Act VII, Scene I
I did never know so full a voice issue from so empty a heart, but the saying is true: 'The empty vessel makes the greatest sound'. ~ King Henry V, Act IV, Scene IV
"Farewell, my ownnn! Light of my life, farewelllllll! For crime unknownnn, I go to a dungeon celllllllll!"+
Though Bob's quiet voice rang melodiously down the dank corridors of Sector Seven, his heart wasn't in it. Gilbert and Sullivan simply couldn't express the melancholy that settled on his shoulders like a raven of Poe's.
Gingerly touching his fingertips to a pipe, he found it pleasantly cool to the touch. He traced its smooth metal length along the wall as he walked, his thoughts far from Springfield. Suddenly he was clutching a balcony railing, looking down on the citizens of Salciccia as they went about their daily routines. The faint stirrings of an overhead vent became a lukewarm Mediterranean breeze.
As the air grew colder, Bob found himself in England, at the very top of the London Eye, the giant Ferris wheel overlooking the River Thames. He'd only been on it once, over a decade ago, but the memory was still vivid. He'd always meant to go back, but then he'd ended up in America, attending Yale and getting suckered into a degrading internship-turned-subjugation to Krusty the Clown.
Why didn't he just up and go home, then? Why did he always return to Springfield? Because somehow, sadly, it just made more sense this way. Because every single time he tripped up, every single time he stumbled and fell from his self-erected pedestal, every time he flew too close to the sun and burned his wings, Springfield was always there for him. This glorified hellhole was the net that kept him from hitting rock bottom.
And yet, how he loathed this town. His numerous attempts to inject some class into it were met with ignorance and resistance. It had taken him a lot to finally realize that one simply cannot force a common garden slug to transform into a butterfly. Cruel as the metaphor was, that was his brutal but honest opinion. If the people of Springfield resented the comparison, that was their problem, not his.
At the end of the hall Bob paused, his hand still resting on the pipe. The metal surface felt warmer here, and wet. Suddenly he yanked his hand from the pipe to cover his nose and mouth, catching a sneeze. The wet feeling on both his face and hand had nothing to do with the sneeze, he realized a moment too late. He looked from his wet hand to the pipe he'd been touching, the latter dripping a clear liquid, although there were no visible cracks. Whether it was merely condensation or an actual leak, he did not know, nor did he want to know at that moment.
Bob made a mad dash toward the nearest emergency decontamination shower, shoving past a handful of workers who laughed uproariously as their supervisor doused himself from head to toe for the second time that week. The first time had been after one of the men poured the contents of a glow stick into a glass beaker and then "accidentally" spilled it on Bob as a joke. In a panic he'd stripped down to socks and underwear before hitting the shower. He'd refused to put his contaminated clothes back on afterward until Smithers heard about the prank and explained to Bob that it was merely a practical joke that some of the seasoned workers liked to play on new employees.
This time, however, Bob didn't remove any clothes, and he didn't come out of the shower until he was thoroughly drenched. Pushing his sopping hair out of his eyes, he growled at the laughing men, but said nothing. He knew that this time he had no one to blame but himself for panicking over a harmless water pipe leak. One of the men tossed him a towel, but as he was laughing too Bob opted not to thank him. Considerably calmer now (but in no better a mood) Bob now took the time to read a sign beside the decontamination shower that he hadn't noticed before.
WARNING! The chemicals in this facility are known to cause the following health symptoms: projectile perspiration, audible eyeballs, defused anus, irritable ovaries, acrid elbow odor, illegible handwriting, hysterical male pregnancy, disembodied earwax, brain murmurs, Cockney accent, testicular retreat, existential angst, chronic presbyterianism, absent nostrils, toenail anemia, increased libido, decreased libido, heightened eyelash sensitivity, compulsive preening, paranoia, unibrow, death and double death.
Bob smirked at the sign. Great. Whether this was another joke or not, he found a dark, unsettling humor about it. Wouldn't it be just his luck to have one of these issues? Sometimes he wondered about the hysterical male pregnancy. Not to mention his libido being all over the place. And he WAS brushing and styling his hair a lot more often lately (was it so wrong to pride oneself on looking fabulous?). Probably just signs of a mid-life crisis in the works.
Shuffling down a corridor with the towel wrapped around him, Bob's svelte body collided with a much wider body upon rounding a corner.
"Oof!" Bob practically bounced off Homer, who was unmoved by the collision.
"Wha - sneak out early? Who said anything about sneaking out early?" Homer blurted out. "I don't have to stand here and take these accusations! I bid you good day, sir!" And with his nose in the air he started to walk away.
"Get back here, Simpson!" Bob called after him. Homer reluctantly obeyed, looking nervous. "First of all, I never accused you of anything, and second, you've still got five more hours of work, which I highly recommend you return to at once before Mr. Burns discovers what an irresponsible employee you really are."
Homer moaned. "Ohhhh, come on! I've been working overtime for the past two nights and it's really putting a dent in my time with the family! And tonight's family game night!"
Bob raised a brow.
"The guys at the bar are depending on me to referee their beer pong tournament!"
Bob frowned. For a long moment he just glared at the blubbery oaf who had sired his arch-nemesis. Then his expression softened and he sighed. "Fine. Go and play your juvenile game," he murmured, waving him off.
Homer stared at him. "Really? You're letting me go?"
Bob grunted in assent, looking like he was already regretting his decision.
"What's the catch?" Homer asked.
"There's no catch," Bob growled. "Just be gone before I change my mind."
With an ecstatic "WOOHOO!" Homer hurried down the hall to punch out. Bob headed in the same direction, his shift having ended at the same time. At the time clock he found Homer chatting eagerly with a couple of co-workers who were also punching out. Bob waited patiently for him to move his wide load before doing the same with an overdramatic sigh.
"Hey, what gives?" Lenny said to Bob. "Shift's over; you should be happy!" The man was clearly in an elated mood himself as he normally never spoke a word to the supervisor unless he had to.
"Yeah," said Carl. "You look like you're punching in instead of punching out."
Bob smirked. "Do I? Hmm, that could be due to the fact that I have a second job to work tonight and only two hours to recuperate from this one."
"Wow," Homer said. "Sucks to be you. Especially when your hair's on fire."
"WHAT?" Bob shrieked and spun around, swatting frantically at his hair. A small auburn lock near the back was smoking, and without a decontamination shower nearby Bob was forced to stop, drop and roll to put it out. The three men chuckled.
"That's why we wear hard hats," Lenny said, knocking on his own headgear before hanging it up by the time clock. "You never know what might be dripping on your head in this place."
"Plus they block the constant barrage of radiation to your brain," Carl added, hanging his up beside Lenny's.
"Indeed," Bob muttered as he stood up, patting his hair. It felt a tad crispy in the back; nothing a quick trim couldn't mend. He looked at Homer. "Might I enquire as to what happened to YOUR hair? Assuming you had any to begin with."
"They don't make plus-size hard hats," was Homer's simple answer.
Bob rolled his eyes. "Right. Well, I've a night shift to brace myself for, so if you'll excuse me, gentlemen..."
Homer slapped a heavy hand on his back before he could walk away. "Say, why don't you join us at Moe's for a drink?"
"And why would I want to do that, pray tell?" Bob muttered as he shrugged Homer's arm off.
"'Cuz it's Beer Pong Night."
Bob sneered. "Tempting, but I'm afraid I'll have to pass."
"Aw, come on!" Carl joined in. "A coupla drinks and your night shift will be nothing but smooth sailing!"
Bob reconsidered. Perhaps a bit of the devil's brew would give him the gonads to step out onto that strip club stage. He might have actually enjoyed his new job if it weren't for the fact that a certain ex-wife of his attended every show. And, well, he DID spend the large part of their honeymoon inebriated in order to perform his husbandly duties without being sick. And she never even suspected! So why not?
* * *
O thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil. ~ Othello, Act II, Scene III
Bob kept to himself during the beer pong 'tournament', which consisted of only four players (Homer and Barney against Lenny and Carl) and one and a half games - the first being a tie and the second being interrupted by Barney's AA sponsor, real estate agent Cookie Kwan. She'd burst into the bar just as he was chugging down a plastic cupful of beer and started scolding him loudly like an irate mother, to the amusement of his friends.
"If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times: stay away from Moe's Tavern! And stay away from the west side!"
After Barney was dragged out by the ear, the second game ended in a draw when Homer failed to talk Bob into teaming up with him. Now the remaining men sat at the bar, unusually quiet. Bob sat hunched over looking sullen as he nursed his second Scotch on the rocks. His presence seemed to color the atmosphere a gloomy shade.
Moe wiped a bit of spilled liquor from the bar and paused in front of Bob, looking the man over. "What's with Lord Sit-n-sulk?" he asked Homer, who was sitting on Bob's right. "He ain't said a word all evening."
"He has a second job he's gotta work in an hour."
Moe gave Bob an empathetic look. "Well that bites." He moved a large jar across the bar and unscrewed the lid. "Have a pickled egg on the house."
Bob's lip curled at the acrid stench of vinegar and brine that wafted from the jar. "Pass."
Homer took that as his cue to swipe a few eggs for himself.
"So what kind of job is it?" Lenny asked, sitting on Bob's other side.
Bob stiffened a little, then his shoulders sagged and he sighed. He didn't look at anyone, but fixed a smoldering glare on his reflection in the mirror behind the bar. "If you must know..." he paused as if to build suspense, "...I'm the newest and most popular act at Springfield Stallions." He followed his confession with a large gulp of Scotch, draining his glass and coughing.
"Springfield Stallions?" Carl repeated. "What's that?"
"That's the male strip club on Beaumont Boulevard!" Lenny answered before Bob could. Every man in the bar gave him an odd look. Lenny blushed. "What? I know that because my ex-girlfriend left me for one of the strippers!"
"Yeah, after you took her there for your six-month anniversary," Carl pointed out.
"That's because I'm sensitive to a modern woman's needs!" Lenny argued.
Carl rolled his eyes. "Right."
"Whoa, whoa, hold on a sec here," Moe spoke up. He looked at Bob. "Lemme get this straight: you're a male stripper?"
Bob nodded, sullen as ever.
"So, in other words, dames flock from all over town to see you take off your clothes - AND you're getting paid to do it?"
Bob nodded again, smirking a little as he held his empty glass out and shook it. The ice cubes clinked.
Moe glowered at him. "Oh, woe is me!" he jeered, "I gotta get naked in front of a pack of screaming, drooling babes who all wanna get with me!" He swiped the glass from Bob's hand and refilled it, grumbling obscenely. "And oh no! It gets worse! They're throwing money and panties at me! Boo-hoo-hooooo!" He slammed the glass down on the bar. "Ya snivelin' prick."
Bob frowned. "For your information, it isn't nearly as glamorous as The Full Monty no doubt led you to believe." He'd never seen the movie, but he knew just enough about it to make a basic comparison. "The next time I hear a woman complain about being treated like a piece of meat, I think I can safely say that I empathize with her."
He found it rather ironic, though, that the main cause of these feelings happened to BE women. And to narrow it down, one woman in particular who took a sadistic pleasure in treating him like a sex slave - minus the sex, thank God.
Moe was no more sympathetic after Bob's ex-wife horror story than he was before.
"Whine, whine whine! Ya want some cheese with that?" the bartender sneered.
"Come on, Moe, lay off!" Homer spoke up, putting an arm around Bob. "This poor shlub has to dance for Jabba the Butt and you're giving him the business like it's nobody's business! He almost managed to kill her once, you know," he added proudly.
Bob growled. "Ohhhh, if only I could step out onto that stage tonight without the slightest inkling that SHE'LL be there! The mere memory of my last private audience with her threatens to make the bile rise in my throat." His melodramatic speech captivated everyone's attention. "But alas, her ghost lingers like a malignant tumor in my brain, and I fear there is no way to silence the poltergeist, short of taking a scalpel to my frontal lobe!" He pulled at his hair in frustration, as if he could feel Selma's slimy presence in his head.
"Wow," Homer muttered, "I didn't think anyone hated Selma more than me. But if you just want to forget about her... hmmmm..." He scratched his chin, thinking. "Hey Moe, how about making my ex-brother-in-law-now-supervisor a Forget-Me-Shot?"
Bob raised a brow, looking from Homer to Moe quizzically. "Forget-Me-Shot? Dare I ask?"
"It'll be like drowning Selma in an acid bath while drowning yourself in a champagne bath," Homer said with a grin.
"You wanna clear your mind, this stuff is like brain Drano!" said Carl.
"Yeah, Moe shoulda called it Braino!" Lenny added.
"Ehh, Braino was already trademarked," muttered Moe as he pulled a videotape from underneath the bar and popped it into the TV/VCR hanging from the ceiling.
Bob watched the screen as a slightly staticky version of Moe explained how to make the drink in question.
"You start with a splash of Jägermeister, then add sloe gin, triple sec, quadruple sec, gunk from a dog's eye, Absolut Pickle, the red stripe from Aquafresh, and the funniest ingredient, the venom of the Lousiana Lobotomoth. You stir it with a home pregnancy test till it turns positive, and presto: the Forget-Me-Shot! This drink is the ultimate brain bleacher. One swig wipes out the last day of your life."
Moe stopped the video and turned to Bob with a grin. "So whadda ya say? Want me to whip you up one of them memory killers?"
Bob made a sickened face. "Why would I want to put my lips to something so appalling, much less ingest it?"
"Cuz it really works. Just ask Homer. Or not. He don't remember a thing. And because it'll getcha where ya wanna go a lot faster than these watered-down Scotches you been drinkin'."
Bob looked from the beady-eyed bartender to Homer's expression of blissful naivete, considering. After a moment, he looked back at Moe with a firm nod.
Moe set to work immediately. Halfway through preparing the drink, he paused. "Uh, oh. Looks like we're all out of the red stripe of Aquafresh." He gave Bob an apologetic look and chuckled sheepishly. "I, uh, I used it all up tryin' to cure my jock itch."
"The red stripe is hot cinnamon," Carl pointed out.
"Yeah, wouldn't that burn?" Lenny asked.
Moe shook his head. "This is some reeeaalllllly wicked jock itch I'm talkin' about." He looked at the tube of toothpaste. "Hmmm... ya know what? I betcha the blue stripe will still do the job. Yeah. Let's try that."
Bob had a strange sense of foreboding as he watched the blue stripe fall into the glass with the other ingredients. Moe mixed them together with a home pregnancy test, then checked the result.
"What the -? Huh. Never had this happen before." He held the test up for Bob and the others to see. Rather than single or double parallel red lines, there appeared to be a rather sinister-looking, squiggly black X. Moe scratched his head. "Seriously, I can't tell if this is positive, negative or W-T-F!" He tossed the test aside and set the drink in front of Bob. "Oh, well. Enjoy your poison."
Bob stared at the ugly greenish-brown concoction. The foreboding feeling increased tenfold. He slowly raised it to his lips, then held his breath as he downed the entire glass as quickly and cleanly as possible. It burned a path all the way down, hitting his stomach like a tiny H-bomb. The heat poured through him, submersing every nerve and synapse in liquid fire. Suddenly he felt as though he were made of fire, every single neuron in his body screaming in white-hot rage. The world spun around him and he plummeted, falling away from the sun into the icy black abyss of space. Falling and falling and falling and falling and falling and then...
...Bob landed on the cold, sticky linoleum floor of Moe's Tavern, unconscious.
ACT VIII: [link]
Sorry for the long wait and sorry for the cliffhanger. I am SO evil! XD
+"Farewell, My Own" from HMS Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan