First published in print by Fevers of the Mind Poetry and Art Digest Vol. 1, 2019
On a stretch of State Road 37, people started falling from the sky. At the exact same time, the left front tire hit a jagged chasm left by the road construction crew. The pop and swish did not come. I eased the car into the emergency lane. The damage wasn’t visible, but chances were a new tire was in order.
They dropped around me. The people came down with a soft hiss. Some of them rolled, got up, and started walking. Some stayed where they fell. I dialed Carmen’s number. She picked up before the first ring could die on its own.
“Don’t even think about it.”
“It’s mandatory and there’s free catered lunch. You and I, we’re the spokeswomen for our region.” Beep. She hung up.
It took more skilled driving than I had in me to swerve around the fallen. When they hit the windshield, they bounced. It took an extra half hour to get to the hotel. I jabbed at the buttons until the sluggish doors rolled closed and the elevator shuddered to the tenth floor.
The guest presenter was from headquarters. Morning session was a mind-numbing lecture and review of the new materials, which were the same as the old ones, but with more typos. I sipped my free coffee. It burned my lips.
“In the consideration of time, we will have a working lunch,” the guest presenter announced. Surprise. Chairs ground against the tile. There was a general shuffling toward the catered spread. Outside, people drifted past the windows like snowflakes.
Afternoon session is Q & A. Other people on my team, who I never had much reason to interact with, rip apart every single sinew of the new materials like Vikings with a turkey leg. Then, the Q & A spun into a fable, a retelling of every variation of circumstance that had ever happened since the birth of the corporation. I start drawing shapes on my palm with a paperclip. A man in jeans floats past the plate glass.
“Your time is coming.”
Beckett said this, two summers ago. He flipped my palm, and put the tip of his thumb there, drew a circle. “Look at you. You have the whole world right here.”
His thumb scuffed against my life line. The hairs on my arm stood up, because he was the electric socket to my wires. Or was it the other way around?
He was probably watching the real snow come down in his yard in Richmond. After he ghosted, he became a new man. Drifters weren’t supposed to become a new man right away. Probably he was doing something ridiculous, something completely unlike him. He looks out his front window, clutches a coffee mug, World’s Best This-or-That. The Asian girl walks up behind him and hugs his waist. He has a beard down to here, and they are both smiling. Now she goes out to drizzle seeds for the chickadees pecking in the snow. How small and naive she is, as she scatters the seeds. The paperclip digs into my palm. It leaves white marks on the callous there. People fall and fall.
“And finally, we want you to know how vital each one of you is to the safety and security of the people in this country. Let’s wrap it up, and drive safely!”
Team members crowd the elevator. “Hope this clears up soon. Heh, heh. Got a tournament Saturday.”
“It’s my anniversary, a little something special… .”
I attempt some small pleasantry in the parking garage, but they are out of earshot. The empty lot sprouts weeds through cracks in the concrete. At the far end, my lonely busted car sits.
People are falling. One lands at my feet, a man somewhere between fifty and sixty. In the city, all the faces remind you of somebody. Not this one. He does not remind me of anyone. His face is baggy with dark eye circles, and his gut bulges beneath the buttons of a black pea coat. He folds to his knees. He does not get up, or lie down, but stays in-between. His expression is trapped between shaking a fist at heaven and lying down to face eternity.
I set my bag down and stick an arm under his elbow. I wouldn’t say I lift, and I wouldn’t say he pulls up, but somehow he is standing. I don’t ask where he has been, and he doesn’t ask where I’m going.
“Mischka,” he says, and nods. He turns his back and toddles down the avenue. I start my car and bump on the bad tire toward home. The radio predicts a clearing by nightfall, with a chance of fog.