The place was so clean you got the feeling that if you dropped a morsel of food it would burn up before it hit the carpet. It was also perfectly aligned. If you stood in the walkway that cut straight through the center of this gigantic room you could look in any direction and see exactly the same thing. Row after row of perfectly matched cubicles with their gray walls and the exact, measured openings. Once you stepped into a cubicle, you might find a variety of personal artifacts designed to impress upon you that the cubicle's occupant was different from his or her neighbors. However, the company impressed upon all employees that such things were to remain within their hallowed walls. Should you dare to post anything outside your walls that would set you apart from the crowd, you would find it on your desk with a plainly written note expressing management's passion for professionalism.
Irene's cubicle was located directly behind my own, affording me an opportunity to accidently overhear telephone conversations that colored a picture of her life outside the walls. She was going through an ugly divorce where her husband proposed splitting their two children between them so they could each play full time parent to one. Irene was dead set against it, insisting that their children needed to be together in order to develop into the closest interpretation of normal human beings. Since I did not believe in the concept of a normal human being, I found myself unable to decide which point of view I supported. Not having children of my own, I figured I had no relevance in their debate. At the same time, when Irene doggered off to lunch, I found myself sneaking back to her cubicle, pretending to be leaving faxes on her desk, so I could look at the photographs of her two children that colored the walls of her otherwise grim workstation.
Irene's arguments with her soon to be ex-husband became more heated as time passed. I cringed in my own cubicle each time she raised her voice or cursed him out. It was becoming an issue in the office and several people approached her to remind her that management was starting to pay attention to her behavior. That did not quell her passions, and if anything, the phone conversations became louder and more bitter. After many of the calls, Irene would slam down the phone and storm down the hallway and out of the office. She would generally not return for fifteen or twenty minutes. Then, one day, she did not return at all. The next morning, one of the managers and a beefy maintenance man would enter her cubicle, remove her personal artifacts and place them into an unmarked corrugated cardboard box and silently depart with them.
Leaving for home that evening, I felt sad about Irene's departure. Although we had spoken infrequently and had never developed much of a relationship, we were all cogs in the machine that drove the company and cogs develop unspoken relationships. The shape of the wheel is forever altered when one spoke breaks and another takes its place. As I approached my car, parked in perfect alignment with other employees' cars in the perfectly square parking lot our company had built for our vehicles, I noticed that there was a piece of pink paper under my windshield wiper. No other car had been assaulted by a pink paper, so I assumed this was not an advertisement for a new pizza restaurant or a five dollar discount coupon for new tires. This note was meant to be read by me and me alone.
"Why are we always afraid?
Are you afraid to be who you are?
Nothing is ever fair
when they treat you like a number.
Follow the breadcrumbs.
I need to talk to you."
Well, it was certainly the strangest note I have received in my life, except for maybe that note I wrote myself in the seventh grade to warn myself that my gym shorts were too tight and I had to find a way to get out of gym class that day.
I actually found myself looking around the parking lot for any sign of a trail of breadcrumbs. Being as it was a mildly windy day, I suspected that if the breadcrumbs were in fact literal, they would have been long gone by the time I arrived. Mystified, I got behind the wheel and began driving home. Then, stopped at a red light, I looked up to see a giant billboard advertising Mick Collins' Golden Breadcrumbs. Could this be a strange coincidence or was the billboard somehow related to the note. Behind the billboard stood the four story MacIntosh State Hospital, which housed those members of the city's population who were not easily trained to perform tasks in the manner which was expected of them. On a whim, I turned in to the hospital's parking lot, slipped a stick of gum into my mouth and stared up at the bleak concrete building with perfectly aligned four foot by four foot windows. Behind each window lurked a room, a chamber of rest for the wicked. Slipping a second stick of gum into my mouth, I got out of my car and approached the front entrance.
"I'm here to see someone," I told the proper, uniformed, glasses-wearing woman behind the front desk.
She wanted to know who I was there to see, but I lacked specifics and was unable to provide her with any. I thought about showing her the note, but I was concerned that I might then be asked to join the hospital's general population. I told her I would wait and strolled over to the nearby vending machines to buy myself a ginger ale and a bag of stale peanuts.
Everything was dead quiet, which surprised me considering that the locals called this place the "looney bin." Then, twenty minutes into my wait, an ambulance pulled up to the front door and four men wrestled a large, wriggling sack through the door. The sack bore the logo of the hospital on both sides, but the sack's occupant did not care for this sort of sacking of their personage. It took all four men, dressed identically in their white hospital uniforms with plain name badges over their right breast. "Tom" and "Dick" and "Joe" and "Seymour" were veterans of this business. They were the special crack team that was called upon when an individual did not want to enter a stay at the hospital voluntarily. The proper woman behind the desk picked up a phone, dialed two numbers and very casually spoke the words "Code Blue" into the receiver. Moments after she placed the phone back into its cradle, two orderlies, flanking a doctor type person, walked into the lobby. The orderlies helped Tom and his cohorts hold the bagged human being steady while the doctor used a giant hypodermic needle to inject something of a curious nature into the backside of the bag's occupant. The mystery guest stop squirming three minutes later and was placed on a table and rolled out of the lobby.
Still confused as to the reasons I was there, and finding myself appalled by the way the peanuts, chewing gum and ginger ale were mixing in my mouth, I went into the nearby rest room and spit everything out. Then I decided to leave and did so without saying a word to the woman behind the desk. I took a leisurely walk around the building, looking up at the bread crumb sign overhead and at the wooded area beside the hospital that the sign towered over. It looked like a pleasant and peaceful glen, so I decided to take a short tour of what it had to offer.
I was glad for my jacket, as the mild wind from earlier was now picking up and putting a terrible chill in the air. Home might have been a better destination, but I could not look away from the mystery that confronted me. A walk through these woods, with its majestic pine trees rising around the mighty billboard, would be my final release from the horrible note. Sitting down on a fallen log, I caught my breath and wondered what might be on the television to watch that evening. Then I stood up and prepared to surrender the quest when I noticed another sack with the hospital logo fairly well concealed in the shrubbery that enveloped the legs of the billboard. This sack was full of person and was moving about in much the same manner as the one I had watched being delivered through the front lobby.
I wasn't sure if I should interfere, but this was likely a human life that someone had decided was no longer valuable. I had trouble agreeing with that philosophy and figured that there might be something I could do for the sack person that would increase the value of my own life. After all, my life consisted of a bland cubicle and the watching of programs my co-workers insisted I watch in order to enter into bland conversations with them about the events that occured in those programs. Maybe the contents of a sack could add meaning to my existence.
Opening the sack, I found it to contain a young girl of about thirteen years of age. She was wearing heavily starched white hospital pajamas with hard creases in them. Her wrists and ankles were tied with cheap industrial strength twine and she was barefoot. After I removed the duct tape from her mouth, she began cursing non-stop. Her favorite expressions seemed to be "You stupid fucking tit." and "Fuck your fucking self all the fucking time, fucker." Still, she was beautiful and I decided that with some love and caring she could grow up to be big and strong and get a job in a cubicle just like me. I would raise her as if she were my own daughter, using gentle discipline and positive reinforcement to bring her around. It would be okay. This was just the ticket to making my life finally mean something. I was going to be a father.