Jane approached the entrance to her office building, eyes down, watching her feet. The wet leaves that cluttered the walkway clung to her shoes, leaving damp stains. A finger of wind groped her, pulling up on the edge of her coat, letting in the cold, making her shiver. Reaching the door, she stopped, her image reflected at her in the glass. She clutched a security badge in her gloved hand and waved it at the square black box to the left of the door. A green light on the box flashed briefly and she heard the click of the door unlocking itself. Jane tugged at the handle fighting not only against the weight of the heavy glass and metal but also the breeze which had, at that moment, turned into a gale, pushing the door closed, not allowing her to enter.
Maybe the wind was trying to tell her something. The familiar churning in her stomach surged beyond normal levels and she let go of the handle. She heard the second click, the door locking, as she stood there frozen in her own uncertainty. But then, wildly, she made a decision. A flicker of hope crossed her heart, started it beating. She started to turn, to walk back to her car, to leave this place, when someone pushed the door open from the inside.
“Having trouble with your badge?” the older, bespectacled gentleman inquired. She looked down at the badge in her hand, her own smiling face staring up at her, the seeming happiness mocking her. She nodded, because he expected her to, because she didn’t know what else she could do, she nodded and smiled and murmured thanks as she passed by him, and the moment, to enter the building.
The noise of a hundred voices in quiet conversation was the first thing she sensed as she left the entryway behind. She imagined floating above the huge room, looking down on the source of the noise, to see rows upon rows of identical cubicles, the occupants of which busily scurrying around, talking. Talking to each other, talking on the phones, talking to themselves, always talking, always making noise as if silence was something to avoid. As if to stop and think for a moment would bring the grinding, heartless machinery of Corporate America to a halt.
She twisted her way in a daze though invisible hallways and corridors towards her own cubicle, a feeling of despair filling her mind, surpassing the usual numbness, forcing tears. She automatically blinked them away, embarrassed by her lack of control despite knowing that no one would notice. Everyone ignored her. She felt like a puzzle piece that got put away in the wrong box. She floated along with all the people around her, never understanding what the final picture should look like; only knowing she wasn’t a part of it. The moment of potential freedom had passed and left in its wake a complete hopelessness.
Jane sat down in front of a desk that had her name attached to it, but otherwise looked exactly the same as all the other cubicles. A monitor sat on the desk with its keyboard and mouse. She reached under the desk and turned the computer on. An action of habit, done without thought.
Something in her mind clicked off as the computer clicked on.
A notebook sat on the desk, full of notes that she had taken without knowing why. She opened it and slowly turned the pages, staring at the familiar handwriting. She could see the letters and the words but they made no sense to her. Panicking, she flipped through the pages, frantically searching for one phrase, one word that she could understand. But there was no meaning in any of it. Nothing related to anything she was feeling now. It was useless. She flung the notebook away from her into the cubicle wall.
A certain kind of silence emanated around her as people stopped talking and started watching her. Tears ran, streaming down her face, following the creases of anguish and pain and frustration. The letters on the keyboard lost their meaning and the blinking cursor on the monitor waited for her to do something but she didn’t know what it wanted. The screen grew, looming over her; the mouse turned into its namesake and crawled towards her. She searched for a weapon. The off-white, flat rectangular thing with the buttons seemed adequate and she used it to smash the creature with the long white tail. Smashing and smashing, trying to kill the thing – but all she managed to do was destroy her weapon. She reached for the rectangular glass thing, but hands grabbed her from behind, restraining her arms. She kicked her legs, jabbed with elbows and knees but soon they were held too… and… then… stillness…
Jane felt each heartbeat, each breath and the long space between. People in orange jackets hovered over her. Their mouths were moving, they were asking her questions. They were talking at her body, at her face, at her eyes, but her mind was not connected to those things anymore. She huddled inside herself, unaware that her body was defending her still, kicking and screaming.
The last thing she felt was a painful prick on her arm and the last thing she saw was her reflection in the glasses of the old man above her. The same man who so kindly, so wrongly, let her in the building. He opened the door that destroyed her. As she drifted off to sleep, she wondered if he regretted it as much as she did.