What We Wonder When Not Sure
They gathered us all together, those of us who'd been here a while and those new to the game, and told us to go have a look. "See what you can find," they said and sent us out. I went back to my office and made a few calls, networking, evaluating what was there and who knew what.
"We have some ideas."
"We have a sense," the others said. "And you?"
I draft a memo. An initial report to let them know I'm on the case. In my report I list ideas, projections and possibilities. "There are ways to get to the bottom," I tell them, then reread the line and cross it out.
Evanshere comes as I'm leaving. "Where are you going?" he asks, seems surprised to find me putting on my coat.
"I have to," I tell him. "It's time. I'm going home." I wait for him to turn around but he only sets his heels. I sigh and say, "Two minutes," and sit back in my chair.
On my desk is a photograph of my wife and kids. The picture is of them in our yard, the grass freshly cut and free of weeds. There are no pictures of my office at home. Evanshere is new to the job. Where exactly he came from I'm not sure. He's younger than me by several years and as a kindness I take him under wing. I like him well enough though I don't really know him. He's here with me during the day and then he's gone. At home I sometimes tell stories of Evanshere if he's done something worth mentioning. Otherwise I don't.
"Do you think?" Evanshere asks.
"Yes, of course."
"But what do you know?"
"You sound surprised."
"No. I mean what did you learn?"
"About what we're supposed to be looking for?"
"That's it. That's what I'm asking."
"Alright then," I give Evanshere the thumbs up, encourage him by repeating, "Good, good, good."
Other than the photograph of my wife and kids there are two piles of papers, a pad and pen on my desk. I also have a laptop computer on which I draft, duplicate, store and send additional things I write. There's a plastic tray to the left of my computer where I place outgoing stuff and incoming stuff arrives. Sometimes I've only to initial the incoming stuff and send it out again. Sometimes the stuff I send out comes back with comments and questions and other times it just disappears.
I move the papers in front of me around, then say to Evanshere, "Yes, well." The phrase is there for him to finish. ("Yes, well, that will be all." "Yes, well, I don't really give a damn about that and why are you still here?") I wait again for him to nod his head and back out of my office. Instead he says, "Well, yes. What now?"
"Now?" This is never the question I want to hear. Now is always too immediate, suggests urgency and exigence. I clear my throat and answer in turn, "Now, indeed."
"We should keep looking," Evanshere believes.
"We should, I know." I agree and say, "First thing tomorrow." I feel its important to remind him that I'm in charge and to prove as much I tell him to, "Hand me that folder."
"That one there," I point to my file cabinet where a stack of folders are set. Evanshere pauses then asks, "You mean the one on top?"
"Not any of these?" he touches the stack beneath.
I shake my head and tell him, "No. Those below will have to wait."
"I see," he hands me what I've asked for then resumes standing in front of my desk. I take the folder, open it quickly and close it again. Evanshere watches. I watch him watching. I sit and stare and try waiting him out. When he doesn't leave, I find myself forced to make a decision. I'm no good at this sort of thing however, am always afraid of making the wrong choice. In my head I test the possibility of shouting, "Get out!" only to worry he'll ask me then, "Where should I go?" and not knowing the answer I button my coat, give the matter some thought, clap my hands and tell Evanshere to, "Come on."
Leaving together creates the illusion we're once again doing our job, and as this is what Evanshere wants, our departure makes him happy. Between exiting my office, riding down in the elevator and stepping outside, Evanshere chatters on about our work, speaks jubilantly of our assignment. I've heard others at our office go on the same, men and women over the years, most of whom in time lose interest, lose steam, lose their way. "Look," I say, interrupting his prattle, but he misunderstands, whirls around and stares as we reach the street, wanting to know, "Did I miss something?"
He's full of anticipation, this one. I can tell by the way he walks up on his toes, gives his stride a bounce as if something remarkable may happen at any moment. "Where are we going?" he asks, is disappointed when we land only two blocks from our building, at a bar called Nemo's where I do nothing more astonishing than order up two beers. "This is it," I say, and as Evanshere again doesn't seem to understand, I tell him to, "Take a look. Take it all in. You never know who might be here."
Nemo's is crowded. Some of the people are from our office though many are not. Some I know and some I don't. Some I think to know though I'm sure I don't while others look over and seem to know me though I don't recognize them at all. Evanshere doesn't touch his beer until I'm halfway through with mine. He's brought his briefcase from the office. I used to do the same though I no longer have the need. If what we're looking for is something that can be hauled home at night and carted back in the morning I'd certainly feel foolish not having discovered it before. When I leave the office now my habit is to walk about with my hands free and in a deliberate dangle.
"Do you suppose?" Evanshere asks me.
"Yes, I do," I answer. "Often."
"Then there's a chance, here I mean?" he seems encouraged. I don't wish to disappoint and so I say, "There's always that."
Evanshere glances around, wants to know, "Who should we ask?"
"Which one do you think?"
"I don't know."
"Then I suppose anyone will do."
"But how can that be?"
"How can't it?"
Evanshere frowns. "I thought you said there was someone here who might help us."
"I did," I'd hate for him to believe otherwise. "I know for a fact I said it."
A woman passes and I watch as she goes by. She doesn't remind me of my wife but I think of my wife just the same. I make a quick call on my cell. The noise in the bar is thunderous but I still manage to hear. "Are you married?" I ask Evanshere when I get off the phone. I can't recall any photographs on his desk and when he answers, "Not married, no," his tone suggests solitary nights, computer chat rooms, pay-per-view movies and carry out Chinese.
I nod my head and wink as I think he'd like me to do. "Sly dog," I say. "Playing the field and why not? You're young. You're making a buck. Sow your oats. Of course," I tell him, "its important to keep your eye on the prize. There's real happiness to be considered. All the rest is window dressing. As for me," I let him know, smile and show my hand.
Evanshere sips at his beer. I've finished mine and need to get home. Again, as before in my office, he seems surprised. "What?" he says. "Wait."
"Alright," I sit for a moment more on my stool, my coat in my lap, my posture sloped to a point of comfort. There's music playing, something with mandolins and guitars and a singer wailing, "I hope you find what you need." As I wait on Evanshere, I forget the thread and have to ask, "What exactly is it again we're doing?"
"But I thought," he says, "you told me we're here for a reason."
"Of course we are," I slap his arm. "You're beer, how is it? Tell me, do you like sports?"
"Football? Baseball? Basketball? Tis the season. My son," I go on and tell him then of some such adventure my oldest boy's had on the court. As my son's still a teen his stage remains wondrously simple, sports his personal proving ground and to Evanshere I remark, "All things carry over, don't you think, from what we were and what we learn to who we are?"
"Yes, yes. I suppose," he seems impatient, says again, "But shouldn't we get on with it?"
"Always, yes. Without question. Get on with it," I agree and to avoid confusion, ask "Which it are you considering?"
"Look," Evanshere taps the bar.
"Right, right," I answer. "Look and look and look some more."
"I think we should."
"We need to do what they've asked."
"Fulfill their request."
"Then again," I say, "what they've asked is really nothing new. They've just repeated much of the same. This isn't the first time," I explain. "They'll continue to ask and ask, and later when we're gone they'll ask our replacements, you can be sure."
Evanshere can't think that far ahead. "But we're not gone," he reminds me. "We're here now."
"We are, no doubt."
"We should get back to work," Evanshere says.
"We will," I answer. "Tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after that."
This bit of truth doesn't register with Evanshere the way I intend. He worries only, "But by tomorrow someone else might find it."
"And if they do?"
"That won't be good for us."
"How can it?"
"How indeed. The way you think." I shift on my stool, glance about the bar, tell Evanshere to, "Listen to me. Why is it you assume there's just so much it to go around? What we're looking for, there's enough for everyone. The problem is not distribution, not supply and demand." I toss my head back, put on my coat, fish out my wallet and place two bills on the bar. "Come home with me," I say. "Come home and have dinner."
"I can't," he doesn't know how to take my offer, responds awkwardly and stares off. A woman from our office is standing across the floor with a group of people. She has short brown hair, breasts a different size than my wife, hips hugged by one of those long knit sweaters. As she drinks her beer, she sees us and waves. Evanshere looks. I look at him looking. The woman from our office looks back and I look at her, too, and then at Evanshere. "Look," I tell him.
"Is that?" he asks.
"Could be," I say. "Who knows?"
He points past the woman from our office, over to a man holding court on the opposite side of the bar. "No, there," he says. "There. Should I?" Evanshere asks. "Is that why you brought me here?"
I feel at once quite tired, repeat the word, "There, there," while Evanshere continues to look at the man who, for the moment, holds some significance to our business. The woman with the beer turns from us. I look away, shake my head, pull up the collar of my coat. When I'm home, I change out of my office clothes. All things relevant are different here. I look for my slippers and my youngest girl helps me find them. My wife's name is Nancy. She continues to love me. Its a strange thing, being anchored so, where the winter winds outside manage little more than to rattle meek the windows. I imagine Evanshere in his apartment, at a desk he's set up similar to his station downtown, with lamp and files and laptop computer. When he's sitting there alone at night, reviewing the work he's brought with him, scrolling down and scrolling up, does he ever get confused and question what he's doing? Does he pause sometimes and think of home, or is he convinced things are as they need to be for now and that there's time enough yet for looking?