Arthur Grable been hailed as a genius before his tenth birthday, and had attained the highest educational accolades before he’d seen the end of his teens. And now his name was used in households all over a world that he had utterly transformed for the better. But Arthur Grable had done it all behind his desk, in the comforting glow of his screens.
This was his real domain; the velvet darkness of his apartment and office. He’d run the whole operation from here as a human conduit of ideas that would not stop. Arthur Grable was a free man. He could wander any of the floors in the gleaming Grablecorps building, an edifice named after himself. He could wander its manicured gardens far below. He could stroll the streets of any city in the world unhindered, if he’d chosen to do so. Because although his was a household name, he hadn’t been seen in public since his twenty-first birthday. That was five years ago, and since then he’d become a figure of messianic mystery. Many rumours of his death abounded, but many more suggested nothing short of transfiguration.
Arthur was afraid. Well, he had become afraid. He knew that leaving the safety of his office-cum-apartment was merely another challenge to overcome. He’d overcome so much already; sustainable alternative energy, fresh water into the deserts of Africa, revolutionary transportation systems that made traditional air travel obsolete. So, why not this? It wasn’t entirely clear even to Arthur Grable himself. For all of his revolutionary and lucrative ideas, and his virtuosic skill with patents, he could not solve this problem himself, even though he’d come to the unavoidable conclusion that he needed to solve it. Arthur was planning something big. It would be nothing less than a second coming. Grablecorps International was planning an announcement that would bring the company, and the world, into a revolutionary phase. The launch had to be memorable. It had to be on an epic scale. So, it needed a jewel in its crown.
It needed Arthur Grable himself.
Dr. Susan Peet was the best psychologist in her field, with her work respected enough to be known in academic circles, but not well-known enough to be referenced on Oprah. Dr. Peet was known as “Discreet Peet” by her collegues, and clients. She had a private practice in an office uptown, focusing on advanced phobias suffered by those with very public profiles. But, Arthur never went to the office of course. She didn’t come to his sealed domicile, either. They used Skype. That was Arthur’s link to everyone in his life, including his executive team, and the board. For three months now, with several sessions a week, the two talked. They talked about solitude, and fear. They talked about letting go, barriers, cloaks of safety, and a willingness to embrace love.
On Monday evening, one week before the big event, Arthur Grable sat in his chair in front of his beloved screens, and listened to Dr. Peet. He wore his navy blue housecoat, the one with the big yellow stars and moons festooned all over it. It was his Merlin cloak. His hair was a wild tangle of curls, like Bob Dylan’s gone electric. His sparse beard was a prickly map of barbarous provinces on a boyish, pale, wide-eyed face. The gentle blue light of the screens gently flickered in twin pools of green. Under his unkempt veneer, Arthur Grable was childishly handsome, although he didn’t know it.
“Arthur, I know it may not seem like it,” said Dr. Peet soothingly, “But, you really have made progress over these past three months. I really think you can do this. Two months ago, it was the hall. Then the elevator. Then, a month ago it was the lobby. Then the gardens. You should be proud of yourself.”
“Thank you, Dr. Peet. It wasn’t easy. But you’re right, I did it. Really. How difficult could the convention center be?”
Dr. Peet’s image smiled.
“Just remember what I told you, Arthur. Your cloak of safety does protect you. But, it insulates you from love, too. You have to believe that others are ready to love you. You’ve given the world plenty of reason for it to love you.”
“You’re right; I need to be seen. I know that. The screens aren’t enough. But, that’s not all there is to it, though. I still have to, you know … speak. I have to speak to them all. The press. The stockholders. All of them. And they’ll all be in the same room with me. Actually in the same room with me. That’s going to be the hard part.”
“Well, you can do that too, Arthur. You’re talking to me right now, aren’t you?”
“I’m talking to your image on a screen, Dr. Peet. For you, there’s no difference, I know. But, for me …”
“Yes, I know,” and then she paused, and snickered.
Arthur smiled and leaned forward. He liked Dr. Peet, and wanted to share in the joke if he could. “What? What’s so funny, Doctor?”
Dr. Peet laughed gently and rolled her eyes, waving her hand, embarrassed. “Oh, just … just an old cliche about public speaking.”
Arthur’s face slackened, becoming serious. “A cliche? What cliche?”
“That if all else fails, just picture everyone, you know …”.
“No, I don’t. What?”
“In their underwear.”
“In their what?”
The Grablecorp press office had done their job well.
It had taken months and months of planning, ramping up the hype to turn the announcement into a global event. Press releases, tweets, Facebook updates had peppered the wires, old school and new. It wasn’t just that the Grable building convention center’s main hall was filled to the rafters with press, and with celebrities invited especially to capture the glow of their popularity. It was also that the event was beaming its way around the world via a live video feed. Network and satellite television, and every kind of online platform would capture the event for posterity, along with the promised appearance of Arthur Grable himself, the recluse genius not seen in public for half a decade. The world was watching. It was the world that Arthur Grable had transformed. And now he’d transform it again, this time with a personal appearance to bring it home.
Dr. Susan Peet sat in the executive skybox, alongside the rest of Grablecorps’ executive team. She was to be a guest of honour, wearing a tasteful emerald frock with matching hair clip to pin up her golden hair, now finely streaked with silver. Her husband and two teenaged sons were in the crowd somewhere far below. Above the din of the awaiting crowd, she thought of Arthur. Fleetingly, she wondered if he would do what he said he was going to do. “Well, if he doesn’t,” she thought to herself, “it will be a first.”
Cirque du Soleil tumbled and careened on the main stage with an orgasmic shower of fireworks behind them. Black Eyed-Peas did a few numbers. So did Justin Bieber. Then, when the pyrotechnic smoke cleared, out came Norm Brackman, VP of Environmental Technology. Brackman was balding and portly, and wearing a Grablecorps-branded, biege golf shirt. Each armpit was adorned with a half-circle of perspiration. He was a figure of incongruity after the warm up show of hard-bodied athletes, jigging hip-hop dancers, and winsome teen hearthrobs. But, where Arthur had become a recluse in the last half-decade, Norm Brackman had become the face of Grablecorps; gregarious, energetic, and almost fanatically evangelical about what the company represented. He was a staple at these kinds of events. And for once, he would be the one giving the introductions rather then the keynote. But, he’d decided to throw himself into it, as usual. “If Arthur is God, then I’m still Moses,” thought Brackman to himself.
Brackman started in with his usual gusto, a fiery sun of optimism and charm, summarizing the grand scale of accomplishment that Grablecorp represented; engineering marvels, fresh water, and clean energy. His voice was hoarse with enthusiasm, his face covered in a sheen of sweat under the big lights. Then, he mentioned Arthur’s name, and the place went crazy. Dr. Peet jolted in her seat high above the stage as the wave of sound on a level that she’d never experienced rose to a climax. The air itself seemed to be charged with electricity.
The curtain behind Norm Brackman twitched. And then Arthur stood on the stage as a figure of even greater incongruity. “He’s wearing his Merlin robe,” noted Dr. Peet absently to herself.The place went crazy all over again, and the whole hall rose to stand. The applause was an enormous cataract of sound, drowning out all thought. The giant screens behind Arthur swelled with his image. He was pale, wild haired, scruffily bearded, and wizard-robed. Dr. Peet peered over the railing of the executive skybox and squinted, ignoring the screens completely, focusing on the small figure that she’d never seen in the flesh. Far below, Arthur was barefoot. He looked up into the light and squinted. Brackman gestured to the plexi-glass podium, and bowed deeply, and somewhat clownishly. Then, he left the stage, disappearing behind the dark curtain. Arthur stood alone.
Dr. Peet felt a maternal pang as Arthur shuffled forward toward the podium. It surprised her. He looked like a little boy down there, dressed in his formless Merlin robe. She felt the almost overwhelming urge to leave her seat and go to him. But, she stayed absolutely still, and looked on instead. Despite her feelings in that moment, she knew that Arthur had overcome the odds just by leaving his apartment. She’d helped get him there. The rest was up to him.
Arthur took the microphone off of the podium, and shuffled away, moving to the centre of the enormous stage. The applause tapered off to silence, awaiting Arthur’s voice. There was a pregnant silence. When he spoke, there was no feedback from the microphone; just his voice, which was boyish, and instantly charming. Yet, it was vulnerable too. All the women in the audience felt that same maternal pang that Dr. Peet had felt earlier. The men remembered, instantly, what it was like on their first day of school.
“I’m. I’m Arthur.”
The convention center erupted again. But, everyone’s curiosity about what was to come next soon restored the room to order again, and with an unearthly silence.
“I’m not, um, used to being in a room with people. But, if I was, I’d say that I’m glad to be here tonight.”
“Norm has told you about what we’ve been up to in the last few years. And, tonight we’re going to, um … we’re going to unveil the next, uh, step. But, before I talk about that, I have a few thank-yous. One is to Norm, of course, who’s done a lot of my talking for me over the last little while, while I’ve, y’know … been away …”
A scatter of awkward applause.
“Another is to my executive team that helped to, y’know, do the actual work. Well, I did some work, too, I guess, but. Well, they’re the ones that really made it happen.”
More applause, with more confidence.
“My final thank-you is to my doctor, and my friend, Doctor Susan Peet. She’s responsible for my being here this evening. She helped me to understand that if I hide myself away, I’m safe. But, if I can’t be seen, then maybe it’s hard for all of you to really believe in me. And maybe what I’m trying to do for the world won’t be, um, really understood. She also helped me to understand that I’ve got something to give, something that people want to see. So, that’s one of the reasons I’m here tonight. To show myself to you. Then, maybe it’ll be easier to, um, accept … what I’m trying to do, which is to, um, to make the world, y’know. Um. Make it better. Because things need to change.”
The applause reached a fever pitch. And Arthur waited again.
“Anyway, that’s what Dr. Peet helped me to understand; that I needed to, um, reveal myself to you. She said that I need to get rid of my cloak of safety. I, uh. I really, really hate talking to people or being in the same room with them. But, it’s not you guys I, um, hate. It’s just really, really hard for me not to get, um, really, really nervous. So, last week Dr. Peet told me that one of the best ways to get through this is to picture all of you in your, um, in your, uh … underwear.”
There were some scraps of laughter from somewhere near the front.
“But, I’ve never done too much by the book. So …”
A dart of heat hit Dr. Peet right in the chest just then and spread down into her stomach. Members of the executive team shifted suddenly in their seats. They understood what was about to happen at the same time as she had.
“I’ve decided to make it easy for you to picture me in my underwear instead.”
The Merlin rob slid off of Arthur’s shoulders and settled into a dark pool around his feet. Black boxer shorts festooned with lurid red hearts stood in contrast to an emaciated and pale physique. The god had become human right before their eyes, the look on his face slightly sad, with a grimacing smirk.
Dr. Peet rose from her seat in the ensuing din. She felt a choke rise up from her chest and she began to shudder with something that resembled laughter, but felt more like weeping.
A single tear slid down her cheek, and she knew that Arthur had changed things for everyone yet again.