10-1 story

The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.

 

P R A E S I D I U M

A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

10.1 (Winter 2010)

 

SHORT STORY

prae-202

courtesy of artrenewal.org

 

Margin of Error

J. S. Moseby

    Blanc had perhaps dozed for a few minutes, for a few miles.  On this stretch of Interstate at this hour, the theory was not implausible.  But for the occasional small convoy of large haulers, traffic had thinned to nothing a good two hours before midnight.  Birds had gone to their nests, and foxes to their lairs.  Once or twice the wreathes of new residential development fond of that untaxed gap between a great metropolis and the highway skirting it had drawn his attention.  He had seen a satellite dish or two pointed toward the stars, steadily radiant somewhere beyond the Interstate’s necklace of floodlights.  Clients just called them, without irony, “satellites”–low-frequency telescopes, nets cast into the great wide ocean of wavelengths in search of… a division-rival ballgame, a grope through a desperate housewife’s underwear, a dismemberment by computer-simulated dinosaurs, the Nashville sound in stereo.  Diversion before bedtime… anything to blot out another day of grind (anything, that is, but an truly alien transmission confirming the Third Planet’s coordinates from a UFO’s console: for the nets were designed to fish shallow depths).

    Himself, he might have been an alien for all the invitation that reached him from gray plains of high chimney and steep gable, fashionable mansard and vinyl siding, all collapsed into an occasional wave of wreckage along his perimeter.  Or he might have been dreaming in his snooze (for he had used to dream of such places, of suburban ownership and financial rootedness).  Or he might have skidded off the road in his sleep, died instantly, and–before noticing the mangled body curled at his soul’s feet–seen distant visions of settlement in some disappointing postmortem epiphany: the gambit of a B-film whose director wants to keep the audience guessing.  Or he might have been awake the whole time and somehow played the slideshow behind his glazed eyes: the “Home That I Will Never Have” presentation reviewed far out of curb-appeal range.  Tired, cold, costly, fenced and walled, without overall plan, its razed forests tombed under heavily watered blankets of rye grass, the “neighborhood” belonging to these specs was out there, was all around him–was the mighty arm of the evolutionary force which would inexorably work metropolis and highway into one pullulating magma.  He could feel its impetus, its gravity, its acceleration, in the highway’s bends and veers as an ancient mariner might feel the first draw of the Maelstrom.

    But he had not actually seen any signs of habitation for hours now.  Tomorrow was a work day, a grind day, and the picture windows in dens (visible behind their backyard fences only from the Interstate, three miles off, and hence invisible) had blacked out their homely yellow rectangles at some time during the six hours since he had stopped for a fish sandwich.  Only his eyes were open now, had been open for hours now.  They said truckers sometimes went into the ditch asleep.  They said teams of truckers traded off a bunk behind the driver’s seat.  But he couldn’t have slept.  If he had closed his eyes, he would have seen the same ribbon of tarmac bending and veering under the same monotonously laid floodlights, which he would have driven behind his lids.  Which he was driving now, perhaps, behind closed lids in a fatal dream of waking… unless waking had always only been a dream of restless sleep.

     At first, the detour was a welcome respite.  He had seen a truck convoy of three flash bright red stars far ahead as they had decelerated and nosed with perfect order into the ditch’s direction.  Amazingly, amusingly, their queue appeared to remain upright.  He would probably have followed it into the unlit descent even if some hardhat crew (now long in their beds) had not installed an electric tote-and-point “detour” board.  The deceleration and the sudden absence of pavement under his tires (replaced by pounded dirt) awakened him almost like a cold shower.  His trusty floodlight gone, he had only headlamps to guide him and the very sporadic, almost accidental roadside reflector or orange cone that they turned up.  Even the trucks were too far ahead now to transmit clues about the way’s next vagary.  Their taillights had grown tiny, red-shifted quasars whose leg of the universe might wholly contradict his own.

In fact, the trucks had apparently jigged where he had jagged.  A glance up from the meager sweep scythed out by his headlamps revealed that they had already re-ascended the slope and were nosing their way back onto the Interstate.  Leaning into the windshield over his steering wheel, he could see the first of them rise silver again in the precisely, hypnotically laid columns of the straight necklace’s neon glow.

Turning back to look for the missed access road seemed inadvisable.  Though no traffic whatever was behind him, he continued to see the smooth surface ahead with reasonable clarity.  There was a purposiveness about its persistence.  On the other hand, he had no reason at all to think that the trucks had peeled off on a surface as well prepared.  Maybe they knew this route by day, and maybe they had dared an illicit shortcut.  His road would be bound to hook up with another, and that with another, until he eventually found his way back.  Every road must lead somewhere.

    His fidelity was rewarded soon.  Down at the bottom of what had become a very high hill–a minor mountain, as it seemed in the dark–waited a cozy rest stop.  The locale’s reason for being was at once advertised by the ample blacktop which limned a low but broad, flat-roofed structure.  Vehicles of all descriptions–sedans, vans, SUV’s, a camper, a couple of tractor-trailers–were spread along the frontal concrete walkway in no discernible order, the whole scene adequately lit beneath posts recalling in scaled-down design those that lined the Interstate.  From within, a dim glow also kept watch behind the almost entirely glassed facade.  Without signage indicating any commercial objective, such an unassuming place could hardly attract such patronage at such an hour and in so unpromising a spot if its comforts were not free to the passing public.

    And yet, if the spot was unpromising for the sale of liquor or porn or videos, hidden at the bottom of a great dark hill, it was scarcely less so for administering a public service.  Once the detour was removed, surely no one on the highway would be tempted to drive so far just for a leg stretch, a restroom, and a cup of free coffee–and to suppose that a new bend in the Interstate would utterly avoid the hill already conquered was absurd.  The place remained a slow-burning mystery, no doubt a humble monument–one among many–to incompetent planning.

    Blanc decided that he could well avail himself of a restroom.  The deceleration of his car had oddly put him in mind of the need.  The dirt track obligingly broadened before the already paved entrance to the parking lot, and he didn’t resist the invitation.  It would be good to stretch (good to reassure himself that he was neither dead nor dreaming).

    He parked in the space closest to the glassed double-doors, slightly puzzled that other spaces seemed to be preferred.  In fact, padding over what felt to his soles and smelled to his flexing nostrils like brand-new stretched-and-glued carpet, he thought it quite curious that no one had penetrated this central space.  The counter whose attendants would have served beverages and offered directions during the day, most likely, was closed behind a vertically sliding curtain, plastic or metallic despite a wooden hue, that ran on tracks; but three snack machines hummed and glowed nearby in fully operational mode.  He eyed them approvingly, perhaps willing to make better acquaintance in a moment, as he made for the recessed door labeled “men”.  The door, surprisingly–annoyingly–wouldn’t move.  He had taken its yielding for granted, and now faced it with a new shove, as if heightened attention might do the trick.  It did not.  The little building’s most essential feature was locked.

In a vexed but not yet morose mood, Blanc padded back out onto the concrete walkway, still somewhat compensated for his pains by the pleasure of feeling his legs move.  He had resolved, besides, that his need would be fulfilled, one way or another.  In the dead of night, almost a good half-mile off the highway in some hollow not yet discovered by suburbia, there was no reason to stand on ceremony.  Yet the number of vehicles scattered through the lot unsteadied him–and even drove his curiosity to a higher level of need than his bodily one.  He was magnetically attracted to a short queue of men (or not so short, as he approached–perhaps as many as ten) waiting outside a squat, unmarked door near the low building’s corner.  It could only have been an alternative restroom, not locked for the night (but not lit, either, by anything more than the buzzing pallor that dusted the parking lot).  He thought about taking his place at the end, then about asking the latest-arrived patrons if he had indeed divined the little door’s secret correctly.  Yet he did neither.  Edging past the group’s last member, who had been forced well into the sidewalk, he continued around the corner as if to some known destination.  Something about the group, the setting, the wait’s length–the whole situation’s plain absurdity–had unsettled him in the final instant (the instant before he stopped; for to have stopped and then to walk away after two or three minutes would imply an entirely new sequence of socially humiliating messages).

    Of course, around the corner stretched the women’s queue, which at a glance seemed to be moving no faster.  He lowered his eyes, even in the deeper darkness (for the parking lot and its file of lamps did not persist down the building’s side), lest he show an improper interest.  He couldn’t have guessed at this line’s number, as a result.  But now he was hurrying with a greater swagger of knowing advance than ever.  The sidewalk had yielded to grass, and the purpose of his expedition would have grown obscenely clear to the queued eyes behind him if he had slowed to probe an especially thick shadow.  Instead, he chose the gait of a maintenance man (one of his first jobs, to put himself through college) and very nearly whistled a tune.

    The “I’m checking meters” amble had carried him, in its insouciance, much farther than he had meant to go.  Any eyes fixed on his shoulders must have been repelled by cover of darkness long ago–and the terrain had started to execute yet another plunge, to boot, its love of working downward apparently not exhausted.  Incredibly, he could feel the presence (through an impenetrable shadow in his peripheral vision) of the way-stop’s structure at every step.  A gymnasium could scarcely have claimed more real estate.  He looked suddenly in the opposite direction as if he had been slapped, the thought of the Interstate–of his endless journey–having intruded itself.  As high and hazy as a low Milky Way, the band of perfectly spaced highway lamps arched toward an invisible horizon.

    He might have stopped here to finish his business, but curiosity had again gotten the better of him.  When the next corner of the structure beside him arrived in a rebirth of filmy streetlight, it offered a sharp brick angle.  He would have sworn that the facade above, where not glassed, was of sheet metal or vinyl siding.  Then he noticed the actual street–the black pavement–marking the property’s end in a dull shimmer beneath the lamp post, distinguished a stop sign’s octagon and a street sign’s warped crucifix… pale concrete curbs, hedges that glistened here and there like holly… and a couple of residences on either side of the intersection.  He was moved.  Strange to say, he was almost moved to something like a tear.  These were not the upscale brick-veneer story-and-a-half castle knock-offs with deck and hot tub that he had seen (or seen in silhouette, or imagined seeing) from the Interstate.  Their style had already appeared old to him when he was a child, though back then it clung to pretensions of being contemporary.  A nearly flat roofline, an exposed steel beam about the front stoup, long rectangles of windows set much too high in the wall and hence seeming to wince… there were always plenty of these on the market during his abortive realtor days, and always in neighborhoods poised to take a step down.  This neighborhood (he could tell at a glance) had not yet done so; but with urban sprawl already visible on the four horizons (almost audible on tonight’s four black horizons), it would provide few days more of safe biking for kids and peaceful barbecues for retirees.  He felt as though he were witnessing his mother grope for her children’s names at the sanatorium.

    It was not hard to flee this corner, which Blanc now did pensively.  The rest stop’s property once again enveloped him in darkness as he put behind him the homely inlet of modest suburbia (or of small-town Arcadia about to contract a fatal case of suburbanosis).  He was aware, as he tried to find images to fit the rustle of grass beneath his shoes, that he could now safely pee.

    Or perhaps not.  As he planted his feet, stiffened his back, and exhaled, his need was once more silenced by dumb wonder.  The structure around him had grown huge.  It was a building of five, maybe six stories.  He measured the sparse yellow squares of window space for vertical separation while struggling to deal with the vast horizontal gaps between them: both dimensions were overwhelming, as if he had rolled out of a sleeping bag to find himself at the base of a cliff.  From the construction lines that showed plainly over a pale backdrop of indoor lighting, he could surmise that two great wings, in fact, loomed over him.  He had blundered into the interior of a tall, flat, characterless brick V.

    There was no particular evidence of anyone’s labors in any of the uniform windows (two, maybe two-and-a-half by four).  Why would there be, at an unknown hour past midnight?  Amazing, to find any of them illuminated at all.  Blanc thought of an old-fashioned newspaper building, fifties vintage, where the night shift scurried about in a certain wing and some senior columnist or editor-at-large pecked away in welcome isolation down an empty corridor.  Yet he also thought of a scientific endeavor–an around-the-clock enterprise where results were constantly amassed and pored over.  The fire escapes were missing from the fifties fantasy (as he could affirm with pupils newly adjusted to pure night).  The windows also lacked thick sashes.  They seemed less substantial, more minimalist, than something rooted in yesterday.  He could spy out no curtains or blinds.

    He had wandered farther without noticing.  A Coke machine glowed and hummed nonsensically in a recess along the wall.  (Why outside?  Was he in a parking lot again?  He could no longer hear grass beneath his shoes, yet neither was there any scuff of gravel.)  The recess posed the perfect opportunity for a minute’s privacy to do his special business… but the notion of befouling the happy precincts of the automated vendor shocked him.  Besides, what would anyone think who happened to see him disappear beside the machine, then reemerge without a purchase?  He again checked the two dozen or so windows illuminated in the two black cliff faces towering over him.  No head, no silhouette in any position… but how reliable was a check of so many squares strewn across such cyclopean immensity?  And how to ascertain that he was not being observed from an unlit window?

    He opted, instead, to press his forehead against the building’s darkest section, flatten himself against the wall, and aim blindly for the base.  The sound of the splatter was softer than pavement, and the wall no longer felt like brick against his brow.  It had been folly to ascribe the place to the fifties–the influence, perhaps, of those insipid residences marked for execution.  But this place… it had to be part of the general overhaul which was sweeping through the area.

    His steps less urgent now, Blanc could not resist proceeding still farther into the V.  One of the very few ground-floor lights, he discovered, was emitted through the glass panels of a double-door.  He was loath to attempt entry.  He could hear in his mind the massive slam of an air-tight seal poorly caught by a pneumatic restraint (a slam known well to high schools and motels).  Yet the handle was not such as he had imagined it upon inspection, and he was now more curious than ever.  Besides, the building would obviously have restrooms; and even though he no longer needed the full services of one, it would be nice–it would be heavenly–to wash his hands and forehead and neck, and to see his face in a mirror.

    The door yielded easily (with the ease refused to him by the indoor restroom, long minutes ago) and permitted itself to be re-lodged noiselessly.  He had already ascertained through the glass panels that a stairwell awaited him, logically enough.  More memories of high school as he trudged up the abbreviated first flight toward the most accessible internal entrance… and of college, even more, thanks to the multiple flights above him, whose extent he couldn’t see but whose spiral shaft oddly magnified his soft footfalls.  College, where he had wasted far too much time… but why the queues of students registering at midnight, if this were a college?  Insomnia U?  (Had the queues truly been separated by gender?  Had their occupants held paperwork or satchels?)

    The inevitable corridor leading to other doorways lay beyond the double-doors at the top of the initial steps–but Blanc, having already taken it for granted, was again forced to revise anticipated images.  The corridor itself was being used for a kind of triage.  People were drifting idly, curiously, not unsociably, in small groups to his left and right.  Eventually they would melt into one or another of a great many doorways (mostly hidden to him by the sharp angle of his position, for the corridor’s great length did indeed belong to the lore of high school).  There were foldout tables and foldout chairs placed with fair regularity along the whitewashed walls.  (“Samsonite”–was that the brand name one always found on the bottom of such things?)  In fact, he had almost bruised his thigh on a table rather thoughtlessly arranged just in front of his entrance (on the assumption that no one would enter that way, perhaps?), and a woman seated behind it was volunteering to help him.  Various stacks of papers–forms to fill out and pens to do the filling–were strewn before her, as they appeared to be before similar volunteers at other stations.

    “I think I’m in the wrong place,” he smiled weakly.

    “Did you sign up for the fifty-dollar or the hundred-dollar session?”

    “I’m in the wrong place,” he insisted, now without a smile.  “I don’t have that kind of money.”

    “The Institute is paying you.”

    The voice carried no hint either of impatience or of humor.

    “If you haven’t filled out a form yet, you will need to do one of these two.  The hundred-dollar session takes about twice as long.”

    Now he was seriously interested, although the smile returned sheepishly as he asked for the hundred-dollar sign-up.  The money would very nearly cover his gas on a trip that had no great prospects of success.  And though some error had obviously occurred–some immense, probably ridiculous error–he was quite well versed enough in the basic disciplines to fake his way through whatever little survey or stimulus-response experiment was being performed on an apparently general public.  The form elicited no testimony to any special credentials.  Oddly enough, he would have had less trouble with such a section than he did with the address line.  Where could he have his check sent?  For now, he would have to use his sister’s home.

    “Two doors down to your… to my right.  To your left.”

    He had almost decided that the woman might be pretty, that she might be young, if it weren’t for her glasses.  But it was the utter absence of humor, rather, for which the glasses only offered a kind of symbol, that discomfited him; and no trace of irony stirred when she called him back, pointed to his last name on the form, and announced:

    “You can’t leave this blank.”

    The room two doors down was striking, not in its design (of which it had none: the bluntest of auditoria–a sloping plane with rows of foldout seats, bare walls, a slight stage and a rostrum up front): what struck him, rather, was the mob of people inside.  More registrants continued to file in behind him.  If each had been offered the same hundred dollars… then this one session would cost thousands.

    As he waited, the couple which had nestled next to him (no hope of remaining a loner in this press) appeared to share with themselves some of his own observations.  It was reassuring, at least, to see that they were no more clued in than he.  In fact, with winning smiles and small talk, they began to engage him in a fashion that was obviously probing for enlightenment.  He finally informed them that he was probably less in the know than they, since he had only walked in by chance.  (He saw no reason to recount his intrepid quest of a restroom.)

    “We thought it was a rest stop,” shrugged the male, more graciously than he could have known.  “One thing led to another, and… well, a hundred bucks is a hundred bucks.  And there are two of us.”

    “They said something about a thousand-dollar session,” confided the female with a blush, “but you would have had to sleep here, and then… well, not for us!”

    “All the same, a man could make a living coming back and forth to this place,” mulled the male.  Blanc had just strung together the same words in his mind.

    He liked them.  If he had been able to stomach the cutthroat cynicism of the realty game, he would have liked to sell them a house.  Their first house.  He would have made it a good one–a good buy for them, a blessing on the future of whatever sort of union they enjoyed.  (He didn’t observe any gold rings on their fingers.)  At first glance, they were a jarring pair: he dark and dour, looking like a lost conquistador with his short, pointed beard and black, brooding eyes; she fair as a flower in her long, straight auburn hair, her arched brows, her full cheeks that played to smiles.  He might have fallen in love with her when he was younger.  Now he had to content himself with the private observation that she had fallen in love with someone of his serious type–of the type that he had concluded such girls never fell for.  Was it good to know the error of that conclusion?  Was it better to think oneself damned and excommunicate from happiness, or to discover in oneself simply a bad manager of opportunities?

    “This is taking too long,” mumbled the young Cortez.  “They need to start… whatever it is they’re going to start.”

    “Maybe that’s why they’re paying us a hundred dollars!” smiled the Auburn Rose.  “To make your money, you have to wait.”

    “Two hundred dollars.  A hundred for each.”

    That thought settled them down, all three (or those thoughts–for Blanc was particularly intrigued by the girl’s insight, though he said nothing).  Yet others around them grew visibly, audibly more restless with every passing minute.  The room appeared to have filled to capacity… and still the stage remained unoccupied.  At least an hour must have passed since the couple had sat beside him–and at least another half-hour added to that for the time Blanc had sat alone.

    A strange wave-like motion began to work the crowd.  Dozens of diffuse conversations would build in volume from every direction until people were almost shouting; then the more civil would give up speech and only roll their eyes, while the boisterous roared until themselves aware that they had trampled down certain polite cordons and partitions.  Then all would view every other around them in a kind of shock, some actually turning in their seats.  A brief, highly volatile period of silence would elapse before someone said–more loudly than his neighbor’s distance required, yet not quite addressing the assembly–“This is ridiculous!”  The tune would be picked up in every corner of the room within seconds, and then another wave would start to build.

    If the waves were regular in evolutionary pattern, however, an exponential shift was also notable in each.  Blanc remarked that the silent troughs grew ever briefer, and that each new crescendo took less time to build.  At some uncertain instant, from some undisclosed quarter, the chant, “GET… IT… ON!  GET… IT… ON!” rose from the multitude.  No cheering section of sports fanatics ever took up a battlecry more quickly.  There was a whiff, an acrid savor, of danger in the dynamic.  Voices and faces appeared to find a certain joy in venting what was now hours of frustration: raising a ruckus such as many had not done since childhood, probably, they delighted to discover in themselves a ghost of the Friday night football game with Crosstown High.  Yet the frustration was also very real.  The anxiety about possibly losing the hundred dollars for an early exit had become palpable now that so much time had been invested: it could all go for naught.

    The tension was at last unsustainable–and also beyond taming to another trough.  Two, four people rose in near-unison on the room’s far side and made for the exit.  Before they had fully cleared their row, scores more were on their feet.  The first person actually to reach the exit may have been the thirtieth–or the hundred-and-twelfth–to stand up.  The exodus proceeded as if a cork had been pulled from an inverted bottle… and it required long minutes, once begun.  The single doorway was ill suited to handle a sudden egress of perhaps four or five hundred.  Those many caught in the middle subsided into a passive posture that reminded Blanc of the figures waiting along the sidewalk outside the supposed restroom.  They stretched themselves, smiled awkwardly, sputtered angrily, hung their heads sleepily.  They had bought the ticket to rebellion, and now they had to wait in line to have it punched.

    As for himself, Blanc had never budged.  The sense that he was observing something phenomenal had been growing upon him ever since the girl’s remark about their being paid to wait.  He was dimly aware that his own stasis had exerted some unintended gravity upon the couple next to him–for they, too, remained.  The young man, he guessed, did not want to be cheated out of his money, and would fight the good fight for it as long as one comrade held fast beside him… and the girl was standing by her man, glued sympathetically to her seat.  Sure enough, the man at last asked him, as the crowd’s ebb finally began to make their isolation distinct:

    “How long do you think we should stay?”

      A few patient faces in the crowd were turned toward them in an apparent wiling away of time.  A zephyr of gossip passed over the many-headed long surface slowly, until one of the laggards, all smiles now, leaned back to encourage the girl.

    “He says we’ll get our money.  He says… he says they’re telling them up front that our checks will be in the mail.”

    “Damn right!” snorted her mate.  “There would have been a riot if they’d said anything less.”

    “Yes, there would have,” nodded Blanc.  And he realized that even this young dynamo had grasped at some remote level how the crowd had been brought exactly, precisely to its boiling point, then the heat quickly removed.

    “Well… we might as well go.  If they’re going to pay us.”

    Blanc leaned forward in his seat, but only to cross his arms.  The trouble that had been growing in him was about to reach its own point of chemical transition–of sublimation.

    “What’s the matter?” asked the girl.

    They were standing over him now, both of them.  He rocked forward farther into a half-turn, and noticed that the auditorium was otherwise completely empty.  He felt grateful to the girl for not wanting to cut him adrift in this great space.  There was a kind of sociable genius in her.

    “I think I’m going to give a speech,” he said–rising, but not to leave.

    The girl laughed, and her laugh drew a smile from her partner.  Her lover.  (He would do well to love her–he would be nothing without her.)  Blanc took the one high step to the unimposing stage and looked down on the two benignly.  But it was not for them that he was speaking.

    “I have just a few words to say,” he muttered, struggling to ratchet up his voice’s volume.  His eyes also fought to work their way up above his two friends.  “A few words on this… this strange occasion.”

    They laughed, the two of them below.  But they laughed less and less as he found his way better–as it became clearer that he spoke not for them.

    “We came for a speech.  We came expecting a speech… or a lecture, or something.  But there never was a lecture in store, was there?  We were the show, and we never even knew it.  Most of them don’t know it, even now.”

    He couldn’t see the couple any longer as he scanned and scanned the bland, bare walls and ceiling for some kind of camera–some set of recording devices that he knew would be state-of-the-art, and hence invisible.  Yet he could divine that even the girl was no longer smiling.

    “You probably found what you expected to find.  Maybe you refined it a little.  Hypothesis, experiment.  Confirmation.  Maybe the data… maybe the time took longer than you thought it would.  Or shorter.  But you should know one thing.  I… it’s invalid data.  You can throw me out–throw out my input, ignore my coordinates–for saying that.   And you will, won’t you?  You’re listening, but not paying attention.  A statistical aberration.  But what you don’t see is that I’m not really an aberration–my words are not really off the chart.  All people are really like me.  It just shows up in some more than others.  But we all… we’re not really peas bouncing our way down a pinball machine, you know.  We all end up on the bottom, maybe after a little shaking.  But… but… but we know the bottom’s coming.  And it’s no surprise to us, and we don’t want to be there, and… and the reason we end up there anyway isn’t destiny, or.. biology.  It isn’t because we’re stupid, or because we’re big blobs of reactive molecules.  It’s because we always end up with just a couple of choices.  Or maybe three.  And we don’t have time enough to create more.  We just don’t have time.  But none of them is what we want.  That’s what you’re missing, completely missing.  The room’s empty.  Hey!  Big deal!  What kind of measurable effect is that?  Don’t you see?  What else could we do but come or go?  But you have no idea what we really wanted to do.  You haven’t proved anything.  All this… all this space, this lay-out… all that money… but you haven’t proved anything.”

    He sighed, giving up and re-negotiating the distance from stage to floor.  The girl broke into a round of applause and voiced a cheer, infecting her partner with the same enthusiasm.  He devoutly hoped that they would stay together.

    They shook hands, the three of them, fervently in front of the woman at the foldout table (who was collating paperwork in cryptic concert with a laptop computer’s display).  Then he sent them on their way back up the hall, and took his own forbidden (or forgotten) exit into the pitchy base of the V.  He had not even bothered to look for a restroom inside.  Instead, he stopped at about the same point as before and gave the great wall of unknown composition a farewell sprinkle.

    The sky was growing silver as he re-entered the Interstate.  He felt weariness begin to descend upon him like a hammer as the night lifted.  Where to stop and sleep?  Why did motels assume that people slept in the dark, when he could only ever sleep if the sun was safely up?  

 A frequent contributor to this journal for years, Dr. Moseby lives with his family in the Atlanta area, where he occasionally teaches at several institutions.