Sick Day

George sat in his car hunched over his steering wheel, starting at the seven story hopelessly average building that towered over the plain field that surrounded it. His car hugged the edge of the parking lot. Behind him, a dense forest.  What if a mythical creature were to engulf him and his car in one bite. Would he be missed? 

He was early. Two hours to be exact. He checked the back seat and saw his same black messenger bag resting comfortably like a worn newborn that all too comfortable being carried around in a satchel to be cared for, fed and loved. The contents of his bag were special. The life of a systems analyst didn’t have any type of glamor or edge in social circles. Not much could be done to add some flavor.

George worked at Vantex for nearly ten years. He was dedicated and diligent with his time at work. But what was next? What could George do next from here? Josh pressed his eye sockets into the bump of his knuckles. His heavy lidded, bored eyes returned to the workplace. Not from exhaustion, from apathy.

His thoughts popped off like a firecracker. Would they miss me?

He had hoped to see a change in the stature of the building. The same gray seven story building remained. George’s head rolled back as he stretched his spare tie around his neck. He groaned audibly and flicked his wrist to see the time. Barely a minute had passed since he last checked. Time was ticking like refrigerated syrup.

George placed his hand on the car handle and squeezed. Today would be the day. He would arrive even earlier than usual with his satchel baby in tow and get an hour’s work done, one more than any of his peers. A drop in the ocean of tasks. Maybe his boss would notice. The simple thought of made George reach for his tie and gnash into the dry, thready fiber. Doing more work was useless.

Time. Less than three minutes had passed. Somewhere deep in George’s mind, he screamed.

All right. This was it. He reached for the handle and squeezed and pulled it as far as he could. The dark gray plastic started to strain. The door remained lock. George waged war on himself as the would be king went to will himself to work. But he wasn’t strong enough. His grip slackened and the handle snapped back to its resting position.

What was keeping him glued to the car? He felt his face flush and he flexed his fingers open and closed. He pushed his pointer and index finger to his neck to feel his pulse. Normal. He felt his forehead. Normal temperature. Not ill.

George sat upright and caught his eyes in his rearview mirror. He had to check again for he didn’t recognize the man in the reflection. His eyes were heavy and worn. He remembered his dad use to look like the man in front of him now. This is how it happened. In this moment, his dad worked a decade at the mill, just like George did at Vantex and his father had a moment like this one.

George bowed his head and massaged the bridge of his nose. He was certain only a minute had passed since he checked last. The boring box of a building would still be at the entrance of the parking lot. His satchel cloth baby waited patiently to be brought into work. The man would still be staring back through the mirror.

Except, the mirror showed something else. Something different. The same man that looked like his father. But… wrinkles. On the outside of his eyes. Crow’s feet. 

The man’s eyes flashed and he could hear distant laughter within the caverns of his mind. Doughnuts. Tire smoke. The man was laughing as his ten year old car spun in circles. George frowned at the thought. The man’s eyes in the mirror smiled. Nodding. 

He couldn’t abandon his post. He had responsibilities. His satchel baby needed the care and attention it deserved. George twisted around and saw his bag sitting there, frayed at the edges, plump like a pot belly. His eyes drifted to the rear window. All those trees. He heard sparse breathing. His eyes flashed and saw the man running in his t-shirt. Grinning. 

George turned around and saw the building. It looked smaller than it used to. He shook his head, removing visions of what could be when a sedan pulled into one of the empty spots near the building. His boss, Greg, got out instantly and held the frame of the car and stretched. George remarked in disgust. George’s hand subconsciously reached for his phone and called. George turned to see his phone had dialed Greg.

“Hello,” Greg’s voice answered. George bounced from his phone to his boss across the parking lot. He was still stretching. 

“Hey Greg,” George whispered, sliding back in his chair so he couldn’t be seen.

“George? Is that you? What happened to your voice?”

“It… went away. Listen. I think I’m going to call out today.”

“You think,” Greg repeated. “Come on, George. The reports are due today and we have a meeting for direction on the next quarter.”

George turned his head to see his satchel baby sitting in the back seat, plump and ready to be carried. He turned to see the rearview mirror. He couldn’t see the man, but George knew he was there. Smiling. Waiting. 

“George,” Greg said on the phone.

“I’m calling out, Greg,” George said finally. “Not taking out my team because I’m not well. I’ll see you next week.”

“Next week,” George heard Greg say before he hung up. 

George flipped his chair back up and he was filled with energy. He could see Greg entered the building. He turned the key to his car and it coughed on. George’s personal day had just begun.

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