Dark. The smell of coffee opens her eyes. Morning’s shudder seeps through the window as she passes with her coffee cup. Stumble into clothes – fingers of sunlight lead her to the stop. The dog-eared romance waits in her backpack and time ticks slowly as the bus lumbers toward her. Stamping feet seek to warm but come up short.
Other commuters file behind her, falling into seats and settling in with ear-phoned music and wireless email. She finds her seat in the back and by the window. Deadlines swirl as the shops blur past her. Each mile toward her destination robs her of a piece of freedom. Each stop passed brings her closer to her cell of tasks and memos.
“What are you doing here?”
Jody raises her head from her novel. “I’m on break,” she mumbles to a co-worker whose identity is vague.
The dark-haired man takes the seat across from her. “No, I mean…what are you doing here? He makes a sweeping gesture with his hands as if to include a larger patch of geography.
Jody’s blue eyes spark for a moment for something deeper inside her reacts to the question. But the sudden and small surge of adrenaline signals danger. The man is a spy for management. “I work here,” she shrugs, “same as you.”
He reaches his open hand across the table, “Steve, Steve Schulman.”
Jody sighs but puts her paperback facedown on the table and gives a begrudged shake to the outstretched hand. “Jody Taylor.”
“You’re in accounting?” Steve asks.
“No, marketing,” Jody says in monotone.
Steve nods his head in a manner that seems knowing but what is there to know?
“You don’t seem like the type,” Steve says more to himself than to Jody.
Jody frowns. “Like what type?”
“A commuter type. A worker bee type. The type to work here.” Steve’s words jab like a boxer’s challenge.
Jody looks at her watch and gets to her feet. “Break is over. Nice meeting you,” she says and doesn’t mean it. And the rest of the day blurs like all of those before it and is no different except for the searing nag that Steve planted in the center of her core. Jody fights to push it down deeper and refuses to listen to its thin and plaintive voice.
The shadows deepen as she steps off the bus and shoulders her backpack for the two block walk, it seems heavier than it was this morning – filled with worry and discontent. “Not the type,” screams at the back of her thoughts and she shakes her head to knock it loose.
The key turns and she steps back into her small world of freedom. Cat purrs and figure eights her legs for which he gets a handful of dry food in his bowl and a scratch for his belly. A microwave dinner for her, ensuring just enough calories to keep her stomach from consuming itself – still she isn’t pleased with the results in the mirror. She eats half the dinner and makes up her hunger with cigarettes and diet coke.
Morning. Sunlight reaches through the window and taps her shoulder. Eyes loll toward the alarm clock when gauzy memory reminds her it is Saturday. Jody hazards a stretch the length of her body and feels enough energy to get up. On the way to the kitchen, she clicks on the television, needing the noise to not feel lonely. Cornflakes, skim milk and black coffee wait as she starts the crossword puzzle of the advance Sunday paper. While trying to find a six letter word for love an image on the set tugs her attention toward it. “Steve, Steve Schulman,” filled the television screen. Jody pushed on the volume button though something in her knew it was bad, she couldn’t stop herself.
Steve, Steve Schulman had killed himself. Jumped from the tenth floor window of the break room where Jody had met him. While no one witnessed the event and co-workers were shocked by his actions – police found a post it note stuck to the monitor in his cubicle which read: “I’m free.”