My mind drifts in and out of linear thought, with an emphasis on out. My tailbone is sore and I’m twitchy in my seat, having gone too long without significant physical activity. It’s too early for a break, but I tell my co-worker that I’m going anyway. What, exactly, are they going to say?
I lock my workstation so no one sends questionable emails in my name and I cast a disgusted look at the television feed playing in a picture-in-picture window atop a scattered and disorganized cluster of mostly incomprehensible graphs and monitoring readouts. The feed is tuned to some anonymous 24-hour news station and they’re gleefully recapping the day’s sordid celebrity gossip as if it were legitimately newsworthy. Somewhere in the span of time it takes me to stand and stretch my back out against the protestations my shoulders and knees the channel switches to a more somber tale of soldiers in Iraq who re-enlist without notifying their families back home. The channel is muted by workplace requirement but the potentially intriguing story is sharply undercut in the silence by the inappropriately low-cut blouse worn by the field correspondent.
Taking the back door to avoid traipsing through the rows of offices filled with half-familiar cubehounds who spend their days staring out of their doorways, awaiting some passerby to hijack into a one-sided conversation about whatever uninteresting television show they caught the night before, I step into the poorly decorated upstairs lobby of the office complex. I take the stairs, as always, moving mostly on instinct just for the excuse to move but not without any actual purpose. Halfway down I meet an arbitrary group of Dockers-and-Polos with their belt-clipped cell phones and Bachelor’s degree haircuts who refuse to yield even a millimeter in their center-stair ascent which forces me to try and impersonate the grainy off-white paint on the stairwell walls to avoid being trampled by sixteen pair of identical imitation leather loafers.
By the time the cool autumn air touches my face I’m mentally weighing the possible repercussions of simply climbing into my car and driving as fast as traffic will allow toward home. Some kind of ingrained sense of responsibility that I keep trying to convince myself I do not possess compels me instead to turn the other direction and move toward the back of the parking lot. I don’t venture this direction often and as I pass the building south of the featureless one I call work I note with a touch of surprise that the tree-lined lot set against a surprisingly structure-free hillside is vaguely picturesque.
My momentary astonishment is crushed by the bawdy and senselessly loud one-sided conversation from an unknown receptionist taking a cigarette break out by the dumpster housing, peppered with screeching laughter and context-free profanity. I wonder with disgust how there could be a tranquil scene so close and yet she would choose to spend her personal time pressed tightly against a reeking trash bin. I stuff my hands into my pockets as far as they will go and I walk away from her offending voice as fast as I can without incorporating arm movement.
I’m deep into my bitterness, staring at the pavement as I walk in who-knows-what direction when suddenly I come across a small, shallow puddle. I look down into the water’s reflective surface, noting that the late afternoon lighting is just so and the trees I didn’t know I was approaching stretch not up but down into the pool’s mirror world, where an entire sky is hidden just beneath the oily water’s plane. I’ve stopped walking without realizing and I stare, down but yet up, at the tops of the trees beneath my feet.
A sense of vertigo I didn’t expect cascades over me, sending a surprise shudder down my back and I avert my eyes, back up to the trees casting the reflection. The sky is blue-grey and a thin sheet of dimpled clouds makes the sunlight hazy and familiar, recognizable from the puddle-world I just saw. With a heavy sigh, I close my eyes and smile.