By Lindy Reese
Keith broke the water gasping, exhilarated. ‘A ten!’ he thought and swam toward the pool’s edge. He watched another diver enter. An eight. For a moment he bobbed at the edge. Should he try another dive or let the waves knead him against the wall while he took a brief, watery nap. Sometimes he would scramble quickly up the ladder into the cold air when he thought himself a Spartan and shiver while waiting his turn for the board. He lingered on the decision but knew he’d already chosen to nap, so he curled into a ball and slipped down the wall. The waves’ tiny fit knocked him about as he sank to the pool’s floor where he stretched out and let his chest float as though separated from his mind and his legs; he let it carry the rest of him upward.
Keith’s lightened body turned as it floated. Liquid streamed around his limp arms and fingered its way like a spider through his chest hair. His lungs burned and he opened his eyes to see he hadn’t floated far from the bottom. He stayed a moment longer in submerged pleasure before shooting to the surface. Uhnrrrrr. The noise he made filled the pool’s cavity and brought everyone’s attention to the deep end where Keith fretfully tread water and gasped for air. “You OK, Buddy?” someone asked. He nodded and lay on his back breathing short, spasmodic breaths, then longer ones.
When Keith left the pool he had five extra minutes and walked back to work slowly. The sun splattered on the mirrored glass outside the club and ricocheted into squares of grainy light in the shade. He hesitated. The same warm light that heated his back sent his shadow streaming up the street. It will gilt the edge of a passer-by or silhouette a familiar shape– a leafy branch — into an abstract on the sidewalk. He grew to depend on this.
“Will it stop if I don’t watch it all the time?” he wondered.
At the office he’d often pile up books, vases, coffee cups and soft material like his coat or a scarf he’d found in the company cloakroom. He’d study the new shape the sun made on the floor, a shape so full and real he thought he could pick it up. Then he’d walk out of his office to see the white neon turn hair and skin corpse colored on his accountants and clerks, the men and women busily striking 80 keys a minute without mistake. Outside his office, Keith felt numbed by the neon and clicking. He would step out to remind himself who he really was, or was it to be truly awed comparing neon to sun.
A clerk, Mary, came into his office with some papers. He closed the door behind her. She put the papers on his desk and stepped to the window to warm herself. Keith watched as her shadow stretched across the framed sunlight. He yearned to hold it, so long and beautiful, but Mary turned idly, and played with her hair, twining it around her finger. She looked away to afford him an executive glimpse of her back while he glanced through the figures on the papers. He entered the sunlight and handed them back, not touching the fingertips she offered him to touch. After she left, he remembered where her shadow had been.
At this time, at 2 o’clock, the sun slanted into the office and formed a perfect rectangle on the gray-green carpet. Keith had already removed all objects from its path and hung a mirror low across the room for the sun to slowly creep through the carpet, climb the wall and burst out from the mirror back into itself. Every cloudless day, Keith would stop working to watch the sun first gleam off the mirror and then, as the mirror absorbed it, shoot the fiery splendor back into the room. Sometimes he’d move the mirror, inviting the sun to another part of his office.
Work never suffered from this absorption. His subordinates were dependable, and he was capable of what was expected of him, of more actually, than he was willing to allow himself to accomplish. More work would distract him.
On cloudy days the figures on his desk would tease him as they danced into each other and off the page to float in and out of the mirror and about the room. It was easy for Keith to summon them back to settle into their columns again for work, but he preferred to watch them dancing. Still, he had time to do both. Keith had been doing both since he could remember. In kindergarten he’d fly with the goblin on the goose up into the Redlands and yet was able to recite the teacher’s story to his mother after school. It wasn’t until tenth grade that he politely refused the extra assignments that were arranged for him all through school. That year he took a normal load, acquiring ‘A’s easily enough, to allow himself more time to dwell in his distractions. In the third quarter of his junior year in college he dated a young woman. He did not fall in love with her but with the tumble of her words, the way they fell from her lips in a shining, slipping, celestial way.
College placement secured his position at Yarborough. Keith had simply to respond in a series of three interviews with such intelligence and coherence that the final examiner would overlook Keith’s odd and dazed intent to follow the words he spoke back to their source.
After eighteen months, Yarborough promoted Keith to his own project. During this time, he discovered the sun’s light and started to concentrate on its images. Since the project was completed six months ahead of schedule, Keith was commended and transferred to headquarters, downtown, to oversee an accounting and research staff.
Twice a year, Yarborough sponsored a catered event for employees, once near Christmas and once in the summer. The summer party was planned for this afternoon before the Fourth of July because no one performed adequately anyway, the day before a holiday. Caterers set up tables of food while inattentive accountants fingered their calculators at a slower, mistake-ridden rate. Finally someone announced, “Bar’s open” and everyone left their desks with un-added columns inked across tapes.
Keith heard the clamor from his office and knew he must go have a drink with them. He remembered last year. Sheila had quit in May so he wouldn’t make that mistake again. At the Christmas party she had asked for a ride home and then invited him in. Her small apartment was sulky. The one shaded bulb in the main room cast green about the room and coated the couch and a cheap wall print in a slimy light. She had asked him to sit; he stood and said he had to go shortly. He went into her bedroom and let her seduce him. He left her asleep on her pin-striped sheets and was glad he wouldn’t have to see her again until after New Year’s.
Now he slipped out of his office and into the sea of heads near the bar. Several employees clapped his back and shook his hand; brave ones offered him advice. A shared joy trickled into him. He put his own arm on Bill’s shoulder and steered him toward the bar, happy to be among the sea of heads. He secured a bourbon, then another, then let Bill go and looked for Mary. Mary appeared before him as if she knew he was looking for her and asked for a ride home. They passed through the heads and halted at the elevator’s red and white buttons. In the elevator they turned to see another couple leave the party. Laughter seeped out into the hall with them. The elevator clamped shut and fell twenty-one floors.
Later, he returned to a handful of drunken employees and arranged cabs home for them, then slipped back into his office where the sun hazed yellow while the caterers cleaned up. Momentary solace met him as he stared out the window at the sun-drenched buildings. A cautious knock and the solace was gone. The caterer stuck his head in, “We’re gone,” he said. Keith nodded.
They left. He listened. Silence. He peeped out the door. Desks were lined up in urban rows, each with its special picture or pencil holder. Leaning against the door, he breathed deep and felt the conditioned air cool and burn the length of his trachea. He heard the whistle it made passing through his nostrils in the silence of the cavernous room. Again a deep breath. Hunched over, he forced all the air from his lungs, then he straightened up. His lungs sucked desperately for air. Uhnrrrr. The sound spilled out into the space between the desks, up to the ceiling and into the back wall.
Again Keith hunched over. The neon-lighted room darkened and he clutched at the door handle to steady himself. A black mist hung from the edges of the room and gathered toward the middle over the desks, billowing, pushing into rounded, spiraling clouds. Soon the room was filled with dark clouds that merged toward Keith. He breathed slow and deep. The clouds gathered around him and lifted him above the desks, above the ceiling into the air and into the sun.
On the street he stepped into the crowd and quickened his pace to match the mass. He breathed their exhaled breath. He felt he could float to the top of the crowd and they’d carry him along like a wave. After keeping this pace for a while, he dodged into a dimestore. “We’re closing, sir,” a voice said from the side. He stood at the jewelry counter. Lights dimmed, the cashier counted her drawer. Keith chose a pair of red enamel earrings shaped like lightening bolts. “We’re closed,” she said, but he laid twenty dollars on the glass case and walked away, pocketing the lightening bolts. Back out on the street, he again floated atop the crowd as they crossed 44th and passed the alley where his car was parked.
His car melted into the other cars on the freeway. They floated together in sync – a snake swimming through the universe. A hairless, golden scale broke off when he exited on 105th and tumbled down the road past Den and Judy’s Market. At 11th avenue Keith turned and passed Woodwards’, Nelson’s, Jamisson’s and rolled into the drive, stopping short of the tricycle.
Inside the door a little girl greeted him and stuck her small hand into his side pocket to find the gum that was always there. He pulled the lightening bolts from his pants pocket and gave them to the little girl, ”Give these to Mommy, Trixie.”
Copyright Lindy Reese 2009