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Danny left his boss’s office in a kind of daze. As he made his way down the short hall to the elevator he passed his crowded cubicle – the papers and one-sheets covering his workspace, the widescreen monitor displaying the ad for a local gym he’d been working on just minutes ago, the shelves full of the comic-book-hero action figures that had, for better or for worse, defined his workplace persona. His boss, Andrews, had ordered him to go immediately to Human Resources downstairs for some sort of debriefing: papers to sign, forms to fill out, no doubt, and then the inevitable security guard to help him box up his belongings – his Star Trek wall calendar, his I’m-with-Stupid coffee mug, his ubiquitous action figures – and escort him, humiliatingly, to the parking lot. There was a surprising amount of rigmarole involved in losing your job.

      He’d woken up in a good mood today, too. Even the conversation with Andrews had only managed to 
slightly dull his sense of well-being. Things were okay if he felt okay, weren’t they?

      Losing his job. Only now was the import of that phrase sinking in. No job meant no money, of course. But no job also meant not getting up early every morning. And not wearing this ridiculous tie. Was it wrong of him to try to find the positive side? No job meant he could stay up late playing video games. It meant he could stay in his pajama bottoms until noon, watching reruns of Hogan’s Heroes. Maybe he could start working on that novel he’d always known he’d write. He could view it as just another college summer vacation, five years removed. It was all a matter of perspective, right?

      But tonight’s conversation with Theresa ... that would be a different story. He could imagine her averted eyes, her clipped responses. Would she react with anger or with concerned resignation? Of course the trip to Italy was off. Now they’d be living on their meager savings and on whatever Theresa managed to pull in at the furniture shop where she was working part time while she finished up school.

      His whole life seemed ill-constructed for this development. He had been blindly depending on a single aspect of his life that had been much more tenuous and fragile than he’d ever imagined. He felt like a building whose central support column had just vanished. The building still stood and was by all appearances solid. But was he just fooling himself? How long before the inevitable collapse?

      The elevator was crowded. As he got on, Danny nodded in greeting to Russ Mulman, a coworker with whom he’d completed the chocolate-company campaign two months ago. Russ, expressionless, nodded back. No one knew, then, that the worst had happened. He felt like a charlatan, a kid in a costume: a free man in slave’s clothes. In a way, he pitied his coworkers: they were frozen in stasis. They had yet to feel the blade of the ax. He stood silent as the doors closed and the elevator began its descent.

      The money, though. How long would his savings last? And there were also unemployment benefits, he couldn’t forget that; surely he was due those, for at least a few months. He had no idea how much money he could expect from them. He had no idea how to even sign up for such things. His only knowledge of the unemployment office had come from the time his mother had gotten laid off back in the late seventies. He’d been, what -- five, maybe six years old? He recalled each trip to the office as an exercise in interminable waiting, recalled with clarity the office’s stripped-down, utilitarian aesthetic: the orange fiberglass chairs; the thin carpeting; the box of broken, well-worn toys in the corner. Of course the unemployment office would be at least cosmetically different now. Soon he’d get to see for himself. Things had come full circle.

      The elevator opened onto the lobby. He crossed the tile floor to the revolving door and pushed his way out. It was cold outside, the late-September wind colder than he expected, and he remembered his jacket, left behind with his other belongings in his cubicle upstairs. He found himself walking not toward his car but along the sidewalk that flanked his office building. At ten-thirty the office park was empty, not a soul in sight. He walked along for a hundred or so yards until his sidewalk intersected with another, then took the offshoot more or less on a whim. He shivered in his short sleeves, walked on. Ahead, where the sidewalks converged, he could see the large round fountain that marked the architectural center of the Brubaker Office Park. With one look Danny decided to make it his destination. He’d worked here four years and never come anywhere near this fountain; had, in fact, only seen it in passing as he walked from his car to the building or back again. It was high time, he thought, that he gave that fountain a good look.

      The fountain sat in the center of a wide circle of park benches. Danny sat down on a bench, hugging his arms for warmth, and regarded the fountain, which was structured as a set of increasingly large stone bowls, the small top bowl supporting a ball-like shape on a slender pillar. The top of that ball contained an opening from which water spouted with weak, almost urine-like force and cascaded down to fill, in turn, each of the four bowls beneath it. The last bowl, if you could really even call it a bowl, was a sort of stone wading pool on which decorative leaf-like shapes had been sculpted.

      Sculpted? Danny got up and walked closer to the fountain. The smooth surface of each of the stone bowls was marred by ribbed seams, obvious join marks where two individual pieces had been glued. Could stone be glued like that and still hold water? Danny doubted it. Surely the fountain was made out of some other, cheaper substance, something made to look like stone. The fountain, then, hadn’t been made to withstand anyone’s careful scrutiny. Danny felt it was representative, in its own way, of everything that was wrong with today’s society. It was cheap and meant to meet only the lowest expectations.

      The surface of the bottom of the wading pool, Danny now noticed, was overwhelmed by an accumulation of coins: the casually discarded wishes of the employees of Brubaker Office Park. Danny shivered against the increasing cold and glanced around him: the parking lot, the sidewalks behind him, the mirrored faces of the office buildings. There was no one around, but who could tell if someone was watching him from the fifth floor of one of these buildings? Even if they were, did anyone really care?

      Without taking off his shoes, Danny strode confidently into the wading pool. The icy water wrapped around his calves and ankles. Danny stood for several seconds bracing himself, quaking with cold, patiently awaiting the adjustment of equilibrium that would allow him to endure the water’s painful grasp. After a minute or so, when that adjustment still hadn’t come, he gave up waiting. He bent at the waist and began grabbing fistfuls of coins and stuffing them into his pockets. Trickles of cold water began lacing down his legs. He crabwalked around the pool, his feet and hands beneath its surface, in an effort to get as many coins as he could. It was a gift to himself, he thought. His severance package. The least he could expect from Dover and Denally Advertising, Inc.

      He’d been at it for almost ten minutes when he heard the first siren wailing in the distance.


Christopher Morris has been, among other things, a DJ, a security guard, a calculus tutor, a bartender, an editor, and a record-store clerk. His work
has appeared, most recently, in Murky Depths, Parameter, Sein und Werden, Escape Clause, and Johnny America. He lives with his wife and
son in Indianapolis, Indiana.

  

Copyright 2009