Untitled Writing

            Through the gray, enveloping mist, I was having trouble seeing the road ahead.  The rear wheels of the tractor trailer spun hypnotically in my passenger side window, a motion that always appeared to generate its own gravitational pull.  Its force was subtle but undeniable, quietly but persistently demanding that I move closer.  I reminded myself that if I ignored the pull, I could make my way out of the mist.  But then I also had to admit that I was unsure where I’d go if I did. 

            As is often the case, the answer turned out to be movement.  I’d learned over the years that in life two things rarely moved at exactly the same speed, a theory that held true for our two vehicles.  In time, my car slowly emerged and my windshield cleared.  I realized that the larger world outside of the spray of the truck’s tires was really no less gray then the cold, soggy cloud from which I’d just escaped. I took a slow, deep breath, then rolled down my window and allowed the sharp, wet wind to sting my face for a moment.

            As I watched the snow flakes break from the gray of the sky to distinguish themselves as individuals before being crushed against my windshield, it vaguely registered in my mind that the local morning shock jock had taken a break from his semi-lewd rant to allow the weather girl to read her forecast.  I ignored the beginning of her report as well, barely even aware that the broadcast had changed.  Suddenly though, something she said caught my attention and my mind flooded with thoughts of files and references, keywords and facts.  I could only assume that the word “ice” had emerged during the forecast, causing my mind to rush to the presentation I was expected to deliver later that day.

            I’d done months of research in preparation for a report I was assigned to present to a variety of government and academic colleagues, the focus of which was the growing popularity in the Pacific of the methamphetamine known as “ice”.  Even after years of government intelligence work, I’d considered it an incredible honor to have received such an invitation, and I’d diligently scoured mounds of material in search of the information I needed to address.  Even now, as I navigated my daily spiral into the heart of the nation’s capital, my pulse quickened a bit at the thought of imparting what I’d learned to a group of individuals for whom I had such respect.

            The chill of the wind on my face grew suddenly unbearable and I closed the window again.  Realizing that I needed to change lanes, I slowed and plunged backward into the truck’s snug, grey spray once more.  The tires appeared in my passenger window again as if to smugly welcome me back.  Without hesitating this time, I allowed them to pass and slid smoothly behind the truck and then into the exit lane.  I watched the truck pull further away as I veered onto the off-ramp and applied the brake.  Once off of the freeway the flakes seemed bigger and lazier, but fared no better against my windshield.

            I snaked my way under the overpass and through downtown D.C., passing cold, empty lots and dirty, brick buildings in various states of abandon.  I caught the reflection of my car streaking across the broken window of an auto service garage and wondered what was inside.  What had the previous owners left behind?  Who owned the building now?  Was it on their mind this morning?  Probably not.  It sat quietly neglected, less than a thought in the back of the mind of the one person it depended on for redemption.

            Blinking away the thought, I automatically decelerated as I approached my destination.  Swinging smoothly into the parking area entryway, I rolled my window down again and fumbled for my identification.  “Good morning, sir,” the guard offered as he bent to peer into my car then briefly study my ID.

            “Good morning, Sergeant,” I returned, making an only marginally successful attempt not to mumble at him.

           “You have a good day, sir,” he said with more clarity than I’d been able to muster for him.  He said it without smiling, though.  A good wish delivered with a poker face that seemed neither personal nor professional.  It was just ambivalent, and it was disappointing.  I expected more even though I knew I wouldn’t have reciprocated.

            “Keep warm, Sergeant,” I called as I pulled away.  I knew immediately that it sounded insincere and thoughtless.  I hadn’t meant it to be.  It was my first human interaction of the morning, and it was unsuccessful.  That was happening more and more often lately.  The thought that there was “something in the way” clanged through my head followed by a wave of frustration.  Kurt Cobain’s tortured voice repeated the refrain, supplying a tune to accompany my preoccupation.  “I’m living off of grass and the drippings from the ceiling,” I sang softly, as the lyrics took their turn in my mind.  I pulled into a parking space, turned off the ignition and laid my head against the steering wheel, willing the song to run its course in my mind.

            After a few moments the persistent thought subsided and I grabbed my brief case and exited the car.  Shuffling across the parking garage floor, I gathered myself and resolved to do a better job of communicating for the rest of the day.  I strode more purposefully to the elevator as I realized that my next interaction would be with Amani at the reception desk.

            Stepping out of the elevator, I immediately found her in her place, her head bent studiously over a book.  Her deep brown skin was flawless, and her large chocolate eyes sparkled with an angry intellect that always caused my heart to stutter.  They darted hungrily over the text, devouring words that undoubtedly stoked the fury inside her.  I couldn’t remember if she’d told me that her Muslim beliefs were the result of conversion rather than upbringing, but something told me that was true.  Regardless of their origin, her beliefs were her constant focus and they were unwavering.  She relentlessly poured over faith-related texts by Muslim writers, dissecting words and applying concepts with amazing determination.

            “Good morning,” I softly offered, recognizing that I’d automatically slowed my pace directly in front of her desk.  

            “Good morning.”  There was a conscious effort toward civility and fabricated kindness in her voice, but the vein of disdain was obvious nonetheless.  It was ever present and unexplained.  There was something about it that I needed though; something that I craved.  So many of the conversations in which I normally participated completely lacked feeling.  Maybe I just liked knowing that she felt something, even if it was negative.  I let my eyes meet hers for a minute, satisfied that passion burned not far behind them.  Then, I continued down the hall.

            I briefly considered the clean smell of the floors and the dusty smell of the heating system as I left the hallway and strode for the window.  Washington, D.C. looked quiet and white from here.  While I watched the warm, white smoke rise from the chimneys of nearby buildings, I felt the cold radiating at me from the window panes.  On opposite sides of the glass warm and cold air met and mixed, the greater overtaking and assimilating the lesser with such efficiency that it was almost as if it never existed at all.  The effect that the warm air from those chimneys had on the cold air lying heavily over the city was so miniscule, so hopelessly insignificant, that it would be imperceptible just a few feet away.  But it was still there, wasn’t it?  No matter how infinitely small the amount, didn’t that change still exist?

            I thought again of my speech, the culmination of months worth of research, and of how it I still didn’t really know anything about “ice” and what it was like to live with it.  I thought of how I knew the reports of the spread of addiction across the Pacific, but didn’t really know anything about how it really traveled from hand to hand, paying heed to neither analysis nor legislation, sorrow nor pain.  I knew how to herald its approach, but had no idea how to hinder its progress.  The presentation that mattered so much to me didn’t really matter at all.

            “Aaron,” spoke a fatherly voice.  It didn’t startle me and I didn’t turn from the window.

            “What?” I mumbled into the pane, watching the ragged circle of my breath grow and then fade.

            Walter sighed softly, but the tone of disappointment was not lost on me.  “I know you don’t think you belong here…”

            Turning slowly, I chewed at the inside of my lip and met Walter’s gaze.  He looked worried and sad.  Walter always looked worried and sad.  His pale blue eyes always seemed just two meaningful words away from spilling over.  Even his slumped and defeated posture testified to the truth of a hopelessness that his words tried so hard to deny.

            “Actually, Walter,” I said slowly but pointedly, “I’m starting to get scared that I do.”  A frown immediately creased his face and he ran a meaty, pink hand through his thinning, pearly hair.  He shifted his weight nervously to one foot and then back to the other, jingling his change with a pocketed hand.  I just stood there looking at him and waiting for a response but he only sighed and dropped his eyes.

            “I can tell you’re not in the mood to talk today,” he said as he turned and skulked out the door.  But he was wrong.  I was.

            The following few hours were quiet and long.  I made some half-hearted attempts at assignments on which I couldn’t focus because my thoughts kept returning faithfully to my presentation.  A few times I allowed myself to review the information, making subtle changes in my mind in the interest of emphasis and cohesion.  It didn’t make any difference.  I could make a thousand changes now and the product would be the same.  That didn’t stop me from wrestling with them though, and I was still doing so when Amani poked her stern but stunning face into the room, “Mrs. Sharp would like to see you now, if possible.”

            Without answering, I set aside the papers I hadn’t really been looking over and rose.  I tried to follow Amani down the hall, but before I got outside the room, she’d already turned a corner on the way back to her desk and her books.  Juliet Sharp strode gracefully across the hall in front of me, crossing from the restroom into her office.  Her slender legs stretched seductively from her heels to the hem of her nicely fitting skirt, and  I was grateful for the chance to glimpse her and gather myself before actually facing her.

            Though a decade and a half older than me, she was still breath-taking.  Her face was thin and angular, and her mocha skin was still firm and smooth against her high cheekbones.  “Please, have a seat,” she invited in a silky voice that was simultaneously kind and confident.  I obeyed, careful not to meet her gaze for fear of betraying a fondness that might be less than professional.  “Have you read the material I gave you?”

            “Yeah, I did.”

            “And what did you think?” she coaxed.  She was frustrated with me already.  I knew what she wanted and she knew that I knew.  We also both knew I wasn’t able to give it to her.  Not today.  She knew that I hated to disappoint her, and she’d use that to motivate me if she had to.  “Aaron,” she appealed in a purposefully compassionate voice when it became apparent that I had no reply, “I really need you to work on this for me.”

            “I know,” I mumbled into my chest.  We sat there in silence for a moment.  Afraid to look up and find her glaring impatiently at me, I stared blankly down at my own lap, picking nervously at my fingers.  Finally, she sighed a sigh that was intended to convey her disappointment and frustration, and I could hear her packing away the file she’d spread out on her desk in preparation for this meeting.  I didn’t think she’d written anything or even so much as picked up her pen.  There was nothing to write.  Nothing had been accomplished.

            “Fine,” she finally said, “I’m running a little late today and I think it is time for the group anyway.  We’ll discuss the material tomorrow.”  She took her time clearing her desk and standing from her chair, but I sat there silently waiting for her anyway.  “Let’s go,” she sighed as she straightened her skirt against her long, lean legs then made her way around her desk and past my chair.  I stood and walked behind her, watching the floor and following the click of her heels on the linoleum.

            Walter was already seated in the circle of chairs when we entered the room, and I could tell by the look on his face that he’d noticed the frustration on Mrs. Sharp’s.  He looked at me sympathetically and patted the chair beside him.  I thought about the conversation we’d had that morning and worried that I might have been right.  It was looking increasingly likely that I belonged there beside him in a chair in the psyche ward of Walter Reed hospital while a colleague in another part of town delivered the speech that I’d prepared to an audience by whom I’d been so proud to be recognized.  After my psychiatrist became concerned for my safety and had me enrolled in an intensive outpatient depression treatment program, it hadn’t taken that colleague long to call and graciously offer to take my place.

            Sitting there in the circle, watching the other patients shuffling to their own chairs, I reviewed the speech again in my mind.  In my imagination I apologized to my audience for not being able to deliver it to them myself, trying in vain to explain that I would have been happy to, had there not been something in the way.  Standing between their conference room and the hospital where I’d spent my recent days, the soupy, grey mist lay thick and heavy today.  Somewhere in that mist, an abandoned garage sat cold and empty.

            “Aaron?” Mrs. Sharp said expectantly.  The group had started and the ritual was the same every day.  While I was considering my answer though, she again asked the question everyone else in the circle had already answered in turn.  “Are you safe to leave today?”

            “Yes,” I said, “I’m safe.”


Comments:
 
firsttimer   firsttimer wrote
on 1/19/2010 3:01:37 PM
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and comment. I was beginning to wonder if anyone was going to comment at all. Then I began wondering if perhaps it was so bad that no one wanted to be honest and tell me how bad it was. While I was working on it, I did consider the idea of perhaps including it in a longer work, but I thought I would see how this was received first so that I could know I wasn't completely wasting my time. I appreciate your time and your comment. Thank you!

StarPoet   StarPoet wrote
on 1/19/2010 1:50:52 AM
I think you wrote this quite well for it has a sense of being so real and life-like. And the religious touch was interesting. I also think this could be the start to something longer, but i leave that up to you.

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Synopsis
Hello everyone, This is my first time on the site. I'm afraid I've looked you all up simply because I want your opinions. That's a little selfish of me, I know, but I'll try to participate in the future now that I know you're here and I've joined. I've attached my first ever attempt at creative writing. It is not technically fiction as it is a true story, but it is told like a story. Hmm... maybe this isn't the right place for this. No matter, I believe you all can help me anyway. My request is very basic. I've done some technical, analytical and persuasive writing in the past, and a friend encouraged me to attempt writing something creative. All I am asking of you folks is that you look it over and tell me in very general terms if I have any potential at all (not for professional writing, I'm not that optimistic) or if writing is just not my cup of tea. You are more than welcome to provide any advice you think may be helpful, but that's not my main objective at this time. This is a first draft of the story, so I am sure there are plenty of mistakes and corrections to be made. Prior to attempting any fine-tuning though, I'd like to know if you all think it is even worth taking a second look at. Thank you very much for your time and attention. Aaron
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