I woke up, and light was streaming in through an opening in the curtain that I’d forgotten to pull down last night. I had slept the whole night through and had not a single stir of thought, and no dreams I could recollect. Perhaps, I’d just gotten a placebo pill in the mix and now my medicine was back on track. I started to feel better about the whole thing, until I considered that even if the nightmares were over, I had still had a shockingly vivid dream about a man’s death, and the death had come true. Jim was still dead, and I was going to have to go into the office and deal with the motions and action that went along with that trauma that had just gone undealt with yesterday.
I could sick in, and stay home. No one would blame me or really care. It would give one of the temps a chance to pick up extra hours. But sitting here, I thought, as I looked around the room, alone with these four walls all day, it would only make me more anxious as I dreamed up what could be happening at the office in my absence. I got up and started my daily routine of getting ready. With the bizarreness that had been my daily life yesterday, answering calls from people, stuck within loops of bureaucratic red-tape normalcy, would be actually quite welcome.
I got to work, entered the lobby, shoved into the elevator, and found that I was smiling goofily at the prospect of having a typical, boring 9 to 5 workday. I got off on the insurance floor, and only gave cursory glance to the office space. The mess had been cleaned up and a couple of workmen were putting the finishing touches on installing replacement glass at the spot where it had been shattered. A couple of my co-workers were already in their cubicles, finishing breakfast and browsing the Internet. Extremely satisfied with the lack of wailing and gnashing of teeth of this scene, I practically skipped off to the breakroom to browse the budget coffee selection.
I pulled out he coffee drawer, and leaned over to rifle the bags. But inside the drawer, there was no selection of “Breakfast Go’nanza,” “Mountain’s Peak,” or “King Java’s Delite” (a light roast). Instead, the interior of the drawer writhed with a plump white worms, maggots, and a swarm of hairy black flies buzzed ferociously as they escaped the confines and streamed into the breakroom. I screamed and slapped at them as they flew out, my gaze still frozen on the inside of the drawer where there was more atrocity to view. The fly spawn crawled all over a severed hand and forearm, raggedly chopped at the place where an elbow would go if there had been more flesh to be had on this specimen. Did I mention that it was rotted and decaying? Because it was, and the wriggling worms couldn’t suppress their glee at how good the shimmy through the warm flesh felt. I wheeled away from the scene, ready to lose my lunch and dinner and whatever else I had in my stomach…again.
Yet, when I turned away from the scene, the nausea and the all too real smell of what the drawer had contained disappeared. Taking a deep, steadying breath, I turned hesitantly back to the drawer. It was full of the coffee bags now, all pleasantly exuding the earthy must of the grounds inside.
“What the….” I said aloud, gently poking one of the bags and then pulling a few of them out, tossing them on the floor as I dug in the drawer, my hand slapping the bottom of the drawer and touching nothing fleshlike or wormy. I continued to throw bags out of the drawer and onto the floor until I heard a small “hmph” noise of amusement and assessment behind me.
I wheeled around to try and justify why I was ransacking the coffee stash, but could say nothing as I stared at the man leaning against the door frame. He was wearing the gray uniform of a glass repair and installation company, but I had no trouble in recognizing him. It was my “boss,” the so-called entrepreneur, from the coffee shop encounter yesterday.
“Good morning, Jorge,” he said, making his way across the breakroom. He gently stepped on the bags of coffee, and then plucked the one I was holding still in hand from me and returned it to the drawer.
“So now you’re a window guy?” I said, ignoring his theatrical “good-morning-I’m-a-mysterious-fuck-aren’t-I?” routine.
He smiled and placed more bags back into the drawer.
“I’m an all sort of things kind of guy,” he said. “I take up many an odd job and such as I move through my work. It helps to pass the time. Jack of all trades.”
“Master of none?” I asked.
“Not quite,” he said, and began to pick at the shoulder of the work uniform. He gave it another few tugs, and worked a flap of the clothing free at the seam along the collar. Then he peeled the grey jumpsuit off to reveal a black suit underneath. He had pulled the uniform off himself like it was a mere sticker stuck on over his true form. He crumpled the jumpsuit in his palm until it truly did resemble a used sticker, and then he crushed it in a fist. When he opened his hand again, his palm was empty.
I looked up from his palm, and into the amusement in his eyes.
“You don’t want this stuff. Let’s go get some real coffee,” he said.
“How many times have you introduced yourself to me for the first time?” I asked.
“At least 50 times.”
“I’m not going to be taking insurance calls today, am I?”
“Not hardly,” he said, sipping his coffee. “We will leave a doppelgänger in your place so that it seems like you will be though. There’s always more than a few of our clients who would rather do anything rather than go quietly into the dark, even something so unfulfilling as insurance sales. We will leave one of them here today.”
“I…” But that’s about all I could sputter.
The man put a hand on my shoulder, and gave it a hard squeeze.
“C’mon Jorgé. Let’s go get another one of those fabulous scones, and I’ll fill you in on the program again. We’ve got some time before our first house call, and it will be just enough to reassure you that you’re not a crazy person.”
We walked out into the hall and to the elevator. I could just glimpse my cubicle in the corner, and watched as a man of my height and build walked to it, sat down in the chair, swivelled around and raised his coffee mug to me in a rather cheeky sort of toast.
We are most satisfied with ourselves when we allow some piece of the puzzle of permanence fall into place. Seeking this illusionary game of clear cut pieces and pathways is satisfying in a way that a game of chance can distract us from what’s really at stake. We know…we know, they say, everything changes, and it’s easy enough to fact check. But when the puddle bubbles up around us, and has grown to a shallow lake, a rising swell, in no time at all, we are still apt to deny that our former way is flooded, and we’re going to have to navigate another way.
He and I have done this many times. I don’t get tired of showing him the way, and I don’t think he begrudges filling in the cracks for me when my own world gets fuzzy. But I do always stumble when he asks me that inevitable question. It doesn’t matter that I’m not supposed to know the answer. It’s still a failing not to know a why to the here after all these years. A year isn’t even the word to use, because so many have passed that the term has lost flavor; inconsequential and just another grain of sand on the beach. There are so many. The task of finding the one that matters among them all is impossible, improbable, insane. But, like they say, it’s a living…relatively speaking.
The man and I walked silently to the coffee shop on Main. The wind was really kicking up today, sending leaves swirling about, producing a slight unpleasant chill as well. It emphasized that the walk to the cafe was a mission, and drove our footsteps. There was no one in line this time when we got inside, and the man and I went directly to the register. The moony eyed barista was there again, wilting pleasantly under the shine of this man’s alternating sunny smile and chilly undertones.
“Hi,” she said lightly to him.
“Hello, young woman. Could we get another one of those delightful scones and two coffees, please?”
“Of course,” she said, chipperly, in a way I’d never imagine from her lukewarm reception at my presence yesterday. “Will your brother be wanting cream in his today?”
I looked around to see if anyone had joined us that might fit that description, but then I realized she was talking about me.
“We’re not related,” I said, a little unsure though as I said it. Did we look alike? That would actually be a compliment to me if that was the case, but probably not to this man if the comparison were reversed. If we were similar, it seemed only to be in the way that this man looked how I would look if I was confident, slim, well dressed, articulate, mysteriously elusive, and all around much more of a badass that I currently was. We did have the same kind of off caramel skin color. That was the only similarity I could see.
“Leave him a little room,” the man said, as they both ignored my interjection.
When she returned, she smiled as she handed him the coffees, and didn’t look at me as she handed me the scone. So much for that familial resemblance, I thought, as we migrated to the table we had sat at yesterday.
“Let’s get to the point. I’ve danced around it a little to give you some processing time. From my experience with your past reactions, this seemed best. Let’s put a name on things. You are Jorge, my assistant. And our business is Death. I’ve had other names before, but most people call me after my work. It’s tedious for the public eye, so you can just call me Dee for this round,” he said, speaking all this fast.
I had broken off a piece of my scone as he’d said the first sentence, and I still held it between my fingers. I searched for the best response to all this.