Familiar Things
Foster Trecost

I made the appointment a month ago, but not because I was eager. I wanted to lose it in my daily routines and perhaps it had been lost at points here and there when work weighed heavily, but today it settled itself in plain sight, as though it had just been born. After lunch, I left my office and trickled along like a slow leak, a notch above meandering; gravity had become a lateral force that pulled me forward.

Mid-day heat collected sweat on my brow that I wiped away with a handkerchief. I longed for childhood days, back before perspiration was a concern, back when I could stay outside for countless summer hours, but today I wanted to stop for something to drink or peer into a window, see a movie, sit, eat. But gravity never stops.

When a traffic light kept me from getting any closer, I waited for the light to change and looked at a man looking at me. I could see he was a homeless man and he asked me for money. "Only if it buys me some time," I said. The light changed and I trickled again and the boulevard trickled with me. The cars moved no faster than those of us on foot.

I sell insurance. A thirty-something secretary kept my office from caving in and sometimes we had sex, but that's not why I hired her. In fact, I didn't hire her; my partner did. When he left, she stayed and the affair began. Sometimes we would go away together and others we would meet in a hotel after work, sometimes during the day. Once we went to my house and days later I could still smell her; we didn't go to my house anymore. It was a strange arrangement, but it worked for me, less so for her. One time while we waited for room service to deliver our dinner, she asked why I never took her to a restaurant. "Because restaurants complicate things," I said.

I could see my destination long before I got there, the building jutting above the others like a pyramid in the desert. A few years back, I sailed to Africa. Wind sliced me through water; big waves or no waves, we never stopped. One morning when I saw land, a thin strip of brown that separated blue water from blue sky, I realized I didn't want to get there, for the journey to be over. No one's ever ready for a journey to end. Not really. When I saw the building reaching upward, I felt this way again. I mulled around until I found the reception desk. I needed to be on the sixteenth floor. The attendant asked if I had an appointment. "Yes," I said. "I made it a month ago."

Hours later, gravity reversed course and pulled me back towards my office, but this time it let me to stop, if stopping was what I wanted, but it wasn't. What I wanted was to sit behind my desk, surrounded by familiar things. I close the office early because insurance isn't a late-day decision. When I walked in, I found my secretary waiting for me, trying hard to be more than just my secretary. "How did it go?" she asked.

I didn't answer. I walked past her to my office and shut the door. I stood there on the other side until I could hear her cry and then went back to where she sat. I spoke before she could think about why I had returned: "I no longer need you," I said. "Please gather your things. I'll mail your check."

It was the only fair thing to do. I walked back to my office and sat behind my desk, surrounded by familiar things. I stared at a picture on the wall and thought about sailing to Africa.