By Karli Massie
Within the time Mike spent kneeling before the stone that depicted his mother’s name, a layer of clouds had slowly crept their way into the now muddled landscape. Mike focused on their formless shapes. He liked it this way, because with the sunlight hidden, he didn’t have to feel bad for his melancholic state. The wind kicked up and he felt a few drops of rain on his face. It would soon be time for him to go. Except that time finally wasn’t an issue for him. He could stare and admire and breathe as long as he wanted. No one would interrupt him. He thought about how he used to think this feeling would be freeing. How he used to believe that remaining detached meant less responsibility, and therefore an irrevocable sense of freedom.
The morning his father left them, his mother was scrubbing the cream-colored tiles that comprised the kitchen counter. Mike remembered watching her meticulously shift from one tile to the next, staring into their centers. She wanted each one completely cleansed, and she wanted to be the one that did it. And so, feeling useless and tired, Mike sat in the tall wicker chair that stood between the counter and the family room. His father’s dim form crowded the doorway as light squeezed itself in between the doorframe and his oversized limbs. His silhouette indicated he was holding two bags, one in each hand. Mike remembered wanting to change his mind, thinking that maybe one more unreciprocated hug would finally yield his father’s want to become a part of the family. But his father left without a word, and Michael Gene Forester became Michael Gene Walker.
This visit to his mother’s gravestone would be his first and his last. He never saw much reason in the act of visiting a grave more than once. He thought it was some sick ritual people performed, some pointless form of self-punishment. He knew she wouldn’t mind. She always understood his reasons, or pretended to for his sake. Mike stood up and brushed the earth from his jeans. The thought of his mother buried beneath him struck a particularly sensitive chord, a chord that vibrated and twitched with agitation. He left the crumpled flowers next to the gravestone. He left her there, trapped under the earth, and trailed off to continue his life.
The following week, the week after his mother had passed, Mike was back at work. He was a web developer for a prominent company in Seattle. He was always the first to come in and the last to leave, mostly because codes gave him an immense amount of comfort. There was something so perfectly logical in the way each specific code he entered, with its figures and symbols, transformed into exactly what he expected it to. After three years he scarcely made any mistakes, so he rarely had to deal with the surprise and frustration that comes with an inaccurately entered code. Order, in all of its trite perfection, was what Mike thrived on day after day. And it was that tantalizing order that drew him back to the office after he buried his mother.
The Wednesday of that week, Mike came into the office at eight. He settled into his desk and switched the monitor on. Taking a deep, satisfying breath he began working on his latest project, which was to create a site for a new high-class men’s magazine. He stole it from Gary, an unfortunate-looking colleague who spent more time playing World of Warcraft than actually working. Mike found him particularly pathetic and therefore took no issue with habitually bullying him into giving up all the good projects. He was feeling a bit playful today, so he hacked into Gary’s computer and wiped his World of Warcraft account clean. The last time he did this Gary fainted. This time, Mike was hoping for a waterworks show or at least a pathetic display of his upchuck reflex.
He had nearly finished sabotaging Gary’s account when other employees began to filter in. Lisa, the slightly attractive, slightly desperate secretary approached him.
“Hey Mike…” She softly said, with an air of uncertainty.
“Hey Lisa.” Sarcasm seeped through his tone.
“Um…are you planning on staying for the staff party today?”
Mike turned towards Lisa, unleashing a torturous glare. “What do you think.” His words dripped with disdain.
“Well, I kind of thought,” Lisa lowered her gaze as she said this, glancing around the room at others who had been intently listening to their conversation. She looked up and began again. “Lance says he wants everyone to stay, and we will be getting paid for it, and also, well, also Emma wants to talk to you.” She quickly turned on her heels and rushed off, not waiting to hear his response.
Four weeks before his mother died of lymphoma, Mike was particularly withdrawn at work. Her cancer was now stage four, and the doctors had given her two months to live. Since his optimism had left with his father, Mike had no issues accepting her death, but he was still a bit shaken up. This made him continuously uncomfortable, so he decided to take the new secretary for a spin to keep his mind off things. He noticed her the day she was hired: brunette, rail thin, legs for days. Just what he liked. He remembered thinking she must have been sent from the web developing gods. They had sensed his current lack of focus, and knew just what to do to get the job done. And boy, did he get the job done. On Monday he churned out three separate projects all before lunchtime, when he and Emma snuck up to the third floor to try out a storage closet they had just discovered. Tuesday and Wednesday were mostly the same, with only one exception, they set out to christen both bathrooms on the fifth floor.
Mike continued to sleep with Emma, the girl who would later abort his child, up until his mother’s funeral. Those three weeks did nothing in the way of heeling him, but they did distract him. And so, the day of his mother’s death, he solidified Emma’s role as his disposable crutch. Just before lunchtime she briskly passed by his desk, threw a covert nod in his direction and left the office through the main entrance. He remembered watching her as she left, her right leg teasing him as it slipped behind the door and out of sight. He never followed her that day, and she never asked why. He knew she would catch on, knew that she would realize he had gotten exactly what he needed from her – and she did.
Thirty minutes into the staff party, Gary finally realized the death of his WoW account. Mike was huddled in front of his monitor, thinking of the many ways he could blow off Emma while still allowing the prospect of future storage room sex when he heard someone ask Gary if he was okay. Here we go, Mike thought, a wide grin spreading across his face as he leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head. At that moment a figure intercepted his view, standing inches from his face, hands on hips. His eyes journeyed up the sleek legs he had once caressed on a daily basis, and settled on Emma’s disapproving expression.
“Can I speak with you in the hallway.” Her tone didn’t infer a question, and conveniently Mike wasn’t ready to give any answers, so he quietly followed her down the hall.
She stopped abruptly in front of the conference room and his thoughts quickly trailed off. He imagined her strewn across the smooth lacquered wood of the conference table, happily submitting to his advances. And as he enjoyed her limb by limb, taking pleasure in her excitement, he would momentarily forget that he had no excitement of his own.
“Mike…” He loved the way she pronounced his name, breathy and concerned. “I need to tell you something.” She lifted her right hand to one of the buttons on his shirt, fingering the edges and twisting it around. It was as if she craved contact but was too afraid to commit, so she went halfway, settling on an extraneous item attached to his clothes.
As she fidgeted with his button, he admired the way a few strands of hair fell across her face, and thought about how he had missed her. Never before had he become attached in such an unpredictable way. He surprised even himself with these sudden, simple urges to touch her face and feel her pressed against him. But she had something to say to him, so he kept his arms firmly crossed against his chest.
“I wasn’t going to say anything at all, because I know this is the last thing you want to be dealing with.” She looked up at him, tears threatening to cascade down her cheeks at the slightest disruption. “Mike I was pregnant.”
He didn’t miss a beat, and firmly rooted his feet to the ground as he asked her why she was using the past tense. She explained to him the decision she made about their child, one that she supposedly regretted now. But he had left the hallway soon after she began her explanation.
Emma wasn’t at work the following week, or any week after that one. Mike never asked about her, or tried to figure out where she had gone. He needed to be unconcerned. He invested his time in developing websites and would soon become co-president of the company. Sometimes, when he had had too much too drink or was up late working on a project at the office, he thought about her. But he stifled these thoughts as soon as they surfaced, and continued with his work.