Last drafted: 8/5/10, when I ought to be asleep.
Flour, flour, flour, flour, flour, why was there flour? So his mom could make him pancakes when he was young. But he couldn’t remember, was there flour in pancakes? So on his way home, with the stacks hissing with steam like the sound of the sky, he stopped at the store and purchased some flour. There was basically flour in every crevice of the street, but the bag he purchased said that this was real flour. The bedroom door — which was the only door — creaked open like an old man’s knees. In the bedroom — which was the only kitchen — he went to work making the batter. Even while he poured it, he thought, is there flour in pancakes? He sat down to eat, cut a piece; no syrup, only butter. Poof — a little pellet of unmixed baking powder popped in his mouth, sending up his eyebrows.
The cat came back, and he went to sleep.
* * *
And the morning sun was gold like wheat on the tall steam stacks that went ssssssssss overhead like it was the sound of the sky. The river smelled of stale milk, and the lamps along the bridge were still glowing yellow. He stood tall as he walked across the bridge, challenging the lightposts as to whose spine was straighter. The winner always was, however, the pleats in his pants. Those straight pleats and straight spines would have streamed upwards endlessley were it not for all the bowler hats that kept a round cap over everyone to prevent them from extending upwards too far like the lightposts or the steam stacks that went sssssssssssssssss like the sound of the sky. The sky probably kept going up too, he thought. And the moon and other planets were just bowler hats. The the water didn’t care. Like his cat. The stacks went ssssssssssssssssssssssss while the water went plooshaplooshaploosha while his cat went .
Yet despite all this, his world was very flat, like a pancake. Like the cushion of his office chair, on which he sat. Fourth hour of the day and it was still regulation paperwork, as usual, as normal, as such, as is. But he always enjoyed the bit at the end when he got to sign his signature. As the hours progressed, so too did the elaborate choreography of this event. It began in his fingers, spread to his wrist, to his elbow, his shoulder, waist, ankles, until it became a dance.
Upon the opening of the door, the brow that poked itself in found the ritual of the signature-signing to be in its eleven a.m. position: right arm up with pen in the air, left arm to the side, fingers twiddling. The brow entered in (followed by the man it belonged to), holding a brown cracked-leather case.
The brow looked sad — not good.
Behind the desk, he stopped signing and stood to receive the case — No? Not good?
No. Not good.
He opened the case and—
Mmm, not good.
The brow’s hand moved forward to the case to close it. A watch was pointed at.
A finger slid around the face of the watch, signifying a later time. Then good.
Before the sad brow left, he patted the case — No, not good, not good — and stepped out the door.
He sat back down and continued his paperwork. Within a few moments he signed with a salsa-style shimmy and drew to a close. The finished papers were stacked at a right angle to the unfinished papers with the pen on top, and he left to eat his lunch that would be good were it made by his cat.
Within an hour he could scarcely remember what he had eaten, where he had eaten, or whether or not he had eaten at all (if not for a suspicious pickle thumb stain left on every top right corner of paperwork). And then he signed his name. And then he looked at his watch.
There were three times each day when he looked at this watch: once before work, once before lunch, and once before leaving work. He blinked, shocked at himself. Right then, 2:27 p.m., was not one of those times, despite the fact that he had already looked at his watch one extra time today to see when would be a good time to open the cracked-leather case. That time had not yet come, so why was he looking?
Sign, sign, sign, sign, sign, all he did was sign. Now that something was not good — something unusual, out of the ordinary — he was needed. Why was he waiting to open the cracked-leather case? The same thing was inside no matter what time of day. With that settled, he reached to the case and began untwisting the string around the small paper ring.
Plop, plop, plop, plop. Stop. Click. Twist. Creak. He snapped back his hand. A brow poked in through the door.
For an instant, it furrowed, puzzled. He was not in his usual 2:30 p.m. signature-signing position (upper body and arms stretched to the right, one leg kicked out to the left). The brow shook the thought off and entered.
A finger indicated on a watch the previously determined time to open the case — not good.
No? Not good?
No. Not good.
New time: tomorrow, 1:30 p.m.
The brow looked to the case on the desk — not good, not good, not good — and left.
The footsteps silenced, and out the small window behind him a faint hissing could be heard. He remained for a moment looking at that case, until it seemed the case was looking back at him. At that point he became self-conscious, leaned his head down, and continued working. He thought of his cat. Signing, signing, signing away, but he did no more dances for the rest of the day. The steam went sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss while his pen went scripscripscripscrip while the cracked-leather case went not good not good not good not good.
Later, he checked his watch for what should have been the third time (but was actually the fifth). His rear end lifted from the flat office chair, his hand grabbed his briefcase, his feet carried him to the door, his hand put on his hat, his hand grabbed the doorknob, his hand didn’t turn it, his feet carried him back to his desk, his hand grabbed the cracked-leather case, his hand put it in his briefcase, and his feet carried him out.
Many a bowler hat passed him by as he walked across the bridge over the river that didn’t care. On the other side, cars chug-a-chugged down the streets along the several blocks to home. He opened his door on the fifth floor and threw what he had to his feet. Suddenly, frantically, he hurled himself down to catch the briefcase before it struck the ground, then gingerly placed it on the kitchen table. The cat came back, he unlatched the lid, and the cracked-leather case was removed. His elbows rested on the table and he stared at it. In the meantime, the cat’s tail swung like a pendulum, except it was more flexible and furry and didn’t really enjoy swinging whatsoever.
He took hold of the string on the case and began to untwist it again. Once this was complete, it fell open.
Mmm, not good.
There was one piece of paper inside. One piece of paper that decided he was going to be a more important person tomorrow, at 1:30 p.m.. The possibilities of what a single piece of paper might say raced through his mind. His fingers felt their way inside and pinched on that piece of paper. He gasped.
The cat looked at him and stopped its tail. He felt a little embarassed for gasping, and pulled out the page.
the meaning of life is flour.
* * *
For the rest of the evening, he couldn’t eat. Nor did he change out of his collared shirt, pants or suspenders when he laid in his bed. Several hours passed before he finally fell into a harsh, sweaty sleep. Finally, in the morning he awoke two hours early. A hole in the ceiling grew larger as he stared and stared.
The cat made a soft thud across the room. He became thirsty and rose from his bed. The water was mildly satisfying, but he felt it had been mixed with something he would rather mix in his pancakes. A bowl of oat cereal soon sat before him on the table and wasn’t touched. That cracked-leather case was all he looked at, but he could no longer take it all in with his simple two eyes.
* * *
There was basically flour in every crevice and gutter of the street, which was probably what the car was slipping on when it hit him. It was a rather new car, shiny black, though still with one-wheel drive. Couldn’t really go fast, couldn’t really go faster. Slipped on the flour and hit him right in front of that big mill by the bridge. He was probably crossing the street to go to work, with a briefcase in his left hand and a cracked-leather case tucked under his right arm.
A brow poked its head through an office door. It looked at the desk, the papers with a pen on top, the flat desk chair. He stepped inside and closed the door, frowning.
On the bridge over the river, a man was standing still. He looked ahead, then back, then all around, then down at the water. His hand reached up and removed his bowler hat.
“Meaningless, meaningless,” said the cat. “Utterly meaningless.”
Someone, somewhere, ate a pancake.