The other night was another day. Simon knew that when he thought about the way things were, they didn't seem like they could last. There was a sense that seemed to him like too-good-to-be-true melded with I-don't-deserve-this.
Simon's sister now ate through a tube. His mother had lost her sight three years ago, and last year she had begun to talk in empty rooms. That was when she'd moved to the care facility where his sister was. Thinking about these things didn't make them better. Instead Simon was faced with the fact that they weren't connected. It was simply how things were.
The little tree was bent over and its leaves had stopped returning the spring after the harsh winter. Each day, for the past week, Sharla had been adding mulch, fertilizer, and checking the soil. She'd considered putting a wrap around the base, but spring was nearly here. There weren't any forecasts of snap freezes in the remaining weeks either. Of course, if Sharla had had any way of knowing how long the little tree had been in this condition, she probably would have added the extra protection, despite the sun and warmth that was predicted.
“You can't just let people get away with things like that.” Simon looked out of the small rectangle of glass at the top of the basement office. The blue sky seemed pale to him, and he paced a little in each direction trying to find a cloud to sharpen the background of blue against.
“It's not like that Simon. Look, you should know to trust me on these things by now.” Simon, turning to look at Constantine, noticed the sunlight seemed to grow at the edges of his sight, he looked down to the bare concrete and watched his shadow grow more solid. “I'm the manager for a reason,” Constantine continued. “It's not like we have a lot of options. We'll begin looking for some temp workers, and we'll issue a warning to the current worker.”
“But she lied to me. You can't just let her get away with that.”
“I know.” Constantine reassured Simon. “It's not something you should have to worry about, and I'm personally going to supervise her until things are resolved.” Sitting down in his chair, Constantine continued, “I wish there was another way.” The gray vinyl wings of the chair eclipsed his face as the chair squeaked turning toward the desk.
“You know I'm just not comfortable with this.” Simon walked to his desk near the adjacent wall and sat on the corner. He searched each of the three windows across the top of the near wall. “The sky is so blue... but a sickly blue, like pale or covered in a haze or something.”
“If it will make you feel better go take something out of her box, and put it in your desk.” Constantine glanced up quickly at the silence and then continued to run his finger around his tablet.
“Just take something out of her box and keep it or get rid of it. You know I'm on your side. Maybe it will help to reassure you.” Constantine leaned back in his chair. It squeaked loudly and the hollow metal of the desk resounded like a gong as his knees struck the bottom. “Shit,” he exclaimed catching himself and leaning forward again. “I don't know. But do whatever you need to. I want to get this new design done before the end of the month, and I don't think we're going to be that productive if you stay in this mood.”
“Okay.” Simon stood up and walked toward the door of their small office. He stopped at the wooden coat rack and pulled his deep blue wind breaker on. “I'm not going to take anything of hers. I just want to go for a walk. Maybe I'll go see Mom.”
“Fine, don't take anything.” Hearing the door open, Constantine called after Simon. “And if you go see your mom, tell her I said 'hi.'” The door clicked shut pushed by a pneumatic arm. Constantine walked over to a wall of cubby-holes and finding the name of the employee he and Simon had been talking about, he began to look through the contents.
Simon paused to look at the little tree, bent over without leaves. Then he looked ahead at the five floors of the care facility where his mother had moved shortly after losing her sight. He took a few more steps and then sat on a memorial bench along the sidewalk. He could smell the fresh mulch and see the bright red of it around the base of the little tree and in some of the flower beds around the lawn.
It was the lawns and beauty that he sometimes thought of as good reasons for staying in Greenville after he was old enough to choose for himself. His parents had been partial to citing schools and safer neighborhoods for him and his sister. If Simon tried to reconcile everything, his parents' reason always seemed off-key after his father was hit by a school bus, while taking his sister to the dentist. It seemed like too much: Father killed by school bus where they moved to be safe and have good schools.
Simon stood up and turned toward the building. He didn't turn back, but he was nearly certain that he saw a small speck of green close in on one of the lower branches of the bent tree, as he turned. He kept returning to that color in his mind. It seemed more vibrant than the blue of this sky and deeper than the blue of his jacket. It was rich, and he thought, "That was a rich green."
Constantine sat down at his desk and dialed the number of a temp agency he had found online and verified through the Better Business Bureau. He looked at the small green rubber flip-flop key-chain charm that he held looped around his forefinger.
“Why the hell do you keep that in a cubby-hole?” he wondered aloud as the temp agency's representative answered the phone.
Simon sat down in a chair across from a large window. From the fourth floor room he could see a small lake in the distance. The pale blue of the sky filled the pane, and he sighed.
“Christ, I hate this sky Jenny.” He looked over at the bed where his sister lay. Her eyes remained closed. He reached out and ran his forefinger across the back of her hand. “The sky just sucks everything into it instead of shining, when it's like this.” Pulling his hand back, resting his arms on the chair and leaning into the vinyl back of the wooden frame chair, he sighed again, “Your hands are so soft.” He closed his eyes and smiled slightly. “They've never been dry the whole time you've been in here.” He opened his eyes and stared out the window.
In the cafeteria Simon found Sharla, and sat down in the booth across from her.
“I saw your work, today.” He smiled, and his eyes closed softly and reopened before he began to speak again. “The tree — I think I may have seen some green on it. It was a rich green. It seems so real, against the sky today.”
“Your mother is well, today?” Sharla asked pushing half of her sandwich toward Simon.
“I don't suppose I know. I've been sitting with my sister.” He picked up the sandwich and took a bite. After swallowing he continued, “I couldn't go see my mother.”
“So, you went and sat with your sister.” She watched him attentively. She took a bite of a french fry.
Sometimes when Sharla repeated what he said, it seemed to him like she was closing him out, but sometimes it felt like she was giving over to him. In both instances it felt like a moment of clarity, a certain calm in which he was focused, and he nearly always replied with something in the moment, most times some suggestion of fun.“We should watch a movie tonight.”
“Yeah. I think that's a good idea.” She pushed the basket of fries toward him. “Maybe if you don't have to get up too early, you can stay the night.”
His smile spread wide, wrinkling the corners of his mouth. Pulling the basket toward him he said, “I wish I didn't.”
They laughed for a moment. He ate fries, and she talked about the work she had done for the tree. She rose, put her hand on his, and kissed his forehead.
“I'll see you tonight,” she said, and he nodded his head 'yes.'
“Hey, thanks for coming in. We need to talk. Could you sit down here at the desk?” Constantine motioned toward two chairs positioned across the desk from him. He always liked to instill in people a sense of free choice. The lady in dark jeans and black t-shirt walked over glanced at both seats and sat in the one to Constantine's right. He'd read somewhere that in a study in which one group was presented with evidence that humans did not have free will, while the other group was presented with evidence that they did, the group presented with evidence that they did not have free will were more likely to cheat on the exercises that followed. Constantine liked the idea of encouraging people to remain moral, especially when they were dealing with him.
“So, I'm sorry I have some bad news. But I want to give you the chance to say something on your behalf. I'll give you a couple of minutes. First though I need to ask whether you would like to hear the bad news or whether you would like your time first.”
The lady stared at Constantine for a moment. Then she pressed her eyelids down in an exaggerated way. “Why don't you tell me what you called me in here for, Constantine.”
“Sure, the thing is, Carrisa, that we found out that you lied about where you were going last Friday.”
“It wouldn't be as big of a deal, except that you did it on company time and charged us for it. You said you were going to pick up some office supplies. Instead though you went to lunch. You didn't bring back any office supplies, and you logged the time. All of that together really eliminates the possibility of an innocent mistake. If you'd brought back some supplies, we could have let clocking time for your lunch slide. But really what's happened is that you violated our trust.”
“This is Simon. Isn't it?”
“Okay, I'm going to start your two minutes and at the end of that I'm going to ask you to leave." He reached toward the corner of his desk where his phone was lying. He tapped the screen twice and a counter began rolling in reverse. He looked back to Carrisa. “Simon is a very special person and asset. He's come up with over half of the huge ideas that cemented our company. He's been my friend since high school. And he's delicate in regard to personal relationships.”
“He's a freak!”
“You lied to him directly and on your time sheet. It's going to divert his attention if you stay here. It's going to reduce his efficiency. And even if his efficiency stayed high he'd be losing something else. I care about both of those things. So, I'm going to protect him.”
“You think I care about this little job? You two couldn't run an amusement park ride for more than two years.”
“You have one more minute.”
“I don't need another minute. I'll get my things and go.”
“It's your choice.”
Carrisa walked over to her cubby-hole and began to pull out her things, sorting through them on a work-table beside the wall-mounted cubbies.
“Constantine, you were cool. I could tell from my first day. You want to have a good time and get as much as you can out of life. You like people. You shouldn't let that fuck-wad control you like this.”
“You have thirty seconds. Be certain to leave all of our supplies on the table.”
“Hey, where's my key-chain?”
“I had a key-chain in here. It was like a green flip-flop. I got it in Florida!”
“I'm sorry. If it turns up we'll mail it to you.”
“It's where I want to retire! You shit-heel.”
“Well, your time's up. I'm going to have to ask you to leave now.”
“If I find out that fuck-twat stole my key-chain I will come back here and take my peace out of his ass!”
“I'm sorry, but you are no longer allowed on the premises.”
With that Carrisa slammed the office door behind her. Constantine leaned back in his chair and rocked a moment. He smiled and then picked up his phone and sent a text message to Simon. 'all done. she's gone. no worries.'
Simon paused at the bench outside the care facility and sat while typing out a message on his phone. “Thanks. Is there anything new there I need to tend to?” He watched the tree. He thought, as he waited for the response, how the tree had changed.
Simon looked at the clock on his phone. It was still four hours before he'd meet Sharla, and he sighed thinking of the time between. Then he received the response he'd been expecting. 'Nah. Kiss mom.' As he walked by the little tree, he wondered "How is it that people know when to stop responding. If I'd sent a message saying I didn't see mom, Constantine would have sent a message saying something like why. Then I would have had to reply. And even at the ends of things there's always the possibility of thanks or later." Simon smoothed out the left sleeve of his shirt and dialed a taxi.
He walked in the direction of the grocer's he liked until the taxi picked him up. “I'd like the grocer's just ahead at Hillside Drive, please.” And with that Simon leaned back in his seat and smiled.
Simon's mother stood at the wall. Her nose was very close to a painting that hung in her room. She inhaled and then sighed out a little 'ahh.' She did this several times during the day. She even did it purposefully sometimes when other people were in the room. The painting was an oil painting of a field of flowers. She thought it was humorous, and if anyone asked her what she was doing she would either respond that she could actually smell the oils in the paint or that she was stopping to smell the flowers.
Lacey had hoped that maybe she would be able to visit her daughter today. She knew that it was only one floor down, to the other wing, and then on the left at the end of the hall. Despite that she seldom went without someone to escort her. Uncertainty was slowly filling her. She'd begun to listen so intently that she'd apparently started imagining that people were in her room when she was alone. Accepting that she was alone, when she felt she wasn't, but people with sight told her that no one had been in the room, only increased the trickle of uncertainty to a stream. Now, when Simon came to see her, and they walked outside, it felt like an osmotic process and afterward she felt lighter; the uncertainty seemed lessened, removed.
Sitting with Jenny was different for Lacey. Being faced with something that didn't come into her mind through her eyes penetrated her more deeply. She was Jenny's mother, but she couldn't see Jenny now, and by most accounts, little more than the visible reminder of Jenny, her physical body, remained. Despite that, Lacey had decided that she'd wanted to keep whatever there was of Jenny alive. It hadn't seemed like too much of a burden either, so there had been little reason not to indulge in that. Now sometimes Lacey wondered if Jenny was still very much alive somewhere deep inside the darkness of her own body, much like Lacey felt when she sat quietly alone with her.
Lacey moved to the window and pulled it open to its farthest angle. A breeze blew in, pushing her loose dry, grey bangs up. She smiled, the wind eased, and her bangs settled back against her forehead. She listened to the world, the cars passing, some birds, and she thought about Simon and about Jenny.
The next morning Simon sat at his desk, his chair turned toward the wall. Simon was shifting his gaze from one block in the wall to the next. It was methodical, and when the rhythm of it emerged, Simon began to smile. The light and shadow that came through the high windows was pale, but there was a dance in it. Simon knew it from the many mornings he had spent alone in the office, his chair turned the other way. He'd watched the light and shadow play across his desk, as if it were a stage. He'd begun to watch Russian Ballet at home after that, and later, dancers of other cultures. Sharla had introduced him to the danza de los voladores when he talked about watching dance. The danza de los voladores they watched video of was performed by the Totonac people, her people, in Veracruz, her home.
This morning, though, Simon sat examining the minute details of the painted blocks. Sometimes his head would waver toward the wall and away from it as his eyes traced the contours of the dips and bumps. In the midst of his systematic lines of exploration he would skip suddenly into dark holes. These caves were at such angles that insufficient light penetrated to determine whether even paint coated their walls. Then he would sink pondering their interiors. With time he would emerge again and attempt to find the place where his systematic search had broken off.
Once as he sank he thought of his father, how the death -- the absence -- had changed his life -- his family -- and how it had not. His mind also touched on his sister and his mother. After a single column of twelve blocks, from ceiling to floor, he pulled himself away from the terrain and turned to his desk.
Simon slowly arranged the items on his desk preparing to work. His mouse to the far left. His digitizer pad and stylus to the right of that. Then his keyboard nearly directly in front of him. He'd selected wireless devices to eliminate clutter. And just back a bit from the keyboard was the clean screen of his twelve-inch slate tablet, angled to function as a monitor. It had been the blackness of the screen, when it was on, but blank, that initially attracted him. As the screen lit to display the desktop Simon opened a document and browsed his to-do list.
Much later in the day Constantine arrived.
“Hey,” Constantine said wrapping his hoodie around the back of his chair.
“Hello,” Simon replied.
“You're back at it, ehh?”
“Yes. I've made quite a bit of progress in the Anderson project.”
“Great. That one's a bit difficult.” Constantine was powering on his desktop computer and browsing through his email. He reached into his desk and pulled out the small flip-flop keychain. “Hey, how was yesterday? You went by the care facility?”
“Yeah. I went by the care facility. I had lunch and dinner with Sharla.” Simon stopped his work and looked over at Constantine, who looked up at him.
“Hey, you want a keychain? I just sort of found it yesterday.” He held the small flip-flop out to Simon.
“No.” Simon paused for a moment. “Have you been to the care facility?”
“No. I was thinking about going sometime soon, though.” Constantine began moving his mouse pointer around the desktop. “I just don't find those places refreshing. I mean you can go and visit. Then you get to see Sharla.” He paused, and Simon watched him. “It's just different for me. Life's really out here for me. But I want you to tell Mom and Jenny that I say 'hello.'”
“Sure. I think she'd like to see you.”
Constantine turned toward Simon with a thin, wry smile. “Either one of them would like to see anyone.”
“Yes,” replied Simon and looked back to his screen.
The two sat working quietly for several hours. From time to time one would share a document or update with the other, and they would provide cordial, professional feedback. This was what had allowed them to be so productive together. Despite their very different mindsets, when they were working together in private, they both used the same common and effective language, their own cordial and professional language.
At nearly four o'clock Constantine stood up. “You know what I think I will go to the care facility. Why don't you come with me. I'll go visit mom, maybe see Jenny. You can meet up with Sharla.” Simon sat looking at him for a moment. He was thinking about yesterday. “I'm just guessing that you and Sharla will be having dinner together again.”
“Yeah. She and I had planned on it.” Simon wondered briefly what it was that was keeping him. He thought maybe he should tell Constantine the whole story of yesterday. That maybe it was important to clarify who he'd seen, and moreso who he hadn't seen. Maybe it was his uncharacteristic lack of openness with Constantine regarding his interaction with Sharla that was now suppressing his enthusiasm for going to the facility with Constantine. He assured himself they'd just been working so diligently today, there hadn't been a real opening for that sort of conversation. “Maybe I can,” Simon finally managed, turning his chair around and facing the wall.
After a moment of watching Simon facing the wall, his head moving slightly closer and farther away, Constantine asked, “Are you okay?”
“Where did you get the flip-flop?”
There was a silent pause, and then Simon collected his things and began moving toward the door. Constantine smiled a thin grin, “I was just cleaning some things out.” The two stepped to the door. Constantine reached back and flipped off the light switch on the wall between the door's edge and the cubby-holes. “Nothing to it, really.” Then Constantine pulled the door closed. He turned the lock, and their footsteps faded down the hall.
Sharla saw them from across the lawn. They paused for a moment as Simon pointed to the tree. She smiled thinking of him the night before lying across the couch with his head in her lap. The two began to move toward the entrance, and she watched. Constantine pulled the door open for Simon, raised his hand briefly, then followed Simon in.
Sharla wondered if Constantine had noticed her. He was always attentive, but surely not. He had likely raised his hand to shield himself from the sun. But then the question stayed with her, "Why would he pause in such a bright sun then?" She lowered her head and began to quickly tidy where she had been weeding flowers, so that she could go inside to meet Simon. As she found her pace, her mind settled on the thought, "Yes, I suppose he did see me."
It was a little while before she had put her tools and the refuse in order enough to satisfy herself. Then she began, almost skipping, toward the side door. She would go and sit in the cafeteria where she always met Simon when he came. She didn't want to become a part of what he experienced when he visited either Jenny or Lacey. She was confident that he understood. She felt that he needed that sort of distinct separation. It allowed him to focus on the joy that he always turned to when he was with her.
As Sharla settled into the booth with sandwich, french fries, and tea, Constantine was inviting Lacey to go with him to the roof, and Simon was quietly looking out the window watching small ripples move across the small lake, aggregations of the lake itself, moved by invisible force.
"You know, Lacey — ma, the problem with me is I just don't care.” Constantine held onto an old antennae pole with his left hand and swung toward the edge of the roof. The tips of the fingers of his right hand stirred the air six floors above the ground.
"You've never cared, Constance. That's not the problem." The breeze blew on her face, pushing her bangs to the sides. She smiled. Constantine looked at her. He took a step toward her, and then to her side.
"What's my problem then, Lacey?”
"How should I know Constantine? I'm an old blind lady that talks to empty rooms." Constantine moved quickly to hug her. She started away, then relaxed into his caress, patting his shoulder "I know you've never wanted any harm to come to my son, though.”
Constantine pivoted to stand at her left. He held his arm across her shoulders and chuckled. "Hell, Lacey, I've always done my most to protect our boy." They had been inching forward, and now he stopped them. The gentle updraft at the edge of building lifted her dry, grey bangs, and she rested her head on his shoulder.
"You should go see, Jenny.”
"Yes. We should bring her up here sometime.”
They laughed; and he pressed his lips against her temple, then firmer, just below the cheek bone. She turned quickly toward him, grasping his arms at the small just above his biceps. "Promise me, Constance.”
"Sure Lace, sure,” he replied, and she fell forward. In that space before she hit, he whispered, “And promise me: you won't tell Simon I brought you up here.”
Simon was walking down the first floor hallway to the cafeteria, when Constantine finally stepped off the elevator onto the fourth floor.
Constantine leaned low to kiss Jenny's left eye and cupped her right breast with his left hand. "These robes will never do your body justice, Jenny,” he said, then walked around to the other side of the bed and sat on its edge.
Simon wandered through the various food stations, lifting bags of chips and other items as if weighing them. Each item he eventually returned to its place, though. Finally he'd made his way through the food area, and stood at the edge of the seating area. He knew where she would be if she were there, and she knew that he knew. Sharla raised her hand in a broad wave. Simon waved back in a few gentle, subtle motions, and Sharla settled back into her seat before she'd fully risen.
Simon sat quietly watching Sharla's hands for a moment. "I know you love your sister very much," Sharla said softly.
He reached toward her slightly, and she moved her hands to meet him. "I think sitting with her helps me love you better," he replied, and she squeezed his hand. Then they released, her right hand and his left. She lifted a fry to her mouth. He stared at the faux-wood top of the table. She lifted another fry and angled it toward him. He had begun tracing the lines of the false grain. He smiled. "I sometimes think Jenny would have made a beautiful bridesmaid, while I sit with her, looking out, at the lake.”
Sharla laid the fry down with the others and pushed the box toward Simon. He finished tracing the lines around where his hand rested, then he pulled himself out of the fake wood table top and looked up at Sharla. She smiled; he smiled back to her before pulling the box of fries to himself and beginning to eat them.
It was sometime after they finished their sandwich that she noticed Constantine walking toward them.
"How's my favorite lady?" Constantine smiled, looking into Sharla's eyes and leaning toward her, extending his left hand. She cupped his left hand in her right, rubbed his back in three long, slow decisive strokes between his shoulders, and pushed briefly against his lips on her check just below her left eye.
“I thought Jenny was your favorite lady," said Simon trying to laugh as his eyes sank down to the tabletop.
"It's true Simon. I say that a lot when I visit her." Constantine glanced at Sharla as Simon began to trace the grain with his forefinger again. "Hell when I saw her today -- my God! I'm up and walking, and I've gone downhill more than her." Constantine turned to Sharla again, "Have you seen her Sharla; really?!" And he led Sharla in a brief chuckle, as she replied no.
"Then wouldn't your next favorite woman be my Mom?” Simon's neck bent further toward the table.
"Yes, true again Simon. And I all-but told her that, when I saw her up there, today." Then he winked at Sharla.
Now though, she stood up. Simon knew the motions through the periphery of eye. He tried to pull himself out of the patterns. Sharla gathered the boxes. Simon's fingers sped along the shapes. She gathered the napkins, slowly. He strained his eyes against the lines, but instead of shifting, only greater detail emerged.
"It's great work you do here, Sharla," Constantine said, leaning back in the booth.
"Yes,” she said firmly, and Simon's hand stopped at the end of the pattern. He leaned back as if to take in the completeness of what he had been inside of; and he sat there very still. “I love caring for the plants, Constantine," she continued, gathering the cup and condiment wrappers. "I'll see you tonight Simon.”
"Yes," he said.
“No. Constantine left a bit after you.” Simon stroked the glass of his tablet, and the image of the dancers glided off the screen followed immediately by another.
Sharla leaned into the dining room. He looked up from the tablet and smiled. She skipped to his side and leaned over the tablet, putting her arm around him.
“They're images by Henri Cartier-Bresson.”
“They're...” She paused for a moment looking down at the photo.
He kissed her arm. “What's the word in Spanish?”
“I'm not certain. They're precise.” She looked at the photo, moving her right arm up slightly imitating to a fraction the pose of the dancer.
“Cartier-Bresson used a quote by the Cardinal de Retz, 'Everything in the world has its decisive moment.' That was Bresson's philosophy and approach the 'decisive moment.'”
“Yes. That's the precision.”
They both looked at the photos, sometimes stroking the glass, a new photo replacing the previous one. After several photos, Simon looked up at Sharla. “Will we go on like this, then?”
“We can have dinner whenever you are ready.”
Simon smiled even wider at this.
“I like that you eat more here,” Sharla confessed.
Simon stopped chewing and watched her.
“I wonder sometimes why you eat so little when we are at the hospital together,” she admitted.
“I suppose it's all the activity. I don't have the same appetite there, out in public.”
“It's just so important. You are important to me.”
“You care so well, for so much.” He thought for a moment. He might ask her if they should marry. It was something that he felt. It was the gentle implication of his earlier question about going on.
“Thank you. You mean the plants and you.”
“Yes.” Now he wondered what she would want. If she wanted to plan anything. If being with him was more happiness or satisfaction for her. He picked up the dishes, and she followed him to the kitchen. At the sink, she kissed his face as he rinsed the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. He thought of the low tones of the dishwasher's hum, and he smiled.
“Yes,” she repeated, smiling at his smile.
“Tell me about the Danza again,” he asked turning around as the machine's hum started.
She put her hands on each side of his face and looked up into his eyes. Then with a little laugh, she took his hand and led him to the couch. “In the story I learned as a child, the... captain calls the others to the top of the world.” The two sat down on the couch, and Simon picked up a piece of the paper from the coffee table in front of them. “He tells each of them a secret.” Simon thumbed the paper, staring vacantly. “Sometimes the secret is a lie, but it does not matter.” The paper bends. He creases it. “He tells them only what they need to hear, so they will jump. Because they are the voladores, there is nothing for them, but to fly.”
Simon hands the small piece of folded paper to Sharla. It's sections are disproportionate, but not unrecognizable as a whole. She weeps a little and places the piece of folded paper on the table, leaning over to hold Simon, as he stares at the next piece of paper on the stack.