Cages and Oceans

Francis Zurba ate last night’s dinner in cold silence. The clouds reflected pink into the kitchen. He examined each bite with the studious attention of a house cat surveying a lawn for the next meal, but unlike the cat Francis had no expectation of a change in the scene. For as long as Francis could remember, the morning had been exactly the same.

The sunrise’s glow illuminated both the Howe’s Corn Chow, still in the can, and the nearly empty pill bottle. Francis put the last two pills in his mouth and swallowed them with a small fork-full of Chow. The pills and ground yellow mash completely absorbed the quiet man’s thoughts, until his wristwatch instructed him to stand up.


Mary Beth Housmun (MB to friends, M to co-workers) had a problem with the numbers. Her team was not hitting their targets. Zurba in particular was lagging behind, despite the exactness of her instructions and the depth of his absorption in the task at hand. When the cost of raw materials in the entertainment business goes up, production components must become more efficient.

M paused Francis’ fMRI station and spoke over the loudspeaker, rather than gently nudging her errant charge over the wrist. “Zurba, take two more pills. Your feelings aren’t coming through strong enough today.”

Unhesitatingly and without water, Francis complied and M resumed the scene test.


“Remind me why I agreed to do this.” The priest was putting the book back on its shelf in his office, while James Montave sat with his leg crossed perpendicular to the other.

The older man considered the faithful man briefly before slowly shaking his head. “Nothing has changed since we last spoke, Father. The flock will follow wherever you lead.”

“Yes, I believe they will.” A slight frown. Resignation.

“Good, then. I’ll see you Sunday evening.”


Whenever M had to go see Montvale, her urge to smoke would rear up. There was no longer any way to gratify this urge (obviously, how could she handle such a vice?).


Zurba noticed everything on his walk home. The birds and trees would have absorbed him for hours if not for the watch’s vibrations and instructions.


James considered the options carefully. His stomach was acid; the strain was getting to him. Deep concentration on the future had its consequences in the present.


The crowd at the train station was seething, in part. An outsider would have seen angry, confused, focused, and calm on the faces of the passengers jostling to board, but none of these temporary citizens of the station were outsiders. Serene faces fought equally fiercely with bared teeth.


Finally home, Mary Beth took off her blazer and thought about her situation, glancing at the false book jacket around her copy of William H. Whyte’s The Organization Man.

Middle management is as awful as he suggested. And James looks like he’s going to drop dead at any moment. Maybe Zurba has it right.

Her eyes moved to another book whose presence would disgust the elites she was striving to join.


Zurba was back in church, sitting in his regular seat. Even with the recent re-model it was standing room only, but Francis always arrived early.


2021’s December was as cold as usual, but the nights were much eerier. Minneapolis did not typically have this much fog. Obscure figures moved through the square. A wrist lit up, its person glancing down before changing direction with purpose. The newly directed figure nearly knocked over two other walkers. The younger of the two kept moving, carefully checking her wrist and adjusting her direction slightly. The older man was visibly frustrated with the disruption, angrily stooping to pick up a dislodged cuff link. His grimace was visible as he re-oriented the letters J.M. on his wrist and adjusted his jacket.


“Economics is the study and business is the practice of applied philosop…”

The bar’s television was turned off. Mary Beth looked up at the ceiling and finished her scotch. Buttoning her coat and adjusting her scarf, she went outside.


James was in the fMRI room for the first time in years, with a more than characteristic furrow on his face. He reminded himself, M doesn’t call me in here unless it’s real.

Zurba’s lobes were on the screen.


“If I hear one more management consultant tell me all about the framework that’s going to change everything, I’m joining the nearest post-time congregation.” Mary Beth didn’t have to mince words with the bartender, and didn’t need to consider the political consequences of her sentences. She knew she should be more coy; she had forgotten his name the same hour she heard it the first time and was a little too proud to ask.

His perfunctory interest had a level of habitual consistency that by now eliminated the possibility or expectation of any authentic reactions to his most regular drinkers.


The Corn Chow didn’t arrive today. It was already 3 days late, but Francis wasn’t concerned. He was hungry. As 7:08am, the mantra of the present redirected his thoughts to his mind and his stomach was archived beyond view.


The visual display of data and information regularly brought the priesthood and the managers together. Both groups knew something fundamental about control. Power is the ability to enforce an outcome and then to know with certainty that the outcome occurred. It is common knowledge that a will’s enactment is synonymous with power. Certain knowledge of the enactment’s completion, however, is a crucially misunderstood element of power. Barriers to certainty are many. Lies, unconscious lies, and failed translation are cracks in power’s foundation.


The Christian innovation was the elimination of the right bracket of time in an individual sense. Heaven’s availability and universal absolution created a narrative trap door in the greatest of human nightmares: time.

Science had other plans, however. Practitioners revel in the dismantling of inconsistent explanations justifying human arrogance. While the heaven-bound resisted proof of the negative for hundreds of years, sometimes oblique accidents can initiate final victory over self-importance.

Death’s proven totality shattered the afterlife’s temporal anti-depressant. What could faith do when the infinite offered the faithful had definitively end?

Resilient systems awaken innovation during times of crisis. The temple of the infinite moment was hastily constructed out of the ashes of a now-obsolete human infinity. Time’s guilty bad dream re-doubled its grip on the waking lives of believers and non-believers alike.


Moments are a subjective experience of time, making them ripe for narrative manipulation by the powerful. The planting, tending, and harvesting of beliefs builds pyramids and gilds palaces. Unbroken narratives enable belief continuity: many have been sacrificed or sacrificed themselves to keep a belief alive.

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