The Fiction of Owen Thomas

Signs of Passing

The Office   —an excerpt

The apartment was eleven blocks away from The Office, which made it a convenient walk to work in the early evening and a dangerous walk back in the very early morning.  On her walks in the early evening, on her way to work, people were just coming home from their jobs; returning from the office—not The Office, but just the office—out there in the world where things happened and where people had to struggle just to keep up with all the new developments.  And when they came home at the end of the day they pulled sharply into their driveways in their big cars with the windows down and the stereos on with music sloshing out into the street like a glass so full of wine that it’s too much for one person to drink.  And almost before they can step out onto the driveways, children spill out of the doors and from the bushes and from the back yards with their basketballs and their squirt guns and their earnest questions about what was going to happen next, maybe supper or maybe a movie or a double-header down at Diggers Field. 

Lydia tended to walk to work with her hands in the pockets of her jacket, eyes forward, looking at the gray squares of concrete passing beneath her feet, all as though she was counting her steps and failing to notice the commotion of the people coming home.  But she noticed, alright.  She always noticed.  She could hear them just fine, and out of the corners of her eyes, she could see what it must be like to come home from the wide world at the end of the day.

That was all on the walk to work in the early evenings, before the sun had plowed itself fully into the earth, pushing the night up out of the soil, growing everywhere like a black moss that covers the trees and the buildings and clinging to the air with its scent of desolation.  On the walk home, in the very early mornings, the streets were quiet and dark and full of menace, as though something hungry and heartless came out of the shadows once everybody was safely inside their houses and tucked into their beds. 

Years ago, Lydia had been fearful of the walk home, and she had covered the blocks quickly, looking over her shoulder most of the way, sometimes running that last stretch past Murphy’s and the Neighborhood Pharmacy and Diggers Field and the empty drive in, so that by the time she had climbed the stairs and opened the door and closed it behind her and turned the bolt, she was panting hard and sweat dampened the hair near the skin of her nape. 

But that was a long time ago. Now, even the fear was gone.  The fear was gone and she missed it.  She missed it along with everything and everyone else that no longer touched her.  Not that there was no reason to be afraid; there certainly was and the newspapers could prove it just about every day.  But Lydia had simply stopped feeling fear.  And sometimes that concerned her and gave her an uncomfortable buzzing in the pit of her stomach.  Because when you stopped feeling fear walking home in the dark mornings, when menace was on the prowl and the moon hung in the night like a slender blade of sharpened white bone, what else was there left to feel?  If not fear, what is left?