No more than four feet. Not in any direction but up. A rectangular prism of shabbily maintained metal, stained tile, and whatever the hell these dour, white walls are made out of. You can look up to where the fans and motors are audibly, though invisibly, churning out synthetic air. I’ll go mad in here. That’s what I’ll do. The sturdy handlebars on opposite walls, their grey metallic nature faded, scratched, marked, will break my hip when I go mad and run into them. Doors are the walls without handlebars. They have no handles. Why are there two doors? I came in one and plan very much to leave out that same one. Why are there two doors? Is someone else planning to use it? Like the handlebars, the doors seem to have lost their luster years ago, having been imperfected by a million passersthrough, a million marks. I can work out vague obscurances of my hand or body’s form in their faux reflectivity.
I’m alone. I walked in, pressed the 37 button; it lit up and I did it without any other people. I don’t want them here with me. They have no place by my side. When I was six a couple of older neighbor boys tied me to the tree outside my house with our hose. My dad got home just in time to see them sneaking away and he chased them both down and shoved dirt into their faces until their eyes were as brown as they were red. He was on my side. “You let them do this to you?” he asked. I didn’t answer him. I just stood strong and replaced tears with teeth marks on my bottom lip. That’s the kind of answer he looked for, anyway. He walked in the house. When my mom came to the door a couple hours later to call me in for dinner, she saw me and untangled me.
Ticking? This door ticks. It sounds like the nervous rapping of pencil on my fingernails when I’m writing a note that will invariably wind up crumpled up. I wonder what this door is trying to write. I await its sudden burst of inspiration. It’ll be explosive. The cloudy metal will erupt into a thousand pieces, shrapnel taking to me like rains to a thirsty lawn, sinking deeply, quickly. Nobody will know. Some people, hearing the bang, will look up from their desks and say, “What was that?” Their papers won’t wait forever, though, and so they return to their lives of pens marking paper, while I bleed out the rest of mine, me marking floor. The lady milling in the hall will jump, her heart will race a bit, and then she’ll continue walking, assuming it’s just a problem she doesn’t need to worry about. Really, it isn’t. I’ll be in an awkward position when they finally do find me. I won’t be resting against the far wall, a fallen infantryman like my father (Local Hero: G.I. Marceo, Receiver of Purple Heart, Silver Star) able to gasp out his last confessions. After my dad’s picture showed up in the newspaper I heard a lot about how much he had loved my mother and I. The newspaper will give me an obituary and maybe a half-inch article next to the War on Drugs. My dad went out the way a man goes out. But not me, I’ll be slunched, my face on the floor and my hands bending at weird angles. Not only will my body be carelessly strewn with my ass in the air so that my shirt no longer covers the hairy small of my back, but I’ll be without a sergeant to tell stories of love. It’ll just be me and my blood. It, of course, will be trickling out of a hundred tiny holes and down my stain-proof blue suit to the tile floor. Rivulets of red blood-cells will form one big pool on the floor. I’ll be a damned river delta.
I put my fingertips to the door and the ticking stops. Why doesn’t the other door tick? I’ll go mad in here. Anybody would. There is an emergency phone near my knees. That doesn’t relieve me. Why would it? This addition means that disaster is both imminent and probable enough that installing an emergency phone is worthwhile. What if the phone rings? Nobody calls for me. They don’t have my phone number. Claudia has my phone number. She lives in my apartment, sleeps in my bed, kisses me at night and I’ve never told her I love her. Maybe she’ll find the crumpled notes. Maybe not. This isn’t my phone, anyway.
I move my hand. The ticking starts again. I pray for the door’s lightbulb moment. Then I’ll use the phone. Then I won’t feel scared that it is here. I won’t be worried that someone will call or that Claudia has my phone number. When I’ve fallen to the floor, I’ll even be glad that it’s by my knees and readily reachable, even in my prostrate shape, crumpled and tossed aside like so many other untried ideas. Maybe that security camera will get it all on tape. But nobody watches those. I’ve been in the security office. After work when there’s no one but you still categorizing stocks and a security officer watching reruns of old sitcoms, no one is watching the tapes of the day’s proceedings. The night officer is a veteran who uses rum and All in the Family to get him from one day to the next. I don’t know if he’d notice me lying in the corner. Just before my father went overseas he was allowed to stop home. He told me that I had to grow up strong. He explained to me that his sergeant told him, “Saving you is a hell of a lot more work than not seeing you.” The security officer probably knows this. He’d take one look at the videotape and leave me where I was.
I don’t know that this ceiling is real; its design makes it seem as though it doesn’t touch any walls. Is it fake? It’s fake. But it is within the reach of extended arms and it does emit light. Unwavering light. The steady robotic gaze from above is unnerving, useless like rains on a marsh. Probably white at one point, the dirty, metallic-grey luminance is daunting. Maybe those air machines that I can hear are processing metals into the air. Through the years, perhaps, microscopic bits of metal have clung to the clean plastic. They turned that beautiful decoration grey and my lungs are next. I’m going to asphyxiate on air. Is that ironic? I’d much rather go insane than lose my ability to breathe. Around the water cooler people will remember me and say, “How’d he die?” “Oh, he inhaled bits of metal until he couldn’t breathe anymore.” No, that’s not how I’m going out. Not at all.
I sit down. I glance down. I stand up. The cheap marble tile is filthy. Have my shoes added to this or will they bring it home with me? I do not want this home with me. A piece of gum mocks me. Blue and brain-like, it sits beside my feet stoically. It doesn’t say anything, but I know it’s sizing me up. I look at it and see the wavy imprint of someone’s shoe; it does the same in return. Just like the day I met Claudia. While standing in line at the copy machine (two copies of Period 5 ‘98, two copies of Period 5 ‘99 and 2 copies of Period 5 ‘00) I noticed that the woman behind me was watching me. When I looked, she looked away. Then she looked back.
“What’s your problem?” I said.
“Where do you live?”
“What’s it matter to you?”
“You live in Blueridge, too, don’t you?”
“It’s a awful place to be alone.”
She came home with me and we had dinner (microwaveable lasagna). She asked me question after question. “How long have you worked at VeriFide?” “Where are you from?” “What brings you to Blueridge?” “Are you single?” She looked me in the eyes each time. When it was late and we had eaten, she walked into my room and laid down in my bed. With a smirk she said, “ready to be a man?” I’ve never answered her.
The ticking has stopped. It stopped and I didn’t touch it. Did someone else touch it? From the other side? Who’s there? Should I say, “Hello?” I don’t. If I say, “Hello,” then they’ll know I’m here. Do I want them to know I’m here? No, they’re not good people. No one trying to get in here is good people. They’ll use the latest in laser-saw technology and cut a hole into the door big enough for two of them to step through. They’ll do it from both doors. Four people will be on top of me before I can see again. The orange-red glow of the lasers will have me blinded, no doubt. They’ll put a bag over my head, tie my hands behind my back, my feet together, carry me to a van whose motor is running, throw me in, drive away without telling me a word, take me to their headquarters and make a ransom call back to the office spouting off about how they have one of the office’s employees. My bosses won’t recognize my name. They won’t even know that I’m gone, just that the third quarter report was never turned in. Letters will show up at home notifying me that I’ve been terminated and Claudia won’t give a damn. She quit long ago. The letters will get crumpled and tossed aside. Meanwhile I’m bound and gagged and have been kicked near the point of passing out and then it’s back in the van before I’m dropped off on the side of the stre—DING!
Floor 37. I moved? I didn’t move.