A dilapidated wooden building by the airport. It’ll be an instructive job. And it seems reasonable. And he? Ready to come alive. Ready to be made the happiest in his life. I am ready, he thought, pushing open the door to the lobby of the dilapidated wooden building by the airport.
Inside, everything seemed marble, if not wood. There was a security woman guarding the entrance to the wooden elevator, more a rickety exaggeration of a dumbwaiter than the true mechanical elevators of buildings inspected for safety. The wood and marble, he thought. Let me stay.
It was true. He didn’t know anyone there. They didn’t know him. But they would. If he just talked to the people. He’d been able, in the past. The security woman. If he just talked to her, she’d see. She’d know him. He approached her. She scowled. But it was the most welcoming scowl he’d ever known. He was sure this was it. This was his chance. And then, he turned away from her. Standing there. No one else was in the lobby. His presence could not have failed to attract her notice. But she was, at least, indifferent to him. She did not feel she needed to call out to him, telling him he must leave. He stood meekly. He was not there yet. He decided he was not there yet. Not ready to make the next move.
We’re trying to build on what we will produce and what we occasionally have produced.
“Oh wow,” he’d said to that, those words—the image forming in his mind of what they do at this place of business. He was surprised and pleasantly happy that the guard woman had let him stay in the lobby with his back turned to her for what must have been a few hours now.
He had already thought of what he would say if they asked him: “What are you doing?” He’d come up with the perfect answer. Nobody asked him. Not for a long time. Wait, no, that’s not right. He was never asked.
But he asked himself and he told himself, “I’m standing here trying not to get cancer.” It was true, too.
“Everyone doesn’t want to work here, ever.” This was said by a big man with a big mustache who wore a suit jacket and tie. The suit had a vest. In the vest, he kept an antique gold pocket watch, the chain of which was exposed in a wonderfully aristocratic way. He was not speaking to the man trying not to get cancer but was speaking in the lobby, where the man trying not to get cancer was, essentially, with him.
He then turned and opened a secret declivity in the marble floor. “I follow him,” the man trying not to get cancer said to himself. And he followed him in his blundering and ignorantly, infinitely cavalier manner.
“There’s no secret to what we do. We make an impact, which is why we call what we do Solutions w/ Impact, The Solution That Solves.” And still, the big mustachioed man was not talking to him, was instead talking to himself or to the walls and floor and ceiling that surrounded him, that surrounded them both. And for a moment the man who was trying not to get cancer understood with great asperity the condition of claustrophobia.
He, though? One, would persevere, two, would surmount this tottering little problem of the moment. Show them he was the man for the job. Here, in this structurally suspect building by the airport.
An airplane was descending overhead. The building shook. Some threads of dust dribbled down from the corners of the joists in the ceiling. He pursued the mustachioed man who was continuing his discourse further and further, down and down the hall.
“We have all the solutions, yes. You want a solution? Talk to us and we’ll solve.”
The man trying not to get cancer tried to talk to the mustachioed man. “A job! Can you give me a job! Can you allow me to be absorbed by every brick of mortar and loosened joist of this place?”
The mustachioed man was making exaggerated hand gestures at the wall, apparently watching how his shadow arms mirrored his each and his every movement.
“What agency sent you?” the mustachioed man said with distracted assurance.
“I am of myself,” the man trying not to get cancer said.
“Your problem is solved: leave here at once,” the mustachioed man said, again with distracted assurance.
“Uh, yes, or stay instead?”
“Actually, if you’re looking for work, staying is better than leaving. Stay and do work.”
“Am I hired?”
“I don’t know. Stay and do work and all the answers to your question will come in the form of solutions. Your life — greatly impacted.”
Was he excited for the chance? He was. To prove it? He went to the joists immediately, scrubbing them or something. Trying to make them clean and stronger. Although to really make them stronger he’d probably need new wood. He didn’t have any, and it seemed there was no budget for it. He spent months at this, going up and down the dumbwaiter, its rope sounding strained (but there was no budget for new dumbwaiter rope, either). The paychecks came, too, slowly and irregularly and in increments of ten cents to twenty five cents, which might have mattered if the man trying not to get cancer weren’t doing what he loved: odd jobs in a strange old building by the airport that apparently likewise had a problem with vermin. This last aspect of his work involved his using a hammer for obvious purposes.
Finally, and after months and months of hard work by the man who was trying not to get cancer, the old building by the airport that seriously violated code collapsed like a game of Jenga. Just tipped over at one of the middle floors and was permanently broken in two. There was no money for repairs, especially of the massive sort the building required. The man trying not to get cancer stood outside the building, surveying the damage with a look of wonderment. He’d kneaded every joist. He’d knotted all the ropes. He’d smashed cockroach after cockroach with his hammer, making it all the way to the center of their hive and smashing something that looked like a queen cockroach. He had seen a lot of things, some he’d not wanted to see, certainly (for example, the queen cockroach). All for naught, ultimately. Apparently.
He walked through the doors of the lobby to find the guard woman still standing at her post, and men and women making their way into the dumbwaiter of an elevator and going upward. At about the middle most point in the building the elevator shaft was completely torn away and impassable, though the dumbwaiter rope was still attached, amazingly, to its pulley somewhere in what remained of the broken top half of the building. The people would exit and climb through the destruction to their now askew offices on the previously uppermost floors, most now adjacent to the lower half of the building and generally leaning downward at a fairly steep decline. Floors became ceilings and vice versa. Work continued.
“Better take a closer looksee at the damage,” said the man trying not to get cancer, who’d been breathing in a lot of asbestos throughout his time on the job. And now, with the building destroyed, he would be subjecting himself to a great deal more. He wore a dust mask to filter out the carcinogens he was trying to avoid. It might be working like magic, just like magic, proving he’d tried hard enough. So goes the life of a man trying not to get cancer while doing his dream job.
He started through the destruction with vermin’s instinct for where he could safely step.
Matt Rowan is a writer and editor living in Chicago, IL. He’s the author of Why God Why (Love Symbol Press 2013). He co-edits Untoward Magazine and assists with The Anthology of Chicago. His work can be found in Artifice, SmokeLong Quarterly, Alice Blue Review and Cloud Rodeo, among others.