Three Steps Too Many

Everything seemed perfect. Nothing had changed in years. So much so I forgot where I’d put my wallet and keys.
But only momentarily. Everything was as it was.

The carpet, that dull dirt brown, with sickly flecks of grey. Brighter than I remembered. No fading, no wear, no patches yet needing repair. The walls too, that soft creamy white, which was yet to fade fatally.

Yes it’s close to perfect. They had done well.

The curtains too, drawn against the sliding glass aluminium windows. The sunlight was completely blocked not strained as I later remembered. I flicked them open, and peered down. Four floors to the street.
I overlapped the curtains and shut the world out.
Just a desk, an old school desk with the hinged top. And then the bed. Both pristine as if just delivered. I stopped myself from looking for the packing.

Clean crisp sheets lay under that green and black patterned bedspread. That lost joy of sleeping in a new bed. I pulled the covers all the way back. I slipped in and slept.

Set your doubts aside, I told myself, as I woke. I had slept through. I swung my legs out and planted them firmly on the floor for certainty’s sake. Back on that carpet. Push off the covers and start a new day.
New clothes awaited me. Shiny shoes too. I showered, shampooed and shaved in expectant pleasure. Next a singlet, clean and fresh. White shirt next. Though pre-pressed I could still feel the new creases. Cuff links magnetically almost magically attached themselves. My trousers fitted perfectly as if they had melded themselves to my form. These easy features were so great I thought. I noted it for later.

Socks and then the shoes. I tied up the laces as I hated self-tying shoes. As I stood up, the shoes felt loose again. I looked down and they were untied. Sit down, tie them, stand up and untied again. I took them off and put on a pair of slip-ons. Noted.

My wallet and keys were where I’d left them. I pocketed my wallet which snugly fitted. The keys. They were there on the bedside table only a minute ago. They were gone. I checked my pockets, my suit jacket, the pillows, the blankets. Nothing. I checked my pockets, my suit jacket, the pillows, the blankets. I looked up and the gleam of the key ring caught my eye. They were on the bedside table after all. Okay. Noted.

Breakfast next. I was running early so I had nothing to worry about. As I made the coffee, I left the teaspoon in the cup. As I poured the water in, it flowed up the bowl of the spoon and over the handle. Quickly I jump back. And quickly I mop up the mess. The water doesn’t seem so hot now. I should think nothing of it, I say to myself. I pick up the knife to butter the toast. The blade brushes the handle of my cereal spoon and sends it spinning. Luckily I’m quick again and save it from meeting the floor.
I’ll see this through I say. But my teeth are starting to grind.  A lot noted for later,definitely some kitchen patching required here.

The last task before work. The teeth clean. But first as advised, I floss. I check the indicator and there’s about 50 metres left. I tug at the strand and pull out two fingernails of dental floss. I look again. None left. Thus warned, I duck under the basin and draw out an extra roll. When I look up again, there’s 10cm of floss waiting for me. Okay it’s not what I expected but I’ll take it. Noted for later. Bathroom supplies not the bathroom.

Then the trek to the street ,four flights downstairs, two at a time. It’s like walking on air. I check my watch. Come to think of it, when did I put it on? Five minutes to the bus, it blinks at me. Noted for later.

I step out onto the street. Instantly my hand goes up to my left cheek to deflect a waft of breeze. A little cool in the morning is a joy. Suddenly I crouch and duck my head as a slurry of leaves and twigs suddenly appear. Then as quickly as it appears, it’s gone. I get to my feet and realise I had fended off the assault with my right arm. The winds are fluky today but not as I remember.

The bus arrives on time but not my time. I don’t argue with reality. I take it anyway. I touch on as usual. I shove the card back in my wallet and it promptly pops out. I’m quick but it takes two grabs to catch it. It seemed to start, float in the air momentarily and then stop. But why the hell didn’t it pop out before? I gave it enough chances!

Then I look at my fellow passengers. They’re strangers who are familiar yet remain a mystery despite sitting in the same seats and talking about the same banalities that I can still remember. Conversations about matching lists of possessions, defiant children and recalcitrant spouses, all suffixed by furtive glances at their smart watches. It’s strangely stilted somehow but I just can’t work it out. I’m not dropping out now. Not this time.

Finally the bus makes it to the freeway. And I’m dazzled. I slam my eyes shut. After a few seconds I reluctantly half open my right eye. The sun was still glaring at me. But I remember this trek far too well. Even in my half sight I can see the landmarks I know and mentally tick them off. But the sun. It’s still there. It’s in a different place today. I mentally play back the trips I remember and this doesn’t match. Perhaps the freeway has been re-routed, or I’m in a different seat today. But none of those match either. Also noted for later,but definitely a core problem.

But it’s too late to think of that. The bus has left the freeway and is being piped along a dark tunnel. And my stop is next. And it does appear. I leave, wend my way through the crowds and climb the stairs, two at a time, to the street.

And it’s raining. How did the weather change so quickly? I look up at the rain trails in the sky which stop before they hit the ground. I rack my brain for the term: Virga. I scan the sky for the source : cumulonimbus clouds and there aren’t any. Perhaps the wind blew them away?

My place of work looms up before me as I walk. A few steps, take the lift, see what joys and pressures await me today.

I take the steps three at a time…

I didn’t even feel the thud.  They wake me up from a leaden sleep. I feel as if I’ve been drawn up from the depths. Dimly I realise that there are two familiar though geeky men wrestling my helmet off me. With that familiar mixture of deftness and roughness they unstrap me and unbuckle my suit.

“Where am I?” I ask.  As soon as I ask,I know it’s a stupid question. I’m back.

“You shouldn’t have taken the stairs three at a time”, one of the coders say.
“It forked the stair routine and deleted the building instance. They’re rebuilding the model now.”
“Hey, there was nothing about that in the testing guidelines,” I say.
“Was it in the specifications? The requirements?”

The first helmet wrangler says nothing. The other developer just glares at me.
“It was the final beta test.. It goes live next week.”

“I don’t want to be an alpha tester anymore,” I say.

I shrug, find my misplaced wallet and keys, and leave. I approach the exit stairs.

I take the steps three at a time…

Love, Science Fiction and Understanding

I lived in a small town (Kiama, New South Wales, Australia) which had, for me, too small a library. It consisted of three sections:
  • children
  • adult non-fiction and
  • adult fiction.
{{Information |Description=Ames Memorial Library, North Easton, Massachusetts, USA. H. H. Richardson, architect. Interior view from 2nd floor of stacks. |Source=self-made |Date=May 5, 2007. |Author=User:Daderot }}

{{Information |Description=Ames Memorial Library, North Easton, Massachusetts, USA. H. H. Richardson, architect. Interior view from 2nd floor of stacks. |Source=self-made |Date=May 5, 2007. |Author=User:Daderot }}

As a child I worked my way through the children’s book section. I enjoyed children’s books (and still do) especially the child version of the Greek myths. Once I exhausted that I began the non-fiction section. I can remember reading The Peter Principle which was hilarious although I didn’t know why. I also read Kluber-Ross On Death and Dying which was was a very difficult if not an entirely comforting read.

I then ran out of books to read. Only the fiction section left. Which left me in a quandary. It was the fiction section or another library. Up until then the only adult fiction I had seen were the books my mother had borrowed. With few exceptions, they were detective fiction. I can remember trying to read one or two of them. They weren’t engaging at all. Had my mother been a fan of spy fiction, my life may have turned out differently!So I’m standing in the library choosing my next book. And it has to be fiction. And it came down to detective fiction (in my mind’s eye most of the remaining books) or science fiction. Science fiction won by default. And I became immersed. Asimov, Clarke, etc, all brilliant minds and spellbinding story tellers. Then I discovered Ray Bradbury. I read his short stories first. I loved, still can remember and tell, his classic “Sound of Thunder”. Then I discovered his amazing novella Fahrenheit 451. The setting was familiar but the story was unique.

Fahrenheit 451 is set in a dystopian future which chillingly now resembles the present. The story centres on a fireman called Montag who doesn’t put out fires, he starts them to burn books. But it wasn’t his character that fascinated me. It was Clarisse McClennan, a teenage misfit who finds Montag out.

As a teenager I thought his depiction of a relationship between a 17 year old girl and a 30 something fireman as follows quite fictional: “He felt she was walking in a circle about him, turning him end for end, shaking him quietly, and emptying his pockets without once moving herself.” (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451). How could it be possible for someone, anyone to find out another’s unexpressed innermost thoughts? How can anyone listen to another that way? Yet how beautiful such an understanding of heart would be!

And then it happened to me! I was found out. I still don’t know how. I had managed to keep my innermost thoughts and feelings sealed.  Like Clarisse again….”How rarely did other people’s faces take of you and throw back to you your own expression, your own innermost trembling thought?…” (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451).

And this person glimpsed something more within me. And I saw the same. But little came of it. We parted, I tried to keep in contact and it was lost. And so was I. It had never happened to me before: yet I knew that this was what I always had ever wanted : my reason to live and my passion to love.  I thought it would never happen again. I simply put the episode aside as a random touch. I covered it over and tried to forget about it.

Since then only a small handful of people since have glimpsed me beyond that barrier. And then only momentarily.

And then it happened again. So unexpectedly that in the middle of it, I felt woken from a long nap and shocked into reality. I remembered what was happening and how it matched the past. But it went beyond that : it deepened and expanded like an ocean without horizons. What I slowly realised that this time I was listening that way too. I found out that through my stillness people would express their innermost thoughts.

Just like Clarisse…“She was like the eager watcher of a marionette show, anticipating each flicker of an eyelid, each gesture of his hand, each flick of a finger, the moment before it began…He felt that if his eye itched, she might blink. And if the muscles of his jaws stretched imperceptibly, she would yawn long before he would.” (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451).

I still identify with those words and the character that spoke them. I still feel that I’m in a science fiction novel : inhabiting a world of people so at times so unlike me and seemingly removed from who I am.

And like Clarisse from Fahrenheit 451, my life’s yearning is to seek that connection and nurture and keep it if I can. But it’s so rare, that when it happens (as Chrissie Amphlett of the Divinyls sings) it can’t be of this world.

But isn’t that the understanding that everyone needs?