Road To Nowhere
Evan Shapiro ©2014
One hundred and fifty million kilometres away from the Earth a big ball of fire busily burns away, converting four hundred million tons of hydrogen into helium every second in a seemingly endless nuclear fusion.
As our world orbits the Sun, we revolve our lives around our own daily concerns, forgetting that the big bright light in the sky, by its very nature, creates our day and feeds our existence. Eight minutes after its atomic birth the light that reaches Earth helps plants photosynthesise, taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.
Buried by our needs, our hopes, our dreams, our petty dislikes, our great loves and our monstrous hates, is a forgotten truth. It is so intrinsically human that we are capable of pushing this thought to the dark reaches of our primitive brains, that we know the words but don't truly appreciate the concept. We can tell ourselves what we like but there's no getting away from it. You can't hide from the truth forever, and this is true, so listen up.
Our lives are just a by-product of a cosmic breath!
Patrick closed his notebook, content with another great thought committed to paper. As he reclined into the comfort of his manager's plush office chair the feeling of self-satisfaction gave way to a pervasive self-doubt: how likely was it that a set of human eyes other than his own would ever read his words? His thoughts would remain just that, his own. To ensure that fate, he hastily removed the notebook from sight and shoved it into his bag. He shifted focus from the sense of his own mediocrity to that of his manager's. Leaning back further into the leather-padded chair he surveyed the room with contempt. Except for his position of authority, Patrick's manager was an inferior in every respect. The man's gruff manner, his constant barking of orders, ensured his control but alienated him from his subordinates. To Patrick he was a man to be managed. There were ways of dealing with him to get what you wanted: picking times when he was most distracted to ask for personal leave, never presenting him with an unsolved problem, always offering a solution no matter how stupid it may seem. Like a dog gnawing into a bone your offering would be viciously snatched and ripped into pieces, devoured before your eyes and the remnants spat back at your feet. But he would be secretly grateful you threw him something to sink his teeth into. Yes, he was to be managed and by no means trusted. A company man through and through, a company man who had access to information being withheld from Patrick. He looked around the room again, attempting to intuit where his superior would hide things he didn't want his subordinates to find.
The office was dark other than the light emanating from the desk lamp and a few beams of orange glow that crept in around the edges of the block-out blind covering the large window on one side of the office. A glint of light reflecting on the stainless steel filing cabinet in the corner of the room pulled Patrick to his feet and drew him towards it.
The vivid orange light from outside was easing rapidly, receding as the day drew to a close. Another twilight gone, another twilight spent alone, the most precious part of the day nearly over and nothing but a long lonely night ahead. With the sun setting fast Patrick had to increase his pace if he didn't want his break and enter to be discovered, if he didn't want to waste having braved the intense heat of the sun to be in the office a few hours early. His colleagues would soon filter in, once the cover of night gave them safe passage. He stood at the locked cabinet and tugged ineffectually at the top drawer. Yes there was definitely something in here that was not meant for Patrick, making him all the more determined to gain access.
Back at the desk he pulled open drawers, turned over papers, lifted up objects. No key to be found, nothing. He spotted the coffee cup next to the keyboard. 'Let me drop everything and fix your problem' branded on it in large type. His manager would often sit behind his desk holding the cup at eye level while subordinates talked to him, not answering, just waiting for them to read the message, get the point and get out of his office. If they took too long to register he'd soon throw them out, barking at them as they retreated. In all the time Patrick had worked with the man he'd never actually seen him drink from it. The cup was just a prop, another object littering a cluttered desk. Patrick picked it up, raised it to his eye in the manner of his superior, fleshing out what it felt like to be such a dickhead, before tipping it over and pouring the key into his palm.
Patrick rummaged around the now unlocked filing cabinet drawer. A bottle of vodka, some retro porn magazines, there must be more the man was hiding. Then bingo, official looking documents – 'Project Helios' – it smelled clandestine. His eager fingers took hold of the report and he could feel its suppression itching to be released.
With the document in hand he quickly covered his tracks – easy enough given it was a mess when he'd arrived. Lock the cabinet, key back in the cup, papers back in their stacks. He scooped up his bag and hit a button on his manager's desk. The large block-out blinds rose allowing the last vibrant orange rays of the sunset to fill the room, removing all shapes and objects with its intense glare. Then as the sun dropped behind the horizon and the room crept into darkness, Patrick closed the office door behind him and moved quietly to his workstation.
Compared to his supervisor's office, Patrick's desk was uncluttered and sparse. He'd never given the space much thought, other than to avoid it. What was the point in decorating? It annoyed him the way his co-workers littered their spaces with photos of families and friends, displaying them as some measure of achievement. 'This is what I have outside of this place, what do you have?' Why should he offer a window into his life to be assessed and ranked amongst the workforce? Worse still were postings of platitudes and self-motivating mantras, stuck to people's cubicles to help them through the day. At least Patrick wrote his own and kept them in his notebook. He didn't force them into his co-workers' field of vision the way they foisted their banalities on him.
His standard-issue ergonomic chair took his weight but creaked and squeaked as he shifted to find a comfortable position. He placed the document on the desk and pulled the chair in closer, ready, a little excited even, to discover what form of administrative ineptitude middle management had planned: a restructure, job losses, productivity gains? What idiocy would they be imposing on the workforce next?
As he began to read he was overcome with an acute awareness of the moment. As the words worked their way through his cerebral cortex he became filled with the horror of their reality. This was no minor administrative report. Patrick was discovering a truth that put his own concept of 'Cosmic Breath' into the realm of the pathetic. This was not a moment to be treasured, not a moment to be loved, but as clear a moment as any in his life, a milestone, a point of reference that couldn't be erased now that it had made its mark and he realised that from this point on his life wouldn't be the same.
Patrick sat with his hands frozen on the document and watched as workers began to arrive, safe now under the cover of night. Safe from the very sun in the sky that burned their lives into being but a sun now too strong for them to be exposed to.
He didn't move, didn't respond to his co-workers' 'good evenings', didn't react when the phone rang, didn't even realise he was continuing to breathe. There was only himself, the document before him and what was happening to his mind now that the information had transferred from paper to grey matter, nothing else registered, nothing else could.
Without fully knowing why, he stood, took the document in one hand, his car keys in the other and began to move. As he made his way steadily towards the exit he passed the early starters - some of them he knew, others he didn't, some he liked, others annoyed him, but they all looked like ghosts to him now. This pounding idea forced into his head by that wretched document made them all look dead, their activities meaningless, anything they might have to say useless. The information was infecting him – a vile fast moving virus corrupting and consuming his system.
The night air gave little relief, the ground still hot from the day's saturation of sunlight, the heat rising and filling his lungs. Every breath made him light-headed. He reached his car – the auto cooling made the interior a welcome relief from the outside air, but it didn't bring him back, didn't stop the pounding urge to keep moving. He started the car, capitulating to the unknown force propelling him forward. With no sense of destination, only a need to move away from that moment, that ground zero moment, he drove onto the open road. His lone vehicle travelled in the opposite direction to the stream of headlights making their way to work, collectively illuminating one side of the road as his sole set of headlights moved freely, seemingly unencumbered.