As he got out of his car – a shining Mercedes-Benz – he greeted the doorman with the usual ‘Hey Johnny’ and continued through the revolving doors. When he walked through the marble-filled lobby, cries of ‘Hey Stan!’ and ‘Morning Mr. Baker’ echoed on the stone walls.
Walking into the elevator, some of the people working on the same floor avoided his gaze. Then he pressed the button labeled 66. ‘The highest anyone can ever get in this bank’ – the elevator stopped – ‘and I’m here.’
He got out and took his own little route around the secretary’s tables to his office. Nobody was greeting him here and there were even more evading eyes. He ignored them, as he usually did with people that did not interest him. But things were getting more awkward with every step he took towards his office. His secretary’s table was empty – not only of life, but also of all objects. He didn’t remember giving her the day off.
But it all came together, all the abnormalities clashed together into a little box sitting on top of his desk, with all the things he had at the office in it. He contemplated it with a mix of disgust and growing anger, trying to believe he was being moved to another office, maybe higher up in the building. But he knew there was no storey above him, and he couldn’t fool himself.
‘Well, I guess you know then’ said a voice behind him. He recognized it immediately as that of his only superiors’ that worked in the building – the despised Jim Jenkins.
‘Know what?’ he asked with an air of innocence, although he knew perfectly well. And Jenkins knew that he knew.
‘You know perfectly well what I mean. It’s the crisis, you know. And you also know that cutting a top manager saves more money than firing twenty workers from a factory. Your worth a hundred, Stan.’
‘Why do you start calling me Stan on the day you fire me? Is it an apology? A repayment?’
‘Well, I’m not you boss anymore –‘
‘I don’t want an apology,’ he cut across him. ‘Or a repayment. Just let me get out of here.’
‘Stan - !’ The words that came afterwards were muffled by the doors of the elevator.
Fire him! Him!
He waited for a couple of minutes in the toilet on the floor below to settle himself. He’d have to go back – all his things well still in his office. Not even a mouse seemed to be looking at him as he crossed the cubicles to his office – not that there were any mice in places like this. His wife’s gaze from the picture on top of his desk clearly accused him, and he pleaded her with his eyes, kneeled on his retina for forgiveness and love, his pupils searching for the smile he had always seen on that photograph, in vain.
The drive home was unnerving for him. He was used to competing with all the other men driving their cars from the suburbs. All of them seemed like nothing with his powerful Mercedes-Benz. But he was all alone on the road now, unconsciously speeding and swerving from side to side. There were still people going the other way, people going the way he was used to go.
Driving around the well-kept homes of the higher middle class, he saw scenes he had not experienced before. Maids were taking the children to school, gardeners coming out to work on their already well-trimmed lawns and other servants, all doing their separate jobs to keep the upper-middle class satisfied when they come back from work, fed by invisible hands and groomed by subtle, noiseless people.
After so many years of routine interrupted only by two much forward-planned holidays a year, there were simply two many differences for Stan, and none of them positive. He opened the wooden gate with a switch on the car radio and parked in front of the garage. He did not have time to go inside, for what he saw outside the entrance made him slam the dor open and run out.
His wife was standing outside, next to a truck labeled ‘Door-to-Door – We’ll move you in a day!’
‘What’s going on Helen?’
‘I’m moving back to my Mom’s for the time being, Stan.’ She spoke quietly, almost ashamed. ‘There’s no future for me here. Or you, for that matter.’
How could she have known?
‘But – what do you mean, no future?
‘Jim Jenkins told me a week ago, Stan. There’s no point trying to hide it.’
‘You knew! You knew, and you didn’t tell me! You bitch!’
The man that was talking to Helen but had stayed silent up to this point, trying to mind his own business, interjected, feeling his morality threatened.
‘Now sir, don’t talk to your wife like –‘
‘This is no wife of mine!’
‘Listen Stan, I’ll go stay at Jacy’s down the road ‘til they move me out.
‘Move you out?’
‘I left all of your stuff, most of everything, actually, but I’m taking a couple of my things.’
He felt dejected, lost, abandoned, but most of all tricked. They had all conspired against him, Helen, Jim Jenkins, all of them! How could she not have told him? For a week she slept and lived beside him like nothing was wrong, all the same as always, all the cars in the right direction, in Stan’s direction, and she’d known the whole time.
‘Helen. Wait. We can work something out – I’ll- I’ll find another job –‘
‘Who’re you kidding Stan? You only got that high in Spencer & Brooks because of your father and his connections! You won’t get another job anywhere!’
‘But I will! I will somewhere! And if we sell the car, that’ll keep us going for sometime, and we don’t really need a house as big as –‘
‘You just don’t get it, do you? I don’t want to be with you! I want to have a family!’
That last word resonated in his ears as he went back to the house, a journey he had never taken at 9 o’clock in the morning. He had nothing to do, so he helped move out the furniture, the three syllables resonating in the plasma behind his eardrums, and further.
The truth only dawned on him when his wife was getting in the truck. Every sound of the motor was like another thump on the head where reality was arriving, knocking him out of his dream-like daze.
‘You’re going to Jim Jenkins!’
She turned her head to the side, replacing the half-beautiful profile with a full-on attack of beauty.
‘You’re not going back to your mother, you’re going to my boss! That’s how you knew!’
She merely stared at him, as if contemplating him wondering wether she should be sorry.
He went back into the house and cooked himself dinner for the first time in many years. It was like chewing carpet. Then he had a shower, brushed his teeth with Colgate and crawled into bed, like he did every night. But he had all of it for himself now.
In the morning, he felt as if the nightmare that had been waking him throughout his sleep had just turned into reality as he realised again and again, further and further. He hadn’t bothered to turn off the alarm-clock, so he was up at 6:30. He dressed and combed his hair (whom for?) and went down to breakfast. He had to make it himself again. After he’d eaten what tasted like burnt wood but was actually toast, he brushed his teeth and prepared his suitcase.
He was at a dead end now. What was there to do? He had followed his life-long plan, up to the last detail. But he couldn’t any more. What good was it driving into town? Where would he go? Even as he thought this, his legs unvoluntarily carried him to the car. He turned on the engine and drove off, opening the gate from a distance so that he did not even have to slow down. And he didn’t slow down on that trip until the end. He only sped up. He came to a full stop at an interjection, as metal bent and contracted into him and the man in the other Mercedes-Benz. The hands in white gloves caring for him now weren’t invisible, but were slowly fading away and finally dissintegrated into everything and nothing.