Mr. Ladd was spending his 26th birthday working in the data entry department. Blowing on his hot coffee made him ponder extinguishing candles. As he took an abrupt sip, he noticed out of the corner of his eye the supervisor. As much of a visual recognition that he was willing to make. They both broke their brief eye contact. Briefly gauged in the smallest fraction of a second. He felt the back splash of the exchange in the constricting muscles of his neck. Mr. Ladd looked down at his keyboard. Number keys awaited to be tapped. Quickly. Quickly. Tap. Tap. Tap. Move on. Fraction of a second. Constricted neck muscles. Necking. Those lips. How many months ago? Years now. It was 4 years ago. The memory of her sank beneath the ocean of rushed thoughts. Rush. Quickly. Type. Follow the form. Fields of figures and shorten the stack enough to soften the eyes that glare at your neck. Skin thinning. Muscles tightening. Fingers tangling. Suddenly.
The screen went blank. Collective groan. He felt silence in his throat. Like a dry well. Well. A well gone dry. A well that has been dry for for 4. 4 years now. Mr. Ladd heard something about a break until the interruption was fixed. Imagine fixing an interruption. His life seemed composed of interruptions. Conversations that never reached a middle, let alone a resolution at the one party he was invited to since moving into town. Mr. Ladd. Mr. F. Ladd appeared on his section of the long table which made up the 9th row in the back of the room. He looked to the woman to his right for confirmation. She gathered her things and joined a cluster of people. A dialogue that was never permitted to start.
He moved quickly to the back and reached out his hand to catch the heavy metal door before it clanked shut. Too late. No exit. He was familiar with the difficulty in working the large metal handle on this door. It was stained and rusted and neglected. He applied both hands with varying degrees of pressure until the door approved. The silence in his throat was filled with muttering. Not too loud. Escape.
Outside the back of the building led to an area with only dirt. Mr. Ladd felt his feet in his shoes as they scraped along the brittle ground. Voices and noises were muffled around the corner of the office structure. He smelled dust and the fuel of cars and trucks. Cars and trucks. There was that set. About 20 of them it had to be. Were in a neat box. Lost in the move that year when he was 5. Or was he 6? 7? No. Not that old. Maybe. No. They came and disappeared so quickly. It had to be 5. Can't summon up the colors of the cars and trucks. One of the trucks he thought was a dark green. They came and disappeared so quickly. Green means go. Go. Go where now? Go. More numbers. More forms. More piles. More money. Not enough. Not fast enough. Type faster. Must type faster. Supervisor's glaring. Glaring eyes. Comments. Comments section. Disconnection. Let go. Go. Go is usually green. No grass. Just dirt. Away from the voices and the noise. The comments. Comments section. Forms. Faster. They keep changing the forms. The fields. Field of dirt. Just a section of dirt. Shoes scraping. Feet hurt. Hurt. 4 years now. 4 years. Necking. Neck stiff with constricted muscles. Knotted by glaring eyes. Throat emptied again of sound. Just silence. No tapping for now. Just silence. Tap!
F. Ladd looked to his right and at the dirt. There was a crust of bread. It wasn't there a moment ago. No. It wasn't. He thought he had seen it land out of the corner of his eye. Mr. Ladd looked up and saw it. A dark small bird flying on and away. It must've dropped the crust. Fraction of a second later and he could no longer see it. He scanned the sky and became aware of some kind of music. He noticed a cooling in the air. A cooling breeze. A breeze that made everything and his body colder. A musical chord like strings. A whole section of strings playing a moving dirge. And then the breeze thinned and the music faded. He looked to his right. Mr. Ladd thought he saw a sheet of paper or wrapper of some kind of substance or material float down to the dirt. Rejected from the chain link fence. Had it played the music? The music and the breeze that could have frozen everything. That could have frozen time. Mr. Ladd. F. Ladd stood there trying to maintain this moment frozen in his mind and his body. He did not know how much longer he would last at this office. This office of tapping. Tapping. Tapping. He did not know how much longer he could remain so still outside. A couple of feet from a dropped crust of bread.
- Max Stoltenberg