Dread spread over Ned like a swarm of cockroaches. As he waited at the register for his medium coffee, he found in his pocket not his wallet but loose grains of sand, lint, and a single penny.
“$2.25 please,” said the barista.
Ned checked his other pockets. His cell phone, keys, and office ID badge were also AWOL. “Excuse me. I seem to be missing my wallet,” he said.
Cockroach feelers tickled his skin. He stepped out of the café and walked across the plaza to his office. No sense in panicking, he decided. If he could—as he had done after the big storm two years ago—make it through a flood and redo the whole main floor of his condo, then he could most certainly cope with lost pocket items. He would go straight to his desk and call Natalie, and she would then tell him if she had noticed, on her way out to bring Alice to daycare that morning, everything sitting in the basket by the front door. If necessary, he would make calls to report his credit cards lost. But as he contemplated the effort, his muscles began to grumble.
In the office lobby a new guard greeted Ned. Mustachioed and ready with a nightstick at his side, this guy was definitely not Charlene, who was usually there with a bright hello. Ned cast his eyes about the space, trying to put his finger on what else felt different. For one thing, it smelled funny, like something between burnt-out fireworks and a blow-dryer. But then it dawned on him, and he felt silly for not noticing it immediately. There was no bed of Muzak tranquilizing the soundscape. Instead, the chipper and carefree sounds of violins and other string instruments danced about, playing Peter’s theme from Peter and the Wolf.
The guard brought him back to attention. “ID, please.”
“I’m afraid I forgot it today. I’ll just have to sign in.”
The guard set his fingers to a computer keyboard. “Name?”
A flutter of keystrokes, and a new light splashed from a monitor over the guard’s grey lips, his dismal forehead. Peter’s theme continued prancing about, but French horns now encroached from previously silent speakers near the door. “Looks like you’re not listed. What’s the company?”
Ned told him, and the guard’s face screwed up like a nut. Horns puffed and growled the sleek, drooling menace of the wolf over the sound system. “No company by that name here. You must have the wrong address.”
“This is 77 Sharp Street, right?”
“That’s the one.”
“Why don’t you look up my supervisor, Alistair Wells.”
A fresh flutter of keystrokes. By now Peter’s theme had gone, and the wolf’s was fading, but the drums of hunters moving in on their target began to rumble like thunder. “Alright. I’ll give him a call,“ said the guard.
The guard placed the call and made the connection. He explained the situation, and the drums raced to a fever pitch, rolling up, up, up in volume. The sound became far more explosive than anything from an actual performance of Peter and the Wolf, and Ned couldn’t hear a thing the guard was saying. His ear drums felt like they were being pounded with a mallet. However, the guard appeared to have no difficulty listening to a response from the other end of the line. Amid the din he nodded and mouthed a thank you. The drumming ceased, as if on cue. “Mr. Wells says that there’s no Ned Dawson working here.”
“There must be some kind of mistake.”
“No mistake, sir.”
Silence. Ned opened his mouth to speak, but the guard frowned and fingered his nightstick. Confusion struck a blow, and Ned fell into a decision not to press his point. He excused himself.
The air outside was warm. Ned found himself without aim and started wandering in the direction of the waterfront. A feeling overcame him as it did two years before, upon his return home for the first time after the flood. From within the frame of his smashed front window a clown mannequin had greeted him. He recognized the figure from a favorite snowball stand across town. How the figure made its way all the way to his home was beyond him, but there was no denying its fixed grin. Almost in spite of himself, Ned met the grin with a chuckle. As he remembered that chuckle now—from another time, practically another life—he looked at his shadow on the pavement. His own hands were stuck in his empty pockets, but those of his shadow were raised to his ears. With splayed fingers, they wiggled at him. Violins chimed up in a chorus of the mind, and Ned wondered if Peter ever chuckled at the wolf in the way he found himself doing now.
© Thad Fowler. All rights reserved.