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Deposing the Witness
by David Barringer


Deposing the witness in the conference room. Wall sconces cupping pale emanations. Mr. Zetsche: “I beg pardon, but I wish to preserve for the record my objection to this line of questioning. Thank you.”

An incision of fury in the mind of Nino DiCicco. Setting his molars. Fisting his pen. Aloud: “Mr. McFarley, I apologize for the interruptions of Mr. Zetsche. I will do my part to make this deposition as brief and as unannoying as possible.”

Argus McFarley worrying his twelfth finger, saying, “I beg pardon. It’s okay. Thank you.”

“Oh, dear, Mr. DiCheeko.” Mr. Zetsche leaning back, biting gold pen, then: chair-rolling to shoulder-pat his witness. “Shall we not play games?”

Argus McFarley stuffing his dozen fingers into the red-flannel lining of his beige nylon jacket.

“Well?” The eyebrows of Mr. Zetsche rising above his wire rims. “Mr. DiCheeko?”


Flight 319 to Detroit. Three rows up. Taupe skirt-suit. Black heels. Nailclicking her superslim Toshiba laptop. A blond as blond as a doe’s tail. Let’s not see the face yet, let’s not spoil the fantasy. A plastic cup of tomato juice from the attendant. Can? Handing him the cold can, hip-bumping the opened drawer back into the beverage cart.

Air currents travel a greater distance across the humped surface of a wing than they do on the flattened bottom, and therefore the air thins out, and therefore the wing rises into that thinner, lighter air. Hence: flight. Thank you, Jesus—thumb-pressing the Cross into his solar plexus—keep it up, at least for thirty-eight more minutes. Have faith in lofty physics and the healthy tomato, in thin air and thin blood.

Nino DiCicco is thirty-seven-years old and afraid not of flying but of death. He thinks he knows this but is afraid of feeling it, and he knows this, or thinks he does, this slipperiness perhaps a symptom of the fear, one of its manifestations, and the knowing-this not helping a damn bit either, and then: sublimating his fear into sexual aggression. The result leaves something to be desired. What is to be desired? “To preserve for the record.” Nino turning his tomato can around and around and around. . . .

Briefcase, cell phone, parking stub. Nino beeps the keyless remote, fingers a fifty to the parking attendant, hums toward the midnight superfreeway. Mood preprogrammed to the piano of Bill Charlap. Slipping through seamless concrete into the agony of black infinity. Machiavelli wrote that princes could stand alone only if they had enough men or money to make an army equal to the challenge of any opponent. Zetsche? The wire rims, mustache, suspenders, the accent pounded smooth into some alloy whose base element might have been German or Belgian or whothefuckknew. “Equal”? Or “superior”?

Home. The glacier of early morning advancing by degrees through the dark panes of custom kitchen windows. His nightgowned wife sitting awkwardly spread-legged on the island, leaning back on her hands, buttocks spreading out upon the cream ceramic tiles that remind him of graph paper, a réseau, a city grid. His tongue lapping too furiously, as if working a padlock. Slower—his wife’s name is Wini—please, Nino. The safe-cracker resumes, pauses when hidden mechanisms fall into place. . . . He has not been home, practically speaking, for three weeks. Advancing by degrees. His wife swallowing her pleasure away from the ears of the children sleeping upstairs, then spraying the counter with antibacterial disinfectant while he showers. In two hours, Wini making sack lunches. Nino already gone.


The deposition of Argus McFarley, a petty klepto and potentially unreliable witness (for the defense) in a class-action product-liability suit against a manufacturer of (exploding) gas tanks for buses, took place in Chicago, and lasted 3hr 47min. It had not gone well. Incisions of fury, for the record, etcetera. Mr. McFarley was born with twelve fingers. He lives alone on an inheritance from his father, this last being a financial fact the defense will rely on to elicit sympathy for Argus’ sadly unjustified kleptomania. Argus got yanked into this mess when he stopped picking shoppers’ pockets for two seconds on a corner of the Magnificent Mile and saw one of the five bus accidents involved in the suit. An exploding gas tank or a freak collision? In the fiery aftermath a lot of startled tourists, a lot of unguarded pockets.

From Nino’s firm, two associates (one first-year, one fifth-year) had come to Chicago to gawk. After the deposition, they invited Nino to a late dinner: mussels and martinis at Gene & Georgetti’s. They promised that the proceedings would be removed to the jurisdiction of Tittybar County: the fifth-year wagging jowls as if into proffered bosoms. Nino saying, No, thanks, gonna grab a red-eye. You sure? Enjoy. You’re the better man. Nino padding heavily down the office hallway, the firm having slipped by degrees to the bottom of the professional hill:

Have. You. Been. Hurt. In a. Slipandfall. Accident? I. Can. Help. Hi. I’m. Nino. DiCicco. Of. Smeckle. Smegma. And DiCicco. I. Can. Get. You. The money. You. Deserve. If. Your. Hip. Went. Ka-Boom. Or. Your. Ass. Went. Ka-splat. Call. Nino. DiCicco. And. The. Next. Sound. You. Hear. Will. Be. Cha-ching.

Cab to O’Hare. The smell of cumin and tobacco. Mr. McFarley had no other documented physical or mental deformities. He was a terrible thief, his record disproving any de facto advantage in extra fingers. The lighting had been so poor in the conference room Nino had hardly been able to read his blue notes against the yellow pad. He knew the social-psych studies of eyewitness reliability, the malleability of memory, the influence of circumstance. He thought he could have gotten Argus to give a little honest description, a little doubt about what he had seen and not seen. An admission of how many pockets he’d picked immediately after the accident as evidence of preoccupied perception. But it had not gone well. The cabby is an older black man who wears some kind of floppy hat. Driving past bull statues frozen mid-graze on the sidewalks of Chicago, City of The Big Steaks. The cabby remembering, without distress, picking cotton as a boy in Alabama. My God, the wonder of living memory. Life is an error. No. Man is the error. No. Woman is the only. . . .


The tomato juice because of hypertension. 160/100. Grape juice, too. White-bean salad, snap-pea stir-fry, broiled haddock, soy nuts. Nearly two million people every year newly hypertensing, and/or having been hypertensing for some time and only torquing their minds into the anxiety of it subsequent to diagnosis. Ninety-percent of these hypertense people not having causes identifiable. The physician assistant again having trouble rooting the electrocardiogram electrodes within Nino’s stereotypically thick chest hair, the little white stickers floating high on the resiliently springy follicles he’s been teased about—“Yo, Vito!”—since sixth grade. Cans of the stuff, its pulp puree constituting a volumetric measure of emotional commitment. Jogging through the bark-chip 1.2-mile Fitness Trail in the woods behind the Civic Center. Waving to the German woman who has apparently chosen to retire into grey sweats and Fila sneakers rather than into a Florida suburb. Sneaking up on health a strategy long abandoned. This is a four-bugle cavalric charge. Chase the beast, live forever. Giving berth to a Great Dane immovably spanning two spaces in the Civic Center parking lot. Systolic being the first number referring to the pressure of the blood when the left ventricle contracts. Diastolic being the second number referring to the pressure of the blood when the heart isn’t squeezing. Hypertension can be inherited as a genetic predisposition, smuggled as an unidentifiable cause into posterity and preserved, as it were, for the record.

Reading in an old issue of The New York Review of Books the phrase, “[e]ven before Beckett’s death a decade ago,” a phrase that began the third paragraph, a phrase whose dependent structure belied its substance, a substance which began, in the mind of Nino DiCicco, to unfold itself, heavily unfolding, endlessly unfolding, slam slam slam, the multilayered leaves of a trick trapdoor unfolding in the mind—“death a decade ago”—the ceaseless unfolding beginning to bury him alive, suffocating him beneath impenetrable shallowness, beneath immovable depths, a matchstick fumbled in a coffin. Holding the paper in one hand, the other sautéing onions in a tablespoon of virgin olive oil. He decides against caramelizing, effected with sustained deliberate heat. He rescues the translucent onion eyelids, dumping them fluttering onto a plate. Staring into space: into the awesome mind of pre-birth, into the vacant mind of post-life. The glacier advancing by degrees through dark panes. The cold sweet smell of congealing onions. Death is an error. Life is an error. A thick-muscled heart pumping thin blood to the farthest reaches of one’s body. A systolic squeezing in the chest. Close-set molars. Ten fingers: an accounting. A sitting-down in an eighty-dollar chair made from the limbs of birch trees grown in Denmark. He met Wini when he was twenty and she was twenty-three and they had always been in love.

Are you okay?

Fine, I was just reading something it was about—

How can you read in here, it’s so dark?

—Samuel Beckett.

What was it about?

Death, I guess, I didn’t finish it.

Are you okay?

I didn’t finish it.

Let’s go to sleep at the same time for once.

Okay. Help me up.



About the Author

David Barringer's newest story collection, The Human Case, was just published by Brainpan Publishing. Inside sources say it makes a witty, unique, and physically stimulating gift to give the person you're dating. Visit www.davidbarringer.com.