It’s moving day at my office. I have to put things from my desk into a bin before I can leave. But I’m busy with other tasks—I’m reading articles on paper and on my computer screen. I’m not worried; I started packing before now. Then I see that what I had packed has disappeared. Someone has taken magazine issues going back a year. No problem; I can borrow the issues if I need them. I open my desk drawers and see there are objects too large for the moving bins. There are portfolios of papers, zippered cases with handles. I’m going to have to pack the small things and carry the large things myself—I’ll take them home and bring them with me to the new work address.
My office mate is drawing pictures. He’s not concerned about the move because he’s not a full-time employee. He shows me his work—a rendering of an old album cover, the kind that held a vinyl record. His control of line and shadow is very precise, and I tell him so.
My boss is gone for the day. We were supposed to finish early, and the work for the week is done. Almost everyone is gone, except for the movers, who have started carrying bins and boxes. My desk is covered with papers, so I sweep them off the surface and into the trash. I rush to clear away every trace of myself so I can leave, too.
THE FINAL WHISTLE
In my office, my job is to build a platform outside a window, high over the street. The platform is flimsy, with a low lip around it. There’s room for a desk and chair. But the weight of a person will make the platform shear off where it is attached to the outside wall, and the person will fall twenty floors to the street. That doesn’t stop me from setting up the platform. I just don’t want to sit on it. Someone else can work out there.
A colleague of mine goes out to the platform. His job is to provide a service for a trade. He makes charts with red dots showing the position of molecules. The dots form patterns that look like constellations. A client can count the dots, assign each of them a time and date. By doing so, the client can sell more things and earn more money.
Without warning, we find out that everyone is being fired at the end of the day. As 6 o’clock approaches, I gather my things in a box. As I put more possessions into the box, I see that a woman has left a piece of paper with her address. I don’t know her name, but I could find her by going to the address.
Everyone is getting ready to leave. I look around and see my colleague. The platform he was sitting on didn’t break off. He and I are the last ones in the office. We have to clear out soon. But I have someone’s address. She wants me to find her. I can’t look for her, however. I have a family at home. They would wonder where I was, if I were gone.
ALIEN LIGHT POLES
As the sun rises, I see lights on poles—they look like small stars or fires in the grayness. The lights form patterns at the tops of spidery legs. They could be illuminating paved lots built for parked cars, or they could be the weapons of space aliens, rising out of the ground. They could be threatening to destroy the world, or they just be making it easier to find our cars.
A break in the clouds lets sunlight through. Perhaps it opens a line of communication between the spider weapons on the ground and the orbiting aliens. Maybe they are ready to make contact, or maybe they think it’s too soon. Maybe they think that, if they meet us, they’ll blow our minds.
As the sky gets lighter, the bulbs go dark, and the poles look like ordinary metal supports, part of parking-lot engineering, functional and lifeless. We are not ready to meet the starmen.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the novels Haywire, Tetched and Roughhouse. All three books were finalists for an Asian American Literary Award, and Haywire won the Members’ Choice award, given by the Asian American Writers Workshop. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.