Without Pausing to Wish Them Luck
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Stultify"
Originally featured on 10-13-2009
As part of our series "Falling Into the Abyss of Wordiness"

On the way from my desk to the bathroom I hear four conversations. On my way from the bathroom to the parking lot, I hear those same four conversations, and if I try I could easily convince myself that those conversations would refresh and repeat from the beginning if I were to walk back through the hall, past the bathroom and up the stairs the way I had exited. If I walked back to my desk—now empty—maybe I could walk back in time, listening to the four conversations, and maybe I would still be employed here.

—In the HR office.

…The fact has not escaped my committee that the applicant in question exhibits a higher degree of awesomeness (spoken condescendingly) than the competition—I believe that’s how Deborah put it…

—In the copy room.

…Yes, I understand what has just transpired: they’re throwing me a bone. I agree that my most opportune action at this—[pauses to adjust printer] is to play fetch…

—In the cubicles.

…Calm down, you don’t have to rush.

…If anyone ever saw me not rushing, I’d have to change my name, and if I changed my name, I’d be Maria, but I don’t look like a Maria and neither does my sister so don’t tell me to calm down, and don’t tell me not to rush. Just don’t tell me anything. Not today, not on Tuesday, not on my…

—In front of the elevator.

…Pop quiz, sir. What’s the difference between a mountain and a molehill? Mount St. Helens is a mountain. A molehill is what I’m bringing to your attention right now…

I can hear sounds that cannot be traveling to my ears. I was warned about this phenomenon. The instant one loses one’s job, upon one’s exit lap through the building one gains a temporary sixth sense and can hear through walls, much like an out-of-body experience. This occurs because nothing I overhear can be of interest to me.

The parking lot is colder than I remember it being. Nobody is outside on their smoke break. No trucks are passing. It is only me out here. My car looks farther away than I remember parking it. The parking lot has grown larger. I pause before I walk to it.

More distinct conversations are cropping up. They’re heard faintly, like a heartbeat.

—In the downstairs bathroom.

…How are you?

…I’m so much mess I can’t begin to fathom the answer to that. You?

…Not bad.

…I didn’t ask you how you’re not. (He holds up a digital pair of Vernier calipers) That’s like if you asked me what this measuring device is and I looked you in the eye and said it’s not a banana. Let’s try this again. How are you?

…I asked you first.

…I’m fucking peachy, thanks for asking…

—In the prototype lab.

…You and I were both at that seminar, as I recall, the one where they beat us over the head with the principles of innovation, the first being a constant readiness for change and openness to ideas. Here’s a new idea for you; get your head out of your ass…

This temporary psychic power works both ways. I can hear them, and they can’t see me cry, and they can’t see me turn left out of the driveway instead of right, as I have every other time I’ve ever exited the premises. To the left it is quieter.

My niece Margot was scheduled to meet me for lunch today. The engagement was planned before I knew the extent of my lunch hour. I am a walking lunch hour until I am something else.

Turning left, I feel the centripetal force on my torso separating my body from the car. I might be weightless, or everything else may have just gotten heavier. When I was a kid, I fantasized about stepping out of a spaceship onto an undiscovered planet with a different gravitational field.

A tinge travels from my wrist to my earlobe back to my fingertips and spreads to the air. On my way to meet Margot for Chinese food, I hear no conversations.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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