There was a man named Michael. He would sit at his desk every day in front of a computer screen and type out reports and numbers and other things the people he worked for thought were very important. His desk was by a window that looked down two stories to the street below. Sometimes Michael would stop staring at the computer screen and stare out that window watching the people below as they passed by. He wondered if they knew he was up here in this window looking at them. He wondered what they would think if they knew he was staring at them from up high. He thought they probably wouldn’t like it.
Once a week there was a man with a leaf blower who would blow the leaves from the sidewalk to the street. The man was short and stubby with light brown skin and very dark black hair. From high up in his window, Michael could see the man was balding on top. The man would walk from one end of the block to the other blowing the leaves into the street with a slow back and forth motion. Whenever a car would pass or the wind would blow the leaves rushed back onto the sidewalk. The man would turn around and blow them back again with that slow back and forth motion. And again the leaves rushed back onto the sidewalk. This would go on for hours. Sometimes Michael would watch the man blowing the leaves for so long he didn’t get any work done.
Often Michael would go out for coffee with his co-workers. His co-workers called him Mike or sometimes Mick. Michael preferred to be called Michael and he used to tell them that, but they still called him Mike. And sometimes Mick. Michael stopped correcting them.
One day while out for coffee Michael ordered a large cup with extra cream and a splash of vanilla. A co-worker told him that was a girl’s drink and everyone laughed. Then another co-worker told him he should wear a skirt with that drink and everyone laughed. Except for Michael, he just smiled and drank his drink. He liked the way it tasted.
Michael took the bus home after work that day. There had been a rainstorm earlier – a sun-shower Sally would have called it – and there were droplets of rain on the window. Michael spent the ride focusing on the drops, then on the road outside, then back on the drops. He had a vague notion that we only notice the world around us in tiny little moments and we never see the big picture. We never notice everything all at once. Michael realized he had put his hand in something wet.
Michael got off the bus one stop before his and went into a bar. The bar was called the Come On Inn and it used to be a dive bar way back when, but now they served micro-brews and played indie music on the jukebox. Now the bar was trendy.
Michael ordered a beer, a vanilla stout. He wondered if that was a girl’s drink. But he liked the way it tasted – all creamy and bitter and heavy – and he liked the way it felt going down his throat and the way it sat in his belly. He liked the way it made him feel full.
On the TV behind the bar was a wrestling match with the sound turned down. It was the Mexican kind where they wore colorful masks. And the wrestlers were gesturing and posturing and pretending to hit each other while doing jumps and flips. Michael had a hard time figuring out what was going on. He ordered another beer. Then another. And another.
Michael began to get a dreamy feeling. His head felt cloudy. This always happened when he drank beer. It made him remember a time when he was very young and was sick with a fever. He remembered the fever making him feel cloudy and light like his head was full of air. He thought his head was a balloon and his neck was a string and if he cut it his head would float away off into space never to be seen again. He liked that feeling. But he almost died with that fever, that’s what the doctor told him, he almost died and drifted away forever for real.
Then Michael thought about dying. This was not uncommon, in fact, he thought about dying almost every day since Sally. Usually at night in the dark staring up at the ceiling with his eyes open not wanting to close them just in case he never opened them again.
Death terrified him.
He knew all the stories. His mother, a Christian, thinks everyone will meet again in Heaven and it will be a big party or Thanksgiving dinner or something. And his uncle is a 70s hippie and talks about reincarnation and coming back a rich man or a wolf. And he remembers a documentary he once saw about how energy never goes away and just becomes something else like the grass or a cloud or maybe the rain. But Michael never believed those things. He just thought we all go away, forever. The end.
He told that to Sally once and she said that would be a comfort, to just go away. To just end. No worries, no fear just an end. Wouldn’t that be a comfort? she asked. Michael didn’t think so.
Sally was Michael’s girlfriend, the woman he wanted to marry. She killed herself by swallowing sleeping pills with camomile tea. She wore her favorite flannel pajamas and her fluffy pink slippers while she drank her tea and listened to Brahms. Sally liked to be comfortable. There was no note and that made people think it was an accident. But Michael knew.
He had bought a ring and was working up the courage to ask her to marry. He wanted it to be the right moment, the right time, the right situation. He kept putting it off. When he got the call from the hospital the first thing he thought of was he needed to sell the ring. He hated the fact he thought that and often pretended he never did.
Sometimes he told himself stories that he called her that night, that he went to her. That he broke the door down, resuscitated her, saved her. Usually, he thinks this late at night in the dark while staring at the ceiling.
In reality, he was just home watching TV. He forgot to call.
He often wonders if he should have seen the signs. The way she was afraid of making plans or how she worried about overpopulation. The way she cried when she thought about how chicken farms were run and the way she wondered if vegetables had feelings. The way rainstorms made her sad. Michael thought he should have known, should have guessed.
He still has the ring.
Michael got home very drunk. He couldn’t remember paying the bill but assumed he had. His apartment was the same as he left it and the same as it has always been. He put his shoes by the door and hung his keys on the hook in the kitchen and hung his jacket across the chair by the lamp. He microwaved left-over pizza and ate it even though it tasted like rubber.
Michael took out his phone and typed out a text to an old phone number he has never deleted. The message was about the time on the beach when he wrote her name with a heart around it in the sand with a stick. And the way the waves came and washed it away. The way it dissolved in sea-foam. The way she cried when that happened and hugged him around the neck. I’m sorry, he wrote, I thought you were happy. Michael deleted the text and did not send it.
Michael went to the window and looked out to the street. His apartment was on the second floor and could watch people from on high even though he knew they wouldn’t like it. After a long while, he went to the bedroom to lie in the darkness.