You plop yourself down in a shiny red plastic chair at the kitchen table. Your feet dangle before you, not quite touching the ground just yet. Hopefully next year. The kitchen table is a dark, reddish wood. Maybe it’s rosewood. There’s really no way of knowing. But you’re not concerned with the breed of wood because you’re six. Your mother is standing over the stove with her back toward you, her long summer dress printed with shimmering daisies. The dress hangs down at her calves, her bare feet clutching the peach-tiled linoleum. You smell the batter cooking on the griddle; that familiar, calming smell, with a hint of burning chocolate chips looming in the air. Her brown hair is long and smooth. There are split ends.
The Sunday morning sunlight is casting a square box of yellow on the photo of you and your parents from your birthday last year, hanging over there on the wall to the right of your mother, who’s flipping the final pancake on the griddle. She does one at a time because they come out more round that way, the way you like them. There’s just something about oblong pancakes that makes your skin crawl.
As the platter of golden-brown pancakes makes contact with the potentially rosewood tabletop, your father enters the kitchen from behind you, rustling your hair and calling you champ. You can smell his aftershave as he takes a seat, a magazine-page scent wafting. The linoleum gives little yelps as he scooches up to the table, his light-blue tie flopping onto the plate in front of him, his black suit creasing. His glasses are rectangular and they reflect sunlight into your eyes when he looks a certain way. Your mother sits across from your father and your legs sway. Your father hunches over his plate, drizzling syrup, and his forehead scrunches when he looks up from his plate to answer your mother. His hair is black and grey and stands up without the help of product, and his face is glossy where his beard used to be. The chocolate chips are perfectly melted and they leave brown streaks on your white plate when you cut little pieces with your fork. You don’t like too much syrup because it makes things soggy.
You hold your mother’s hand in the driveway while you wait for the bus to come. It’s August, which means humidity, and the asphalt beneath you radiates heat. Birds are chirping and dragon flies hum by. A bee lands on your hand; your heart skips a beat and an electric fear runs through you because of what happened last summer. Your mother tells you that it doesn’t want to hurt you, and you believe the sincerity in her blue eyes.
The school bus grumbles as it pulls around the corner and the exhaust fumes fill your nose as it approaches. Letting go of your mother’s hand, you feel her kiss on your forehead. You awkwardly hobble up the stairs of the bus and find an empty seat. Looking at your house while the bus pulls away, the second-story windows make it look like a person staring back at you. It’s hot on the bus, but you’re not allowed to open the windows. The brown leather in front of you is spilling foamy guts and there are kids behind you singing a song you’ve never heard. You’re full from the pancakes and the food bounces in your tummy.
You’re walking through a dimly lit train station. The dark, wooden heels of your shiny black loafers make rhythmic contact with white marble tile, fancy tassels lightly bouncing up and down, up and down, in sync with the rhythmic, heel-floor contact. Your pants are freshly de-linted, with no lint on them, and that means none, straight-fitted and covering legs not too hairy. Well-tailored, black non-pleated pants sway appropriately at the midway point of both achilles. Your recently dry-cleaned white dress shirt is tucked into a pair of white boxer-briefs taken out of the package only yesterday, the stiff collar of your shirt appropriately folded over a thin, solid burgundy tie. A black, similarly de-linted single-breasted sport coat to complete the sleek suit, fitting over your shoulders that certainly could hold less tension and lying smoothly over your back that could use a little de-knotting. An automatic chronograph sported on your left wrist, your lanky hand encased around a black, hard-leather attaché purchased for no small amount of change.
You sit down on a bench to wait for the train. You lightly jerk your head forward to straighten your neck and back, suddenly remembering the importance of good posture—especially in this situation—what with the unsupportive cold black metal bench cradling your stiff muscles and tendons.
It’s hard to keep your clothing lint-free, unfortunately. There’s just a lot of lint out there. You only care about the lint because you have to. You took over the company when your father died; its value has exploded since and appearances are important to keep up. And that means no lint. It means your suit is going to fit like you were fucking born in it.
You hear the distant drone of the westbound train powering through its tunnel. You stand, button your jacket, and bend only at the knees to grab your attaché. The train arriving, the doors opening, the commotion as former passengers exit while soon-to-be passengers attempt to enter, neither group really giving their counterpart enough room to pass. You spot an open seat next to the window and head for it, but stop because a flannel-wearing obese man with a top-hat is clearly going to get there before you.
You latch onto a pole just as the doors close and the train begins to accelerate. You notice the weight of your attaché in your right hand while simultaneously regretting the unfortunate necessity of grabbing the filthy, slippery metal pole that your left hand wraps around. You think of said filth permeating through the skin of your palm, working its way into your bloodstream. Best not to get too fixated; you try to take care of your health, your immune system is strong, you haven’t had a carbohydrate in months.
The obese man is squeezed in next to a middle-aged woman wearing a feathered cap, a mink shawl draped over her shoulders, sunglasses resting delicately on the bridge of a nose so pointy that you wonder what it’s pointing at, and so your gaze shifts to an old black man in tattered clothes staring out the window, salt and pepper beard dangling down to his chest, an instrument case resting at his feet. It must be a saxophone. You can see his eyes glistening with torpor, eyes that have tried for many years. The soles of his shoes are tearing off, the jeans frayed at the bottom, flooding since acquired, stepped on by battered soles.
An automated voice announces that your stop is coming up. The train decelerating, the doors opening, the same process of impatient passengers attempting to make their way off and on the train simultaneously, the lack of cooperation manifesting itself as frustration into those that go through this process at least twice a day.
You push your way through oncoming creatures; none give a rats-ass whether or not you make it off the train. Their bodies brush up against yours, bodies neglected and decrepit, forgotten about on account of careers and concrete jungles. You pay attention to the way your legs bend while ascending the stairs, the area under your right shoulder blade aching. You switch the attaché into your left hand as though that would really make any difference. Emerging from underground, the city air enters your nostrils and you wonder about the concentration of pollutants that you inhale on a daily basis.
Your loafers now tip and tap on squares of cement. Passersby talk loudly on cellphones sending signals into space and back, car horns filled with the anger and dissatisfaction. Blank-faced, oncoming strangers don’t move out of your way. The smell of garbage and human waste hangs in the air.
You stop in front of the revolving door that you’ve entered and exited for years now; as you gaze upward, the skyscraper extends toward the heavens. The attaché bangs against the glass as you poorly time your entry into one quadrant of the revolving door, and you find yourself standing on more white marble tiles in this familiar glossy lobby. You nod tacitly at the front-desk security man, who’s worked here for longer than you have, but you’ve somehow never said a single word to him. He nods back with a grin. At some point over the years, it became clear that you’d never speak to one another, hence the nodding. You like him more than anyone else in the building.
In the elevator, you hit floor twenty-three and stand quietly next to a twig-like woman that’s still wearing sunglasses and reeks of something similar to what your father’s aftershave used to smell like. You think of pancakes and your dead mother.
You say Good Morning to the office secretary and then your own secretary. You check your watch. It ticks softly. You’re right on time for the meeting, and everyone is already sitting in the conference room when you walk in. The conference table is long and ovular and made of solid mahogany. There are eight men gathered around the table, most of whom you do not care for, nor have you historically cared for them. They all look oddly similar. Bald and white-mustached and suited. One of the men wears a pince-nez.
Taking a seat at the head of the table, you rock back for a moment to enjoy the movement of the chair. You place the attaché flat on the table, line up the combination, release the buckles, and open it. You produce a Manila folder with copies of documents to be signed by those present. They sign, and the company is no longer yours. You are free.
Crisp air moves through your nostrils, into your lungs, filling you with energy. Your rocking chair creaks over the floorboards of an oak porch. The boards are beginning to rot. You run your fingers through the coat of the Border Collie situated to your right. His name is Donald. His coat is black and white and wiry to the touch. In your left hand is a black mug full of black coffee, steam evaporating into nothingness. The woods that surround your house are dense, and the trees are just beginning to bloom. The naked branches carve shapes into the blue sky. Donald barks once at a squirrel passing through. You sip your coffee.
Most of your hair is gone and the rest has greyed. There are a few wisps that curl out of your spotted scalp. Your skin has wrinkled and your limbs have weakened. The backs of your hands are varicose and speckled. You stretch every morning and go for silent hikes with Donald, who requires no leash. His company is invaluable to you, and your gratefulness sometimes brings tears. Your shearling coat keeps you warm even when the temperatures plummet. A black knit cap covers your mostly bare head.
When you look in the mirror you have trouble remembering what you used to look like. This doesn’t bother you, it’s just a fact. When you moved out here all those years ago, you said goodbye to no one. There really wasn’t anyone to say goodbye to. You didn’t even wait until you’d sold your house. There was enough money that it didn’t really matter.
It’s been a lot of years. You’ve stopped counting. Sometimes you wonder if things could have turned out differently. There are decisions you look back on that would have changed the scope of your life. You try to imagine where you’d be if you’d never let your father force you into taking over the company. There were women, but there was never enough time to give them what they needed. However, you regret nothing. You are where you are and that’s that.
It’s not exciting by normal standards—living out here by yourself—but you weren’t looking for that type of excitement. You wanted to escape. Your empathy was too great for life in the city. You weren’t happy and no one else was either, at least that’s what you perceived. You needed space, and now you’ve got it. Sometimes you get lonely, but you have Donald. You’re living amongst animals and trees and stars. You can stare at a leaf for hours, and the deer are no longer afraid to come close. You feel connected.
You’ve come to terms with Death. He’ll be coming for you soon; you know this intuitively, somehow. It’s a strange notion, but you’re not scared. You wonder if there will be a Next Life, or if your consciousness will continue on in some shape or form. You welcome Nothingness just as well.
You sigh and stand, the chair rocking back and forth. Joints and bones pop and crack. Your boots creak on the rotting wood as you head inside. Donald’s paws patter behind you. It’s been a while since you’ve had chocolate chip pancakes, and it’s time for breakfast.