Two Stories from Busy Season, Disjoint and Disorganized to Reflect Life at Present

I look around the room and see that everyone is slouched in their chairs. Heads peek over the top of back rests, tousled hair and tangled ponytails — the air feels heavy and no one has spoken in a while. Clicking mice are the ticking of a clock that says it’s the time of night when our voices turn gravelly, eyes red-rimmed from so many pixel hours. To break the silence seems wrong, but —

“Hey.” The word comes out chalky and stale, a dusty trinket.

Ahem, cough. Four tired heads turn around, eyes blinking at me in slow-motion.

“Hey. Can I ask a question? I’m not sure who would know… I know it’s late, but I can’t seem to … you see this? This balance is here… but like, where? I mean, why? Do you want to look? I’ve been looking, I’ve found not much on … the subject …” I trail off as the numbers begin to swim and dance lazily on the screen, blinking like fireflies.

Someone wheels their chair over to me, looks at my screen. I gesture vaguely at the fireflies.

“Ah, yeah,” she says. “I remember this. It’s a … thing. It’s … yeah. Let’s talk about it tomorrow.“

I’m grateful as she wheels her chair back to her desk. Tomorrow. Tomorrow is perfect. It’s spacious and clean, filled with certainty and the answers to yesterday’s questions. I take the word like a gift and tuck it into my bag for later.

Silence settles again. My cursor moves across the page like it’s crawling through midtown traffic, savvy of the potholes and steam leaks and police lines ahead. I feel my brain slowing to a halt, like the wheel on Wheel-of-Fortune, as it it’s sent into a spin by a hopeful arm, and it goes and goes:

Clickclickclick — click — click —

click …

click…

until it clicks

to a

stop.

Without much purpose, I sit and Copy-paste, control-F, highlight blue, multiply by two. Bold and underline, a life in keyboard shortcuts.

Awhile later, another creaky voice swims up from the silence. “Guys. Maybe we should leave soon? It’s late.”

I am relieved. We all agree, five weary heads nodding. I shut my laptop with a snap, the punctuation at the end of this run-on sentence. We push our chairs back from desks littered with coffee cups and scraps of paper, tangled cords and soda can tabs — a corporate war-zone.

The walls in the elevator are mirrored, and the fluorescent lights etch deep, shell-shocked shadows under my eyes, so I turn my back to my reflection. In the harsh marble of the lobby we bid each other goodnight, goodbye, see you tomorrow. The revolving door spits white-collar soldiers onto the street, and in different directions we steer ourselves home.

I hail a cab, a perk of working too late for the train. “One-tenth and Madison,” I say to the driver. I remind myself, be polite, it’s late, but you are polite — “Please.”

The driver turns around. “Hey! One-tenth and Madison, I drove you yesterday! Haha! “

I wait for some sort of revelation that would reveal the cab driver as a sort of Florence Nightingale, a beacon of hope, perhaps. But he just drives. Midtown lights dim. As we near 110th Street he says, “See you tomorrow! Haha!”

Tomorrow.

I step out of the cab onto the corner of home and the rest of the world.

***

I’m alone in my bedroom on a snowed-in Tuesday, when the trains have been shut down but the work is still full speed ahead. I’ve crouched on the hardwood floor with too many spreadsheets overlapping one another on the twelve inch screen where I’ve been living lately. It’s been five hours, but I can’t get things to add up. A page in my notebook is dense with shaky notes that don’t make sense after I’ve read them once. The formulas don’t seem right, but I hardly paid attention in that Excel class, so how can I be sure? They told me this needs to be done but I’ve hardly done it.

As I picture their disappointment I feel the panic rise. My nose starts to prickle, my breath comes faster until I’m only inhaling. A voice of reason floating somewhere near the ceiling reminds me I’m not saving lives, I’m not building a rocket, I’m doing analytics for an audit…

But the pressure behind my eyebrows builds anyway, and I lie face down to cry barely-muffled sobs into the floorboards. And I can’t stop, because the analytics are the consequence of all my failures — they won’t balance because I never broke nineteen minutes in the 5K, because sometimes I go a whole day without leaving the house, because I opted out of AP Physics in high school for the easier class. Because I neglected my friendships junior year in favor of a boy, and because I claim to be a Tolkien fan but I never finished The Silmarillion — I hardly even made a dent.

My brain is short-circuiting. The sobs escalate to a hysteric crescendo, a sort of soundless gasping. The voice of reason on the ceiling says, you’re being silly. But I tell it to shut up, because this is the end of the world. On my computer screen the spreadsheets sneer at me, so I pull a blanket off my bed and over my head.

Mid-sob, my roommate knocks gently on my closed door. I’d forgotten he was home. I’d forgotten about other people.

“Hey, Joanna?”

I lift my head up from the floor in the direction of his voice. I sniffle.

“Yeah?” I say it through the blanket.

“I made chicken, if you want some. It’s on the stove.”

His voice sounds kind of musical. Chicken. He’s made chicken and he’s offering it to me, like a bridge back to sanity.

My breathing slows. David on the other side of the door, with chicken, seems to make more sense than reason. The analytics are in here, the chicken is out there, and a solution is somewhere.

I stand up. My hair is crazy in the mirror. I say yes, sure, I’d love some chicken. Thanks for offering.


Originally published at joannakenney.tumblr.com.