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Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
A shrill familiar sound woke Chuck ruthlessly from a pleasant dream. It was one of those great reveries where he was entertaining a bevy of ladies around the water fountain at work with an amusing story. Lucile was there, laughing at his clever story, gently touching his wrist. One moment he was smiling down at her rosy and enraptured countenance, the next he was staring at the popcorn ceiling of his dark apartment. He reached over to switch off the alarm, ignoring the snooze button.
It was Monday morning. Turning his head on the pillow, Chuck could guess by the stripes of light cutting through his blinds that it was going to be another lovely sunny day. It was the beginning of another week and he was ready for it, as always.
He turned on the hot water in the shower while he used the toilet. As he relieved himself with one hand, he used the other to re-arrange the extra toilet paper rolls in the basket that sat above the tank. He must have forgotten to re-distribute the extra rolls to fill in the void when he removed and replaced an empty roll last night. Before he flushed, he used a few squares of toilet paper to wipe the baby blue porcelain toilet rim and made sure to put the seat and lid back down. Chuck hated staring down the gaping throat of indoor plumbing.
In the shower, the near-scalding rivulets of water felt good running down his body, washing away dead skin cells and arousing nerves along the way. He enjoyed long showers in the morning. Chuck found he often experienced the clearest thinking while standing in that steamy stall. In his mind, he ran through his schedule for the day.
“9:30 Review last week’s numbers. 10:30 Assemble weekly reports. 11:00 Send to Repro. 12:00 Lunch. 1:30 Staff Meeting. 3:30 Managers Meeting. Go over numbers….”
At some point, he would run by Lucile’s cubicle to see what she was wearing. She almost always wore a skirt on Mondays. He wondered if she would wear that dress with the lace hem.
Chuck was careful not to drip when he got out of the shower. He dressed quickly and methodically folded both his towel and the small rug on which he had just been standing. He hung his towel, folded in half lengthwise, on the silver towel rack and hung the small rug, folded in half widthwise, over the middle of the shower stall door in order to dry. He hated the smell of wet towels and mildew. It made him feel dirty.
He returned to the bedroom to put on his socks and shoes.
He was on-schedule with exactly enough time to have breakfast and still make the 8 o’clock train downtown. He would be at work by 9:30 a.m.
In the living room, the rising sun and waking day were barely perceptible. It was as dark as midnight as Chuck padded across the non-descript, worn beige carpeting to open the blinds on his week. The sprinklers were still on outside and he could hear the neighbors upstairs getting their kids ready for school. He flipped the switch in the windowless kitchen and instantly filled both rooms with a cold, blue light. The particle board countertops had a faux-wood finish that would hide dirt well, if Chuck ever chose to let anything build up. They were spotless though, clear of debris and kitchen clutter, except for a simple black Coffeemate and a row of blue jars arranged in descending order of size.
As Chuck went to the fridge to retrieve an un-opened gallon of 2% milk, the timer on the Coffeemate went off and it started brewing exactly one and a half cups of French roast. Chuck loved modern technology. He grabbed the largest jar and pulled out a bag of cornflakes, neatly resealed and folded shut with a 3/4” butterfly clip. From a nearby cabinet, he took a large porcelain bowl into which he poured most of the remaining cornflakes.
“Uh oh,” Chuck thought. He couldn’t very well store the few tablespoons of cereal he had left. If he put the bag back in the jar and returned it to its place in line of jars, he would surely forget to buy more and tomorrow morning he wouldn’t have enough cereal for breakfast. But at the same time, he never ate more than a cup and a half of cereal in the morning.
Unwilling to bloat his gut with an extra half cup of cereal, he neatly removed the butterfly clip and threw the remaining cornflakes in the trash can under the sink. He replaced the blue jar in line with the other jars, but left the cap slightly askew as a reminder to refill it.
It was past 7 am. He was going to be late if he wasted anymore time with the cereal jar. Chuck hated getting behind schedule.
He quickly poured the milk, being careful not to spill a drop, and returned the carton to the fridge. Grabbing a spoon and pouring himself a large cup of fresh coffee, Chuck took a seat at the small pine table in the middle of his kitchen. After adding exactly a half teaspoon of sugar to both the cereal and the coffee from the matching blue porcelain sugar pot on the table, he carefully stirred both around before eating the first spoonful and taking a steaming sip of caffeine.
His briefcase lay open on the chair where he had left it last night. As he ate, he reached for a single sheet of paper that lay on top of his files.
He was prepared for the staff meeting today. In addition to crunching the corporate numbers, Chuck had prepared a few intrapersonal notes. They were a definite improvement upon last week’s and he had included a contingency plan for each person in case the conversation was unorthodox.
If Kevin and Ned from the civil group happened to be talking about the Lakers game, Chuck had reviewed the sports page and felt ready with a viable quip. “That was a hell of a fourth quarter, wasn’t it? I didn’t think Kobe would make that last shot.” If he sat next to Gladys, he knew all he had to do was ask about her daughters. “So how is Jessica doing? Is she still in girl scouts?” And since the guys from the third floor generally didn’t talk about anything but movies, Chuck familiarized himself with the storyline for the upcoming movie with the wrestling-star-cum-businessman known as the Rock. “Did you know he has an MBA? I’m convinced he could be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger.” For Lucile, Chuck had studied the front page of the newspaper and read a few conspiracy websites. He was armed with sound bytes and insightful criticism on current events. He was pretty certain that everything he’d noted would make about as much sense to her as Yiddish, but that was the point. All he wanted was to impress her with his blistering intellect. Maybe then he would have enough confidence to ask her out on a date.
7: 35 a.m.
Time to pack up. Chuck placed his notes back in the briefcase and took a quick visual inventory of its contents to make sure that he had all that he needed with him.
“Intrapersonal notes, check. Pens, check. Highlighters, check. Calculator, check. Address book, check. Files, check.”
When he was satisfied that everything was packed, he snapped the case shut and rotated the three dials on the lock to be sure that his three-digit password was lost in the shuffle. He carefully twisted the dials again until they read 0-0-0.
He put his bowl in the sink and filled it with hot water. Casting a quick glance around his kitchen, he saw the cereal jar with its lid askew. Now he would remember that slightly crooked lid all day and definitely not forget to buy cereal before he came home.
Chuck grabbed his briefcase off the table and put on his sunglasses. Once Lucile had told him that she loved the movie Top Gun, particularly Tom Cruise and his large tinted pilot glasses. He’d bought his pair at Savon Drugstore and wore them everyday to work hoping that she would notice. At the door, he glanced once more around his apartment and at the clock in the kitchen.
He had nineteen minutes to walk to the train station. Perfect. He walked briskly but did not break a sweat. Chuck was used to long strides and had timed this walk many times. When he reached the corner, the pedestrian crossing light was red. It seemed to him that he was making good time today. He glanced at the Casio digital watch on his right wrist to confirm his guess and felt his glasses slip down his nose.
“Only two more blocks to go,” he thought. “I should be there well before the 8 o’clock train. Ahead of schedule…”
The pedestrian crossing light was still red, but Chuck knew it would be changing imminently. If he waited any longer for the switch, he would lose the extra time he had just won for himself. Assured of the forthcoming little green man, Chuck stepped forward off the curb. His digital watch said, 7:44 a.m.
As distracted as he was with the time and the prospect of reviewing his notes, Chuck didn’t notice the 18-wheel grocery truck hurtling down the street towards him. He didn’t hear the bull horn honking. Nor did he look up and see the driver’s horrified face as he slammed on the brakes.
The truck impacted Chuck with such force that after the truck passed and finally managed to stop a few blocks down, only his shoes and his Top Gun sunglasses remained in the street. His notes, flung high into the air and out of the briefcase by the force of the blow, now settled slowly back down to earth like snow on the morning wind.