That Which Eludes
by Christopher Brown
He sat in the boardroom and watched the clock hands slowly tick by. Their moving extremities, distinguishable by sound, overshadowed the humdrum background noise of his boss. The cadence continued in a rhythm that defined his life. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.
On an intellectual level, Wade wasn’t the sharpest guy in the room. His looks on the other hand, outshined the rest. His swagger never wavered in the face of competitive colleagues and was unmatched by his balding superiors. Everyone knew it. Confidence wasn’t a sub-primer, rather an indicative feature of his happenstance coolness. In the ecstasy of nullified boredom, the walls of the room cast images harkening back to earlier days. Wade blacked out often. More often than not now, it seemed.
In the darkness, with the newest and most intuitive talking head rambling on about the latest market projections, a daydream formulated, playing back bits and pieces of his youth. Wade’s life had come to a halt. Elusive satisfaction was noticeably absent as the closing hours of his thirties loomed ahead. Something was missing from his life. This gaping hole, patched up with the idiosyncrasies of scotch, the invariable talent to swoon members of the opposite sex and the drive to continue generating wealth was undeniable. He wasn’t always this way.
Wade’s friends sparsely populated pockets of the Midwest and Southeast, most of which he had made in the military. In his eyes, they squandered their fortunes on marriages. Time was money and money made headway for the pursuit of more wealth. He didn’t have anything against the idea of marriage; rather, he saw it as a dismal undertaking and couldn’t reason the value of it. To him, it was a poor investment. Not everything revolved around Benjamin’s, emeralds and ivory, given. These assets merely proved to wrap around the question itself. The endeavor that would permit him to find happiness was all that mattered now. Unbeknownst to Wade, this seemingly unattainable poltergeist, was in fact, much closer than he thought.
Happiness is a choice. Words that rang true of the senior counselor, from his former life, whose unabashed and distant existence exhumed pondering the very so-called feeling itself. He grew up in a family where relationships were not bonded, rather faked. The flames of discord were most prevalent. What was it to love? Had the wool been pulled over his eyes? If so, why could he not remove the veil? Love. That fleeting word had become so distant and cheap. The train left a long time ago, and with it, the feelings of a young man and the woman he fell for.
Incredible, he thought. I’m about as predictable as a day-time soap.
Marsha, one of his colleagues, sat across from him. Her legs reflected the broad spectrum of natural light in the room, assembling the noted establishment’s attention and gracing the rank and file with their presence. That wasn’t to detract from the fascinating presentation afforded for all to gush and relish over though. He could sit through almost any board meeting with a wink and a grin on his face simply waiting on the final moments before their release from corporate imprisonment. His reward for this intuitively garnered adornment of self-discipline? A steaming cup of coffee calling his name across the street. In the blink of an eye, like a flash of lightning, he found himself at the tail-end of another loss of consciousness episode.
“Coffee, sir?” asked the waitress.
“Yes, please, black with two sugars,” came Wade’s response.
“I’ll bring that right out,” she finished.
The last fifteen minutes seemed to escape him. He couldn’t recall exiting the office, taking the elevator down from the twenty-second floor, crossing the lobby into the street or entering through the doors of the diner.
Typical fuckin’ day, he mused.
Caffeine was a lifeline. From time to time, Wade needed to leave work and clear his mind. It came with the territory, and, like the cowboys that came before him, a daily dose of the most popular legally addictive stimulant was a necessity. Granted, he wasn’t driving cattle across the high plains. The reality was, it disengaged him from the obtusely cult-like atmosphere of dense drones in pin-striped suits across the street. It kept him perked up, sharp.
At times, Wade wasn’t consciously aware of his work-ethic. Business was a constant. For as far back as he could remember, it was the next check off the list, the next goal met, the next round of education or the latest finalized deal. Where had he gone wrong?
Couldn’t have been that trip to Vegas a few months ago, he thought.
Even that minor episode of debauchery, a vacation he planned for none other than one of his closest friends, did not do it for him. The sex, booze and late nights of partying left the void unfilled. He wanted to really feel alive again. Thoughts flowed into his head but his heart remained cold. His dreams usually slipped away, yet he could almost put his finger on the one from last night…
“Here’s your coffee sir, can I get you anything else?” she asked with a pleasant tone of voice.
He snapped out of it. “No thanks.”
Wade was a regular at the place so he knew most of the staff full and well. Knew their faces anyway.
Sophie, his waitress, was new. Her nametag didn’t do her justice. It seemed too large and cumbersome for her thin frame. He noticed a small tattoo on her wrist, etched in some sort of hip writing which he was not familiar with. Maybe he was getting old?
Nah, thirty-five is the new twenty-five, he thought.
Wade drew parallels between this particular waitress and himself. Ink also invaded his capillaries. Their distinguishing features, however, were carefully placed as to not be seen by the even the most keen of eye. Hard to believe that he still rode his motorcycle to work, sported tattoos in secret and managed to keep such a cleanly pressed suit and tie. He was just that damn good. The steam from his coffee wafted up and he inhaled deeply. Vaporized caffeine vivified his surroundings and kept his focus on the headlines.
“Nothing new in the paper,” he muttered to himself with a rather dismal undertone.
It was the same old bullshit, nothing really changed. Memphis, while a fascinating city with all of its wit and charm, did have elements that he grew tired of. Many of those reasons graced the front page of the morning paper. Across the street, a woman walked her dog. The pup haphazardly pissed on some poor bastard’s shoe as they stood waiting to enter the crosswalk. Wade laughed to himself but in a strange way, he felt bad for the guy. The cut of his attire was auspicious of the dollars spent. The suede shoes on the man didn’t help matters. An unfortunate item of clothing to be wearing, the urine sure to extirpate the material, in quality, for a long time to come.
This sort of scenario displayed the brevity of change in the city, the effects stewing and festering in the hot climate. It was on a sunny day, de facto obverse of the current, that a small misstep into a seemingly unsubstantial brook in the Black Forest, forever altered the course of Wade’s life. Why not the same in the land of blues?
Sophie reappeared, most assuredly to finish up and take care of the check. “Can I get you anything else?” The perennial words leapt from her mouth and pierced his monotonous dome, eliciting acknowledgement.
“Yes,” he replied.
A few seconds passed and she looked at him with a rather awkward stare as follow on commentary did not resonate.
“And what can I get you?” she asked.
“I wanted to talk to you about your nametag,” he responded.
“My nametag?” retorted Sophie.
Wade explained. “It doesn’t do a pretty name like yours justice. I mean, I feel like I’m reading a fucking billboard when I look at it. That name, er, your name, should be jumping out at me in the midst of reading a literary masterpiece… or something along those lines.”
“You’re not from around here, are you?” She responded with a quizzical smile and a subtle undertone of flirtatiousness in her voice, the accent prevalent of a native.
“No, I’m not,” he quipped. “Tell you what; I’m going to stop across the street at the café. They’ve got a cigarette dispenser and I need to pick up some smokes before I head back to the office. Would you like to join me for a cup of coffee?”
Her eyes captured him. “My shift ends in fifteen minutes. Ok if I meet you over there?”
“Sure thing,” he responded.
Wade didn’t know why those words came out, they just did. He was already hard pressed with a fast-approaching deadline. He surely didn’t have time to be wasting over coffee and pastries across the street. Seconds turned into minutes and minutes were evanescent.
What the hell, he thought.
It had happened in much the same way as the past occurrence. Unexpectedly, without a plan, thought, or whim, he found himself about to engage in a conversation with a woman he knew absolutely nothing about. Perhaps he was in for something special. As he looked down at the check, his focus shifted from the cash he left for a tip and careened over to the perennial outlook that couldn’t be ignored. Wade kept the weight of the world on his shoulders and couldn’t escape the past. He bought off his unhappiness. Company, however, real genuine company, was priceless and hard to come by.
As he crossed the street, Wade walked like a fox, fastidiously fawning over a new feline. Sophie exhibited all the features of a model. It wasn’t her exterior that caught his attention though. Something else did the job. Something that broke his usual transient displacement and put him at ease. He blinked and found himself at the doors of the café.
Gotta love this eclectic little place, he thought, walking through the entrance.
After swiping his card through the machine, and securing a pack of smokes, he took a seat near the window and peered out. Just minutes before, he landed a coffee date with what was sure to be one of the prettiest women in the city. His inflated ego was peppered with a slight case of refinement that melted hearts and won minds. Money helped, but his charm was his secret weapon. Truth be told, deep down, something was still missing. Wade personified one of the most superficial souls this side of downtown. Nevertheless, he always had an ace up his sleeve, figuratively speaking.
Her hair wavered in the crisp autumn wind, its chestnut luminosity hypnotizing him. Wade’s full-conscious state returned, but this time, for all the right reasons. She walked through the door, looking good. Damn good.
She approached him and inquired, “Mind if I sit down?”
“Not at all,” replied Wade.
Before walking over, Sophie removed the distasteful nametag, applied conservative amounts of perfume and makeup, and now sat poised and ladylike across from him.
“Since we’ve established that you’re not from here, where are you from?” she asked.
Wade responded, “I grew up in Louisiana but I lived all over the world.”
“And why did you leave me such a generous tip?” Sophie pondered, as her eyes careened over him.
“The damn good service.”
Sophie blushed. “You seem sweet.”
“You couldn’t be further from the truth,” replied Wade. “I’m a real asshole,” he said, half-jokingly.
“So, where are you from?”
Sophie’s answer was short and sweet. “Cali.”
Wade expressed surprised. “Oh yeah, no shit, I’ve got some family that lives in San Diego. Nice fuckin’ place.”
Sophie explained, “Yeah, I love the sunshine and free-spirited outlook on things.”
A few seconds passed and he started again. “You’ve got the best eyes.” He wasn’t sure why he said it, one of those things that just came out.
“I know you didn’t invite me over here to hit on me. I saw it in your eyes back when you first ordered coffee across the street. Tell me your story. I’ve got the next hour to spare,” she said with a composed yet yearning tone of voice.
“Now, why on earth would you want to hear my story? I’m much more interested in yours,” he replied.
“Oh, you’re so full of shit. C’mon I wanna know everything,” she resounded.
“The prospect sounds intriguing,” he said, showing consideration. He went on, “You won’t like it though.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” she replied.
So he began. It had happened on a long summer break. The year was 1996. An American studying abroad in Germany, the thought of meeting her never once entered his mind. Then, after a mid-day drink with friends, he saw her. She stood near a shallow brook, waiting in line to purchase a basket of goods from the local market. Her beauty was something to behold. From that point, a whirlwind romance, lasting just under a month’s time, forever shaped them both. The rest, as they say, is history. That woman, from many years ago, was the love of his life.
There was more to the story, though. Much more. He wasn’t divulging the intimate details. The finer points were spared. As their conversation came to an abrupt close, Wade looked Sophie in the eye.
“Sophie, do you ever feel like you’re going through life and just treading water? I mean, really. You go to work. You go home. You wake up and do it all over again.”
“Sure, I feel that way sometimes,” she responded.
“Damn straight,” he said, continuing. “So what if you’re out there, lost at sea? You’re fighting the sharks off, fighting the hunger pangs, the hypothermia at night. I mean, really wanting to live. Why the innate desire? What’s the driving force? I go to the office day in, day out. I hate my boss. The money’s good, but the passion? The passion’s just not there.”
“Wade, you really miss her, don’t you?” she asked with affirmation.
Thinking for a moment, he responded. “I miss what I once felt.”
Acting on impulse, Sophie leaned her head in and delivered a kiss to Wade’s lips. It lasted for a few seconds and they parted back, staring each other over. Wade looked different, not so much the same tight-ass from across the street from a few minutes before.
“I know what I have to do now,” he reconciled.
“Then go do it,” Sophie said with affirmation.
With that, Wade stood up and walked out the door, hailing down a cab in the process.
As the car pulled up to the curb, Wade gave one last look back at Sophie through the window. There was no need to thank her. She knew it as well as he did.
The cabby yelled, “Hey, pal, you takin’ this or what?”
Opening the door and stepping into the car, he sounded out the words of his release. “Airport, please.”
Christopher Brown is a Texan by birth and a recent transplant to New York City. A veteran of Iraq, where he served with the first Combat Aviation Brigade, he self-published his first work, Felt Dream.