Murray Steele had a tendency to lose himself while washing dishes. He usually stared out the window, his hands moving thoughtlessly through the soapy water across the remnants of prior meals. The plain white walls of his modest abode faded into a milky backdrop for his flights of fancy. As such, he found the act of dish washing to be more relaxing than most people he knew.
From his vantage point, he had visual access to several yards across the neighborhood. He often tracked rodents or birds frolicking across the fences and patchy grass within view. From the corner of the window he could even see his hover. On most days, he paid little attention to the vehicle as it sat still on its pad. On this day, however, he noticed a small, rather plump person striking the lights of the hover with a hammer that appeared too large in his hand.
The ferocity of each strike eventually awoke Murray from his slumber. He reached for a towel and dried his hands as he made his way to the door. Outside, the sound of the hammer striking his hover spurred him on more rapidly. When he finally reached the landing pad, he found the little person sweating profusely and swearing under his breath.
“They make these things too difficult to break,” said the hover assailant at the sight of Murray.
“Do they?” Murray responded.
“I may need a larger hammer,” said the little man, pausing to catch his breath, “Do you have another hammer?”
The sight of the current hammer in his small hands struck Murray as modestly humorous. “Isn’t that hammer already too big?” he asked.
The little man screwed up his face looking at the hammer, then back at Murray. “But it won’t do the job,” he said, a hint of indignation in his manner.
“You know that hover is under my care,” Murray asked.
“I know someone maintains it, I suppose,” answered the little man, resuming his assault.
“But not you,” Murray responded, his voice rising above the sound of glancing blows.
The little man dropped his hammer and searched Murray’s face. “No, not me. Why would I destroy a vehicle under my own care?” he asked in disbelief.
Murray thought for a moment, the dishtowel still tangled in his hands. He didn’t recall ever seeing this man before, nor did he understand why anyone would be abusing this hover. He thoughtlessly draped the dishtowel over one shoulder searching for a response.
“I wouldn’t,” the man snarled, “that’s the answer.”
“I didn’t think you would,” answered Murray, “But why are you striking this vehicle?”
The man finally understood; Murray didn’t know who he was. He laughed at his own foolishness, reaching into his pocket to retrieve identification. He opened his wallet to reveal a photo of himself on a card with the words “Department of Economic Stimulus” boldly displayed. Murray had to squint to discover that this card belonged to Edward Oz, a decidedly unflattering name for a person of his stature. The photograph was of a much younger, thinner version of Mr. Oz.
“I see,” Murray said, after closely inspecting the card, “You work for the government.”
“Doesn’t everybody?” Edward asked.
“I suppose so,” responded Murray, “But I’m still not clear on your intentions.”
Edward pressed his small fingers along the bottom of the words “Economic Stimulus” and looked back up at Murray, searching his eyes. “You can read, can’t you,” he asked.
“Well certainly,” said Murray.
Edward stared for a moment, then replaced his wallet to his pocket and reached for the hammer. For a moment, Murray wasn’t sure if he had become the man’s target until Edward again swung the hammer at the hover, this time finally shattering one of the vehicle’s lights.
“Damn, that one was hard,” Edward said, wiping his brow.
“You look tired. Can I get you some water?” Murray asked, hoping to avert any more damage.
“Thanks. I’m not allowed to drink water on the job,” answered Edward, dropping the hammer. “If you have something sugary, that’s permitted. I could use something to eat, too.”
Murray led Edward into his home. Being a standard issue domicile, it offered two chairs and a small table in the cramped kitchen space. Edward sat on one chair while Murray opened the refrigerator and retrieved a bottle simply marked “cola.”
“Do you do this often,” asked Murray, placing a glass before Edward.
Edward took a moment to respond. “Do I often sit in a strangers home drinking cola? Yes, I guess I do. Do I get hot and sweaty when I’m working? That answer is yes. See, it depends on what ‘this’ is.”
Murray smiled politely, not sure how to proceed.
“Do I break hovers? Sometimes,” Edward continued.
“That’s what I meant,” responded Murray.
Edward swallowed deep from the cup of cola, finishing it in nearly one gulp. Murray poured more. The two stared at each other for several moments before Murray, slightly uncomfortable, turned back to the refrigerator.
“It’s my job to break things,” Edward said, straining to see what might be available to eat, “I don’t always get to choose what I’m supposed to break.”
Murray removed a mostly eaten roast he’d rescued from dispatch at a nearby eatery. As he turned toward the table, Edward leaped at the meat, pressing his fingers into the sides of the roast. Murray stepped back abruptly, dropping the plate on the table.
“Real meat, not that meal stuff I usually get,” said Edward between bites.
“They were discarding it,” said Murray absentmindedly.
Edward attacked what remained of the roast in much the same way he’d hammered the lights of the hover, apparently overcome with a passion for the carnage. Within a few minutes, the only meat that remained clung to his face smeared with gravy. Murray stared for a moment before thinking of the dishtowel hung over his shoulder. He offered the towel to Edward who gladly accepted it.
“You’ve never heard of the Department of Economic Stimulus?” Edward asked from beneath the now messy towel.
“There are so many departments,” responded Murray.
“That’s true,” Edward said, making one last pass of the towel across his mouth.
“What does this department do?” Murray asked.
Edward twisted his face a little as though the answer were obvious. “We stimulate the economy.”
“I didn’t know the economy needed…”
“How do you think we keep all of this going?” asked Edward, his short arms spread wide.
“I hadn’t thought of it. But how does breaking things…”
“If it were up to you, you’d take care of that hover,” Edward barked, “You would fly to and from without thinking of those poor repair people and light makers. You wouldn’t care if they had work to do, would you?”
Murray wasn’t sure how to respond. He reached for the empty plate and placed it in the sink.
“That’s why I’m here, to make sure people have something to do,” continued Edward. “What if I were a hover repair guy? I’d never get any work if there wasn’t economic stimulus ‘cause clearly you don’t care.”
“But wouldn’t it be better to build hovers rather than breaking them?” asked Murray sheepishly.
“Oh sure, and who would buy my new hover?” snapped Edward, “Certainly not you. Yours was perfectly fine until I got here. If I had to wait for you to need a new one, I’d starve to death.”
While the thought crossed his mind, Murray refrained from commenting on Edward’s likely ability to endure a short period without food. Instead he searched for some way of changing the subject.
“Besides,” Edward continued, “the government knows how to make use of my size. That’s why most people in the department are small like me. We get a job and we help create more jobs. To most people, our size is less threatening. We’re like gremlins, only real.” Edward paused to drink, making a loud gasp of satisfaction. “Even the food. The more I eat, the better off we all are. Farmers and meat packers have to keep busy, ya know. Every little bit helps.”
Edward abruptly rose and headed for the door. “Work to do.”
As the door slammed, Murray collected himself. Very little of this made much sense to him. Edward’s conviction was clear but Murray couldn’t follow the logic. How could breaking things make anyone better off? One day he might like a new hover or a better domicile yet he would get neither if what he had was constantly in need of repair.
When Murray finally emerged from his home, he found Edward asleep beneath the hover, a gentle snore emanating from his swollen head. He had apparently wrapped his teeth around a small wire protruding from beneath the hover when fatigue overtook him. Murray gently nudged him with his hand.
“I’ve decided I don’t want you to damage this hover any further,” said Murray to Edward’s slowly opening eyes.
“What?” responded Edward.
“I can’t save any credits for a new hover if this one always requires repair,” Murray said, backing away slowly.
Edward slowly rose to his feet, patting at his pant legs as he stood. “It’s department policy to report anyone unwilling to participate in economic stimulus activity. Are you sure you want your name on a report?” he asked.
“I’m sure I don’t want my name on a report and I’m sure I don’t want you to damage this hover any further,” was Murray’s answer.
Edward lifted his wrist to speak into his Explique, then paused. “I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt,” he said, lowering his arm, “Economic stimulus isn’t easily understood by everyone. I’m sure you just don’t get it.”
Murray shook his head in an effort to placate Edward.
“And it’s been so long since I’ve had real meat,” continued Edward.
“I rarely get any myself,” responded Murray.
With that and a handshake, Edward departed. As Murray watched him walk away, he wondered how many more jobs the little man would create before he called it a day.