The Grid

grid

“Debbie, are you a notary?” Lucy asked as she held onto the side of the cubicle wall.

Startled by the sudden intrusion, Debbie jumped and tucked her phone under a stack of paperwork.  It was an involuntary reaction to protect and save her phone, like one might shield a child from an oncoming car.  The phone was a constant companion, a second brain, a secretary, a party planner, a radio and a link to the rest of the world.  Like most people who are more digitally connected than in real life, Debbie was no exception to being plugged in and turned on constantly.  Her precious phone allowed for shopping on Amazon, texting, trolling and winking at Facebook photos at all times.  She felt safe from the watchful surveillance of the IT department, and when she realized it was just Lucy, she felt safe in her cubicle again.

“No, I’m not, but you might check with Sal down the hallway,” Debbie explained.  She turned back towards her computer screen and scrolled through her email inbox, done with the conversation.    

“Thanks,” Lucy said and headed in the direction pointed out by Debbie with a quiet sigh.

“Hey Sal, knock, knock,” Lucy announced outside of the intended cubicle. 

Sal stared straight ahead at a computer screen.  Her eyes were blood shot and bulging out of her face. Three Diet Coke bottles were on her desk, one was open and half empty.  The other two were in line to follow the same fate within the day.  Sal held one hand out, palm first, towards Lucy.

“Hold on, I need a minute.”

 She jotted something down on an electronic tablet with a stylus pen, scrolled further down with a wireless mouse on the desktop and suddenly with one click, closed the entire page down.

“What do you need?” she asked turning to face Lucy in a chair that squeaked.

“You might want to get that chair checked out, it sounds like it’s about to fall apart.”

Lucy remembered a car she rode in once when she was younger.  The panels were rusted out and it blew black smoke from the tail pipe.  The passenger side door squeaked when it swung open, it not only sounded the same, it also gave the same level of confidence in its functionality.

“Anyways, are you a notary?”

“Who told you that?” Sal asked.

“Debbie,” Lucy replied.

Sal nodded her head slowly and closed her watery blue eyes.  She took a deep breath in through her nose and blew it out before responding. 

“Well, I am, but I am going to lunch now.  I will be back in one hour if you need something notarized.”

Lucy gritted her teeth and smiled, “Thanks, Sal.  I’ll be back after lunch,” and left the office.

She walked down the hallway, down the stairs and out of the building.  She kept walking down the drive, onto the sidewalk and down the street.  She walked until her feet bled and her throat was parched, she lost her cardigan and phone somewhere along the way as she headed North.  She was leaving the grid but first needed to take a stop by the Nest.  
Nest

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Old G

Playful

Old G is far from playful these days.  He is, in fact, downright grumpy. 

Just today, I walked into the office and was greeted with a bah-humbug-its-Monday type of hello. It’s nothing new or surprising.  This endearing mix of a grunt and a one handed wave of recognition is what welcomes me into work most lately.  It is also what triggered an increase in my time dedicated to casually observing/spying on my co-worker.

spy

 

My study of the indigenous male, known as Old G, revealed the following:

He starts the day by staring at his email on the computer screen for a few hours.  This gets him through to lunch. The screen rarely changes.  A spam email occasionally pops up.  When this happens, Old G slowly raises his head from his chest and brings his hand to the mouse to open the important message with savings from Kohl’s or a change in the member benefits from a gym to which he does not belong. He clicks on the delete button and returns to his previous position. 

Sometimes I send him a test email to see if he is awake.  When he doesn’t look up, I question whether the test is still effective.  Then I call him on the phone from a blocked number. *67 or is it *69?  I get the numbers mixed up which skews the test results. 

Old G sees its me calling and asks, “Puney, what do you want?”

I have to play it cool and say, “My bad,” and wait until he falls back into his relaxed state so I can resume the study.

He gets other calls through the day from his wife, cousin, mother, mother-in-law, ect.  The list is quite extensive of these personal callers to whom he always speaks in the same secretive and hushed tones, perhaps afraid of someone eavesdropping on his boring conversations.  He forgets that I have excellent hearing, especially when it comes to listening to his personal phone calls.  If I had more time, I would inventory these callers and the nature of the calls but I have the work of two people to keep up with while he naps and whispers the day away.

Fortunately, I have broad shoulders on which to bear this burden.  All I want out of the deal in which I do all of the work and Old G chills out at his desk is a little smile and friendly wave.  My study concludes with the certain knowledge that Old G is capable of at least this much.

Simple Things

sheets

 

Flourish

He stretched out on the firm bed and kicked off one dirty sneaker and then the other. They fell with heavy thuds, weighted with mud and water. He peeled off his wet socks, once white now brown, with little difficulty. The socks sagged around his ankles, stretched and unwashed. His feet were snakes shedding their skin for new growth, wrinkled and pruned in their newness. Without hesitation, the old skins were dropped over the side of the bed, following the muddy shoes.

The bed was covered in a bright patchwork quilt of connecting rings and had fat down pillows in white cases. Patiently, the pillows waited for his weary head, while resting on tightly wrapped sheets with perfectly folded corners. The man struggled to loosen their hold and released the smell of sunshine, still fresh from drying on the line.

He hesitated, the bed was so clean, but he was so tired. Giving in to the tiny invisible hands pulling his eyelids, he dropped onto a pillow and let his eyes close. His head slowly sank deeper and deeper. He wrapped the colorful blanket around his aching body and gave into the sinking.

The stars searched for the man, they watched him drift into sleep last night as they had for the past thousand nights. They watched him curl up in pile of moldy blankets under a tarp, tucked into the back lot of an abandoned property. They silently twinkled and worried, never knowing if a few good nights of rest could restore a man’s heart and ability to plan for the future.

Man to man

Ralph had been missing for two days. He had not come in for bus passes, canned goods, or dish soap.  There were no requests for leftovers from lunch or burned DVDs.  Not once had he stopped by the office for a cup of coffee and a separate cup of sugar and creamer filled to the brim.

Something was definitely wrong.

After reviewing the facts of the situation, or lack thereof, I left the office to further investigate the situation. I envisioned a car accident or beating, he was likely hurt and holed up in his apartment, too weak and injured to come out for help.  It was time to check-in.

I jogged up the creaky stairs and down the hallway, dodging dust bunnies as they rolled across the dusty hardwood floor. Worry and dread propelled me towards Ralph’s apartment door more quickly than my usual leisurely stroll.

I tapped at his door and waited. Hearing no noise from within, I tapped a little louder.  Shave and a haircut, two bits.  I put extra emphasis on the two bits.  Still no response.

“Ralph,” I softly called. “Are you in there?”

Suddenly, the sound of footsteps started up the stairs. My co-worker, Mr. Jay emerged from the stairwell and proceeded towards me and the unanswered door.

“Still not answering?”

I shook my head. He pounded on the plain, white door.  Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang.   The sound reverberated down the hallway, triggering a sprinkle of plaster chips to fall from the ceiling.  There was no mistaking that someone was at the door.  One might even think it was the police from the aggressive knocking.

knocking

A chair scraped across the floor and someone limped towards the door. My suspicious were about to be confirmed, I grimaced and braced myself for the worst.

“He’s in there all right,” Mr. Jay said with a knowing nod and left to return to the office.

The door knob turned and the door opened a crack. A dark eye peered out, recognizing his visitor, the door opened a little wider.  A sliver of face appeared through the crack.

“I’m sick,” Ralph whispered.

Long fingers wrapped around the edge of the door and a bare shoulder appeared; it was the same smooth brown as his face.

“Are you hurt?” I asked.

“It’s just an old injury,” he said, evasively. “I haven’t been able to walk for the past few days.  Sorry I haven’t been into see you,” he apologized.

“How did this happen? I asked.

He looked off and away, “It’s just an old injury. I’ll be better in a few days.”

“Did someone do this to you? Tell me who did this to you. “

I demanded names. He naturally refused with a sad giggle.

“Could you send Mr. Jay back up here? I need to talk to him about something.”

“Of course,” I agreed, “I will send him right up.”

I left, certain of a break-through in this mysterious case. We would get justice for Ralph.  Whatever crimes had been committed again him would not go unpunished.

“Mr. Jay, Ralph wants to talk to you, man-to-man. I think its something important.”

Mr. Jay stood with a stoic face, already understanding the importance of this request, “I’m on my way.”

He returned no more than eight minutes later. It was enough time to go up the stairs and down the hallway, knock and wait for Ralph to answer the door to reveal a terrible secret and to return.

I met him just inside of the door in the office.

“Well, everything ok?”

There was a lot of buildup to this moment, I felt anxious and excited, ready to spring into action. Some things can only be shared man to man. I respected that space and stepped back to let the mutual sharing take place.

“He asked if we have any extra pizzas,” Mr. Jay said in an irritated voice. “He just wanted pizza.”

And so it goes.

Thanks Vonnegut for providing the only possible phrase to end this short story.

von

Who brought the cake?

cake

The woman felt self-conscious as she took a bite of the cake. Her co-worker kept coming into her office each time she tried to eat it. It was weird, like he was trying to catch her in the act of eating cake on the clock.

I’m on salary, damn it. If I want to eat cake on the clock, I can eat cake on the clock.

Her co-worker waited outside of her door, listening for the crinkling sound of aluminum foil.

Ah-ha! She is eating it, at last!

The man peered into the office where the woman sat with a Styrofoam plate in her lap. She sensed his silent, peering presence as he waited for her to eat the cake.

Aluminum foil was peeled back from around the white plate to reveal a generous slice of moist and rich chocolate cake.

“You brought the cake, so stop trying to catch me eating it.”

The woman glanced at the man and laughed. A dark cloud crossed over her face; it passed as quickly as it arrived. Something was definitely weird.  This was his third cake-related time in her office today, starting with the delivery of “Just a little treat for later” first thing in the morning.

Its no stranger than his usual day-to-day weirdness, she reasoned. I am sure its just a kick he’s on and its kind of nice. He must know how much I love cake.

“I wanted to make sure you liked it,” the man explained, feigning an air of innocence that the woman found hard to believe.

Earlier, the man stood in her doorway, triggered by the crinkle-crunkling of aluminum foil. He saw the plate in the woman’s hand, it was half way unwrapped.

Butterflies released from his stomach, the woman was about to eat the cake. He could hardly stand his excitement and then the phone rang.  His heart fell into his orthopeadic shoes. The woman placed the plate on a stack of papers on the side of the desk and answered the call.

The man crept further into the office, “Just checking for a fax for someone down the hall,” he said with his eyes downcast.

The woman remained on the phone, covered the mouthpiece with one manicured hand and whispered, “I’ll let you know if something comes though.”

He left, heavy and weighed down with disappointment.  Perhaps, she will never eat the cake, he wondered. I must have faith, he reminded himself in an effort to steady his nerves, jangled from the phone call.

Now the time was the right. The man felt relief watching the woman dig into the cake. She forked a massive glob of cake into her mouth and smiled.  Her teeth were brown from the chocolate frosting.

“This is really good, thanks so much for thinking of me especially after I called you a creep.”

The man did not feel bad about what was about to happen. In fact, he felt nothing at all other than an incredible lightness. He took a deep breath and filled his lungs.

“Agree to disagree,” the man said without any expression. His eyes sparkled as he clung to the door frame watching the woman swallow bite after bite.

“We simply have to agree to disagree,” he repeated.  He looked at his wrist watch and noted the time.

Now he just had to wait.

Scammed

“I just got this in the mail and I won $5000.”

The man who stood in front of me was ecstatic. He wore his usual flannel pajama pants and dirty collared shirt, turned inside out.

“This is for a car dealership and you can’t drive,” I said.

I looked over the flyer more closely; it was addressed to Preferred Customer or Current Resident. The prize could only be claimed during the “event” described as a HUGE VEHICLE SELL-OFF in all capital letters.  The prize winnings were to go towards the purchase of a vehicle which would be a problem since he didn’t have any money for the purchase of bread and milk, let alone a vehicle, and again, he couldn’t drive.

“I already called the number and gave them my confirmation code. I’m definitely a winner they told me.  They are holding my prize downtown.  I just had to give them my address, name, birthdate…”

This was beyond smelling fishy.

df

“You gave them all that information?” I asked in disbelief.

“I’ve never won anything this big before,” he said, ignoring me. “Let’s go pick it up on Monday.”

He handed me the flyer, “You can go research this but I’m keeping the ticket.”

Just like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he held the ticket tightly in his fist, not about to give up his claim to something magnificent.

About a day or so

ci

Someone pounded on the office door. The sign clearly says closed until 1:00pm, I thought.  I looked at my watch; it read 8:45am. I guessed it was a man with something good to share, like he just won a million dollars and would be moving out of state.  I tried to remain optimistic as the pounding continued.

“I’m coming,” I yelled and ran towards the door.

“Hi, what’s going on?” I asked, throwing the door open. This, for safety reasons, is never a good idea.

It was a man standing there, leaning on one hip. He wore a ball cap, blue pants and a collared shirt with black boots, his usual work uniform.

“Well, I can’t make our appointment this afternoon,” he said and pointed to his shirt as though the shirt explained everything.

I interpreted, “You have to work?”

I have become pretty good at interpreting non-verbal communication with age, but pointing still leaves questions as to exact meaning. For instance, while I thought he was pointing at his shirt, he could have been gesturing towards his chest indicating that he was about to have a heart attack, or he was pointing to his shirt pocket which was holding a lucky lottery ticket.

He nodded, confirming that I was on track, a few steps away from mind-reading.

“There’s something else you need to know. I’ve been smelling a very strong natural gas odor for the past day and a half.”

He turned and walked out the door, enough said as a man of few words.

I went out to investigate for myself.   As soon as I stepped into his building, a whiff of gas swirled around me and out the door I went.

Strangely enough, the other residents were unconcerned with what was obviously a gas leak.

Two women sat on a bench in front of the building, sharing a cigarette. One wore plaid pajama pants and had dark circles under her eyes.  The other had her hair pulled back into a short pony tail and wore a baggy, grey sweatshirt.

“Smells like gas in there, don’t you think?”

“Yes, I do think it smells like gas. How long has it smelled like that?”

They looked at each other, in shared reflection.

“About a day or so?” pajama pants said to the pony tail.

“Yea, about a day,” pony tail nodded her head in agreement and took a final drag from the cigarette. She threw it into the grass at her feet, oblivious to the danger of fire and gas and returned to the building that was slowly filling with noxious fumes.

Monday

ice

The horizon blazed warm shades of orange, yellow, and hot pink. The sun rose, a fiery ball, in the East. Yet, there was no heat from the sky. I shivered to think of my husband puttering to work in the old Hyundai with its sometime hot/sometimes not heater. Hopefully, he wore gloves, but I doubted it.

I returned my focus to the glittering road. Everything on either side of it was frozen in place. Trees were lined in white; their branches hung low with winter’s burden. Smoke curled from chimneys and hung in the air, too cold to hurry away.

The day felt brittle, as though one strike against the fabric of time and it would shatter into a million bits of ice to melt on the first warm day of spring. No one would miss it. No one would remember.

My car fishtailed as I slowed for a red light. I pumped the brakes as I scanned ahead and tried to remember if this was the very situation in which to not pump the brakes.

As the car spun around, I prayed all the prayers, promising to be good and kind, to keep New Year’s resolutions, to be a better person, in exchange for protection from what was about to happen. I closed my eyes and resigned myself to Fate.

It was a beautiful, cruel morning to start the week.

A light in the dark

flashligh

I am at the bottom of a deep hole, maybe an old well, trying to figure out what happened. The darkness is suffocating and heavy as I try to stand. Nothing is broken. I feel my arms to be sure a bone isn’t sticking out where it doesn’t belong. I’m just a little sore and confused. So that’s good, but it is dark and creepy. I am afraid of the dark, so this is bad.

Fear sets in spreading from my chest outwards, reaching my head and feet at the same moment.

Frantically I try to find my flashlight. It came down with me so it must be here. My fingers are my eyes now; they are both far and nearsighted as they adjust to their new role. I feel my way over the muck, decaying leaves and twigs, walnuts, trash and still no flashlight.

The rotting debris stinks and I am panicking. If I could still the thousand thoughts in my head, I might try to use the Litany of Fear. Reading all of those Dune books need not be in vain. Fear is the mind-killer…

That’s not happening because I’m gagging, the stench surrounds me and I’m covered in this muck. Bile rises in my throat. Mouth breathing makes it worse; the smell is so pungent I can taste it in the air.

Vomit will not improve my current environment, although I’m not sure if I have a choice as the bile continues on its path upwards.

Mind over matter, mind over matter, I tell myself and swallow hard. Briefly, I consider that the nausea could also be related to a possible concussion. Not knowing how long I was out from the fall, I am only certain that it is night and that the nausea is passing.

I dig for the flashlight. It won’t get me out of this pit if I do find it, but it will give me the comfort of light. Light is a reminder that I am human and therefore a conqueror of the dark.

Unfortunately, I am not the conqueror of anything, aside from the urge to vomit which may only be temporary. My only power is that of patience to wait for the first light of the day. I can be patient.

I feel hope for the new day.

Then something moves, squishing through the muck towards me.

Fear ties my stomach into knots and makes my heart pound. Needles of pain shoot out from my neck and scalp. I am deaf, dumb, and blind in this hole with patience as my only defense and acutely aware that I am not alone.

I was never alone.

Short Fuse

monkey
Norm raised his hand feigning respect, “I was just wondering,” he started and hesitated, “I already know the answer, but I want to hear you say it.”

A silver bracelet fell down his forearm with his hand still in the air. He wore a turquoise ring on his middle finger that was as large and obnoxious as his personality.

He continued. “Do you think it is necessary to read poetry in order to write it?”

The instructor also wore silver; hammered half-moons dangled from her ears.

“Yes, you have to read…”

“Wait a minute, I wasn’t finished with my question,” he interrupted the instructor’s soft stream of words.

A snarl started to spread over my face.

The instructor took a deep breath and removed her glasses, a two-step, Norm-deflecting technique to regain her inner peace.

Without waiting for the instructor’s response, he continued. “What I was driving at…”

Norm went on but I could no longer hear him. I did not practice Norm-deflecting techniques. Red filled my eyes and the room went silent. I could only hear the pounding of blood in my head and feel my heart beating in my chest.

Like battle drums. Boom. Boom. Boom. They demanded action.

I leapt from the back row up and over the shared table-desk with the war cry of a wild Borneo monkey.
“Aieeeeeeeeeeeee….”

I landed square on Norm’s fat back and he stopped talking.

“Shut up!” I thought I screamed and shook his head mercilessly.

Later, I learned my words came out as a continuation of the newly acquired Borneo monkey language.

Norm grabbed at his chest as his eyes bulged out and his greasy, worm-lips moved with wordless gasping.

It looked like he was mouthing either, “Get help,” or more likely, “I’ll sue you for this.”

A few minutes later the ambulance arrived and Norm was carried out on a stretcher.

The drumbeat no longer called for battle;it announced victory.

It’s been a few months and I now have a lot of Norm-and-others-like-Norm deflecting techniques to use. The judge won’t like to hear this but even after all of the therapy, medication, and electroshock, I can’t help but to feel like a hero.

A certified, bonafide hero.

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