It was rationalized(heated) risk. Or maybe it was just long overdue. But in the night of the fallout when Kat’s parents were asleep and there was nothing much but the white noise of distant helicopters in the long faraway dark she had dragged her canvas bag from beneath her bed and slung it over her shoulder. She jumped out of bed, fitted sneakers already laced, fitted jeans she’d worn into bed. With the bag and all necessary reductions of her life held within, she slipped through the house and into the car. In the trunk, more clothes. Some money. Electronics (phone and laptop, of course) and nothing else. For the absence of her past life on her person emboldened her with resolution. No memorabilia, none but an old plush of a wolf tucked away under her seat. More artifact than remembrance. The rest was here. Sheets and clothes and money and a laptop, and she’d ran out and opened the gate. The rust – she thought – would be alarming. It wasn’t. No one so much as woke up, which was convenient. But left her sad yet.
She’d driven off to down town Havenbrook, parked at a Walmart and slept all of four hours before driving out at a sudden knock at her window. Another two hours, another hazy wakeup. She shook her head early into dawnbreak and yawned into the facility that was still rendering itself in her brain, the fog inside her too dense for her new life to process.
She sat. She mumbled to a waitress. She rested her chin on her palm. Eyes weary, spring loaded, shooting up as quick as they fell
The woman came around. The fifth time. She tapped along the table. The waitress hunched over with her fragile smile. She cleared her throat. Neither of them spoke, Kat wouldn’t be the first either.
“Is there anything else you’d like to order?” She asked.
“No.” Kat said.
“You’ve been sitting here for an hour.”
“I bought a hashbrown, didn’t I?”
The waitress sucked in her smile and chewed on the inside of her cheeks and looked about the room to the other purple-polo shirt wearing bastards that made obvious how quick they turned away from the scene. Kat sat. Her laptop was open in front of her, several tabs. The keyboard buttons were loud at the press.
“What?” Kat turned to face the girl.
“Ma’am, there’s no loitering in the facility.”
“It’s for safety. Yours and mine. Are you homeless? I can call a servi-”
“I’m not homeless.” Kat clasped her hands together. “I just want to get some work done. You know? Why can’t anyone let me get a little work done?”
“Okay.” The waitress stood by the side of the table. “Okay…”
She breathed heavy. Her hands were behind her and she smiled, one that turned to a frown the minute Kat stopped paying attention.
“Thanks.” Kat said.
The waitress left, cursing. Almost stomping on the floor all the way back. And Kat figured that judging by the looks of early-morning customers struggling to order coffee and looking at her annoyed, that the next someone would talk to her it would be a manager. She grabbed her bag and left. All the last few days had been was impromptu (not the fight with her mother, that happened all the time) but the leaving home. The stuffing of books in shoe boxes. The dumping of most her clothes into baskets and then onto the car floor. The sudden hierarchy of importance for things she didn’t think mattered only hours before. The makeup was thrown out. Her copy of The Stranger wasn’t. Neither was Suttree. The pocket knife she had on at all times suddenly felt like the only thing keeping her alive. And let’s not forget the laptop battery charger.
She got into her car and adjusted the rear mirror. The small plush in her back, a fox. Her father had won it in a carnival. It was the first gift that’d truly felt like a gift. Not that she used it for anything anymore. She looked at it for a while, something of dismay or anxiety stirring in her stomach. She’d never been happier to go to work than at that moment.
She drove. Fast into the city with her car full with clothes, a full with work-folders and full with electronics. Her whole life reduced to a small Honda Civic, not even a truck. A sedan. Run down and beaten in the corners from one too many rear ends. By contrast the city looked fine. Beautiful, even. She turned sharp corners. The morning sun lone and bright on clear skies, the mountains behind green and brown. Skyscrapers set along like little fence posts against the vistas as she went down the main road, Sunny Palm Avenue. She didn’t turn on the air conditioner, Kat let her arm out and catch the waves of slipstream as she steadied along.
Skyscrapers of glass passed her and the many faces inside living their many lives, the millions of the city all alive and globe turning into slow oblivion. She too felt that – even more so, the future over the horizon obscuring more, the sun fading or dying or bleeding into ocean. Something like that. Something of that feeling in her, very much. Panic and malaise and the coolness of certain death. She stopped at the parking lot. Around the tall building of Channel24, a little past the security and the yellow-striped rail, she started to feel the turning of her stomach. Couples and students and businesses men walked outside the high-risen fence line. They were all in a rush and after a few moments in silence, so was she.
She lifted a shirt. Felt for some duct tape in a little box of miscellany on the passengers side. Ripped strips. Taped them to the top of the car. They blocked out most of it. The sun shade did the rest.
Kat fixed a bra and then a jacket over her, and smelled for clean jeans. She dug out sticks of gum and popped five of them in and chewed loud. She walked fast into the building. She mouthed hi in her meek voice to those who bothered to recognize her and went straight for her little desk. Matt sipped at his coffee next to her, bags underneath his eyes but that usual zen. A misplaced monk out of time, with his atavistic sensibility of tranquility. Ancient wisdom or what have you.
He blew on the top of his mug. He took one sip.
“Oh, that’s hot.”
“I’m fucked.” Kat swallowed.
He turned to her, face scrunched and curious.
She told him everything.
“You can stay with us.” He said.
“No chance. You’ve already got a handful with the kid.”
“Are you sure, Kat? My wife loves you.”
“I’ll figure something out.” She said.
“You’ve really gotta stop making life harder for yourself.”
“It’s not about making it hard. It’s about trusting the only person you can trust.”
“Alright, so what’s the plan?”
“Getting an overdue promotion.” Her eyes narrowed. She chewed her gum. Smelled her breath.
She looked at the time, 9:03 AM just around the the time her boss would arrive. She tapped along the floor with her sneakers. She stood and went towards the hall. Everyone busy in their computer screens, the spider-web colors motting their faces with myriad neon. She went for the fern lined halls. Up to the secretary where she tapped along the surface of her desk. The secretary face down in a stack of papers. Kat cleared her throat. Nothing. Always nothing. Her form small and minute against the giant glass panes of the office walls, and the paintings lining the walls between.
She pressed down hard on the bell to the side and the secretary sat straight.
“Scared the shit out of me.” She said. “What do you need Kat?” Her eyes narrowed. “Are you sick?”
“No. I’m fine. I’m right fine.” Kat sniffed. “Right as rain.”
“Is Peter here yet?”
“He’s in his office. Why?”
“I want to talk to him,”
“You and about…twelve other people. He’s full ‘till four PM.”
“I need to talk to him.”
They stood in the after-quiet. The secretary tilted her head to the side and made a suckling noise.
“Okay?” She said. “You’re going to have to wait then. Maybe tomorrow? Late tomorrow, say eight? I think I have a slot there.”
“I don’t think I can wait that long, I really don’t.” Kat said.
“What is it exactly that you need to talk to him about?” The Secretary took down a notepad and pen and pushed her spectacles closer to her face.
Kat sighed and stepped aside the desk and went straight for the door that said Offices of Editor, Mr. Killhoffer. And she knocked on the door.
“Come in.” The voice behind said.
The secretary was standing and a step towards Kat but stopped when the voice spoke. Kat turned back to her, a small smile on her. The door opened, Kat walked in.
Shutters ran down the clean glass, pleated white metal. Ferns lined the corners, the chairs and desks were ornate with inscription and flower motifs and heavy and smelled of history within the leather spine and cushion bottom. So, so heavy. She tried moving one of them and found herself heaving with two arms. Mr. Killhoffer heard her struggle but did not raise his head. A little bird pecked at a pocket of water. Books jolted in their spots along the back of the walls. A globe turned at a slight.
Kat sat. Settled. Across and behind Mr. Killhoffer on a little shelf were pictures of family, small, shadowed by accolades.
“Hello.” Kat said.
“Kat?” Killhoffer turned up. There were stacks of papers on his desk in a little binder that he had parsed into a collage.
“That’s me. Yeah.”
“Um. I thought you were, uh, Jim – aren’t I meeting with Jim right now…or…?” He said. “Is there something I missed?”
“No. You should be talking with Jim.”
“Then, uh…” He tapped the surface of the desk with a pen. “Is there something you need?”
“Yeah.” She said. “A promotion.”
Killhoffer smiled. He put on spectacles, leaned back in his chair and with that outraged I-can’t-believe-you’ve-done-this-to-me-this-morning face, rubbed his nose bridge.
“Kat, can we talk about this another time?”
“No. I don’t think we can.” She said.
“Why is this so pressing?”
“Things happened.” She said. “I guess I just got to thinking about my life. My career, too,”
He raised a pen and tapped it along the table surface.
“What’s got you unhappy?”
“I’ve been here two years, Mr. Killhoffer. Two.”
“In two years I’ve gotten a wage increase of about a dollar. With no path to getting a proper salary. Fact is, I’m making less than I know I’m worth.”
“You are in…product review, aren’t you?” He asked. “No offense but…I mean, what’d you expect?”
“Nothing from that department,” She said.
“And because of that, I would like to be moved,” She said. “Homicide. Crime.”
“I want to prove myself and I want to work homicide. I want to report the stories I was meant to report. The way I believe they should be told, my truth,”
“That’s a big change from pots and pans,”
“I can do it.” She said.
He rocked back and forth, his leather-booted toes hitting the bottom of the desk frame and moving it ever so slightly. The rings of dirt below the pillars of his table smudging dirt along. Little circles of grime revealing themselves and the dust rising slow up in the air. The walls were covered with shade but she could still feel eyes on her. Or maybe it was paranoia manifest as it tended to in her. She crossed her hands and found herself conscious of the act, tracing the figure she made in her lapsed fingers as X’s. She was conscious that she was conscious. Cognizance annoyed her.
“I like this attitude, this whole storming in and really telling the man how it is. Don’t think I ever saw it in you before,” He said. “But I can’t move you like that. It wouldn’t be fair,”
Her stomach dropped and her hands fell limp in the paunch of her sweater.
“I’ve been here a while, Mr. Killhoffer. Too long without change, you know?”
“Listen,” He said. “I like the initiative, the drive. It’s good to have spirit. You’re young, you want more. That’s natural. But you can’t just cut in line like that,”
“And writing about the kitchen for two more years wouldn’t be fair either.”
“I know. I know.” He breathed. “A full move, from intern to writing. That’s not good. Then how’s this – a half-way solution, alright, level with me,”
She raised her head, their eyes matching for a moment.
“There’s a case. It’s developing. Might be big, might not be. How about you help them out, take notes, interview. Compile for the writers. How’s that sound? You’ll be an extra. You’ll move departments.”
“Like an assistant,” Her face dropped.
“That’s how it is.” He said. “Consider that my good faith offer.”
What was the alternative? She rolled her tongue in her mouth; images of her mother wagging her finger and staring into a cooking oven, her father screaming at the television, her sister in that primordial goop smiling, trying to pretend things were alright. Kat breathed. She closed her eyes. Her face was neutral, slightly pleasant, at least she hoped it was. She extended her hand out.
“Can I get two more dollars?” She said. “Just two.”
Mr. Killhoffer licked his lower lip.
“A dollar,” He said.
“I’ll take it,” She shook his hand. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. And this new attitude? Keep it,” He did not shake her hand long. “And tell them to get my coffee, would you?”