In a heartbeat, between moments, life can tripwire your world cramming you into a seamless metal box labeled "Past" and "Future." Past can erupt like enraged volcanoes or delicately descend like drifting seeds, germinating from intimacy spawned by a familiar song, a tantalizing scent, a violent vision or foul taste. Future not yet flesh or form, preordained or mystery, meanders within layers of spectral fog yanked into revelation by the searing winds of present.
Victor Hubble strode along in his designer attire. His down soft leather shoes made his feet feel as though he were walking on clouds instead of erratic old pavement. With his handmade leather shoulder bag pressed against his lower back like a main parachute, he weaved his way through morning rush hour pedestrian traffic toward the Eldorado Towers and his high rise corner office. His eyes were glued to his smartphone screen cradled in one hand as if it were a microchip infant while the other hand efficiently commanded the microelectronic toddler to execute his bidding. Victor was checking his emails and text messages. He avoided others of the morning rush hour crowd on the downtown streets as if an invisible energy field deflected people and obstacles from crashing into him.
Ingrid Weatherstone was trying to rid herself of the terrible habit of doing anything on her smartphone while driving. Besides being a dangerous practice she was attempting to find ways to secure more me time. With the constant demands of family, friends and work baying at her heels she found it near impossible to catch her breath. Her efforts were not going well. When a message came through from her inner circle she found them impossible to ignore. Having a hands free voice activated system in her car helped relieve her guilt. Every instance of regress, each lapse was categorized as justified; a necessity in order to keep the wheels greased on her hectic life.
Victor was a 24-7 employee. He lived, breathed and divined his position as if earth would cease to hold its place in the universe should his duties go unfulfilled. Victor never required Ingrid to get back to him promptly when he messaged her during off hours, although oftentimes she did. That made him believe she was as driven about her career as he was about his. He was right.
Ingrid had her onboard system read aloud her messages. It began with one from Brian, her husband forewarning her, Rika, their oldest child of eight was going to ask her mother if she could have an iguana again. Rika had seen the tropical lizard featured on a PBS Nature special and became enamored. Brian had told his daughter no for about the 50th time. For Ingrid the no count was about half that. Brian wanted to reinforce with Ingrid the reasons they were saying no. They had just gotten Rika and her younger brother, Simon, two charming beagle puppies four months earlier. If after a couple of years they’d proven themselves worthy pet lovers then maybe they would give serious consideration to Rika’s iguana request if her desire hadn’t petered out by then. If anyone needed a pep talk on the matter of remaining steadfast it was Brian. Rika had her daddy wrapped around her little finger on most matters and their daughter knew it. If it hadn’t been for Ingrid putting her foot down, Rika would have her pet iguana by now.
Miranda sent Victor an email. His wife of four years was six months pregnant. All was well with their first baby for the time being. Miranda had been experiencing chronic back pain. The doctor ordered her off her feet for the next few days. The doctor’s treatment plan was working. Miranda’s back pain was gone. As an added precaution Miranda decided to take early maternity leave in case job stress had also been a contributing factor to her chronic back pain; a decision that pleased Victor. The down sides to being bedridden and jobless was Miranda had become stir crazy and bored.
Ingrid’s girlfriend Hazel called. They’d been best friends since kindergarten. Hazel wanted to remind Ingrid about the surprise party she was throwing her brother at her house in a couple of weeks and wanted to confirm Ingrid was still in. Hazel was clearly nervous about the affair going off as planned. Planning was Hazel’s strong suit. Part of what made her a brilliant architect. Maintaining her cool under what Hazel deemed as personal duress was not. Ingrid allayed Hazel’s fears by reassuring her she would be with her every step of the way. As an added sedative Ingrid invited Hazel over for dinner. They could use the time to finalize Hazel’s party plans and to catch up on the latest gossip.
Miranda’s strange food cravings were back. She wanted Victor to pick up some items on his way home from work: corn chips, Neapolitan ice cream, sour pickles, root beer, honey mustard, donuts, cookies, cupcakes, pretzels, apples, kiwi, tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, creamy French dressing, peanut butter, Marion berry jam, potato bread and ketchup. Victor of course would do as his wife asked. What gave his stomach a turn was watching Miranda eat those foods in all sorts of unappetizing combinations. A cupcake dipped in honey mustard and washed down with pickle juice. Whenever he’d try to persuade Miranda to put down the spoon of ice cream covered in corn chips and eat a banana instead, his wife glared at him as if Victor were a stranger interfering with something that was none of his business. Victor would try to avoid watching Miranda wolf down her nauseating feast which she did with gluttonous glee.
Ingrid listened to more messages. Most were from her boss. She made mental notes regarding each task and would address them as soon as she arrived at her desk. As a double check she would forward all of his messages to her office computer to make certain she didn’t miss anything.
For the first time in Victor’s adult life something other than work had become his top priority. Miranda could have held that mantel had she not been on the same page with her career. The near birth of their first child had forced them to re-evaluate their lives in ways neither had found necessary in the past. It was both liberating and terrifying at the same time. Liberating in a sense to know while their careers remained important there were other things in life that trumped those cards. Terrifying in the sense they were wholly responsible for the care and well-being of another human being. That sort of challenge isn’t covered in class rooms, work hives or industry boardrooms. Victor hastily replied to Miranda’s email accidentally cc’ing others in the process.
Ingrid swallowed the last of her cinnamon dolce soy latte immediately longing for another. She placed the empty stainless steel tumbler back in its cup holder when a new message came in from her boss. When the onboard system read aloud the email attachment containing his pregnant wife’s odd grocery list Ingrid laughed. Victor had started to show signs of distraction and fatigue foreign characteristics to his work performance; classic symptoms of a father expecting his first child. Wait until the baby’s born, Ingrid thought with an amusing shake of her head. That’s when the real fun begins.
Victor began reviewing his notes for an international tire account his firm was after. The company had spread the word their previous marketing firm hadn’t delivered and they were anxious to reclaim or exceed their market share. His marketing team had won the internal competitions for the account, now he was sharping his pitches to convince the client. A meeting was scheduled with the client at ten. He was ready. His team was ready. He felt good about their chances of making the client’s final cut.
Ingrid chuckled to herself as she considered humorous responses to Victor’s accidental message. Her boss had a great sense of humor, a quality that endeared him to his staff. Ingrid eyed her docked smartphone for a moment tittering on whether to send Victor a quick text. Even though she intended to dictate her response, Ingrid had a habit of looking at her smartphone when she did so as if to assure it were getting it right. Her eyes were diverted from the road long enough to run a Stop sign partially obstructed by low hanging tree branches.
Victor stepped off the curb reading a congratulatory text message from the CEO about a new account they had won thanks to Victor’s tireless efforts, making him more oblivious than usual to his surroundings. With the current Regional Marketing Manager being bumped up to National Marketing Manager this was the sort of attention Victor knew would get his name on the short list to replace him.
Ingrid looked up just before her car struck a man wearing a suit whose eyes were glued to his smartphone. The screech of her wheels followed a dull thud and sudden jolt as she witnessed his body being propelled clear of the crash. But for a moment’s panic and indecision, Ingrid switched off the engine and dashed from her car to try and help the victim.
Victor entered the lobby of the Eldorado Towers a half-hour earlier than usual. He forwarded the congratulatory text message to his team with a personal note added thanking everyone for all of their hard work in helping make that happen. Victor considered adding a few words to prime the pump for his pep talk before the big show at ten but decided against it. Some things were best done in person.
Two people had rushed to the victim’s aide ahead of her. Ingrid apologized profusely to the man writhing in pain holding his left leg which appeared broken. A small crowd gathered around the injured man. Some voiced accusations at Ingrid being a careless driver. Some murmured about lawsuits and criminal charges. Only two people inquired whether Ingrid was alright. Someone had called 9-1-1. Ingrid stood by repeatedly apologizing mostly to the victim but also to her accusers.
Victor entered his office and fired up his shut down computer. As his company computer connected to their internal network and ran updates, Victor decided to head to the break room and treat himself to a cappuccino and croissant. He checked his smartphone for more messages whistling as he went. Victor was surprised Ingrid hadn’t promptly responded to his great news as she was prone to do.
Michael R. Lane has studied literature and creative writing at Point Park University, Sonoma State University and Portland State University. He has had the honor of having short stories published in Inwood Indiana (Ditch ‘Em), Crack The Spine, The Storyteller, African Voices Magazine, Spindrift, and Aim Magazine. Michael is the author of Emancipation, a diverse collection of human and humane stories linked in an omnipotent way.