Call me crazy, nerdy, silly, whatever - but if you want to read a new story, one you've never read before, stay tuned to this blog, and follow along as the creative process unfolds. Once it is complete, it would be great to get comments, but that's up to The Secret Thread readers, not me: my work, so to speak, will be done!
Without further ado, I give you:
START SOMETHING, a short story by Mutt Ploughman.
(Dedicated to my brother, Duke Altum.)
‘The pricing discussions are nowhere near complete,’ said his boss. ‘Plus, Ed would like to review the final draft.’
There it is: my first weekend casualty, John observed inwardly. It didn’t take long.
‘Ed?’ John asked incredulously. Ed was the president of the firm. ‘I thought he was gone for the weekend.’
His boss slumped against the cubicle wall, as if trying to make things more casual. A pinned photograph of John’s 2-year-old niece dove to the desk surface. ‘Technically,’ he replied, ‘but he’d like a copy overnighted to his house in LBI. I have the address. Big opportunity, he wants to give the proposal his personal approval.’
John swallowed and nodded.
‘Not to worry, John. I’m looking it over. You’ve done fine for this early on.’
He nodded again, but was pondering another potential difficulty, and had not yet completed the equation in his mind, the resolution of which would have enlightened him about some of what he was in for in the next few days.
‘But the bid is due Monday morning in D.C.,’ he pointed out to his boss. ‘Assuming I can make changes tomorrow or Sunday in the document, and produce copies, how do we get it to the Institute by 9:00 a.m.?’
‘Someone’s going to have to hand deliver it,’ said his boss.
John just looked at him.
‘Look, John, I’m really sorry about this, but it’s part of the job. You know that. You can take the company car. I am going to have someone from Finance stop over in a bit with a credit card and the keys. Keep your receipts for the expense report.’
‘All right,’ John said. This would be a first for him, yet somehow he was not surprised.
‘I would love to come in and help you on Sunday maybe, but there’s this thing with my kids …. chaperone ….. you know the drill.’
I don’t see how I would, thought John. He was 29 and single, without prospects.
Great thing about these financial services firms – once they have determined to take over your weekend, they have the benevolence to allow you to go home just as soon as the logistics are put in place for your extra hours, and you can enjoy your Friday night with their patronizing assurance. Hence, John merely had to complete working on the ‘final’ draft of his proposal, talk to Finance about using a corporate card and filling out expense reports, consult Jerome in the physical plant about where to get the car, box up a copy of the draft and overnight it to the president, make arrangements with his boss to receive Ed’s revisions by phone on Sunday directly, and stop by the security checkpoint in the lobby to inform them of his expected arrival on Sunday morning. And by 7:00 p.m., 11½ hours after he had shown up, he was a free man.
True, by the time he made it home after his commute to Jersey, it would be past 9:00, but he could enjoy whatever was left of his evening.
As he emerged onto the street in New York, coming out of the high rise in which he worked, John pushed these matters out of his mind. Dwelling on them would cost him his sanity. Instead, he was determined to take solace in his observations of the urban summer evening unfolding around him. He was fascinated by the arrangement of images that could be found only in this city and in this time and place. A couple materialized in front of him out of a curtain of steam that groaned forth from a sewer; underworld retchings that remained unnoticed by most passersby. The man and woman held hands while both blathering into cell phones secured by the other hand.
Sunlight refracted from the polished glass on the Met Life tower fell directly onto a bed of purple flowers encased in concrete in an island in the middle of Madison Avenue. Taxicabs screamed in acceleration on both sides of the island. A rectangular bronze plaque in the midst of the flowers made sure onlookers recognized that their presence, the flowers’, was due to the ongoing commitment of JPMorganChase to keep the city beautiful.
Over the noise of the cars and the voices John heard the bells of St. Patrick’s Cathedral tolling as they would have done when the cars were brougham carriages drawn by horses and the sound of hooves were the music of rush hour in another time. How wonderful that the bells still rang and that the church still stood. That every once in a while someone would enter into it for some private reason and put a quarter in a slot next to a red flame so that someone else would not be forgotten. While a few feet away next to the rich wood of a steadfast pew polished smooth by the repeated clutching of faithful hands, an old man on his final leg of the journey bent his afflicted knee and made the Sign of the Cross.
John’s mind, having drifted freely for a while as he walked to the PATH station, settled once again on what was for him a fundamental concern. The preservation of these images. The archiving of moments that, like the old man he’d imagined, would not last. Ever since he had left college life behind and had gone to work and to live on his own he had felt a desire to collect fragments of the world around him as he experienced it and to bundle them like wheat into some form of personal expression. It was only when he had begun working in New York that he had discovered a way he might do this, through his visits to book stores and coffee bars and readings at libraries.