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A Case of the Mondays
A Danyael story
Start at the beginning of the Danyael series
I opened my eyes into darkness. I felt sticky and crusty all over. I can say without a doubt that the seconds upon waking were some of the most confused of my life. I reached up to rub my eyes and brush the dried gunk off my face, feeling the blood and sleep crack and split on my skin. The darkness in my room was so pervasive there seemed to be no difference if my eyes were open or closed. Sometime during the night the heat had kicked on, and the room had become a sauna of half eaten bags of corn chips and soda cans. The thermostat was in the living room, which was on average fifteen degrees colder than the rest of the house. This meant that when the temperature dropped in the winter, our rooms became death traps reminiscent of a hotbox punishment in a Southern prison. I could feel my clothes and sheets soaked through with sweat. Giving up my rubbing as a lost cause, I let my arm fall back onto the bed and tried to capture a few more seconds of thoughtlessness.
Despite the heat sapping my energy, I finally swung an arm and a leg over the side of the bed and dropped to the floor. A few of the cans I'd kicked over the night before rolled away and clanged around. The thin carpet wasn't as comfortable as my bed, so after a few minutes I got the gumption to stand and head to the bathroom. I turned on the fluorescents and stumbled to the sink, looking at twenty five years of wasted potential in the mirror. My brown hair was already fading to grey, and my eyes and face looked gaunt enough to qualify me to play Disease or Famine in some play about the Apocalypse. My scraggled beard had never really come in fully, leaving parts of my jawline thick with dark black hair, and others spotted with wispy strands of nothing. I was filled with a sudden disgust at myself, and grabbed my electric razor. The hum of it in my hand was comforting as I attacked the hair on my face. When I was finished I tossed the razor onto the counter and hopped into the shower.
Showers have always been a place of Zen for me. No matter what is going on in my life, when warm water is washing over me, I feel clean and centered. Nothing else exists beyond the steam. The water sluices away my dirty and messy life and leaves me clean as the day I was born. Perfection is the feeling of dirt washing from your skin and leaving it fresh.
When I was finished I stepped out into a burst of chill air, and immediately the chains of failure pulled me back to earth. The clock on my counter flashed nine thirty-three. I was already late for work. Cursing at the giant hairy mess I left in the sink, I ran back to my room and leapt into my clothes, almost choking myself with my tie as I knotted it in place. I tripped on half a bag of Fritos on the way out, scattering them all over my carpet, and tore half of my X-men poster trying to catch myself. Some mornings are just like that.
When I arrived at work I tried to slip in the side door past the smoking crowd. I was forty-five minutes late, and received a few knowing smirks as I darted through the acrid fog hanging in front of the propped fire exit. The back stairwell reeked of the passage of smoke shrouded office drones. Usually it didn't bother me, but I help my breath and ran up the six flights to my floor. My head thrummed when I reached the top, and I had to lean against the wall for a minute, breathing hard and trying to stop the world from spinning. I guess I lost more blood than I'd realized.
In fact, that's the moment the previous day really sunk in with me. Standing at the top of the stairwell, leaning against the railing and looking down, the flights of stairs below me telescoped out until I stared into an endless pit of descending railings and steps. It was like stepping into an Escher. I thrust myself away from the stairs and shook my head, trying to clear it. That was a pretty bad idea, because I got so dizzy I almost fell over. An angel. I was supposed to go and administer phone surveys while there was an angel at home waiting for me. If it WAS waiting. Not knowing what else to do, I pushed through the door into the cubefarm.
I'd been working at SitSurvey for just over two years, and about six months ago had been promoted to shift lead. People rarely stay in the phone survey business for longer than two or three months, so being around for over twenty-four made me an oddity. I got the feeling I was promoted not based on merit, but just because the Management was impressed with my fortitude. Dealing with ordinary civvies on the other end of the line is difficult ? dealing with people that GIVE the surveys is a whole other ballgame.
I walked up to the front of the farm and climbed the three steps to the lead's raised platform. There was something very Ben Hur about sitting up above the other hundred drones in the room. It's part of the lead's job to monitor random calls that the drones make to ensure they're not selling drugs to civvies on company time or something. Sitting up above the cubefarm, listening in on people's conversations, knowing that they know you could be listening . . . My IRC handle for the last six months had been IofSauron. I tried Panopticon, but no one knew what that was. When I got to the desk Sherri was looking annoyed. I can always tell she's annoyed because she taps her oversized press-on nails against her headset.
"I was supposed to be off almost an hour ago, hon. You gotta set an alarm for setting your alarm." Sherri worked as a waitress on the weekends at the local Denny's. I think she patterned her behavior after old movies with diner waitresses in them. As far as I knew she was from Cleveland, but she talked like she'd been slinging hash in Mobile for twenty years. As I unlocked my desk to get my headset, she reached out and straightened my tie. "I'm worried about you. You been lookin' just awful the last few weeks. Everything alright with you at home?" She also liked to touch me. I really hated that. She meant well, but people in my personal space just weird me out. In the midst of my irritation, I realized I'd carried an angel around and let it bleed all over me. Sherri's tie straightening didn't seem so bad.
"Eh. Alicia and I split. Again. Don't really want to talk about it." That was not a new conversation. Alicia and I had been breaking up and getting back together for a year.
Sherri picking up her purse and jacket, making way for me at the desk. "Aw, hon, if you'd just do some simple things you'd have that girl happy as a pig in a poke." Sherri was never much good with expressions. "Shave, cut your hair more often, dress a little . . . with more pizzazz." I don't think anything in my life could ever be described as having pizzazz. "Aw well, hon. Don't let it get you down. I'm sure she'll be back again. Don't be late tomorrow." She patted my cheek on her way by. I watched her dyed red beehive bob and sway over the tops of the cubicles until it passed through the open double door of the main entrance.
The problems with Alicia and I weren't based on my personal appearance or hygiene. They were more based on the fact that she had severe depression and wouldn't get treated, and I didn't have the conviction to extricate myself from the situation. I loved her, I think. It's sort of hard to tell in that situation. Actually, I'm not sure I could really tell anyway. I mean, how do you REALLY know what love is? I have no idea. I know that when she felt bad, I felt bad, but I'm not sure if it was because I didn't like seeing her down, or because it irritated the hell out of me that I felt shackled to her. I don't like to disappoint people, particularly when they're already feeling bad. I guess looking back it seems strange to have felt trapped in a relationship I was only in half the time anyway. And I always had the choice to leave, I just didn't take it. I could have said no any of the dozen times we broke up and she wanted to try it again. I just went along with whatever I thought would make her happy. I wish I hadn't.
This latest breakup was atypical in that I was ALMOST the cause of it. Our normal cycle went something like this: Alicia gets depressed and stops going out. She calls me, I go to comfort her, try to get her out. She drags her feet, tells me that she's too much trouble for me, that I should just leave her and find a better girl. I refuse, telling her she's all I want. She gets more upset, gets angry at me, and then we fight about the fact that I say I love her. This culminates in her telling me to leave and not talking to me for a week or two while I plead for her to see reason. When I finally stop sending her texts, after a day or so she'll call me and act like nothing ever happened. And I went along with it every time.
This time, though, was a little different. I was watching Stargate SG-1 on Saturday, before the snow started. I knew it was supposed to snow that night, and I was just getting over a flu, so I'd planned to stay in and just huddle next to my computer. That's when my cell started to buzz. I groaned, because I knew who it was, and knew I wouldn't say no, no matter how annoyed I was. "Hey. Can you come over? I feel pretty down and could use some company." Sigh. "Sure, I'll be there in a bit." Grumble, grumble as I put my shoes and coat on, and drove over.
When I got there, she was laying on her couch in the dark. I turned a few of the lights on low, and sat down. "Hey." She had her arm over her eyes, and didn't move when I sat. I reached out and stroked her arm. "How you doing?" She put her arm down and rolled away, facing into the back of the couch. I lay my arm on her side awkwardly. "Anything I can do?" The barest of shrugs. "Well, I'm just gonna sit here for a bit in case you want to talk, ok?"
We sat in silence for a while. Outside in the streetlight I could see the first flakes of snow start to drop. I started to get anxious and shift around. It wouldn't have been a problem if I could have just slept over, but Alicia couldn't sleep if there was anyone else around. I always used to wonder what kind of future we'd have if we'd never be able to sleep together. But, I couldn't stay, and with her nonresponsive, I couldn't go. I started to push.
"Hey, are you gonna talk to me? I mean, you called me for a reason, right? You said you wanted company?" She shrugged again. I tried to lay down and spoon her, but there wasn't room on the couch, so I ended up draped over her hip. "Come on, talk to me." She mumbled something unintelligible into the couch. "I can't hear you, you're gonna have to come out here to talk." Alicia rolled a bit and I sat up. She said, "I said I suck. It's a Friday night and I haven't left the apartment in three days. I'm going to lose my job again. What's wrong with me?"
Now, if this seems like a heartfelt plea to you, and makes you sympathetic, you need to understand where I was coming from. After a year of this, there is only so much patience you can have. I cared about Alicia, but I didn't know what to do, and I was tired and worried about the snow and irritated. I'd been sitting there for nearly an hour, waiting for her to talk. I'd done this nearly once a week for a year. So, when she said, "I'm so broken. I don't understand why you hang around. You should just go and find someone else." I replied with, "I don't know why I hang around." It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see where the conversation went from there, and why I ended up driving home during the snow and needing to leave my car in the lot of the 7-11. Come to think of it, that's what started this whole mess off in the first place. Irritation over being pulled away from Stargate SG-1. Damn you Richard Dean Anderson.
The day passed slowly, as you might expect. I phoned in some surveys, listened to a few drones on the lines. They read from the script and didn't get any trouble from the civvies. I tried to immerse myself in the mundane and let the thought of what was waiting for me at home slip away. Asking farmers how they would rate the performance of their heavy equipment did nothing to make me forget the bent and bleeding wings.
At around two, the Boss came to see me. The Boss was the lowest echelon of Management, the only level allowed to talk to us humans. As the lowest rank of the Management totem pole, he felts it was part of his job to remind the rest of us that we're not even ON the totem in subtle ways like removing the free soda from the break room, or standing in the parking lot and watching his watch to time smoke breaks. He's also pretty tall, so it's easy to see him coming through the cubes. As he walked toward the front, I pulled my headset on and pretended to be on a call, hoping he'd keep walking, but he hopped up to my platform in one evil leap. Stuck in my ruse, I talked to myself for a few minutes, walking along the script I'd memorized months ago. Finally I hung up on my flimsy excuse. "Hey Boss."
He dry washed his hands a few times before spinning my extra chair around and straddling it backwards. "So, Wheezy tells me you breezed in at quarter to ten this morning?" Wheezy, appropriately enough, was part of the smoking crowd. Oddly, his name actually WAS Wheezy, it wasn't a nickname, despite his raging emphysema. I actually have no idea what he did for SitSurvey ? I never saw him do anything but smoke. I answered, "Yeah, sorry about that. Power was out 'cause of the storm and my alarm didn't go off."
The Boss tried to collect his thoughts, and spun around in my chair. He hadn't been expecting me to have a viable excuse. "Yeah, the snow was pretty bad on Saturday. I got stuck in my driveway, had to shovel for an hour on Sunday. Still though, there was a whole day to get your alarm reset, and this isn't the first time for you. You know, we promoted you because we see something in you that we don't find out there too often." The word "there" was punctuated with a vague gesture toward the cubefarm. I was never sure how to deal with the Boss. I was almost compelled to treat him like one of the Bobs from Office Space, but I was sure he'd seen it. The things that he said were so ridiculously generic and clich?hat I didn't know how to respond. Potential, company's money, buck up, rise to the top. Blah. Blah. Blah.
"I know. I'm sorry. I'm getting collected, I promise. It won't happen again." He looked me over, trying to give me a combination of the "easy-going buddy Boss" and "all seeing eye Boss". As if he were genuinely concerned with my welfare, rather than just following his own robot function. I'm not even sure he knew why he had to talk to me because I was late. I was late ? he had to talk to me. That was all the further the thought process went. The sheer television like quality of my work would have been funny if it wasn't actually REAL in every job I've ever had.
"Let me let you in on a little secret, son." Boss called everyone son, regardless of age or gender. He also magically believed he was from the South. "It's all about perception, not reality." He made the laser eye beam gesture with two of his fingers when he said "perception". "You're up here on the platform now, and so all of those people out there are watching your every move. You gotta be quick and never stop moving, like a shark. That's how I am, like a shark. Let them think you're always hungry. You think I got to be the Boss because I was content to float along on the top belly up? No son. Gotta be like a shark. It's all about perception." I've always thought he was more like a pilot fish than a shark. He followed the real sharks around and just ate the junk caught between their teeth.
The Boss thumped the back of my chair twice as he got up. "Don't be late again, son." I stared at his back and he hustled his lanky gait through the cubes. I'd been late, sure, I accepted that. But it rankled to be given life advice from a guy who thought Calvin Klein was a philosopher, and who called the kids of anyone who made less than fifty grand a year "dirt children". I sat and ruminated on the unfairness of life for the rest of the day, wondering what kind of broken system the universe was operating on that people like the Boss could be even moderately successful. I resolved to put the angel to the question regarding the fairness of everything.
Eventually the endless ticking of the punch out clock rolled around to six. Rich showed up at five fifty-seven to replace me, just like he did every day. We nodded amiably as I collected my things. I think Rich and I exchanged maybe a dozen words the entire time we worked together at SitSurvey. He'd been there for over five years, which I'm sure does something to your brain's speech centers. Even if I didn't want to be working at the same terrible job for five years, I think I always envied Rich a bit. He always seemed to have everything together, everything in order. Everything had a place, and he bound his life by that. It always seemed like a comforting thought knowing where each thing in your life belonged, and moving according to a schedule. I always had trouble with such organization. Rich never seemed lost.
As I walked down the rows of cubes, I felt anticipation grow in my gut. It seemed to hook onto my spine like a great hook attached to a cable, reeling me in faster and faster. I hit the stairs at nearly a run, taking them two at a time on the way down. I never took the elevator to or from work. I didn't want to be caught with one of the drones wearing a "Weapon of Ass Destruction" T-shirt for 15 seconds in a small box and have to make conversation with them. Thus, I took the stairs and cast my antisocial tendency into the light of improving my health.
Traffic on the drive home was maddening. My foot ached to drive the gas pedal into the floor, but I was trapped behind a thousand other people on the incredibly important mission of getting the hell home from work. I sat in the car feeling the need to go fast, but not knowing how to do so past all of the other people. I kept tapping on the steering wheel and flitting through radio stations. The other drivers looked typically bored, or talked on their cell phones. I could feel sweat bead on my forehead as I drew closer to my exit, and the desire to just pull into the breakdown lane and floor it was almost irresistible. When I was finally able to get off of the freeway I actually blew through a red light on the four blocks to my house. That was the first time I'd ever done that. I felt almost possessed.
I tore into the drive way and had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting the house. The car actually slid askew on the pavement and ice before stopping. Sitting there in the car, heater on, radio blaring, staring at the closed front door the feeling of urgency suddenly fled. It left in its place a paralyzing fear. The cable reeling me in now rooted me firmly to the driver's seat. The thought of turning the key and going through the door back into the presence of the angel seemed impossible. I looked around my car at the fast foot bags and piles of soda cans and old receipts, and I shriveled up in my seat. I'd loaded a Heavenly Being into this cluttered mess of my life and driven it home. What had I been thinking? I should have called someone ? a minister or reverend or rabbi or something.
I turned in the seat and looked into the back of the car. There was dried and caked dark blood all over. I remember sudden panic sweeping over me. My car had been sitting in the lot at work all day, covered in blood. I was glad I always parked way far away in the lot. Paranoia about drones driving to work drunk and crashing into my car paid off.
I got out and grabbed a rag from the cubby under the car port and popped the back hatch. As I swung up the back door, half of the rear window fell out and crashed to the ground. I stared at it for a minute, and then sighed. There was nothing to be done about it. I grabbed the hose and started a trickle of water, and began washing out the back of my car as best I could. The blood on the plastic siding came off easily, though I went through two separate rags and buckets of water before I got it all. The upholstery was a different matter. I grabbed some Windex out of the cubby and tried to just get the spots smelling like a cleaning product and smear them around so they were unidentifiable. I'd have to take the car to a professional place to get it out.
When I had the back as clean as it was going to get, I closed the hatch and swept up the broken safety glass. With no other excuse to hold myself back, I walked up to the door and opened it. I stood for a moments with it open, staring inside. Nothing seemed amiss. I stepped in, holding the screen door so it wouldn't crash shut behind me. Noise was a sin.
I walked slowly across the kitchen to the living room. The floor creaked softly under my feet with each step. The fading evening light through the windows was just enough to make it impossible to see anything in the house; the grey luminescence of the clouds outside made the shadows inside even darker. In the darkness there was a soft thump, and the ceiling fan squeaked a few times.
I moved into the living room, opening my eyes as wide as possible, looking around almost wildly in the darkness. My stumbling feet brought me to the couch, which my groping hands told me was now empty. Not knowing what else to do, I let myself fall into a sitting position on the couch and waited for the angel to reveal itself to me in the darkness. I sat quietly, and my eyes slowly adjusted to the shadows.
The angel perched on top of the broken television. It remained almost perfectly motionless, only occasionally adjusted its crooked and splinted wings. It hunched over to fit on top of the TV, its wings drawn in close by its sides. As my eyes continued to adjust, I could tell it was looking at me. I sat in the dark under its stare, and felt warm tears begin to pour down my face. The weariness of the night before, now recognizable as the weight of an empty and wasted life, crashed back down in upon me. The angel shifted, and its wings blocked the light from the windows in front of me, leaving me shrouded in darkness.
Story and image by Nick Bergeron, Copyright 2009