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Discussion in 'Short Stories' started by ChrisA, Feb 5, 2007.



  1. ChrisA Guest

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    Contentment

    I arrived early to the college where I work. It was a Saturday before ten o’clock and the only people around were security guards. The doors to the library were closed and I sat in the front hallway with the long windows facing the North courtyard. Clouds poured over the tops of the buildings and hovered placidly. The birch trees by the window appeared to tremble as their fine, papery bark flitted back and forth in the freezing wind.

    My attention turned to a man in his mid-forties who materialized in the front hall and was commenting aloud in a lavish-sounding voice, “What a glorious day!”

    Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as he sauntered down the hall, disappeared from my view, and returned with the same cheerful look on his face. He had stooped shoulders and a broad back. He wore regular blue jeans, a felt baseball cap, and a loose, overhanging sports jacket. At first I thought he was a traveling salesmen. He also carried a briefcase.

    He laid his briefcase on the ground and took the seat beside me. I nodded my head, appearing friendly.

    “So, where are you on your journey?” He asked.
    “Excuse me, sir,” I said.
    “Your journey. All of us are on a journey.”
    For a minute, I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t think of an answer. It seemed like a preposterous question to ask someone.
    “What kind of journey do you mean?”
    He fixed his eyes on an imaginary point about five feet in front of him. Fastened on his thin lips was the slightest smile. His eyes kept their focus.
    “Are you content?” He asked.
    This seemed like an equally preposterous question to ask someone. “Are you?” I replied defensively.
    “Yes. I am.” The little smile disappeared.
    “Do you mean in a permanent sense?” I asked.
    “Permanent? Most definitely permanent. Permanent. Sustained. Everlasting.”
    “Well I don’t know if I believe in a permanent state of happiness. That’s a sort of false happiness, isn’t it?”
    “Truth be told, happiness and contentment are not the same thing. At one end of the spectrum of emotion, you have happiness, ecstasy, euphoria . . . at the other end, misery, self-loathing, dejection . . .”
    Now he raised his hand directly in front of his face, as if he were looking down its profile to the middle of the spectrum of emotion.
    “Not exactly in the middle but just a little toward the positive side—that is contentment. There will be misfortune. There will be death. There will be economic setbacks. Hardships. Losses of every kind. But the goal is to remain two or three notches on the positive end of the spectrum.”
    Absorbed in the sound of his own voice, he spoke very slowly, almost hypnotically. There were long, thoughtful pauses between his sentences even when the information he conveyed was nothing profound. I had to go to work in about five minutes, but I wanted to hear the rest of what he had to say.
    “I just hope you’re not caught in a web of desire . . . like most people your age.”
    “What do you mean?” I asked.
    “You seem frustrated with life. Maybe a little confused.”
    “I’m perfectly happy in my life right now. Thanks for your concern.”
    He made a little snigger to himself, and said, “Okay, but we’re not always able to see ourselves the way others can.”
    “You don’t even know me—”
    “I know the soul of man. That’s all I need to know.”
    I was laughing at him in my mind, not taking anything seriously from him anymore.
    “Whatever you’re running after, it’s making you mad.” He persisted.
    Exasperated, I turned my body at an angle, and looked down the empty hall.
    “Your face is slightly contorted, you know. From your desires.”
    “What?” I snapped back.
    “Your face . . . there’s something unnatural about it. Please, I’m not trying to insult you. I’m just telling you that your face is a little—”
    “Leave me alone,” I said and got up to go to the bathroom.

    Inside the bathroom, I looked at my face in the mirror. At first glance, it looked exactly the same as it always looks. “What’s this loon talking about?” I said to myself. But then I stepped back from the mirror and could see a slight difference. The skin on my forehead was taut . . . stern-looking . . . the eyes were sunken, beady. I had a restive appearance. Then I thought about the last couple days, and what had been consuming me. Her name was Cassandra. We met out at the bars one night. I hadn’t gone out to the bars in the longest time, but I was lonely and needed someone to talk to . . . and there she was . . . waiting for me . . . waiting to listen to my problems . . . Can you believe she came home with me that night? She slept in my bed. We made love and I was in heaven. That was last week. Since then, I’ve tried to get a hold of her but she doesn’t answer her phone. My whole entire being has been absorbed in thinking about her. When will she call me?

    The door to the bathroom opened.
    “Listen,” he said in velvety, bass tone. “You’re making yourself ugly with all of your desires. You really shouldn’t do that to yourself.”
    “What are you talking about?” I almost shouted.

    In the long windows facing the North courtyard, a public bus pulled up to a stop sign and three passengers got out. The man sitting beside me stood up and took his briefcase in his hand. I watched as his hunched shoulders and broad back moved down the hallway like a heavy tortoise-shell. Then he appeared on the other side of the long windows. The bus released its brakes and slid forward, the engine whirring in the freezing air.
    The fine, papery bark of the birch trees fell off into the wind. The low clouds hovered above the building, lying in wait.

    2/3/2007
    CRA


    Posted By ChrisA | Feb 5, 2007
    #1

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