborn skin. I flexed them harder and harder until my blood splashed and flicked onto my face. Onto the walls. Onto the workbench. The shop manager, Andy, came barreling down the wooden steps and his jaw slammed to the floor.

 

Tap. Tap.
Ta-tap.
Tap.

 

I showed up at the shop with a hot, steaming cup of watery gas-station coffee in one hand, and a lesson waiting to be handed into the other. Andy looked up from behind the counter and smirked, “Only one cup?” His disgruntled tone implied that I was not to return his friendly good morning.

“The first rule of working here,” snarled Andy, “is that if you stop at the Chevron across the street, you bring coffee for everyone else as well.” And here I thought the first rule of working in a shop was to take a vow of silence about shop-form perks. Clearly, class was in session.

“See that wall over there?” he said, pointing to the back wall of the shop into which evenly spaced wooden pegs were driven about four feet above the floor in regular sequence.

“Which wall?” I snottily answered. The spindrift steam from my oily coffee drifted between us, and caressed the exposed rafters above the loft.

He threw a shiny box cutter into my free hand. “Go on downstairs, start unpacking the new skis, bring them up here, and then arrange them on the wall. This needs to be finished today.”

Greetings and pleasantries aside, I was happy. What better way to start a job, and the season, than being the first to ogle and fondle freshly minted sticks? I slurped a sip of gassy java as I walked past the manager and snagged a copy of the latest Powder from the magazine rack at the end of the counter. I paused at the top of the stairs, then looked over and made eye contact with him. “Good morning!” I sarcastically beamed as I slurped again (he frowned jealously when he saw my cup) and stamped down the wooden steps. A coffee contrail of whispery white steam flowed over my shoulders as I descended down deep.

 

Tap. Tap.
Ta-tap.
Tap.

 

What in the hell happened here?!” Andy demanded as he surveyed the bloody scene. I continued to stare at the fatties.

“What did you do to those skis?!” I must have looked bloody well like Carrie on prom night.

“It looks like you murdered something down here! A bloody massacre! How the HELL are you going to clean up this mess?” Was someone whispering in the distance?

“You don’t have anything to say for yourself?!”

The blood from my wound smeared over the shiny newborn topsheets. It seeped into the microscopic spaces where the edges joined the sidewalls. It saturated the cores. It bound with the resins.

“Nothing at all?!”

 

Tap. Tap.
Ta-tap.
Tap.

 

My forehead found the low-hanging light bulb suspended at the bottom of the stairs. I reached up, found the chain and pulled. It swung softly and gave light and motion to the shadows of the basement. I set the coffee-like grog and the magazine on a workbench and surveyed the scene: a windowless, dank catacomb of a room with a long ski workbench along the near wall, an ancient hulking Winterstieger stuffed into a dusty corner, and a cobweb-filled rental ski rack that stretched and disappeared into the darkness. At my feet were piles and piles and stacks and stacks of thin, elongated, coffin-looking cardboard boxes.

I studied them. It looked as though someone had arranged them by ski type. Kids’ skis on looker’s right, then beginner, then up into the mid-fats and racing skis, and then finally the fatties. I figured I had best get started. I rolled up my sleeves, unsheathed the box cutter blade, and got to work.

The kids’ skis went first and fast. I quickly sliced through each layer of corrugated cardboard and found myself buried ankle deep in disgorged skis and packing waste. An hour or so later I was ready for the mid-fats, racing skis, and powder boards, working right to left.

Wait, the powder boards. No, they deserved to be opened next. I stomped and waded through discarded cardboard and plastic wrap while muttering to myself Powder boards, powder boards, powderrrr, powderrrr, powderpowder…

POW! CLANG!

My forehead whacked the hanging bulb and the box cutter rocketed out of my hand and bounced on the concrete floor. The bulb swung back and forth again, and as it did it cast new light into the nooks and crannies of the room. My eye caught a lone box standing upright in a darkened corner.

I ambled with the shadows into the corner and eyed it suspiciously. It was longer and slightly wider than the others. I picked it up. It was heavier by a few pounds at least. Somebody had set this box aside for a reason. I dragged it to the middle of the room beneath the light bulb and there, within the pyramidal yellow glow of the oscillating bulb and among the scattered remains of destroyed ski packaging, I bent over, driven by curiosity. Should I open it, or leave it be? I picked up the box cutter…

 

Tap. Tap.
Ta-tap.
Tap.

 

It was the one word that could bring me back. Suddenly my arm was searing with pain. “What do you mean, fired?” I cried. “You can’t fire me now. Look at my arm for chrissakes, I’m bleeding to death over here!”

“Well, look at those skis! Do you even know what those are? Do you even know who those are for?” Should have known. Somebody’s special order. Someone important no doubt, or at least with big pockets. “We can’t deliver them now!” Andy looked terrified.

The skis were a pair of blood-caked medieval cavalry jousts left over from the Braveheart battlefield. Sweat dripped down my spine. A creek of blood flowed down my arm. My eyes traced figure eights on the floor.

I looked up at the skis, my skis. Clutching them to my blood-spattered chest, I offered sheepishly, “Cost plus ten percent, right?”

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