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Monday, August 04, 2003

This is old, but I'm packing for the Seattle move and I ran across the copy I sent to The New Yorker that they held for like six fucking months, so I'm putting it up 'cause: A.) Despite its inherent cuteness, I like it, & B.) It's not all that fucking long. So here:

They did not so much meet as happen to coincide at a particular point in space and time, an accidental collusion of physical presence taking place, for no possibly predeterminable reason, in the vast marble lobby of an office building in which neither of them worked or in fact had any legitimate business to conduct whatsoever. He had entered the revolving doors in search of a restroom, she questing for a payphone.

He had no need of rude bodily function, was instead desirous of a washbasin and paper towels so that he might attempt to remove the comma of mustard deposited upon the lapel of his fine navy-colored suit by the clumsy fat man with the pretzel. The mustard, he could see by burying his neck in his chest and rolling his eyes as far down as their physical structure allowed, was still as much of a liquid as it had ever been, had not, as of yet, congealed into a hard crust that would certainly stain the lapel of his fine suit and ruin its aesthetic and therefore his appearance during his very-soon-to-occur meeting with the Very Big Man. He was almost certain that he could remove the comma of mustard and blot the fabric with wetted paper towels and remove the stain and still have time for the tell-tale wet spot to dry completely before having to cross the threshold of the Very Big Man’s office and shake hands and make the pitch. At the moment of collusion, very near the totality of his being was focused upon this task; he had calculated all the potential scenarios in his head: Crowded restroom, a lack of paper towels, the difficulty of performing all the necessary tasks with a modern electric-eye actuated faucet, an overly strong stream of water splashing his coat and slacks, even the potential lack of a public restroom (a drinking fountain and his handkerchief would suffice in a pinch.). He hit the lobby with the single-minded determination of a soldier storming a pillbox, scanning the area with a remarkable intensity of focus, taking in the security desk, elevators, escalators, potted plants, newsstand, polished marble walls and floor, gleaming chrome railings and the smooth concrete support pillars with a single glance, intent on discovering, if possible, the secluded and covert alcove inside which the restroom doors would most certainly be located.

She had dropped her cellular phone. Had dropped it, ridiculously, in an oily curbside puddle exactly like every oily curbside puddle in every big city in the world, like every oily curbside puddle she had ever gone to great lengths to be aware of and to not step in since she was six years old. And it was only ridiculous that she had dropped her cellular phone into the puddle as she had less than a moment previously taken a giant step over it, a step that occluded the potential of a misplaced and thereby soaked foot by at least twelve inches in either direction, a step that so threw her off balance that she instinctively flung out her arms to steady herself, and in doing so lost her delicate and ladylike grip on the phone and managed to throw it over her shoulder in a mathematically improbable arc that terminated in the direct center of the oily curbside puddle. She was entirely aware of each distinct event in the series, but found herself, despite this preternatural observational ability, unable to do anything about any of it once the giant step had been ordered by her higher cognitive functions and set into motion by her motor control centers. And she may have even reached into the unknowable murkiness of the puddle despite her innate repulsion of such things to save the phone if she had not, in the process of turning around to assess the potential depth of and amount of floating particulate in the puddle, seen the child at the end of his mother’s arm pointing at her and laughing through a mouth that was missing its two front teeth. And she decided at that point that she would rather be hit by a speeding taxi than denigrate herself further by reaching into an oily curbside puddle to retrieve a cellular phone that was worth less than a tenth of her weekly income while a small child laughed at her. She turned on a fashionably high heel and walked into the first building she came to and headed in the direction that common urban sense told her that a bank of payphones should be located so that she might call the office of one Mr. Jerry Maven and discover the exact circumstances that had allowed her to have seen him in a Downtown-bound BMW only moments ago when he had told her late yesterday afternoon that his evening would be spent on the red-eye going over paperwork for an emergency meeting in Stockholm this very morning.

And it wouldn’t be possible to judge who ran into who, in the vast marble lobby of the office building, as both were describing aggressive, unalterable paths towards what they assumed were their proper and reasonable destinations. That they did meet with great force and immoderate confusion is undeniable. That he whuffed and she ahhed is attestible by at least three or four witnesses, who, assuredly, also saw her start to skid across the polished marble floor on her nearly tractionless high heels and saw him put his arms around her in a reflexive action that he would later decide was either protective or possessive but was unsure as to which and there was a finite moment of furious kinetic energy during which it seemed possible that both of them might end up either tangled together on the floor or perhaps floating somewhere around the skylights before it was over.

But in the end all was well, and they both were upright and resting their hands on one another’s shoulders and heaving out a breathless overlapping chorus of Are you all rights? And she looked at him with his fine suit and comical little mustard stain and he looked at her flushed, pretty face and tractionless high heels and they smiled and made their apologies and rushed off to continue their lives and never saw each other ever, ever again.


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