Friday, March 26, 2010

Another Short Story

What happens when you’re in your cubicle and a strange ooze suspends your animation and you begin reminiscing about the past in a vain attempt to reconnect with some kind of meaning in your life—all while you’re supposed to be working?

By Brian Polk

It was nearing noon the first time I collapsed and lost all motivation to proceed with my life. I remember I was at the office, looking for an overdue spreadsheet when it happened. All of the sudden, the air became so thick I could hardly breathe. It was as if someone had picked up the entire office and dropped it in a giant tub of petroleum jelly. I couldn’t move or make a sound and only after a considerable struggle was I able to open my eyes.

At first I panicked. The frustration nearly reduced me to pure madness when attempts to thrash against the ooze wouldn’t relinquish the steadfast hold it had over me. The second I tried to yell, I recognized the futility in it. Even in depths of fury, my capacity for common sense reminded me sound doesn’t travel in sludge this thick.

Finally grasping the reality of the situation, I began to squirm slowly in hopes that calculated, carefully executed gyrations might have more of a freeing effect than a series of violent jolts. It seemed to work initially as I felt my desk chair wheeling backward in tiny spurts. But my elation at this prospect soon faded as soon as it became apparent that I could only move in reverse. And since I couldn’t adjust my head in order to steal a look behind me, I had no idea what else was back there frozen in this gel.

When I realized that I was powerless against it, I finally surrendered in grudging dejection to this strange suspended animation. There wasn’t much to do to occupy my time, so I figured I’d put my mind at ease and see what kind of thoughts popped into my head.

It’s always amazing what comes to mind when one loses control of his or her fate. I began to picture summers as a child when life’s only struggle was to eradicate boredom. I cherished the memories of riding bicycles, building forts, and playing football with the neighborhood kids. I thought about all the fun I had helping out my mom in the garden and planting that apple tree in the front yard, the one that never bore any fruit. I thought about my first lover, then my second and third. What were they up to these days? I wished I had stayed in touch with at least one of them. And my friends, both past and present, where were they now? I hadn’t spoken to them in such a long time. I suspect everyone was waiting for everyone else to call. Somewhere in there were my family, warm feelings of belonging, excitement about life—all of which were so alien to me now. I envisioned my theater group, performing our hearts out on the stage. I hadn’t even thought about acting in such a long time. I don’t remember why I tucked it so far beneath the surface of my everyday, automated thoughts. Acting was the only thing that freed me from the doldrums of life.

My chair continued moving backward as I contemplated my existence. It became very clear to me that there was no way to ignore this deep, profound feeling of regret that began to fry my brain like an egg on all those old anti-drug commercials. I was forced to ask myself a question that not many people ever ask themselves: Was I wasting my life?

I tried to force myself to answer this question. But how could I have answered the question? How does one go about wasting a life anyway? Isn’t the purpose of life to survive another day? In that sense, isn’t it impossible to waste a life?

These thoughts were starting to hurt my head. I remember thinking I should probably find some Aspirin. And that was the last thing I could recall.

When I slipped back into consciousness a while later, I was in an elevator going down. Two large beastlike creatures in full security guard regalia flanked me on either side. One held a box of what appeared to be my personal effects. I tried unsuccessfully to scratch an itch on my face when it suddenly occurred to me that my hands were cuffed behind my back. I cleared my throat and four icy eyes of two unfriendly faces darted in my direction. They boasted the professional discourtesy that can only come after decades of defending office buildings from all kinds of non-suit-and-tie-wearing riff-raff.

I cleared my throat again and managed the nerve to speak. “What is this?” I asked.
The two boorish guards looked at each other in disbelief, and ostentatiously rolled their eyes in front of me. Apparently I shouldn’t have been so oblivious to this situation. From the looks on their faces, they obviously assumed I was playing dumb.

“I seriously don’t know what’s going on,” I said in all honesty.

The guards looked to one another and kind of grunted, which I imagined was how they communicated. And since I wasn’t fluent in security guard grunt, I figured any further questioning on my part would be as futile as it gets.

They led me to my car in a solemn march that seemed a bit too dramatic in light of the circumstances. It was as if I were a disgraced leader of some rogue state that just suffered a stunning military defeat, and the commanders of the victorious army were arresting me for my wartime atrocities. Outside of my vehicle, they dropped my box of my belongings on the pavement and removed the handcuffs. After they grumbled a standard legal monologue about how I was explicitly prohibited from returning to the premises, they allowed me to gather my things and exit the parking garage under their glares of stern disapproval.

I had definitely had better days at work.

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