4768, or, The ThingybyCockatoo©
“It went –zzzzip- when it moved and POP when it stopped and =Whirrrrrrrrrr= when it stood still; I never knew just what it was and I guess I never will.”
-from “The Marvelous Toy,” by Tom Paxton
I found it in a shoebox with a few of Grandpa's old things; his dog tags from the army, a broken wristwatch without a band, some faded picture postcards, a lapel pin from some kind of fraternity or honor society, a few scraps of paper, and half of an old Captain Mid-Nite secret decoder ring. All that other stuff was just the sort of junk that you'd expect to find in a dusty box of memorabilia, but I’d never seen anything like this. It’s made of brass, nickel, and that heavy black plastic stuff they use for bowling balls or those indestructible old telephones. It's about seven inches long, it's got all these little cogs, rods, levers, and keys sticking out of it at every angle. Its body is kind of tube-shaped, but bulging and curved at one end, kind of like a handle. It's not a handle, though, because there's a wheel set into it right where the heel of your hand would go. The wheel turns with seven clicks, but there are no markings on it. In fact, there are no markings anywhere on the whole thing, except one tiny corner that's stamped with the number "4768," which isn’t exactly helpful.
I don't know what possessed me to put it in the pocket of my windbreaker. With Grandpa gone, Grandma was moving out of the old house and had begun the huge task of getting rid of a lifetime of clutter that had accumulated in every corner. I'd already taken a few bits of furniture and tools, my sister got a nearly complete set of good china, and I was helping my brother move an old steamer trunk out of a spare room when I found that shoebox. I'm sure it was one of a dozen such boxes of old love letters, costume jewelry, bank statements, and out-of-date address books in that room alone. Why did I pick up that particular shoebox and take out this particular… Thingy?
Well, that part took me forever to understand, but my first hint about what it’s really for happened right away: I was out at this cool little place having dinner with my brother and sister after we'd hauled the furniture- pizza and beer, the traditional mover's reward. Then we walked in, we went past a table of three or four women and I felt the thing JUMP. I reached into the pocket and felt it humming excitedly. As we sat at our booth, it calmed down a little, but was still going, and every once in a while, it seemed to twitch in the direction of the women we'd passed. I wanted to take it out and examine it, but I didn’t want to make Mike and Julia suspicious. I ate and drank and laughed with them, but I’d grasp at it every once in a while; partially to try to figure out what it was doing, but mostly because it was an awkward, heavy, oddly-shaped chunk of metal moving around of its own volition right there on top of my groin.
I figured that the Thingy must “do” whatever it’s “for,” so I started carrying it around with me to see what it would do. I found a little camera bag that more or less contained it, and I took it too the park one afternoon to see if it would wake up. I held it behind a magazine in my lap, and I spent an hour and a half watching people walk around while nothing happened. Men, women, children, dogs, alone or in groups, the response from the Thingy was just plain zilch. I twiddled the cogs, pushed and pulled the rods, clicked the big wheel around, and squeezed and pressed the bits that looked like they could be squeezed and pressed. Nothing. More nothing. After a whole bunch of nothing, I found myself actually reading the magazine. Then, all at once, the Thingy started chattering away like a teletype. I looked up and didn’t see anybody until a fat lady in shorts strolled past from behind me. I grabbed the Thingy and tried to see what it was up to, but playing with it didn’t seem to do anything. It calmed down as the lady walked away, and she scratched her ass just before she turned the corner of a brick building and was out of sight.
It didn’t take long to determine that the Thingy goes off only around women. Not all women, not by a long shot. It only went off once in a while, and it never seemed to do its thing the same way twice. That’s all I knew for sure. I ended up learning the most from carrying it on my bus route downtown. There were these two women that rode the same line that I did who set the Thingy off pretty regularly. Some days the Thingy did nothing around either or both of them, some days it would go off harder or softer or a little differently, but I eventually saw that for one of the girls, it would slide its rods back and forth, clicking a little bit, and for the other, it would ring like a muffled bicycle bell. I nearly dropped it the first time that happened. I didn’t know it had a bell in there.
One day on the trip home, the bus was fairly empty, with maybe seven or eight of us on board, including the bell lady. She sat in the row across the aisle from me, and the bell was going off louder than usual.
“Excuse me… sir?”
Jesus, she was talking to me. The Thingy was ringing pretty insistently, too.
“I’m sorry, I realize I don’t know you… I’ve seen you on this bus for a few weeks now, and I was wondering… can I ask you a question?”
“Sure. As many as you want.”
“Why is it that you never answer your cell phone? I mean, if you don’t want to answer it, why don’t you just turn it off and save its charge?”
“Ah. Well, it’s not a cell phone. And, I’m afraid I don’t know how to turn it off.”
“It’s not a …” a look of concern dropped over her face as I pulled it out. She had a pretty face, beautifully decorated with a look of puzzlement. She finally managed to ask “Then, uh, what is it?”
“It’s a…” I almost told her what I thought it was, but I realized that saying it out loud would be like showing off a ‘bikini inspector’ tee shirt or a ‘free moustache rides’ button. God help me, I just started talking to her. I was as surprised as she was when it turned out to be mostly true!
“…I don’t really know what it is. It was my Grandfather’s. I’ve been carrying it around, trying to figure it out.” I held it out to her and it started ringing frantically. “I think it likes you,” I added, trying to be helpful.
“God…” she muttered, looking it over. At her touch, it went totally apeshit, going off like a fire alarm. “What’s it do?”
“It rings. When you’re around, anyway.”
“It doesn’t ring when I’m not around?”
“Most of the time it doesn’t do anything. For different people, it does different things. It rings for you.”
“So, what does it do for you?”
“Uhm. It tells me when you’re around?”
She blushed and looked down. She handed the Thingy back to me. It stopped ringing so much and just kind of dinged its bell every second or so, like a pulse monitor hooked up to an excited person.
“What do you mean?”
“Does it just… do things like ringing… for people you know?”
“Well, no. I don’t know you, do I?”
“I’m Jacob.” I extended my hand.
“Cynthia.” She shook it. Score one for the home team. “I meant, what kind of people does it ring for?”
“Just women? Never men?”
“That’s right.” It was my turn to blush.
“This is some kind of joke, right?”
I put the Thingy down on the seat next to her, holding it with two fingers so she could see I wasn’t doing anything to it. “Pick it up and fiddle with it. If you can figure out how to make it stop ringing, tell me. I swear to god I don’t know how it works.” She picked it up and its ring started to sound like a fifty-pound cat purring into a megaphone.
“I mean, this has got to be some kind of a pickup line, you know? You set this thing to ring whenever I get on the bus, thinking that I’ll eventually be curious enough to ask about it and you can start talking and pour on the charm.” She’s twisted and pushed everything on it, and started smacking it on the side with the heel of her hand, like it was a jukebox that ate her quarter.
“You know, I don’t think I could come up with a weirder or less-likely-to-work pickup strategy than that. What kind of nerd would even think of such a stunt, let alone try to pull it off? Besides, I could never have made that thing. I’m no good with tools. It’s all I can do to change a light bulb.”
“Hnmph. Well, your scheme is working, isn’t it?”
“You’ve got me talking to you, don’t you?”
“I guess so.”
“So you admit it’s a scheme?”
She snorted, smiled, and went back to playing with my Thingy. It seemed to love the attention. She frowned in concentration and twisted it around in her hands, spinning the cogs and pushing on all the rods and levers. We ride the rest of the trip in silence.
“This is my stop,” she said, still twiddling the Thingy. She turned and walked towards the door- I couldn’t believe she was just taking it away from me like that! I wanted to say something, but the sheer audacity of it left me speechless. Was she just going to smash it or throw it away because she thought it was a stupid prop? I just sat there with my jaw slack.
“Aren’t you coming?” She said, at the door of the bus.
I scrambled my stuff together and somehow made it off the bus behind her. The bus driver glared at me, pissed off that I brought the annoying ringing thing and glad to see it leaving with us. We started walking and I was stuck for something to say, anything…
“So, you live here?”
“My apartment is down the block.”
Awkward silence. Her building was a brick four-story walkup with balconies full of lawn furniture, potted plants and wind chimes overlooking the street. Cute. In the lobby, she opened one of the brass letterboxes set into the wall and handed me several catalogues and envelopes wrapped together in a rubber band. We climbed two flights of stairs, and I saw the walls of the staircase were scuffed and gouged from where people had trouble moving their sofas and dressers in and out of the building. My breath was coming in short puffs and I could feel the blood in my ears… not from climbing the stairs. This nice lady was taking me back to her apartment. Christ, wouldn’t that get YOUR motor running? Her keys jingled and the door opened. We went in and I dropped her mail next to the big pile that was already there, next to her keys on the waist-high table by the door. I looked around and tried to think of a complement. Nice place? Sure… but hell, I might as well have asked if she comes her often. God, am I really that much of a cheeseball?
“I don’t do this.” She’s turned to face me. “I mean, I don’t.”
“Don’t do what?” Okay, I’m not that stupid, I just didn’t want to seem presumptuous.
“I don’t… I’ve never taken a strange man home with me for sex.”
There. She said it. She said it out loud.
“It’s okay.” I took a step closer. “We don’t have to do anything. I’ll leave right now if you don’t want me here.”
“No, stay. I started this. I think I did.” She turned slightly away, I don’t think she wanted to look me in the eye. “Just tell me something, okay?”
“How do you turn the fucking ringer off? I can’t figure it out. I’ve worked every button, switch, lever and wheel on that thing, even some that didn’t look like they were there. I like puzzles, you know? I had a Rubick’s Cube when I was a kid, and I’ve been into all kinds of things like that ever since. Look, over here…” she guided me over to a shelf on a bookcase against the wall- it was full of puzzles made from metal, plastic, and carved wood. Some were magnetic, some were twisty, some were jagged like crystal formations. Most of them looked really hard, and they all looked well-used; I could easily imagine her supple fingers kneading the challenging shapes through their patterns. “I found five or six secret switches on this damn thing of yours, one of which was only accessible once you’d opened another secret part, and none of them do anything. I can’t even figure out how it’s put together. There are empty spaces where there can’t be, parts that there’s no room for, none of the usual geometric rules make sense. But this is what really gets me…” She was shaking the Thingy in front of my face- “THERE’S NO BELL IN HERE! No bell, no clapper, no spring, no battery, no wires! Nothing! Do you understand?” Her voice was trembling, so were her hands, here eyes bloomed open like daises. “As far as I can tell, there is no possible way this thing can be ringing AT ALL. But it won’t stop! Either you’re the most brilliant designer in the history of the goddamn universe, or… or… I can’t even say it!”
I took hold of her shoulders and forced her to look me in the eyes.
“I’m not a designer. I’ve never designed anything in my life. I’m a payroll specialist.”
“What does it mean, Cynthia?”
Her face was glazed with terror and her voice was very small.
“You’re for real. This is a, a, a… it’s a magic pussy detector.”
After that, we just looked at each other for a while. I guess I was shocked that she’d said “pussy.” She didn’t seem bothered by that part at all. She was too creeped out by the “magic” part.
“So…” I said, just for the sake of saying something.
“Yeah,” she said back.
“Well, I’m glad to learn I’m not crazy.”
“Ah, hell, you might be crazy, I don’t know, but at least you’re not wrong. Not about this…” she said, putting it down on the coffee table as though she was suddenly afraid it would bite. Then, she was somehow in my arms, and I was in hers. We both needed to be that way. Christ, she was still shaking.
“Then I’m not wrong. Not if you say so.”
“Where’d you find it?”
“Grandma’s house. Cleaning it out, you know?”
“Yeah. Was your Grandfather a… ladies’ man?”
“Now that you mention it, yes. Before Grandma, I hear he was incorrigible. I guess this was his secret weapon.”
We stared down at it for a minute, while it sat there and rang, as if telling us to get on with it. Hey… it’s been quiet around her before, some days on the bus...
“I’ve got an idea. I think I know how to make it stop ringing.”
“Say ‘No.’ Decide not to sleep with me. If you’re not it the mood, it should stop responding to you, right? I mean, if we’re right.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I think that should work.”
She let go of me and looked at it. “No,” she said, talking to it, not me, “I’m not going to sleep with him. You hear me? You’re sounding a false alarm, you don’t want to do that, do you? Nobody’s getting lucky tonight. So, shut up, okay, just shut up.”
It kept ringing, patiently. She might as well have tried to talk the rain into falling back up where it came from.
“Why didn’t that work, Cynthia?”
She buried her face in her hands.
“Because I didn’t mean it.”
“Yeah. I decided to talk to you today, and I halfway hoped it might lead to more.”
“Wow. But… it’s been ringing at you, on and off, for weeks.”
“I guess I decided you were do-able in the first five minutes I’d seen you. You know, I… I checked you out. Just the way you check everybody out. You file ‘em under either ‘yeah, I’d like that one’ or ‘no way in hell’ pretty much right away. I never thought anything would come of it. I wasn’t going to approach you or ask you out or anything, and I didn’t think you would, either. You just struck me as a cute stranger.”
“What did you think of me?”
“What did you think of me, when you checked me out the first time? Forget about what that impossible device of yours says, and never mind the fact that I’m about two minutes away from fucking you. What was your honest first impression?”
“I thought you were really pretty. I put you into the ‘I’d do her’ category, but it’s not like I was thunderstruck. I have to admit my interest was piqued by the Thingy. If you want the truth, I should probably tell you that there’s almost nothing more attractive to a man than knowing a woman wants him. The idea that you might have been checking me out made me look twice.”
“I guess that’s fair.”
“That killer set of legs you’ve got didn’t hurt, either.”
“Hummmf. Flattery won’t get you anywhere you aren’t going already, Jacob.”
“Just trying to be friendly.”
“Thanks. I do appreciate it. Wanna know a secret?”
“Sure. You’re the only other person who knows about Grandpa’s secret weapon there, so I think I can handle one of your secrets, sure. It might make us even.”
“I doubt it. Y’see, it’s just that I’m really, really good in bed. You’d never have thought so to look at me, right? It’s not like I’m trying to brag, but I’m a hard worker and a quick study, I take pride in what I do, and I can screw any guy ‘till his eyes bug out. C’mon, let me show you.” She took me by the hand, leading me into her bedroom, away from the Thingy on her coffee table, which was ringing in unmistakable triumph.
She began by spinning around, slamming the door shut behind us by shoving me backwards into it, and tearing my shirt open. Not pulling it off or undoing the buttons, she got a firm grip on either side of my collar and YANKED. Buttons flew off in every direction, the cloth was shredded, and her teeth were raking across my nipples. I don’t know if it was the shock of it or the pure, raw sensation of her mouth, but I was instantly, uncomfortably erect. I felt like I’d done a bellyflop into an ice-cold swimming pool full of horny nerve jangles. Some kind of groan came out of my mouth as I threw my head back against the door. She was chewing on my ribs, painting cool little trails of drool with her lips and tongue, leaving bite marks with her teeth. I put my hands against the sides of her head, to try to guide her and calm her down, but she reached up and pinned my wrists against the door behind me.
“No, you son of a bitch, I’m gonna eat you up.”
“Oooooo… I won’t stop you!”
She let go of my hands (and I kept them where they were) so she could undo my pants. They were harder to rip apart, she didn’t try, but she made it clear how desperate she was to get hold of my dick by clawing open my buckle and clasp, then jerking the zipper open by grabbing either side of the waistband and yanking out and down like she was peeling a banana. Christ almighty. My stiffy was trapped, squeezed tight against my left thigh by the taut fabric of my pants. I thought she’d have trouble getting me out, but she pulled it all down at once, the whole deal, pants, boxers, and all, and I sprang forward like a diving board. I didn’t even mind that I couldn’t walk because my pants and undies were in a thick bunch around my knees… which needed the support. They might have collapsed out from under me, since she immediately played bobbing-for-penishead without using her hands. It thwapped against her cheeks once or twice before she pinned my boner up against my belly the same way she had me pinned up against the door. Her tongue was lapping me all the way from the root to the tip, she was slobbering so much it was running down my thighs. Goddamn, I love it when a chick knows that sloppier is better for blowjobs!
The whole thing was a slippery mess, she didn’t waste time looking up at me, she just gnoshed away at the underside, rasping me with her tongue and leaving tight sucker-mark kisses with her lips, using the pressure against my stomach for leverage. And OH SHIT she curled her incisors over my tip and she dived down the length, she could take the whole thing all the way down, I could feel her jamming my head against the soft tissues in the roof of her mouth and the back of her throat. On the way out, she dragged along my length slowly, firmly, the harsh pinch of her teeth soothed by the smooth wet comfort of her lips. Down again, drag out, down again, drag out, oh she was gonna suck the skin right off of it, picking up a dizzying pace that had to hurt her as much as it hurt me, the way she was thrusting her own head right down onto it like that!