NaNoWriMo Day 3: Catching Up (Word Count 5085)

I missed a day. And so I’ve had to write like I was on fire today…and now I’m gonna have carbs and rest until I repeat it all tomorrow!

-Anna RK

(Day 3 NaNoWriMo)

“Chuck?” I asked, although the voice sounded nothing like Chuck, my division manager’s, nasally intonations. Plus, even Chuck called me “George” at work.

The smooth voice said, “No. This is your other boss, Jorge. I’m not surprised you don’t remember me. We will refresh your memory as well when we meet. I’m feeling peckish, so let’s say we meet at the coffee shop on Main as soon as lunch rolls around. I’ll see you there.”

And then the line went dead before I could sputter anything more. Not that I had anything more to sputter, except perhaps a feeble protest that I’d brought my lunch today.

Existence is eternal. Even when our existence is consumed by another force, something larger than ourselves, our mark is not erased. We were, we are, we will always be. Although, we seem to disappear so completely when the last known entity of our lives does too succumb and shuffle off into the darkened corridor. And so our ravenous existence splays before us. We must sacrifice life to extend our span. Every morsel comes from a small death whether the pieces that pass our lips are animal or plant. We must break down life to keep our own. Even as we dine, we are considering our next meal.

Memory is a strange entity. It’s a beast, and a beast not of this mortal plain. Demonic would be a nice adjective, and hardly an overstatement. The claws of memory are sometimes padded with cushions we’ve placed there; to absorb hurt, to buffer off how it was, providing a sort of “could have been” scenario. Memory is fuzzy, but as real a place as any. We visit its hallowed halls every day, and some of us are so comfortable there, we scarcely crack the window to see the world outside. What happens when the pads of memory, the things we have devised to keep from revisiting its too real currency, wear thin…dissipate? When you take your finger from the dike and the water begins to rush in, you’ve got a choice. Are you going to plug the hole again and try to hold the waters, gallons of murk, filled with things that frighten and swell until you realize, really know, how small you are? Or will you let the waters guzzle and pour in through this irreparable tear, showing you the world of the other side? The better question is: do you know how to swim?

Once I shook myself out of my reverie and pushed the next button on my waiting call lines, I was given little time to ponder the mysteries of the first call of the day. Monday morning brought in calls from customers who had all weekend to stew in their healthcare woes, formulating persecution complexes and bullheaded notions that they would force their will upon whomever they spoke to next on the issue of their woe. It didn’t really matter whether the person they spoke to was in a position to solve their problem.

All the calls I took smacked of that futility today. But it was only hours later, a few more cups of coffee and a danish someone had left in the breakroom over the weekend on my stomach, that I took a call that had a little bit of color more than the usual greyscale.

Three minutes into the call, the woman had called me a “lecherous worm,” which gave her some kind of points because it was a new curse as opposed to the typical, “bitch, moron, cock” decree and its variations that was usually bestowed upon me. She’d already been transferred to three different departments, and so I assume she’d had time to hone her wordsmith skills in name-calling in the progression and the sludge of wait-time she had endured.

“Ma’am, I’m looking at your file right now, and it appears that your plan requires you to pay for the prescription out of pocket up front, and then you can send us the receipt for reimbursement.”

“And just where in God’s name am I going to get $200 to pay for my meds up front as you say? Are you going to give it to me? Because I’m out of work and living on disability checks right now. You ever tried to live on one monthly check, George?”

“No ma’am,” I said, holding in a deep sigh and shading in the butt of the revolver I had doodled on my notepad. I wonder if I could get a gun. Would that be the least painful, quickest way to end my miserable existence?

“Of course not. You people don’t know what it’s like to be dependent on drugs and then not able to afford them. I pay $70 a month to your company, and I don’t see that I get a damn thing in return.”

I didn’t say anything. I was now wondering if pills were a better alternative. Getting my hands on some pills to knock me into oblivion may be tricky and probably as expensive as this customer was bemoaning, but it would be less messy than a gun.

“Let me speak to your manager,” the woman said over the line.

The magic words, I thought. It allowed me to transfer her problem to another representative, and got her out of my hair. There was no manager she could speak to. Chuck didn’t take calls from “the insured,” and so we just passed the irate customer to another set of hands and listed the options available to them again and again until it soaked in, their status changed, or they gave up.

“Ma’am, I’m going to transfer you to Linda. She’s in charge of our prescription drug coverage and hopefully she will be…”

But my babble was cut off by a ringing in my ear. It had started small and far away after my customer had asked to speak to a manager, and it had steadily grown louder until it was a shrill pierce that was circling my brain, as loud as an ambulance scream that was sitting on your chest.

I looked around to see if any of my other cubicle neighbors was hearing it, but they were all typing, talking into their headsets, and shuffling papers as always. I could not hear the voice in my headset over it. I head my hands over my ears, but the ringing continued, a wail of warning. And then, just as suddenly as it had all started, reached crescendo and deafened, it retreated, the ambulance scream fading into the distance, only leaving a slight tinnitus and wave of nausea in its wake.

“…you better not have hung up on me, mother-fucker!” I heard the voice in my headset return to my hearing.

“No, ma’am, I…” but then I was cut off again.

This time by a line of motion at the corner of my vision. Jim had stood from his cubicle on the opposite side of mine. His face was blank, and his eyes were fixed far away. I turned to look at where he was staring and saw only the boxed corner of cubicles that was the auto insurance department. Jim’s eyes slid away from them, and gently touched mine. My face was probably still stricken by the alarm that had just sounded, and by Jim’s mirrored expression. He flicked a pitiful smile in my direction, placed both hands on the armrests of his leather office chair and began to run, pushing the chair out in front of him like a shopping cart.

My eyes followed Jim’s run towards the window. I was on my feet, but I was nowhere near enough to do anything. Using the momentum of the rolling chair, Jim launched his body into the chair as it reached the glass window that circled the office, and then chair, plate glass, and Jim all left the building. Jim and the chair and the glass hung momentarily in the air outside the 18th floor, and I had to swallow hard against the nausea that came with this deja vu.

The memory of Jim going through the window the first time was muted by the time between waking and now. I’d almost been able to forget what I’d seen and how it had felt to watch Jim die, but now I got to live it again and there was no dreamscape to hide behind. The nightmare was real. I fought my feet, but still they ran to the edge of the building and my head inclined downward to watch Jim fall, the chair ripping away from him, Jim ripping himself through the flagpole, the shattering of it all upon the pavement below. There was a scream from within the office. Ironically enough, I think it was Linda. There were several screams from the ground floor. I imagined I could hear them. My head was pounding and I could fight my nausea no longer. I wretched my morning coffee all over the office floor, some of it flying out the shattered window. The acidic coffee burned my throat as it exited.

When I retched a few more times and brought up nothing but bile, I was able to dimly register that my watch alarm was sounding. It was lunch time.

Existence is eternal. Even when our existence is consumed by another force, something larger than ourselves, our mark is not erased. We were, we are, we will always be. Although, we seem to disappear so completely when the last known entity of our lives does too succumb and shuffle off into the darkened corridor. And so our ravenous existence splays before us. We must sacrifice life to extend our span. Every morsel comes from a small death whether the pieces that pass our lips are animal or plant. We must break down life to keep our own. Even as we dine, we are considering our next meal.  

It was lunchtime, and our co-worker had just leapt to his death via office chair. Police and emergency workers were on their way, and I’m sure they would want some kind of statement from those who had witnessed the event. But my stomach was not up for a retelling. It was a writhing mess from regurgitated coffee and the hard crusted Danish that had only partially liquified.

Slapping my hand against the elevator call button repeatedly, I tried to take deep breaths. My co-workers were horrified, shocked and stunned by the violent end of Jim, but I felt like I had an advantage over them in emotional carry-on because I’d not only witnessed Jim’s death in real life, but I’d dreamed it beforehand, summoning it from the ether. Therefore bringing it into being? I wondered with another stomach backflip.

The elevator was full, everyone racing to lunch or to the scene of the landing. Maybe some of them were hoping to grab a sandwich and watch the clean-up process. I could slap myself for these morbid, cynical thoughts. Sure, they were amusing to me most days, but thinking them now, I felt sick, like a freak; a freak that dreamed people’s deaths before they happened. I pushed my lank, scrawny frame into the remaining space of the elevator, only just fitting into the crevice.

As soon as the doors pulled together, I wondered if all these bodies in the lift were exceeding the maximum weight limit. If so, would the cable moving us along, down and down the floors, just snap, sending us all smashing into one another as we plummeted into a fiery mess? Again, I shook myself. What was wrong with me?

The ride to the lobby took far too long, the doors opening and closing on many floors, although no one else could squeeze into our mass. The doors opened at ground floor with a soft ping, and the inhabitants filed out quickly. No one had any small talk during our ride. Our breath, collectively and separate, felt too loud even.

I filed out with others into the cold, air of November, and I told myself sternly to only look straight ahead. I would not look at the scene and risk another retch. I didn’t want to see how Jim looked on the inside. I only glanced up once from watching my black, leather loafers progress along the pavement, and in this glance I realized I was heading directly for the spot of impact. I did an abrupt about-face and went the other way. I would find some option for sustenance that lie in the other direction. My loafers squeaked tiny noises of protest, but I was not listening. At least the way that I was running from the scene was clear of people.

I felt my brain blank out as I replayed the scene of Jim hanging in the air, suspended, flying, a sad little smile on his doughy face. I tried to shake it, but it was forcing itself upon me. Once I’d experienced it again, feeling near tears as I thought about the red, red color of Jim’s coffee cup, my vision cleared from the red it was seeing and I looked up from my scuffed shoes.

I was standing in front of a cafe.But not only that. Somehow, I had walked three blocks and was on Main Street. I had never been here before, but it was going to have to do. I couldn’t stand the sight of the street, and the faces streaming past. I ducked into the coffee shop, pulling the handle and allowing myself to join the warm air and thick smell of ground beans and hot bread. Surely, these things would provide me some comfort as I attempted to separate from my dreamlike, but woefully real, reality.

There was a line, of course. Only three people, but it almost made me turn around and walk back out. But then again, I wasn’t very eager to search out a new place. I could wait, I assured myself. I began to run through the alphabet, trying to name an animal that started with each letter. I stared at the back of a man’s head in front of me as I did this. As I named off, “Kangaroo…Lemur…Marmoset…” I also memorized the back of this guy’s head. He had thick, black hair that was grown out long, touching his shoulder in cascading waves. My alphabet game and the blank, black canvas of hair allowed my mind to clear momentarily.

Soon, I had reached the counter. The man ahead of me had moved down the counter, and now I faced the barista who waited for my order with neither greeting nor smile.

“I’d like a scone, please,” I said.

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