Across the table from you is a man holding a pile of office supplies. "Just in time," says this man, whose name is "Frank." "Kids start school next week, and now I don't have to worry about shopping for school supplies." He holds up a ball-point pen with an eraser attached to one end and shakes it. "Neat."
All around you are men and women doing exactly the same thing as "Frank." Pin-striped suits and pastel-colored blouses, strings of fake pearls and shiny Pleather shoes. They, too, coo like pigeons over the vast treasure of office supplies filling the low wooden table. Hands reach out for extra staples, monogrammed coffee mugs, tiny flashlight keychains with the name of the company you work for etched on one side. You look down at your hands and suddenly it's all spelled out for you, in plain, simple language: this is your life, this is the summation of your life's work. This handful of erasers, experimental cleaning supplies, rolls of transparent tape-this is what all those years of college and, even before that, the tithe of childhood dreams, this is what your life equals. This is it.
In one of the cubicles in the other room is your desk, and in your desk is the gun that you have kept hidden in there ever since that crazy high school massacre, just in case one of those misfortunate psychotics from the school had a spiritual twin that had not mowed down his classmates as a teenager, but had instead grown up to become an ad executive, or a secretary, someone disgruntled. You have found great comfort in this piece of metal, this amazing contraption of rotating cylinders and reflexive technology, the way the solvent still smells faintly sweet when you hold the barrel up to your nostrils, and down to your mouth. Sometimes, when you reach inside your desk for a pen or a piece of paper, your fingertips brush the molded rubber handle of the gun instead, and your mind goes blank, the sought-after object forgotten, the feel of the darkness in your hand the entire world.
Back to the shareholders' meeting, where boxes of transparent tape and toilet brushes and mechanical pencils are dispensed among the employees that own part of the company, gag gifts dispensed with great pomp and aplomb as though this is what you actually had bought into when you were buying stock, and not some tightly-held dream of retirement someday and, dare you even say it? Comfort.
"Hey, did you get one of these?" asks "Ann," shoving a red ballpoint pen with an eraser under your nose and waggling it. "I thought they only had the black ones this year, but there's a box of red ones in the corner, too. Pass it on." And she's gone, delivering her gospel of red ballpoint pens with erasers to the rest of the assembled. Red.
Every day before this one, you have been sleepwalking, but now, standing here, gun smoking in your hand, a line of writhing bodies in your wake, you are finally awake. You don't even know how the gun got from your desk in the other room into your hand, in this room, right here, right now, but it did. Perhaps someone asked you to get extra silverware from the office, and you went to your desk instead. Maybe you just wanted to touch the rubber handle of the beautiful little Luger for comfort, because if anyone here needed a brief fix of self-indulgent comfort, it was you. Or is this the dream? Your hand still tingles from the kick of the .35 caliber rounds, all six of them, and then the next volley, as, mechanically, you must have fed the second clip into the six chambers in your sleep, and the third, and God knows how many after that. Either you did fire the gun, and did it again and again, or there is something wrong with the nerves in your hand and all the way up to your elbow. Tingling like a heart attack. Either you did fire the gun, and did it again and again, or your coworkers are playing a trick on you, pretending to be dead.
The red ballpoint pen with the eraser has leaked a torrent of red through your clean white shirt pocket, and it looks like blood but it isn't, it's ink. All the way through to your skin, and it's the type of ink that might erase fine from paper, but it does not easily wash out of fabric. The red spots on your shoes are blood, though, and that does come off, wipes off neatly with the handy one-cloth stain remover samples that were handed out at the beginning of the stockholders' meeting. This is what your life amounts to.
This is what your life amounts to-running out the back door and down the service stairs, so completely and utterly panicked and sane, finally. How did this happen? Did someone say something? Are you even involved in all of this? Are those sirens? Or are your ears still ringing from the reverb of metal hitting metal, gunpowder igniting, someone screaming next to your head? There has to be some way to make this right, and going to jail is not going to make anything right. You long for wide open spaces free of concrete, skyscrapers, glass, and noise, and so you get in your shiny red car and drive.
You drive. You just get in the car and drive. You take off your shirt while you drive, and your pants, and your shoes, until you are just wearing your pinstriped boxer shorts and a pair of socks, your blood-and-ink-stained clothes random markers on a life disappearing far, far behind you. You grab your sunglasses off the dashboard and slip them on, and now you feel just plain silly. You're driving a car in your underwear, wearing a pair of sunglasses. You take the sunglasses off and now you feel almost Biblical, some Biblical, apocalyptical figure leaving a wake of holy retribution behind you. Nah, not even God would have told you to kill your coworkers. This is all on you. So you're just going to drive until all this is behind you. There are thousands of miles of concrete between here and the ocean, and even more if you drive north/south instead of east/west. That's the great thing about the Midwest, you think, because you can drive in any direction for a really long time. By the time you hit the ocean, you will have this all figured out.
Holly Day is a housewife and mother of two living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her poetry and fiction has recently appeared in Hawai'i Pacific Review, The Oxford American, and Slipstream. Her book publications include Music Composition for Dummies, Guitar-All-in-One for Dummies, and Music Theory for Dummies, which has recently been translated into French, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, and Portuguese.