corners of other floors, secreting bags of trash and old chairs in seldom-used closets and back hallways. I take smaller bags home in a backpack
or satchel to add to my own trash. I think about bringing my car with
me one day and carting a load or two to the town dump.
When I talk to my daughter each Saturday, she remarks on how cheerful
I sound. I tell her that work is going well, that we’ve hired some new folks,
that I’m making friends. She says she’s glad. I ask her when she’s coming
to visit, but she isn’t sure; it’s hard to get time off from work. I say I’ll buy
the ticket; she doesn’t need to worry about money. Soon, she says.
Aside from Thanksgiving and Christmas, the last time she flew out
was when I had my pacemaker put in. She showed up in my hospital
room dressed as the grim reaper, mask and cape and all. I laughed, and
then, underneath her mask, my daughter burst into tears.
“I thought I could do it,” she said, “but it’s first time I’ve been back in
here since Mom died.”
And when she said that, I started to tear up too. I’m not a crier, but
the pain medication was making me a little loopy.
“Don’t cry,” she said. “I’ve only seen you cry once, the day Mom died.”
“I don’t remember,” I said.
“We were at the house, we’d gone home to get something. It was a
gray day, the lights weren’t on, we were in the kitchen. You went to get
the phone and then came back. I was standing in this rectangle of gray
light. ‘Mom died,’ you said, and you picked me up and crushed me to
your chest. I could feel you shaking. It took me a moment to realize you
were shaking because you were sobbing.”
“Don’t worry,” I told her as she took off her mask. “I’m going to be
fine. I’m part man, part machine now. The bionic wonder.”
She tried very hard to smile.
Another month. Outside, the first shoots of spring have grown into full
leaves. It happens too quickly, as it always does—one day the smell of
thaw, the next that electric-green fuzz, and then suddenly summer is
upon you. Inside, it’s still the same: cool, damp, pleasant. The forest has
now covered nearly the entire floor. The shades occupy twenty or so cubicles, each a little island lit by beacons of fluorescence; everywhere else,
the light has softened into a natural glow. The shades seem to think nothing of stepping over tree roots on their way to the photocopier or dodging the vines that have begun to grow over the door to the break room.