He had an office. It had a wall. Taped to the wall was a poster with a picture of a man standing in a stream with a pole and a fishless hook. And the man was smiling. And words on the poster were, "The worst day fishing is better than the best day working."
On his desk was a pile of paper bearing volumes of information. Numbers and rules, analyses and data. Things discovered and warnings of failure all lived in the pile, each bit of information screaming its importance to the back of another sheet of paper which beheld a wealth of what was to the paper above.
There was a phone with a light that flashed because he had messages. There was a computer, power off. There was a pen and a pencil and a picture frame. And in the picture frame was a picture of his wife. It was one of those pictures people have in their offices, the kind that are taken long ago. The kind that are put in the frame when the job was first got. When the desk was bare and something was needed to make the space human. And his wife was smiling at him and she was as young as he was when he first put the picture in the frame.
And Rob came to the doorway to his office and knocked on the opened door because he hadn't looked up. And Rob said he was sorry and he gave Rob his thanks. Then to Bill and Steve. To Rakesh and Kumar and Chin and Betty and Heng-yi and Sybil and Marta, his thanks to their "sorry".
Then Donna came to the door and didn't knock. She sat in the chair at the front of the desk. She put her hand on the desk and when he looked at her he could see there were tears in her eyes.
He knew what she would say. In his heart he could recite the words because he was sure he knew her secrets, and that she knew his.
Instead of what he expected, she said, "What if it was all worth it?"
He furrowed his brow and tried to look serious. He swallowed and made sure the soles of his feet were touching the floor. He put a palm on his desk. His tie felt tight around his neck. His belt felt like it cut into his stomach.
"What if it is?" Donna said. "What if the worst is better than never having been born?"
And he rubbed something wet out of his eye and put another palm on the desk and looked at the picture.
Donna said, "We call them events because they have beginnings and ends. Everything is something happening. It has to be this way and all of it is important, because it was us, meeting and parting. Because we were here and all there is to do is say hello or goodbye."
Then he didn't understand and didn't want anymore. He was sorry to be sitting in his chair. He was sorry to think he could feel better in his space with his fisherman poster and his unanswered messages and unimportant data. The sum of it all seemed to be crumbling like chalk.
"What if it's true?" Donna said. "Don't you have to feel it, even if it's possible? Even if there's a glimmer of hope, you have to if you think," she said. And then she got up and walked away crying.
He couldn't take his eyes off the old picture. He stared at it so long he couldn't see it anymore. It had become something like the thoughts in his head that flowed like the fishing stream and left him forever. Then there was a rumble from deep within in the Earth, far under his seat beneath the building, where no one had ever gone.
He sat in the park because he had to be outside in the flow of air and the noise of things moving. He held his wife's purse on his lap. Brown leather worn almost black from the touch of her palm. A zipper broken on one side so it wouldn't close all the way.
Inside were paper tissues, balled and frayed, some pink with smudges of lip color, some clotted tight from her sneezes. He held it open and fished with his hands feeling the smooth plastic rods inside. Pens and pencils. Tubes of eye liner and lip color. Tweezers. He pulled the purse northward to his face and buried his nose in the traces of her. Put it back on his lap and opened the wallet. A book of checks. Some paper money and a small pocket filled with dimes and pennies.
A small square of paper fell out onto his lap. He slapped his palm onto it so the wind that wanted it would have to leave it with him.
He unfolded the paper square and saw words he had not written and they said, "You are why I wake in the morning. You bring me peace. You are why I smile. You are my treasure. I love you."
On the back was a time and a date which had passed. In the checkbook calendar were days marked with letters. X's and O's that didn't make sense.
He put the wallet in the purse and zipped the purse shut. He didn't know how he felt. He didn't think to describe it to himself. So he winced into his clenched fist. And then he cried into his open palms. It was sunny that day, and children were playing.
When Donna came to his house he thought he wanted to hug and kiss her. She let him and he did. When it felt like dropping rocks into an empty bottle, he stopped and saw her eyes were red and tired--that she was there but not there, and hardly noticed he'd turned away.
He offered her coffee or a drink, and she wanted neither. They sat at the kitchenette staring at their folded hands and a wooden rack of yellow napkins. Salt and pepper shakers.
"It's so strange," Donna said, tentatively, as if the air would not support her words. "I have pictures. I have letters and videos. I see myself happy. I know I was happy. I mean, intellectually I know that I was happy when Brett was--when I was with Brett. But now I can't imagine it. I feel like I've never been happy at all. Not even one day."
He took the paper square from his pocket. Held it in his fingers when she asked him, "Is it worth it?"
He told her he didn't know, and she said it had to be. Had to be.
He spread the unfolded paper on the table in front of her and said he'd found it. Hadn't written it. Neither had his wife. Man's heavy hand. So, it was from--whom?
Donna crumbled the paper. Got up and tossed it into the dustbin.
She said, "I'll tell you what they tell me. Listen. They tell me to rejoice. Rejoice, for now that the world cannot claim them, they belong to us exclusively. To us who love them. Does that make any sense to you? You should stop doing these other things--they say."
But he thought that outside in the sunshine there was someone with memories that belonged to him, and he wanted them back.
There was an address on a note in her raincoat pocket. There was a phone number and a name. He called the number and the man was not there. He went to the address and found the man's office. And on the desk he found pens and pencils and stacks of paper printed with information people had forgotten. And on the desk were frames bearing pictures taken long ago. There was a woman and children and a dog and a house with a fireplace and a Christmas tree. And there was a new car and a diploma. And a baseball signed by Willy Mays, and one signed by a little league team. In the corner of one of the frames was wedged a small picture of his wife he had never seen. It was older than his, his wife so much younger.
He pulled it out of the frame because he felt it belonged to him. Someone from the office saw him and asked him what he was doing but he didn't answer. Eventually, the man whose space he'd occupied came back and asked him what he wanted, then stopped his inquiry when he saw his face.
"Do you know me?" the man asked.
He told him he didn't. But he felt, the man knew him.
"What do you want?" the man of the office wanted to know, as if daring him.
Then he showed the man the picture he'd taken from the frame, and put it back where he'd found it.
He said, "I never told her she was my treasure." He looked at the man's chair, worn smooth in places from years of working.
"What do you want to know?" the man asked again, defiant.
When he pushed past him and walked out saying, "nothing," he heard the man crying behind him.
And then that part of his life was over.