I slowly stood from my worn chair in the old man’s office, took a few steps towards the window and tugged hard on the beaded chain that hung over a nearby desk. I pulled it until I heard a distinct click. It had once been brass colored and it controlled the switch that fed current to the fluorescent tubes that were buzzing just a few inches above my head.
I continued across the sealed Berber carpet that I imagined as once being totally red, but now had a worn black path through it. As if there was a layer of tar someone had poured and smoothed across its center. A path that guided countless footsteps through the years.
As I made my way out the heavily coated door, I noticed large chips peeling off its face. Chips so large that if someone were to grab one and pull, they would remove a good portion of paint. And I also noticed, for the first time, two window panes in the door that were covered with thinly torn sheer curtains. Curtains that were most surely hung by someone decades before I was born and curtains that were disintegrating before my very eyes.
The moisture and deadness of the office were consuming the threads that held the curtains together. Curtains covering the window panes on a door of an office that was once a hub of activity. A man’s life. A man who one day long ago escaped his reality in search of a different something. A different anything. A man who left everything behind in order to survive. A man who shielded who he was from almost everyone he met, simply to live his life. The very life that had kept him alive throughout his time. They hid themselves from me all these years and now I stood before them, alone, wondering what they were.
I stepped up the two crumbling concrete stairs that led outside and turned around. I stood on the blacktop driveway, under the small overhang that held a sign that read, “Office.” I rested there and tried to peek back inside, through the windows in the door, through those sheer curtains. I pushed my head forward and squinted, trying to see through the other window – the one near the desk.
I tried to envision what the dark office felt like so many years earlier when it was humming with activity. When the old man would wake from his bed and walk just a few steps away from where he lived. What the old man did to occupy himself, days before the factory and his office became an empty shell of a memory. A memory the old man needn’t be reminded of.
I left the protection of the office overhang and passed by two more doors belonging to two more dark offices. I passed by the cottage to my right, and past that, the playground. I passed by those two old buildings I told you about previously. The ones the old man turned into more rentals – rentals to make more money. I continued to walk and as I did, I stepped off the pavement into the dirt. The dirt of the parking lot where the old man had knelt down in front of me five years earlier. I stood in that very spot too. The actual spot where the old man and I had our conversation. The conversation that wasn’t a conversation at all, because it was the old man who did all the talking. All I did was return him a terrified look. A look I held until he was through and until I ran away.
I stood there in the parking lot that day gazing around. Simply gazing around, continuing to wonder where I was. Any amount of strength I had earlier on had evaporated. I had no place to hide and nothing to do, but what I did have was a bizarre feeling of something crawling through my veins. I stood there trying to discover something – anything – and it wasn’t going well, because as the seconds ticked by, I felt more and more alone. Alone, because I hadn’t seen a soul since stepping onto the old man’s property.
But there was something different about this day.
If you remember back to the time the old man spoke to me, you’ll remember the exact location I’m referring to now. The location directly at the end of the trail – the trail that led to the pond. It’s interesting because I had passed by the entrance to the trail on so many occasions through the years that I had practically forgotten about it. I never spoke of the trail or the pond to the old man, and he never to me. I supposed the entire idea of both of them had been somewhat abandoned.
On this particular day, I stood in the parking lot looking around and my eyes happened to settle upon the entrance of the trail that snaked its way back into the woods. I saw the same thing I had seen in passing the entire span of time I had worked the old man’s property. It had been five years since I had begun helping him and, believe me, not much had changed. Which made what I was looking at so much more worth acknowledging. The problem was, as I stood slumped with my head falling slightly to the right, I wasn’t exactly focusing on much of anything. I hadn’t realized that someone had altered the entrance to the trail. I hadn’t realized the trail had been trimmed in such a way that its structure had been changed. It was no longer the same trail I had worked alongside for so long. And as the minutes crept by, I drifted away – just like the day I stood before the old man as he was paying me for raking his leaves and just like I had so many previous times in my life.
It’s a shame I wasn’t paying any attention at that moment, because if I were, I would have been spared just a slight bit of agony. Agony from the clutches of my mind.
But it was getting later in the day. I needed to decide what I was going to do because I certainly couldn’t continue standing there in a trance, daydreaming about where I was and what was going on. Reminiscing about the trail or the pond or even the talk between the old man and me.
And to be perfectly honest with you, my isolation was clenching its grip on me – and the longer I remained, the tighter and tighter that grip would be.