He sat in his small, dark, square office, studying the glowing screen with eyes peeled open. The doorknob made a muffled noise and twisted tightly. Someone was trying to open the door. The knob jerked, with the door in his mind pressed to its limit like an irregular heartbeat, almost bursting from the frame. He twitched and finally woke from his trance-like state of staring into the abyss that is the glowing computer screen.
He used his weak arms to lift his body from his comfortable, black, leather office chair. He walked stiffly around his rectangular desk with rounded edges to the off-white door. He gripped the stainless steel knob, flipped the lock's switch with his thumb, and twisted the knob clockwise. He felt a hand smoothly push open the door and the company’s mail girl appeared from left to right with a letter for him.
The envelope had red and blue stripes along its border, indicating that it was from another country. Who did he know from another country? Who would mail him? For what? He entertained the questions as he paused, standing timidly still, looking at the letter presented as almost a prize from the company mail girl.
He would accept a prize from her, he thought. Nothing bad could come from the company mail girl. She was a short, coquettish brunette with soft hair and wide, brilliantly eyes. They were the kind of eyes that lit stages on which only the best comedic and tragic scenes were acted--plays he hadn't seen in so long. Finally his thought process regarding the red and blue stripes, the prize-letter, and the company mail girl’s beauty came to an abrupt stop.
He wanted to know what was in the envelope. It had no return address. He slowly and still very timidly lifted his right hand, and on his right wrist there was an electronic wristwatch with thousands of functions and yet a clean, stainless steel face and leather strap—a marriage of style and efficiency. Always two-fifteen. She's reliable. His gaunt, bony hand clasped lightly around the letter and the company mail girl released it from her delicate touch as she turned quickly with a wink and an innocent smile. She walked away down the aisle. He stood in the doorway, flipping the letter in his hands, feeling the crispness of the pearly white paper under the light of excited argon. He discreetly closed the door with his shoe, giving it that last little push at the end to make sure the latch clicked. Without looking, he grabbed the Excalibur imitation letter opener off the front of his desk. He held the letter in his right hand and ran the innocuous blade under envelope’s closing crease until it tore neatly across the envelope, revealing a tri-folded piece of white paper.
The piece of paper gave birth to a hum in his head. It didn’t have any particular tune. The hum began to grow louder sporadically and its pitch increased unsteadily until it was now a buzz. He squinted. The buzz’s waves became more tightly packed together and it turned to a steady high-pitched squeal. He clasped the letter tightly and began to cringe. The squeal’s pitch and constancy faltered more and more as it turned to a cry. He began to sweat and stagger. The cry became so tenuous that it turned to static and left his mind. He shook out the tension and stood straight again as he mopped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.
After recovering his self-consciousness, he dug his hand into the envelope and pulled out the letter with his right hand, unfolding it with his left. In between the two folds near the top and bottom of the paper, in the centered center of the page, there was a return address written painstakingly by a messy hand. There was only one discrepancy with the address: the name. It was his own name, on an address that was not his address. The address written here was on the other side of the country. This address was in California.
Another discrepancy arose when he looked back at the envelope. He turned it over in his right hand and he saw that the postmark was here. The postmark was in this city, on this coast. It was written, licked, sealed, sent from here. It was internationally striped but locally postmarked. This was nonsensical. Lots of things are, but this was so much more obvious.
California, when he thought of it, brought thoughts of its literary Promise Land motifs, laid-back lifestyles, and Manifest Destiny dreams to his head. He thought about the future California might hold for him and he thought how bright--or dim--it could be. A fact remained about California in relation to his current position: It was somewhere else. Anywhere else was better than this sterilized-a-thousand-times-over office cramped in a windowless hallway.
There was nothing to think about. He had to leave now or the impulsivity of the task would leave him and his dream would wither and die. This dream had to be taken with urgency, similar to letter in which it was received.
He closed the two folds of the letter and placed it back in the envelope and then folded the envelope in half so that it would comfortably fit into his right back pocket. The letter almost singed his back pocket as he let go of it. He delicately twisted the knob, slowly opened the door, stood in the doorway, now with his arms folded, and pursed his eyebrow as he considered the distance to California. It was far. Farther than he had ever been.
Yes. No. Maybe. Well, his job was stable. It a comfortable life in his apartment, but the apartment won’t last forever. The job won’t last forever. Life won’t last forever. He didn’t want to be cliché. He didn’t want to be so similar to anyone else anymore. His life up to this point was just a series of distractions to avoid the anxiety of being considered a failure. This man in this suit in this office on this floor of this company staring into this screen was the contrapuntal Baroque masterpiece turned Muzak of failure, the opera that nobody watches anymore because everyone’s too busy living it; he knew this. His life had to be something different or he’d die from living in such boredom. If he lived like that, suicide would be a perfectly reasonable alternative. He could star in a new sitcom that premieres with a woman in agony giving birth to a boy, lasts several decades chronicling his life, and has a series finale with a weepy, tense shell of a man, a revolver, an arbitrary gun-to-head pose, and a gunshot sound accompanied by a blackout and credits. He had to leave or he would die amounting to nothing more than an anonymous four-word epitaph: “Lived a good life.” Yes, yes. It was time to go.
He took his black, waist-length, wooly sport coat from the back of his chair, whipped it over his head and let the sleeves slide down his arms and the back onto his shoulders. It felt more comfortable than before. His old black bowler was sitting on the desk and he thought he might as well take that too. It could rain. He gingerly picked up the bowler with his forefinger and his thumb and dropped it onto the top of his head covered in soft, thick, mahogany, combed-over, gelled, styled hair. He retrieved his black briefcase from the side of his v-shaped desk. On a last whim, he tore the top piece of paper from his notepad and fashioned a pointy feather for his bowler from it. Folding it reminded him of grade school days making paper airplanes. He tucked it inside the bowler’s ribbon and it made him seem a metropolitan Robin Hood.
The computer was not turned off. The monitor did not have a wingtip put through it. The desk chair was not kicked over with wheels spinning. The papers and files were not strewn about the room. The window wasn't cracked or smashed. The wall had no hole in it. Nothing was scrawled over with profanities. The light was not turned off. The door was not shut.
He walked perfectly straight, but with relaxation out of the office, down the hallway adorned by a fuzzy gray carpet with white walls and doors evenly spaced equidistant to each other on each side of the hallway. Between each of the doors, bland framed paintings such as glorious fish and shining suns and motivational slogans were placed to add some spring to some steps. He did not look at them this time. He looked ahead to the door at the end of the hall instead of down at his shined shoes. He reached for the stainless steel knob. He twisted and pushed forward.
The door opened with an extraordinary flourish. The man in the black suit with the black briefcase and the black bowler and the soft, thick, mahogany, combed-over, gelled, styled hair stood at the top of the square stairwell that descended a shaft with a few stairs going diagonally down each wall in an angular spiral until it reached the bottom. The bowler would have fallen from his head had he not held it as he peeped over the rail to see the bottom of the shaft. To the center of the spiral he had to go.
He had to rush or the dream would leave his head. He had to leave the building. He quickly turned and his coat whipped around seeming as if he was in a storm as he leaped to the first step to the right. And then quickly, step after step, constantly going faster, his feet were almost a blur descending the gray, plastic-lined steps. He began taking two steps at once. Strangely, if he didn’t increase in speed, the dream would collapse and die and roll down the stairs cut, broken, and dead from the surprise of falling, not the stairs themselves.
Soon there were only fourteen of one hundred-forty left. He had counted these stairs before. He had counted his steps before. He could not bear to take the last fourteen stairs in seven more begrudgingly slow two-step leaps. This would require one very terrifying fourteen-step leap. In his wingtips, he left the step, flew, and landed on the floor, ankles trembling, fourteen steps lower than before. In front of him were double doors with two glass panes in each door and push-bars in the middle.
His frail bicep smashed against the push-bar in the middle of the door as he rammed through and swaggered into the huge lobby with a loud racket. People sitting on the steel benches all fixed their stares on him and the secretary mumbled something inaudible to the employee to whom she was speaking on the other end of the line. He recovered his balance, stood straight, adjusted his tie and coat with a smirk, and walked with pride past the fake exotic company plants, past the customers waiting at the steel benches, past the floor adorned with the infini-neo-edge-co-dyne-source-tech-esque name and logo, past the stifling low ceilings and high floors, past the walls and the tops of cubicles, past the innocuous designs, and he came to a revolving door.
He smiled a new smile. This smile was not exhausted and tired and did not reek of plastics, polishes, and metals. The wingtips were now exactly aligned with each other as he looked at the revolving door in front of him. There was no one going in or out. Doors revolving, glass panes revolving, metal revolving. He saw people revolving, but they weren’t in the door.
He took a long, slow stride toward the door and another into the great circle, his hand softly gripping the handrail on the revolving door in front of him, pushing until he felt sunlight. He felt sunlight.
v. 2.0 -- Original substantially edited/rewritten January 6, 2006.