She had always felt a little disappointed by her surroundings, so she gave them a few extra hours every morning before waking up to catch up to what she had always envisioned. And she was ready to keep sleeping in for as long as it took for a better world to be created. It wasn’t fitting to be up before dawn. That seemed like walking into a room before the person announcing your arrival.
Choosing something to put on was not easy. She couldn’t understand wearing clothes that revealed to anybody at all your likes and preferences, any more than being revealed by saying things that you believe to be true. Better than that to be seen making the obviously insincere gesture of wearing something unmistakably ugly, though even that could reveal too much. The unspeakable, the incomprehensible, would be good.
There was no use looking ahead to what might happen in the course of a day. She had often thought she might have to beat a psychic just to test their powers. Of course she would actually have to follow through with it, or a lack of fear in their eyes beforehand would prove nothing. Anyway, people wouldn’t have to try so hard to divine the future if they didn’t allow themselves to be surprised by the past.
Her apartment was at the top of a very tall building, high enough that walking up from it seemed like a faster way of getting to ground level. The apartment was in serious danger of losing the last of the heroin junkies and beaten prostitutes that flopped around on the pavement outside, and if that happened there would be no denying that the neighborhood had gone to hell. The city was decaying amongst the creeping rot of upscale art dealers and actual children.
Her job was difficult too. The previous day she’d made a man, for serial infidelity, forfeit having ever been married to his wife. She’d given him 30 days to dispose of his photo albums. On the other hand, her job did keep her away from the man who was sleeping with her on a capriciously erratic basis, who worked for a manufacturer of the pheromones that airlines release on their planes before take-off to make their passengers horny and distracted during the flight.
She needed portents and auguries. She was ready to poke around in the entrails of animals for a sign in lieu of the instincts which had repeatedly proven their inadequacy. With every marriage names accumulated on top of other names, as if names in general were becoming progressively less able to capture the mysteries of her existence. Some of the names that had piled up at the end of her own she hadn’t really had time to learn how to spell.
She believed that the ground under her feet was basically tolerant of all the things people do on it, be they aberrant, misguided, or even jumping up and down repeatedly. Not that she felt a great need for the earth’s forgiveness in any case, as she had never pursued the shrouded chaos of the life of a malefactor. However, her memories of her classes in college were mostly of professors whose lectures consisted of what could perhaps be best described as homages to other people’s ideas. But she didn’t feel cheated by this, since the papers she wrote for them were likewise homages to other people’s papers.
She saw a dog prowling alongside of a strange-looking woman. Animals are a great help to society, she thought. With them people can learn to be nice even before acquiring subtlety or nuance. Then several rounds of dance music artillery went off from her phone. The display said “David.”
“What? It’s morning.”
“Yes, a fitting time to prophesize a good night.”
“Do you have any news for me?”
“I have to wait for it to happen first, then I can report it. That’s the order things are supposed to go in. I’ve finally memorized it.”
“Well, what do you know for sure?”
“Joanna got out yesterday. Wait, no, she definitely will be released soon. Or maybe it’s just that I want her to be released. It’s still hard to keep them all straight.”
“Uh huh. Well, presuming these many theories discredit each other, let’s go watch some music tonight.”
Where could you go in the city? Places get used up. The earth here hadn’t been scratched bare by hoes and the weirdly pink soles of people’s feet like in the starving lands across the sea, but the weathered building facades and the flat landscape they were planted on had been worn by too much thinking, agonizing and obsessing. Even the city’s name felt rubbed down by too many tongues.
“I don’t know…I just…mm…”
“What’s going on?
“…I feel like my body is going to explode with flowers. Everything around me is like a sound not a sight. Why is my furniture all bulging outwards?”
“I understand you. I think it means that we should spend some time together.”
“Eeeyyyeah, I’ll call you a little later. I really need to go to the bathroom right now. My phone gets bad reception over bodies of water.”
Ugh, she could barely think about writing this one up. Just the thought was a little breeze of nausea rustling her mind. The last time she had had to write a status report about her and a man there had been tears on her graphs and charts. This was already proving more humbling. It didn’t seem right that a man could just camp out in the borderlands of ambiguity indefinitely, shrugging and napping with all his other half-alive friends, when she was expected by her superiors to show she was gaining a steady increase in affection and financial support. Why even aim for growth under these conditions? Why not just confiscate the pasts of some more adulterers and call it a life?
She finally reached the building where she worked, which looked like an open-pit mine walled with glass windows. Some of them were cut so as to form the staircases leading down into the building, so having a window office generally meant facing a near-constant clattering and shaking all around. The reigning philosophy there being that everything in life is a trade-off, this suited management fine. And in addition they cared about their employees: they weren’t going to move the stairs by removing the windows and letting their employees get snowed and rained on. The result was that a lot of people gazed towards the sun through footmarks.
Nobody was allowed to leave the building by going back up the stairs and out. The only exit was by a back door down at the bottom. Nobody could stay past their shift either. There was hardly any room in the whole building for extra people, and since the night and day shifts used the same offices, if one group stayed long the place would get jammed up almost immediately. She wasn’t really sure why it needed to be staffed 24 hours a day, since the average course of romantic conquest and dissolution usually progressed at a rate barely sufficient to fill a lunch break’s worth of activity per day, but the directors had more than once expressed the view that society’s preparedness to deal with misdeeds was inversely proportional to the number of misdeeds they would actually be called upon to rectify, so as the need for this department’s services dwindled they would continue to expand at an ever-quickening rate. She suspected the presence of unpaid interlopers, there for the prospect of rifling and pillaging. The department would be happy to save on salaries, and would probably even respect an outsider’s greater impartiality more. And she believed this secretary was one of them, a scavenger picking around at the edges of the campfire.
“Hi, back at it today?”
“Yeah, guess so.”
“Why didn’t you come in later?”
“Why wouldn’t I? This is when we’re supposed to.”
“But missing several days because you couldn’t take it anymore, and then back in today right on time? Makes it seem like you had problems with your health, not your attitude.”
“Do I look weak or incapable? I’m fine, this place sucks, that’s all.”
“So why did you change your mind all of a sudden?”
“Some things need to be put off and avoided more than coming here. That’s when most work gets done. And since you have no evidence that I’ve been sick, you’re just taking an interest in my life.”
“You accusing me now? Unbelievable. Just leave.”
The secretary had nonetheless, as he did whenever they spoke, earned her sincere gratitude, because every time without exception that they spoke, this being one of the most precious uninterrupted streaks in her life, at some point after he started speaking he stopped speaking. She sloshed away through the rainwater that was above ankle height in the entry hall. Since this was the top floor there was no need for stairs going up from here, so the whole side facing the pit was open.
She didn’t speak or make eye contact with anyone on the way down the glass stairs outside, through the door set to one side of it and then someone else’s office to her own desk. With a whiff of physical unfitness still upon her, she wasn’t going to even bend that rule, especially near the secretary, even if she had just accused him of the very same thing. The department was against all work relationships that weren’t perfunctory and official. If your business is studying germs, you don’t want microbes polluting your sterile lab devoted to their analysis. So reasoned the edicts. Whatever. It wasn’t their rules that discouraged that so much as their hiring practices anyway.
Today, unlike most days, the sky was black and the stars were shining. Yet the clocks showed morning. Maybe it was some weather system. This could create confusion about the shifts. She imagined the hallways becoming oily with employees. And she couldn’t totally argue that she was more correct to be there than the night shift. There was probably too much pressure in the air. She felt caught and held. She couldn’t shake the feeling that all her claims and complaints of romantic mistreatment, when they had had all their leaves pulled off, revealed the kind of possessive statement that any good preacher would happily flail from the podium five days a week and then come in on weekends to flail some more for free. At least when someone dies you can put on black and be sad with everyone else. There was often a sort of subterfuge at funerals: nominally you’re sympathizing for someone that they lost their life, but in reality you’re mostly upset for yourself that they’re gone from your life. Being thrown aside by some man felt the same, but it was a death that was not even generally recognized as such. It was like being assailed and then finding out that it’s not a crime.
In order to provide a little diversion, the department had put a number of musical instruments in her office. However, since some employees couldn’t concentrate on their work with music playing, the instruments were locked up in glass cases. The directives concerning this, and every other order and communiqué, were required to be relayed to her in person by her immediate superior without attribution. This meant that her superior, like all the other middle managers there, basically only had time to deliver messages back and forth all day, and was paid like a courier accordingly. She sat down to write an angry letter to David. The hard part would be to subtly misspell his name and otherwise misidentify him, and to show a general haziness regarding important dates, places and events from their time together. Eventually she got bored and wound up pulling out a draft of an old break-up letter to a previous boyfriend, crossing out the original names and dates but leaving them clearly legible. Well, at least he could be happy at having warranted paper rather than e-mail.
By the time she had returned from posting the letter, somewhere deep within her brain a tiny homunculus lawyer was already frantically drafting legal briefs in her defense. In the department’s eyes the end of a relationship was almost always a death for which two people were responsible. There was hardly any space for innocence between killing off a promising match and having held on to a worthless one for too long, thus blocking opportunities for something better. The fact that his wife was being released from the hospital at some nearby though indeterminate moment of the past, present or future after a stay of many months, or that his pheromone-making employers were about to be annexed by her department would be no mitigation at all in their eyes. Seeming to have allowed love not to be the prime mover of their destiny might even be considered an aggravating circumstance. And with the evidence of her past marriages still trailing along towards the edge of her business cards… To fight all this she did not even (and yet to her detriment would nonetheless probably be believed to) possess the sole resources left to outcast women through most of history: witchcraft and prophecy.
Befitting its importance, the department had its own direct mail service and heavy security. However, due to an inability to really afford these services, the mail was delivered by trained pigeons and as for security, instead of guards every hallway had a fully loaded rifle in an emergency glass case. She was now using one of the latter, which she had broken out of its glass case, to track the progress of one of the former, which she believed to be carrying her letter, as she ran along the path away from work under the breaking dawn to stop her letter from being delivered. With a lack of almost any artillery training she was much more likely to hit a passing aircraft by mistake than the pigeon, which would strike a much bigger blow against society than the one she was preparing to shoot a pigeon out of the sky in order to cover up. As she watched the bird dwindle away in the direction of its destination she decided that even if she were a deadeye she wasn’t going to go about killing messengers. And what kind of prisoners guard the walls of their own prison with rifle-fire anyway? She veered off an intersecting street that seemed to head towards somewhere less populated. She shouldered the rifle, then tucked it under her skirt with the strap around her neck and her bag held in front of it to try to hide it, and kept moving.