He takes a sick day. He isn’t feeling well, he explains to his wife in a text. You’re sick? she responds. He looks at the words on his phone. He keys an emoji, a shrug. I feel untogether, he writes.
Untogether with me?
No! he replies, adding hearts.
The truth is a feeling. He’d been reassigned to a distant building—Pre-Owned Vehicles. His cubicle entry faces a plug-in fountain whose pump is not set right; rather than ambient trickle, it yields an erratic drip. He works through call backs—low odds stuff, he fears—with increasingly alien zeal. The supervisor, Vickie Beer, has a go-to saying: it ebbs and flows. Meaning business. Life. Anything. He likes her easy, booming laugh and the way she leans to listen and nod when he is responding to her. Still, he’s concerned. For the past few days, he has sensed some difference. Like he’s not there. Or she doesn’t see him. Or sees him just as a thought, just in the moment of passing.
He sweeps the patio.
The day is an emptiness.
He walks, takes a path through the woods. When his daughter is born and starts to grow, he’ll take her on walks of this kind, he thinks. He’ll teach her to locate sassafras; they’ll bend to rinse leaves in the brook.
But now that he’s made the turn in his mind toward the future, he feels—again?—disintegration. Mute, like dread.
Like actual nausea.
He’s tried to tell himself that he’s just paranoid, that he’s imagining things. But he’s not. He knows this—all at once. He knows what he saw in Vickie Beer’s eye as she passed without looking his way: a glitch, a disturbance—tied, he understands, to knowledge not yet shared.
She’ll call him into her office tomorrow. Just as she would have today. She’ll ask him to sit. He can see the firm chair in his mind. He will have time to station his hands. He will have time to settle his breath, to conform. It won’t be personal.
Scott Garson (@garson_scott) is the author of Is That You, John Wayne?—a collection of stories. He lives in central Missouri.