some fall in love. i shatter.

Numbered Days (#19)

In Stories Volume 1 on July 9, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Wednesday

This was the first day I saw her in the park.  Red dress.  Eight planks of unstained pinewood fashioned loosely into a stage set between the Luminos Building and the large concrete fountain in our little corporate park on 13th and E.  I could recognize the fresh scent of the lumber from thirty feet away amid the exhaust, food, and perfumes of the city.  The stage was neither large nor small; it suit her perfectly, this stranger.  A one-woman show; there was room to pace, to cry, to call out towards Heaven, to beat the floorboards and claw at the grave.  I only say this with certainty as I saw her performing these motions over the course of the day.  I observed her on my way into the office, I held her in my line of sight from my office window on the 12th floor, I lingered over her when I stepped out for cigarette and coffee reprieves. It was this same day and in this same office that I received the Pinski account and became manager of our second largest account.  It was this same day that we learned Harris had killed himself, which was the reason for Pinski falling into my lap.  Normally there would be a day or so before account redistribution, but Pinski was just too big.

She was on stage reciting dramatic monologues without hesitation, without notes, without any sense of order as she called for requests.  Few answered her.  Some humored her with the standards, some challenged her with the obscure.  Shaw, Brecht, Shakespeare, Pinter, Synge, O’Conner, Churchill, Thomas.  She challenged them back, calling for specificities: a play, a scene, or a character, but her antagonists generally folded.  These were men and women like myself: ad men, accountants, personal assistants, executives, and financiers.  We could muster together a playwright and a play for these were the things required at cocktail parties, necessary for the social lubrication that allowed us to squeeze upwards on the tightly packed ladders that dominated our lives.  Unless the theatre was someone’s outside hobby, nobody knew anybody they didn’t need to know.  Even from so high up, I could hear bits and pieces of the outside world through my cracked-open window.  I only recognized some of the Shakespeare and that was primarily luck.

I cracked the window in my office and her voice fluttered in on gusts of wind.  I had opened the window to hear her but tried to not stray too much in that direction.  Pinski was more than big.  Pinski was a behemoth.  There was no reason for the account to have come my way other than those above me doing their damnedest to dodge the bullet themselves.  Pinski was high risk, high reward, but most just viewed it as a threat, a liability.  A tragic opportunity they called it, the smell of Harris’ death still in the air, a moment to step up and distinguish myself.  Trial by fire; execution by ire.  Harris would be remembered for the wrong reasons.

She was distinguishing herself far below me.  Even if she has no name, I thought, she’ll be remembered better than I’ll be; all it took was one day of standing on a silly, transient stage to become lodged, however deeply, in thousands of memories.  People may remember the work I’ll do, the images and jingles and campaigns may linger, but not my name, not my face.  Harris would even be remembered more than me.  Harris.  Pinski.  I shut the window and turned away from the red dress below.

Thursday

The stage was dismantled.  Six planks sat in a pile while the remaining one lay across her cross-legged lap as she sat on the ground damp from the night before, rain still collected in the pockmarks of the concrete.  No matter the pervasive moisture around her, both she and her collection of wood seemed completely dry.  One of the planks had disappeared.  She wore blue jeans and a black tank top that contrasted the pale musculature of her arms.  She seemed to utter not a word.  Her right hand held a wood plane as her left steadied the plank.  A stack of sandpaper sat tall next to her.  In smooth and steady strokes, she ran the plane over the plank, creating thin, curling sheets of wood that dropped around her.  In time, she seemed to be sitting within the collections of a pale snowdrift, mute as a snowman.  Snowwoman, I suppose.  Fewer people stopped to see her today.  She did not wield the same dramatic magnetism as the day before.  Wednesday, people had stopped to watch and then asked the simple question: why?  Today, they asked why and didn’t bother stopping to watch.  Which is to say that I only gave her about three minutes before heading into my building.  It was 7:03 when I turned my back to her.

I had worked for eighteen hours the day before.  Pinski was a killer or a career-maker, depending on how well you handled it.  Harris was the unfortunate example.  Second largest account and also the most troublesome.  Our clients within Pinski were notoriously difficult to deal with, mercurial and antagonistic, challenging and unrelenting, continuously changing opinions and expectations.  In my seven years with the company, six different people had managed the account.  I made lucky number seven.  Harris was the only actual casualty; the others had either beaten back the account and slid up the corporate ladder or had quit, transferred, found new jobs.  Pinski could make you or break you.  I liked my job and hoped to be one of those who could best the beast.  That meant leaving at midnight and working at home for an hour before sleeping.  My wife understood.  She was an editor at one of the city papers, which meant she kept fluctuating hours as well; she was neither home when I got there nor when I left.  This happened frequently.  I missed her more than I loved her.

Wednesday had been devoted to sifting through the paperwork and files for all of the Pinski sub-accounts, to acclimate myself to the atmosphere.  Thursday was the planned attack.  I knew who was who, who needed what, how quickly they needed it, which Harris had attended to, which he had allowed to slide down the slope.  I say planned but it was loose at best.  My team met at 7:30am and the tasks were doled out in descending order of responsibility and trustworthiness.  I wouldn’t become Harris.  We knew what each account wanted, needed, in what ways they had changed their minds and we were anticipating their future shifts.  Everyone knew the meeting was coming so they were prepared.  The last person left my office at 8:01.  One minute late.  I shook it off.

With everyone gone, the office became oppressive.  The whirr of the hard drive, the tick of the antique clock, the whoosh of the air conditioning turned on early for the season all amounted to a weighted nothingness.  I stood and walked to the window.  She was still there and working incredibly slowly.  There was no way of knowing when she had begun but the plank was still in good shape.  The shavings were an illusion, a castle built on air and angles that puffed the structure up.  Was there an end design for the plank?  Was it nothingness?  Would she shave until the plank no longer remained, until a gust of wind blew the cloud of slivers away, leaving behind just her?

Friday

I didn’t get close enough to see how it all held together but the six planks had been fashioned into a large vertical hexagon, only as deep as the width of each plank, which is to say, not very.  And yet there she was, sitting inside the structure, somehow balanced upon the bottom plank, seemingly meditating.  Again, she sat cross-legged but her back was ramrod straight and her hands sat open upon her knees, palms facing upwards towards the ceiling of the sky.  Her eyes and lips were closed, not a single movement or utterance, not even the flutter of an eyelid when the sun emerged from behind the clouds and backlit the darkness she imposed upon herself.

This was different from the past two days.  Wednesday had been straight dramatic performance and Thursday was more like performance art.  This… this seemed to me like she was simply taking up space.  To meditate in a space like that didn’t bring anything to the people around, did it?  Then again, did the wood shaving?  And she was balancing upon the base beam.  The planks of wood almost seemed to be of as much importance to whatever she was doing as she herself was.  It suddenly dawned on me that this was a sort of countdown.  Wednesday was eight planks of wood and we were losing one plank per day, perhaps we were losing her piece by piece as the days pushed onward.  Maybe she wanted us to begin thinking about thinking, thinking about existing, and thinking about our own progression through life.  What is meditation anyway?  What is performance, what is spectacle?  When do I stop existing for me and begin existing for someone else?

I circled around her before heading inside.  We had hit the ground running yesterday and everything was going well until my phone rang at precisely 10:00.  It was Pinski himself, the patriarch of it all, the boss, the ruler of the empire that had turned to face me.  I had heard his voice once before and as he responded to my greeting with, “Jennings, a storm is already brewing,” I already had my email client open to the Pinski folder that housed all the Pinski sub-folders.  My team had been emailing me updates every thirty minutes and nothing as yet seemed out of place.  “Mr. Pinski, it’s a pleasure to finally speak with you.”  “Fuck the pleasantries just like you’re fucking me, Jennings.  You are single-handedly undermining my entire enterprise.  It hasn’t even been a day.  Can you get one goddamned thing right?”  “Mr. Pinski, I –” but that was it.  He was gone.  His voice had sent electrical charges shooting below my skin, antagonizing every nerve ending that I tried to keep calm.  Sweat, nausea, images of Harris.  All came with bombast and bodily violence.  Moments later, emails began to drop in from all the heads of Pinski’s Hydra, iterating the changes that had been made in their expectations and desires.  Deadlines, budgets, creative goals, talent, their own team lineups; everything had shifted – some had done a full about-face, others weren’t quite so drastic.  And miraculously (for the inner turmoil was on the verge of tearing me apart), they had more or less fallen in line with what we had anticipated.  Elation is the only word to describe what I felt.  Those revolting corners of my body crumbled beneath the weight of foresight and planning.  We had a chance.

When I left that night, near midnight again, she was still there, still meditating, still caught up in the world within herself.  She was serene, she moved not a muscle, until my watch clicked twelve, and her eyes opened.

Saturday

My wife had left a note at home saying that she’d be away for a work trip over the weekend.  I wished she had been around to give us time to talk, to make sense of our known issues at work as well as our unknown issues at home.  I felt as if we hadn’t shared a home in a long time.  I thought that it was the thing I wanted most.

So because of my absent wife and because of Pinski I was in the office before the sun rose on Saturday.  I had worked plenty of Saturdays before but never was I there at 6am, never was I the first one in, always instead a team member on those projects, never the leader as I had become for Pinski.  Leader of a deflated and thrashed balloon, for everything had fallen apart around 9pm the night before.  Those emails that had been the source of such happiness Friday morning had all come undone by Friday night.  We, I, had only anticipated the one shift in expectations from Pinski, the one that we had been astonishingly prepared for, the one that my team and superiors had been so impressed with my handling of.  I was wrapping up for the night when a dozen emails came in from Pinski detailing all the shifts, all the mistakes we had made, all of our mental deficiencies, all the examples, all the evidence of our subterfuge and undermining of Pinski and everything Pinski stood for.

So there I was, there we were, back at it; undoing everything we had thrilled for the day before and beginning anew.  Beginning anew with deadlines that had risen up from their slumber and stumbled closer to us.  It seemed like they were out for my head, that Pinski had thrilled at Harris’ crumbling and was out for more; strength from the blood of the conquered.

I was there, Pinski loomed in the air, and she was there as well, just like every other day, committed to continuation even if few others were.  She had been there when I left the night before and was there with a sort of flat-roofed house when I arrived.  Two planks straight up, two angled at about forty-five degrees, and one flat across the top.  The entire structure stood at least fifteen feet tall and sprawled wider than anything else before, wider than even the stage.  Despite the noise of her first day on the stage, this seemed the most likely to incur police intervention due to the physical scope; it was in her favor that the office complex and the park were mostly empty on the weekend.

The first two days, she had stood atop and then deconstructed a structure, or at least a portion of that structure.  Now, two days in a row she had placed herself underneath or within a structure of sorts.  Instead of her quiet meditation this time, she mimicked household chores and activities, full pantomime and sound recreation.  She pretended to vacuum, fake cooked upon a fake stove, pulled clothes made of air from an invisible dryer and folded them delicately on a bed that nobody could see.  All the while, the whirr of the vacuum, the sizzle of oil meeting water in the frying pan, and the rumble of the dryer all passed from her lips.  These were just the things I saw her doing in the morning and when I stepped outside for a cigarette in both the late morning and the early afternoon; it was more efficient than eating.

I wanted to watch more of her.  I wanted to see her continue through the routines of the day, to see the creation of a household from thin air, to see a domesticity that I felt existed in my life only as a wisp.  She made, piece by piece, a home that I wanted.  Reality awaited me back upstairs while components of dreams and desires moved in front of me.  I could hear the ding of the elevator through the glass façade of the office building, through the rumble of her dishwasher as she waited for the cycle to end, drumming her fingers on the kitchen table.  She looked towards me.  She smiled.  I turned away and went upstairs to put out the fires burning in my home.

Sunday

I was close enough to make out the details and yet I saw neither adhesive nor nails nor anything of the sort.  Nevertheless, she had created a picture frame from the four planks of wood that remained in her arsenal on that rainy morning.  She had propped it against some rocks and cinderblocks and that freedom allowed her to reframe herself and repose, for she was the subject within the picture frame.  She had been our unofficial spectacle since Wednesday, now the point was hammered into place.  My window from the 12th floor allowed me to see that she kept changing her appearance throughout the day.  Sometimes she stood tall and straight, centered in the frame, sometimes she pushed against it like a mime.  She mimicked American Gothic, taking turns on the parts of the husband and wife; she mimicked the Scream repeatedly.  I’m certain there were more replications of famous works but these were the only that I saw or recognized.

When I first saw her on my way into the office at 8 – this late arrival my only recognition of the weekend – I stopped for five minutes to watch her.  She was posing as if in a chair, reading a book.  She looked up after a few minutes and seeing me there, she stood, put down the “book,” and gazed directly into my eyes.  She held my stare for a few seconds, captivating me, before I realized that she had assumed my stance, my posture, the hang of my arms, and the slight slouch of my back.  She had become a perfect mirror of me and I saw myself as I was at that moment and how I would be that night.  Her solid reflection became my fast forward button and I saw myself as I would be come Monday and Tuesday.  She blinked when I saw my Wednesday self and subsequently lost the thread; I had no vision of what battered person I would be after that.  She assumed the first Scream of the day and I went inside.

Saturday bled into Sunday.  My team was there the entire time, my more sympathetic superiors flitted in and out, trying to help me manage the undulating scenario I was working within.  Nobody understood Pinski: the method of operation, what the ultimate goals were, why the shifts came so rapidly, unexpectedly, and drastically.  Pinski himself had contacted the head of my firm on Saturday, had actually flown in for dinner with him while I was losing weight and looking down on the serene meditation of the artist below.  Pinski had calmly explained that he understood that he could occasionally tax our resources and thus offered more cash for our continued services.  Which translates to no intervention on my behalf; which translates to a sliver of assistance from above; which translates to my continued presence in the office.

I still couldn’t get a leg up on any of the companies within the Pinski account.  Harris had left no notes, no thoughts on where things were going or what he thought might be the actual goals of the account.  There was a notebook documenting his frustrations, which were disturbingly similar to mine.  I could have written the damn thing, but in my concern over getting things right, I hesitated to read much into it.  I was busy not becoming Harris, not succumbing, not being the conquered.

I glanced outside before falling asleep in the office.  I stood at the window with Harris’ diary in my right hand.  Below, she was again become the Scream.

Monday

A pyramid.  Egyptian.  She wasn’t on it or under it, but in front.  She lay on the ground, her stomach, waist, and thighs against the wet concrete.  Her calves were curled and poised like a feline and her chest and head were held high, buoyed by the support of her arms.  She had become a Sphinx.  Whether she enticed people with this position or whether they were more playful having just returned from the weekend, they were drawn in.  Time and again, they approached her.  From where I stood, still yet to have entered the office building that morning, I could never hear what was said but after some back and forth, she would bow her head and wait until they passed beyond.  I hesitated before approaching.

“So what is this all about?”  Her eyes looked into mine, we were so close after so many days that I wanted to sit with her for this conversation.  I remained standing though, looking down at her while she looked upwards

“I am the Sphinx, guardian of the pyramid you see behind me.”

“Right, but why have you been here this whole time?  Is this being filmed somewhere?”  I cast my eyes 360-degrees, expecting to suddenly find the dull, black, glassy eyes of camcorders

“I am the Sphinx, guardian of the pyramid you see behind me.  Do you wish to pass?”  Truthfully, I had expected almost anything but this response.  I don’t know what I expected but not this re-proclamation, not this question.  It didn’t faze me.

“Sure, I’d like to pass.”

“Then you must answer my riddle.  If you answer correctly, you may pass freely and safely.  But should you answer incorrectly, I will eat you; consume you.”

“What?”

“I will not do so immediately though, as the true Sphinx once did.  Instead, you will have three days before I eat you whole.  Are you ready?”  What was there to lose?  Over a dozen people had gone by and not one seemed to falter.  I stood straighter, taller.

“I’m ready.”

“There are two sisters,” she said.  “One gives birth to the other and she, in turn, gives birth to the first.  Who are they?”

Uncertainty prefaced the sweat, which prefaced the concern, all of which came on in less than a second.  This wasn’t the question I expected, the typical Sphinx question, the “what-walks-on-four-then-two-then-three-legs” riddle.

“I’ll give you a hint,” she said, eyeing me with concern, “I’m not Egyptian.  I’m Greek.”

I didn’t even know there were Greek Sphinxes.  This was a tease in the guise of a hint.  I looked around as if for help but nobody paid us any attention, nobody impatiently waited for their turn with our resident minimalist and avant artist.  I thought hard yet generated nothing; felt like I was already in the office.

“I don’t know.”

“Really?  No guesses?  Maybe you’ll get lucky.”

“No guesses – I’m not much for luck.”  She looked away for the first time, casting her eyes downward.  I saw them reflected in the small puddle below her chin and I saw a ripple erupt from the center and make tiny waves outward.

“In that case,” she said, “the answer is Day and Night.”

“Why sisters?  Why not friends, brothers, anything?”

“Day and Night are both feminine in Greek.  That was the hint.”  That was the hint.  It felt like a riddle Pinski would tell, a riddle constructed for failure.

“Clever,” I said.  “So now you’ll eat me?”

“Not yet – three days.  Today is day one and you will have until the end of the third day before I come for you.  Three days.”

There was a voicemail waiting for me upstairs.  Only one.  That was un-Pinski like; they enjoyed filling the hard drive as if it was a competition, while simultaneously sending emails.  But there was just the one voicemail.  Pinski’s voice was on the other end of the line; we had spoken only the one time before.  Friday.  The terseness displayed back then had been ejected forcefully from the man.  I could now barely understand what he said – it ranged from whispers to grumbles to shouts so mangled by an unexplainable fury that I heard more clearly the spittle hitting the microphone of the mouthpiece than I did the words he shoved past his lips.  He was coming.  Pinski was coming for me.  Leaving LA behind and coming to my state, my city, by building, my floor, my office.  Pinski was coming and I didn’t know why but I knew it wasn’t good, that it was very far from good.  Wednesday.  Three days.

I knew neither where to start nor where to aim myself in order to end.  Everyone knew by the time I had arrived that Pinski was coming though nobody would tell me how they knew.  The team looked to me for guidance but I had nothing to offer them.  His coming was the bomb dropping – it would change everything and made pointless any work we would do now.  Where was there to go when there was neither direction nor destination?  I told them to put Pinski aside for now and to resume work on their other accounts.  They wouldn’t listen, they worked in what they thought was secrecy but I knew what they were doing, so I revoked their access to the various Pinski sub-accounts.  My superiors came to see me, cigarette smoke and whiskey on their breath.  They empathized.  They understood the difficult account and agreed that perhaps it was best to get my other accounts in order before he came.  They may as well have said goodbye then and there.  Have done with it.  Start fresh, for I was thoroughly spoilt as far as they were concerned.  I began to wish I had gone to inspect the pyramid more closely.

Tuesday

I turned the corner curious to see what had come of her diminished supplies to find that she had gone the simplest of routes and created a crucifix.  She did not hang from it in spite of her physical involvement with all other daily tableaus.  Instead, an orange crate was placed at the base of the crucifix, which somehow stood freely, and it was upon this that she was planted with her arms outstretched in her best Jesus Christ pose.  She had traded in her previous outfit for linen pants and a linen shirt.  It was the only expected thing she’d done.  One foot lay upon the other, her head hung downwards to the right side of her chest, arms steady and without a quiver.  People brushed past quickly, turning a snide eye, muttering to themselves. Passersby spoke as if they had followed her work for decades; even calling it a rebuke of her earlier self.

I stood in the rain with her for twenty minutes.  I had come early just to have extra time with whatever she had constructed for that day.  Nervous was the way I felt when thinking of what had to be her impending departure from our scene.  My wristwatch tolled 7am and like Pavlov’s bitch, my body turned away from her and towards my skyscraper’s revolving glass doors.  I glanced back through the emerging sunlight and lingering raindrops.  A hazy mist of a rainbow was forming and for an instant, a tear of ruby blood ran the length of her cheek.  I wondered if gods, or the sons of gods, ate people, or if my sentence had been commuted.  One sentence before me and one above.

Inside, there were eight messages awaiting my arrival.  I guessed seven but all eight were from Pinski people.  I was long past sympathizing with Harris and was instead beginning to wonder if he had found release in death or if Pinski had people there as well.  Nothing was right, they said, nothing was meeting approval, they wanted an explanation for the drop in communication the day before.  It didn’t matter that we had followed their edits, suggestions, and revisions word for word.  It didn’t matter that we had slaved away with them every time they turned corners expected and unexpected.  Pinski paid, paid well, and had recently upped that number.  Was that only days ago?  It felt like weeks.

The intern placed my 8am coffee on my desk at 7:30.  She said it looked like I needed it early.  I thanked her as she walked away.  She was young, pretty.  I hadn’t seen my wife since this all began.  There were problems at the paper, financial issues that were stacking up, building upon themselves, and pushing everything else out of the way.  Including me, not that I would have been there anyway.  Her hours were as bad as mine but her problems were the institution’s; my problems were mine.  She was Rome, whereas I was Damocles.  We were both oblivious.

I looked at the fork in the road ahead of me.  One option was to begin calling my other accounts, tell them that I would be heading out on sabbatical, and to direct their communications to one or another person on my team.  Begin an exit strategy, basically; step away gently and go down intact.  The other option would be to take a final shot at Pinski.  Aim and pull the trigger, hold it down until I either beat him or he comes for me.  The stacks of files on my desk were tall, the team was already locked out of the accounts, they were disbanding slowly and unwillingly, another round of emails was likely to come in from Pinski at any moment.  But what if Pinski began to double back on previous instructions?

Wednesday

I hoped it wasn’t her last day but the finality of being impaled upon a pike seemed to indicate otherwise.  Didn’t the crucifix yesterday say the same thing, the intern had asked me.  Jesus rose, I responded.  And isn’t Jesus supposed to come again, she parried.  Yes, I said, you’re right; Jesus is supposed to come again.  But he hasn’t yet, he’s still gone; we’re still waiting for him to come back.

All day long, I returned to my windows to gaze upon her lifeless body below.  She was alive, obviously; both from the ground and from here it was apparent that her body was somehow affixed to the side of the pike, giving the illusion from certain angles that she was impaled.  And she breathed heavily as if the position required great physical expenditure.  Not even understanding how this worked, I was inclined to believe that it did require a bit of effort.

I had remained in the office the night before.  My wife had called around 10:30 and said she’d be likely doing the same.  There was crowd noise in her background; there was silence in mine.  I had asked what was happening but she hung up before I finished.  I had taken option two in the face of Pinski, the road of confrontation, of not backing down, of climbing off the cross and facing the pike, no matter what may come for the worst was known.  Wasn’t it?  I had taken my two best team members and the intern and sequestered us in my office.  Forget living and breathing, we mainlined Pinski.  We went through the shifts, the changes, the expectations old and new, through my time and Harris’ time, and those who came before him.  We did the homework, we studied, we crammed, we made preparation the focus and execution the afterthought.  Pinski was coming and that perversely bought us time.  We each stayed overnight, sleeping in shifts so that the we could continue working.

I hadn’t slept though.  I traded that time for the view out the window and the occasional trip downstairs to see her and to smoke.  Two crutches.  I had wanted to see her transition from two planks to the one.  Wanted to know when it happened, wanted to know what became of the wood that disappeared everyday, wanted to see her as a human being and not an artist, in the moments between her art.  I missed the transition though.  Had been caught up in some minor breakthrough and missed the tolling of midnight.  By time I realized, seven minutes late, she was already impaled and lost to this world.

Pinski was coming but his plane wasn’t scheduled to land until late – sometime after 10pm.  He’d be coming directly to the office.  I could barely keep focused from the lack of sleep and from knowing the executioner was waiting.  The executioner.  I reconsidered my vocabulary in order to drain Pinski of some of the power I was imbuing him with but nothing would fill the void.  We had a chance against him, slim as it may have been.  If we pulled it off, it would be amazing; if we didn’t, well, back to the executioner.  Pinski was important enough that the heads of my firm bowed before the man, the conglomerate, the account, and the fees.

The hours continued by, unaware of the way that I, we, the entire company was keeping one eye on the clock.  We kept working as the sun rose higher and eventually began the downward creep, long shadows cutting across the office walls.  Fingers were cramping, our knuckles had become sore and our fingertips were smooth and tender from the thin layer of skin that had been punched off on keyboards.  At a certain point, sometime after the intern had brought my 7pm coffee, I dismissed them all.  I told them that we had done everything we could, everything that we would be able to do.  As willingly as they had participated, this was not their fight and there was no need for them to suffer through to the end.  It was more explaining than was necessary.  They were gone quickly, like they could already smell my corpse beginning to rot.

Once everyone was gone, I went downstairs with my coffee and two cigarettes.  I crouched against the exterior of the building as near to her as I could and peeled the lid off the coffee cup.  She was still there, no reason for her to change her pattern, but I was still amazed that she hung there motionless except for her breathing.  She was dedicated, or she was gone, absent into the back rooms of her mind.  There was so much I still wanted to know about her but a suspicion lurked inside of me that I would never discover the truth.  As one cigarette burned away, I remembered that we were approaching the end of my third day, the day upon which I would be consumed.  Not if Pinski beats you to it, I thought.

The call was from Pinski’s assistant.  The flight had been delayed but they had finally landed minutes earlier.  They would be at the office in under an hour and expected that I be there as well.  That was it; he hung up before I could get a word in.  An hour would be just after midnight.  “He’s racing you,” I said aloud even though she was hundreds of feet and millions of miles away from me.  I called my immediate supervisor.  He was at dinner with his wife, told me he’d be here, told me to stay put.  The way he said it – stay put – was like a warning, an admonition to be careful, to not do anything drastic, to be careful, to not hurt myself or anyone around me, to not become Harris.

The sky was black but reminiscent of Halloween with the orange glow of light pollution.  I could barely make out the lights of airplanes ascending and descending outside of the city limits, wondered if I had seen Pinski arriving.  Another coffee sat lightly in the grip of my right hand as I sat in my desk chair, repositioned along the windows so that I could still see her hoisted below.  Midnight loomed but my staggering concerns were not quite enough to keep me solidly awake.  Pinski was inevitability – there was no ice water in there to shock me lucid.  What would happen, I couldn’t know, but that amounted only to details.  Any minute, the door could open, the sound of footsteps, the presence in my doorframe.  His assistant had indicated near midnight and that was only two minutes away.  Below, she gave no sign of moving and my eyes were steady upon her.  I had become familiar with the final act but I wanted to see the exit, how it all went down, how she took her bow.  So much mystery and majesty, would she just walk away in the end?  Take the last plank or leave it?  Disappear into thin air and leave no trace.  One minute.

It wasn’t the caffeine but the burn of heat through the coffee cup keeping me going.  Then I heard it.  The swift opening of a door and the sound of footsteps.  Low voices.  The air seemed to rush through the floor and into my office.  The sound of a single knuckle rapping intently against the doorframe.  I looked up and over.  Pinski, the head of it all, empire and trouble and anything else, standing in my doorframe.  But I didn’t see him, not really.  I saw the idea of him.   It was too fast.  I saw him and in seeing one of the forces of nature that had been eluding my comprehension for the past week, I realized I had broken my downward gaze just as my watch ticked over to midnight.  I stood and looked back out the window, down at my artist.

She was gone.  The pike was gone.  A trace of neither in the now empty park.  I turned to face Pinski along with his assistant but they were gone as well.  I ran to the door and looked left and right down the hallway but there were no traces of anyone having been there.  I went from offices to cubicles to conference rooms looking for them, but nothing.  The entire floor was as silent and empty as it had been for the previous few hours.  Orange light filtered in through some of the windows.  Motion sensors caught me and illuminated my movements.  But nothing.  From one corner of the floor to the opposite, there was not a soul.

“Pinski?  Pinski!”  No answer.  But as my shout settled into the carpeting, I heard the door open again, more gently this time.  The sensors had lost their bead on me and I stood in darkness.  The cubicle walls were tall and I could just barely see the top of a head moving through the labyrinth.  It wasn’t Pinski and it wasn’t his assistant.  Blonde hair, loose, seemingly long, seemingly familiar.  The sensors selectively picked up her movement.  I smelled the rain of the past few days; it wafted my way gradually as she made her way to my empty office.  I could no longer see her but heard her pause and then slowly begin working her way towards me through the cubicle maze.  I stood still, terrified and turned on; maybe it was the same feeling.

She turned the corner and there she was: a flowing white skirt and brown peasant shirt, trace amounts of sawdust trailing behind her.  There I was: suit pants and a button-down with the sleeves rolled up past the breaking point.  She met my eyes and held them firmly.

“It’s been three days,” was all she said before every light went out around us.

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