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Don't
By Stephen Elliott

Day 1
The office is mostly empty already. Three dark blue welcoming chairs sit empty next to the large glass doors of the board room. I dig in the china bowl atop the receptionist's desk and grab two small pieces of chocolate. The receptionist is gone already, a nine to fiver; she turned off the front light but the small room behind the receptionists seat is still lit exhibiting a first aid kit and a stamp machine. The door from the lunchroom opens and Gracie comes out and beelines for the chocolate bowl.

"Here late?" I say.

"Yeah," she replies, quickly unwrapping small Hershey bars and popping them in her mouth.

Gracie has a face like a boy and hair that hangs in a thick black mop over her cheeks. She's thin and wears black. She's 22 years old, a marketing intern. She reminds me of a girl I used to watch in grammar school, sixteen years ago.

"Grab a beer?" I say. "Andy's place. Next door." She smiles and nods her head. "Great. Let's go get a beer."

Swallowing the mound of goo she says, "Oh, I don't think I will tonight. I'm meeting a friend."

Back at my desk I page through emails. Nothing but faxaway reports. Two new CDs sit next to the monitor. The shades up, I can see out the window the sun is buried by clouds and heading down. The crowds on the street have all
gone home. I have a picture of Travis Bickel from Taxi Driver on the wall of my office.

I pick up the phone, wish I had a beer. I make a couple of phone calls. Nobody's around. I click off an email or two and leave.

The crowds have all gone below ground to wait for their trains. I see Gracie in the station. She's wearing her black trench coat. I smack her shoulder with a pen.

"Hey."
"Hey." Her face brightens up. I wonder if I was wrong before.
"Where you going?" I ask her.
"Uptown. You?"
"Yeah. Uptown."
"Oh. I thought you lived in the East Bay."
"East Bay." I laugh at the suggestion and Gracie's face warms. We're both city people.

Day 2
In the morning I make a strong cup of coffee using a solitary French press. The sink is full of mismatched plates and plastic forks. I try to rub the hangover out of my head before popping a painkiller. I turn the stereo on anyway. My apartment is a studio with a view of Twin Peaks and a warehouse. I live next to a transient hotel and I leave the kitchen window open. There are three rooms to my studio, a kitchen, a living room, and bathroom. I drink my coffee in a pair of white boxer briefs listening to music and staring over the warehouse to the hill points.

By the time I get to my office I already have 20 emails and the phone is flashing red. I can see a patio on what must be the sixth floor of a building across the way. I never see anyone on the patio eating breakfast or lunch. I close the blinds and turn on the lights.

There's a meeting and the principals decide the company won't go public. Not now. Not yet. Not for a year. Our CEO makes a presentation to the whole company. A hundred of us stand in the conference room and just out in the hall.

I meet with Vice Presidents. We make decisions on Project Management and Account Handling. Everybody respects my opinion. I give what I can. I stare at the computer screen wondering what the next question will be.

The company is going out for Thursday happy hour. I arrive a half hour late and am surprised that most people didn't make it at all. I ask for a pale and sit down with the Jon from implementation, Gene our lawyer, and Alice the CEO's secretary.

The tables are green and cards sit in the middle announcing special house drinks and appetizers for under five dollars. "It's a boring bar," I say. The Corporate Counsel looks up from a plate of nachos. The waiters in green smocks don't hear a word. People are disappointed.

Day 3
By the time the alarm goes off I have already been up for hours. I am awake but tired. I turn off the alarm, pull the dustbuster off the kitchen wall and vacuum the edges of the apartment.

I don't shave or shower in the morning. I arrive to the office tired and bored but with nowhere else to go. I stop to chat with some administrators. More emails. Mostly outage notices. Outside a dense fog has rolled over the city. The tops of the buildings are covered in smoke.

I meet with some important clients. The clients voice their concerns over the progress of their account. I tell them not to worry. It's early stage. We can fix things. They don't look comfortable. They squirm in their seats. Are we doing everything that is necessary? Yes. I hope so. If we can. They think if they make me sweat they will get something of monetary value. This is a game.

Afterwards assignments are delegated. I stare at a computer screen until 4:30. Finally I put together a paper for the client and then bury my face in my hands.

I pick up a six-pack on the way home. The fog has rolled in so completely now that it is just over my head and small tufts of it gather at my knees. I am walking in a haze.

My ex-girlfriend comes over to pick something up. "Wow," she says seeing my apartment. "There's nothing here."

"I'm a minimalist," I tell her.
"You used to have more."
"I've been throwing things away."

I hand her a bottle of beer and also a fifth of rum I got her while I was on vacation. I took a week vacation and sat in a hotel for six days staring at a beach and an endless body of bright blue water. It was hell.

She licks the bottle of rum like a cat with a bowl of milk. She reclines on the couch and I sit perched on a wooden chair.

Day 4
I have a headache that won't go away. I clean the sink, the toilet bowl. I wash my hands for a long time and then I rub Vaseline into them. I buy a thick donut on the way to work. I close the door to my office but it doesn't stop people from calling me. The door doesn't lock. My head is somewhere else. I give up.

Walking across the street at midday I'm struck by waves of people coming together like gears but never hitting one another. It's precarious.

After work Gracie and I sit in a restaurant in North Beach. She's wearing all black again and her black overcoat. She's younger than me. Her makeup is a little thick.

We order pizza and salad and wine. We sit on an outdoor patio with big green plants. People smoke cigarettes and put the butts out in the soil. She tells me she's taken a year off of school but she's going back soon. She's enjoyed her time at the company. She's going to a niteclub tonight. She's going back to school.

Niteclubs. I nod and laugh. I've been in a few niteclubs.

The pizza is fine but the oil on the salad is a little heavy and the lettuce tastes wet. The wine is sour. The waiter asks if we would like coffee and desert and I look to Gracie who shakes her head. When the waiter brings the bill I pay. We walk out to the street and Gracie states she is going to catch a taxi. She has to meet some friends. Her body is small and
straight like a boy's. The North Beach lights are red and yellow and there are many strip clubs and Italian restaurants. There's also a bookstore. The neon lights the fog and the cars.

I hold the door to the cab open for her and she steps in. I lean forward. "Don't," she says. I close the door and the taxi drives off.

The author invities your comments. He may be reached at mailto:steve@nowhere500.com





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Document last modified on: 01/06/2007

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