The weekend was a blur; groceries, heart busting exercise, long distance calls to mother and a bit of catch up with work. Just a blink later, Guy was pulling into the parkade on Monday morning, spiralling into the abyss of his office building. He was early, as usual, to avoid the rabble. The parkade was empty, the elevator was empty, the office lobby; empty. With a slap, his briefcase landed on the desk, followed by the lunchbox and laptop bag; as was the customary order of things. Guy removed his jacket, draped it over his desk chair and stood for a moment listening to the quiet. His arm flicked up, and he peered at his watch; he had another hour or so of peace. Sitting at the desk, he opened his briefcase and began to work.
"Want some coffee?" Carla asked.
Guy looked up over his glasses, and then to his watch. Had it really been an hour already? It had not, Carla had come in early as well. “Sure,” he said with a smile. “Why not?”
Carla smiled wide and scampered off. “I'll be right back!” she yelled, her voice echoing down the hall.
Guy took his glasses off, staring at where she had been standing in the doorway. Was she keen on him? No, that couldn't be, no one was ever keen on Guy. Ever. He returned to his paperwork, finishing up just before she came through the door with the coffee.
“You didn't start soldering yet did you?” she asked.
Guy shook his head, “No, why?”
“Well, I know you don't eat or drink after you start.”
“It's the lead,” he said, taking up the coffee. “The lead in the solder.” He took a sip. “You don't want to eat or drink without washing your hands, otherwise you're likely to ingest some lead.”
“Oh, well that wouldn't be good would it?”
“Nope, I don't think it would. Mind you I'm sure I've got a higher content in my blood then your average person, just for the fact of working with it so often.”
“How dangerous is it?”
“Well, it kills off cells in your body and blocks synaptic receptors in your brain, so I'd say it's pretty dangerous.”
“Huh, aren't you worried?”
“Not really. I'm a hell of a lot more likely to die in a car accident within my lifetime; or heart disease, or cancer.”
Carla sighed, “Well that's a morbid topic, maybe we should brighten up the conversation.”
“Actually, thanks a lot for the coffee, but I really need to get ahead of this.” Guy pointed with the coffee cup to the box of circuit cards that had come in on Friday.
“Yeah, I guess I'll leave you to it then. Talk to you later.”
“Mmhmm.” Guy gulped the last bit of scolding coffee and slapped the paper cup down on the desk. He moved over to the box and plucked out a card. Clearing his throat, he walked to his work station; placing the card down to roll up his sleeves before he pulled the circuit gently from the anti-static packaging. With a click, the card was clasped in an articulating vice. Pulling a set of loupes from the drawer, he folded out a ten times magnification and began the laborious process of inspecting the card for damage.
Looking up, he saw Kyle standing next to his work station.
“Lunch time man. You alright? You look a bit more zoned out than usual.”
Looking over, he had already repaired half of the cards in the box from Friday. “I'm fine Kyle. I'll be there in a minute.”
“Alright man.” Kyle walked off, patting Guy on the back as he left.
Flipping through pages at lunch, Guy put his sandwich down periodically to scribble notes on a circuit diagram. He pushed his glasses along the bridge of his nose before taking up the sandwich again.
Guy looked up over the diagrams as Carla sat at his table. Taken aback, he frantically tried to clear some room for her, pulling papers in from over there, sliding books off from over here.
“How's your day going?” she asked.
Guy, still trying to cope with the disruption of his organized mess, stumbled on his words. “Um, I'm, uh, things are fine. You?”
Carla smiled. “They're great. Oh I walked by your office on my way down, thinking maybe you'd still be in there. Did you really get through all those cards already?”
“Yeah, a whole bunch of them had the same problem, so it was kind of streamlined.”
“It's usually like that.”
“Yeah.” Guy said, still sifting through his diagrams.
Carla nodded awkwardly. “Well that's ... cool.”
She sipped her soup as silence reigned in their little corner of the canteen; amid the boisterous conversations around them.
“Well, I'm going to go catch up on some work.” Guy said, clutching papers and cradling books.
“Okay?” Carla said, in a near whimper. “See you later?”
“Mmhmm,” Guy muttered as he trotted off, leaving Carla to her own devices; alone at the table.
Carla sighed and sipped her soup.
After losing himself in his work once again, Kyle roused him from his fugue state with a hand on his shoulder.
“Guy, normal week this week. I'm shutting down.”
Nodding, he waved goodbye and sunk back into his work for another hour or so. After washing his hands, he policed his paperwork and piled it into his briefcase for a bit of homework. Lunch on one shoulder, laptop bag on the other, he walked out of the office; briefcase in hand. The lobby was empty, so too was the elevator; and when its doors opened in the belly of the building, only his vehicle hid amongst the shadows. He smiled. Walking into the empty parkade, he scrutinized his echoing footsteps; the subtle crunch of grit grinding against the concrete. The door clunked open and clanged shut. In moments, he was up the spiral and on to street level. The sign caught his attention, as it was meant to, with bright flashing lights; and he remembered. Damn it, he thought. It was September twenty eighth; “Expect Delays.”
Ahead of him was a sea of brake lights. Quickly, he reached over and pulled a city map out from a pocket sewn in the back of the passenger seat. He unfolded the humongous thing across the steering wheel and with the skill of a seasoned navigator, found himself. He pulled the massive map down for a moment, looked around to get his bearings and then pulled the paper taut with a flick of his wrists. The map sprang to attention. Clutch, accelerator, brake. The car jostled forward as it took its turn writhing the giant caterpillar that was the street. His finger jabbed at an intersection on the map, and his mind lit up. He shoulder-checked and then pulled out of traffic, performing an illegal u-turn before careening down a side road. The map took the passenger seat as he weaved through a set of residential neighborhoods. Pulling it back up into his lap, Guy Checked his map again, he nearly missed a stop sign in the process. The red caught the corner of his eye almost at the last minute and he slammed the brake.
Time seemed to slow.
There, on the corner, was a girl. Their eyes locked; then the car bucked and stalled.
Disoriented for a moment, Guy fought with the map before stuffing it between the seats. He shook his head and turned the ignition switch. Sighing, he dared not look up at the girl again. With a jolt, he depressed the clutch and put her in gear before pulling away from the stop. His heart was in his throat. What a tool, he thought to himself. For the rest of the ride he must have shaken his head a dozen more times, regurgitating the same embarrassing emotions over and over until it nearly made him ill beyond the hypothetical sense.
On the way up the stairs, he stumbled in the dark. At the door, he dropped his keys. When the thing finally opened he stood there, in the threshold and groaned. His suitcase dropped from his grasp. The lunch and laptop bags slipped down to his elbows and then to the ground as he braced himself against the door jam. “What the hell did you do to me?” he asked the girl on the corner. “You shook me up.” Guy had a good memory, but her face was seared so vividly into his mind that it truly frightened him. Every detail of her eyes, every curve of her face and how her hair flowed across it riding the autumn wind. His heart had finally dropped back down, but cried out to soar again. “What did you do to me?” he asked again, in vain.