When the sunlight meets the snowy parking lot, the office building’s blue-tinted windows remind me of an aquarium. There’s nothing left to do on a Friday after eight because all the extra duties like dusting and scrubbing are usually caught up by then. My back is too bent out of shape to use the red floor scrubber. You really have to get a firm hold on those handlebars and apply pressure in the direction you need to turn or else the thing’s gonna bump walls and roll this way and that and crash into something that shouldn’t be valuable to anyone, but is – like the gigantic decorative plant that sits down on the bottom floor just for show. And Mr. Baker the other day reminds me to water the damned thing. I told it straight, I told him I think it’s a nuisance having those sitting around the elevators because they don’t look nice and their plastic-looking leaves always drop around, big as corn cobs, and I have to pick them up.
There’s Rachel now and she’s all bundled up so I guess she’s calling it a week. I can feel her smile but I can’t smile back because that woman is just too nice to look at sometimes. I catch a glimpse of her green coat and I think she’s waving to me so I turn to at least wave back but she’s outside now. Her hair is starting to turn grey. She seems about my age and I want her really bad, but she’s probably with a better man. I regret not going to her Christmas party last month but I couldn’t have gone even if I wanted to because of Lorenzo. I’ve been worried about him ever since the vet gave me those pills and I can’t leave him alone for too long. It’s bad enough I’m gone for eight hours a day.
Today is always the best day for office cleaning because most of the staff on the first floor are Gung-ho for the door around three-o-clock. I get to work around that time, so those are all garbages I can empty right away. And most of them are already empty. They’re a clean bunch, the folks on the first floor. Another thing I like to do is mop earlier in the day, around five-o-clock, when most of the busies have left for the weekend to have the sort of fun that single people in their thirties have. I wouldn’t know. I’m sixty-two now and there were no such thing as single thirty-year-olds when I was growing up.
The elevator makes its familiar hum and I step on, ready to make my final unnecessary inspection before my shift is over. My weekend starts at eleven-o-clock every Friday night.
I slide my keycard into the plastic magnet that keeps the office area locked. I’m the only one here because it’s not yet time for the backshift cleaners to take their breaks. Sometimes their breaks coincide with mine and I’m forced to talk to them. I don’t think they’re terrible people, but I do think they’re immature and boring. Of course, I know they probably think that I’m boring too. I was never much of a conversationalist. I’ve always felt older and wiser than everyone around me, which is probably a mental disorder of some kind. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never been to a doctor, really. The boxes of paper towels and toilet paper and bleach and sanitizer are stacked neatly on a shelf to the left of the office door (a warm place for my boss to sit on his ass) and the machines – the floor scrubbers and carpet cleaners and vacuums are all kept behind a sort-of caged in area. Cheap, beehive-style wire like you’d see on a baseball diamond, with a padlocked door. A few of the vacuums were brilliant models. My favourite being the Green Lantern as we called it, which rested on you like a backpack. Extended nozzle. No tripping or pulling on cords. It was satisfying to use and I miss using it even though I’m fairly certain that it was the root cause of my back pain.
So it’s one minute to go and man I just wish it was Monday. I wish I’d said something to Rachel. I wish I’d at least smiled at her when she walked by earlier. I wish I’d gone to her Christmas party.
She talked to me last week in the cafeteria when I was cleaning out the microwaves. Said something like “How long have you worked here”? and I told her and I told her where I was from. I ran my fingers through my long bushy hair to cover up my bald spot. I told her my name and she told me hers and we shook hands but it didn’t feel awkward as most handshakes do. It felt…overdue. We talked a bit about Nova Scotia and how I’ve lived here my whole life and how I used to work over at the museum.
“Wow, so you must be very knowledgeable of your heritage,” she said, making deep eye contact. I said something dumb like “Well I know quite a bit more than anyone would need to know about the Acadians and the…Dinosaurs.” She was smiling the whole time and I noticed that she didn’t have a ring on her finger. Then all of the sudden she gives me a “let’s wrap this up” look and tells me to have a great night. She puts on her grey scarf and green winter coat and looks out the window with piercing blue eyes as she calls for a taxi.
“Do you now how long this storm is going to last?” I asked, but she was already halfway through the door and she didn’t answer.
I clock out and leave a note for my boss that says we don’t have any more fancy soap for the dispensers in the VIP washrooms.
When I get home from work there’s another voice message from my brother on the answering machine. Something like: “…Hey Bro, just wanted to touch base and say sorry that we missed you last night. Sorry to hear that you weren’t feeling up to it. Also, just a reminder that Quinn’s birthday party is coming up, it’s in two weeks so of course we’ll uh, talk before then. Anyway, give us a shout and we’ll hang out soon…”
Or something like that. It’s always the same. No matter how many times I sit down with my brother and explain to him that I’m simply a homebody and that I don’t like crowds or meeting new people, he’ll insist that I should.
Now there’s this one song by Billy Joel called For the Longest Time and I listen to that song every God damned day, multiple times a day. I’ve been doing this ritually. I’ll come home to my shoebox bachelor apartment, I’ll start dinner, usually in the slow cooker since my stove won’t turn on and I won’t call the landlord to fix it because I don’t want to be a bother. So I come home and feed Lorenzo and get dinner started and I put on the record with that Billy Joel song and make it so that it just plays on a loop, over and over again until I’m satisfied. And when I listen I like to imagine scenes from my future that I never talk about to anyone because they’re embarrassing. And I pet Lorenzo. And he purrs and nuzzles his grey fuzzy head and rolls on his back, but sometimes he scratches and attacks me. Just out of nowhere. And it’s not like he’s playing either. And he’ll hiss at me now and then, and run off to the kitchen or the washroom because they’re the only other places to go in this boring shoebox. But after ten years I’ve grown to love Lorenzo. The little scamp was given to me by my brother who’s cat had too many kittens, and he’s become a great companion and a very important person in my life (despite the fact that he’s not a person).
There is a balcony here. A pretty big one at that, with a nice sliding glass door. The view is nothing to look at – just another parking lot and another small apartment building, but it’s nice to step out and get some air. Last night, I had a dream that I was standing outside my building in the middle of the parking lot with a faceless man. We were both wearing suits for some reason. Then we were standing at the side of the road before a vast stretch of grass and trees. I listened to the faceless man talk about how this area had once been a shopping mall and how “nature is fighting back." He pointed to a black slab of concrete, roughly the size of a supermarket, embedded deep within the grass. And then I woke up. The dream kept going, but that’s all I can remember.
“…And it’s more that I hope for…”
So tonight I’m sitting here with a plate of roast beef and potatoes and milk, watching a news program with the sound off because I’m not yet satisfied with the number of times I’ve listened to the song.
“…I have been a fool for lesser things…” is my favourite line and I’m not sure why. In fact, I don’t know why I love this god damned song so much but here I am, night after night and I’ll just never get enough. I swallow a mouthful of undercooked roast beef and I look over at Lorenzo, sitting in the corner, staring at me with a blank expression on his face. My apartment is stuffy and I need a cold breeze so I open the balcony door.
“A couple more times,” I say to Lorenzo. “Then we’ll watch the News, I promise.”
Lorenzo walks into the open closet to use the litter box. I keep eating, listening, and playing out scene after scene of my film from my future, in my head.
I hear a noise from the balcony that sounds like nails scratching on wood.
The curtains are drawn and the sliding glass door is ajar, and I can see something moving, climbing up the side of the balcony. And it’s big. Too big to be a cat, and after clicking on the lamp I can see that it’s probably one of the biggest raccoons in the world.
The raccoon had pulled itself up from the gutter underneath, and is now resting it’s giant ass on the ledge of the wooden platform. It looks toward me darkly with its pointed face and drops down with a loud THUD onto the balcony floor. At first, it just paces around in circles, seemingly desperate. The flimsy screen door is all that separates Lorenzo and I from this starving hunter, and although it seems scared of us, I attempt to scare it some more. I take out my old camera and turn on the flash. I sit on the arm of my sofa and bring the lens close to the screen door. The raccoon is still, until the flash upsets it enough to bare its teeth viciously, on its hind legs now. It’s ready to fight and Lorenzo is brave enough to press his paws up against the screen door, also on his hind legs, ready to fight.
But there’s a hole I'd forgotten about. Months ago, Lorenzo accidentally got trapped on the balcony after I had fallen asleep on the couch. He sliced a good Lorenzo-sized hole in the screen, almost in the shape of a triangle, as he attempted to get back inside. I woke up, patched it with scotch tape, and forgot all about it.
The raccoon snarls nastily and locks its black eyes on Lorenzo as it dashes through the screen door. Lorenzo bolts to the far end of the apartment while the raccoon, which is roughly four times the size of the cat, gets its belly stuck about halfway through the hole. The raccoon latches its dirty nails onto the cheap fake hardwood floor and pulls its way though. I panic and look around my apartment for something to strike it with. Its back legs are caught in the screen now, and the scotch tape I’d patched the hole with is now stuck to the fur on its back. I run to the closet and grab a broom. The thing is inside now, sniffing around my coffee table and arching its back to me. Its fur is matted with filth and looks sharp like porcupine quills. It hisses again and jumps up on the coffee table and starts eating the rest of my dinner. I hit it in the back with my camera – not too hard – but the thing flips around and hisses again and knocks the dinner plate onto the floor. Lorenzo has had enough at this point and he pounces on the raccoons’ tail. The racoon slashes its claws across Lorenzo’s face and Lorenzo bites back hard, going for the tail again. As I watch my cat fight the racoon, I begin to panic. I know I have to save him but my heart is pounding out of my chest and I must admit I’m scared of the damned thing. I swing the broom again and I miss.
The raccoon is on top of Lorenzo now, has him pinned down in the corner of the bedroom. Then it runs off into the kitchen. I see blood and Lorenzo isn’t moving. Enraged, I run to the kitchen, but trip over the lamp (which I had knocked over). Next thing I remember is waking up on the floor, looking up at the ceiling. And Lorenzo licking my nose with his sandpaper tongue as I came to. The kitchen is a mess, with potato chips all over the floor, the bag violently ripped open. The racoon is no where in sight. I waddle over to the sliding glass door and shut it tight. Lock it. Then I grab the remote control for the CD player and turn off that god damned Billy Joel song.
The next morning, I wake up early and take Lorenzo to the vet and, as I had suspected, the poor scamp is now blind in one eye. But if my hero could talk I’m sure he’d tell me the raccoon got it worse than he did.
My next work day is Monday, and I come in fifteen minutes early because I know Rachel will be there to get a head start. She is sitting there sure enough, sipping coffee. I walk though the staff cafeteria doors. She smiles and my chest feels warm and I finally take a good look at her face and smile back and say:
“Good morning! How was your weekend?”
Rachel seems excited that I’m talking to her and I sit down and join her for tea. She has subtle freckles under her eyes that I’d never noticed before. The room is all quiet, until the refrigerator kicks in behind us. My nervousness dissipates as I tell her the raccoon story and she can’t believe it. She touches my arm and says “oh no” when I tell her about Lorenzo’s eye. Then she talks about her cat Abigail. They live together in a small apartment, just like us. I sip my tea.
‘…I wish that I had a bigger place,’ she said. ‘I think she feels too cooped up in there sometimes, you know?’
‘Yeah,’ I replied. ‘I think he feels the same way.’