(Have you read Chapter 2 of Morse?)

I lost my job. Technically I was fired, but the job was lost by my inactions.

I can’t remember which boss ended up breaking the “news” to me, but I do remember him advising me to sort out my personal life and contact the company in the future. Extending the olive branch for my poor performance, offering me an out for my obvious mistakes, softening the blow so I didn’t feel inclined to cause an HR uproar a la American Beauty. An olive branch, though in this situation more an octopus tentacle, Ursulan, refusing to loosen the deathgrip it held around my being, drawing me ever closer to its corporate beak–built for consumption, wearing a tie to hide its carnivorous intentions.

I could laugh at the absurdity of it all if I didn’t believe that the company’s insidious goal was to harvest me for valuable nutrients after I’d served my purpose. “Sir, he’s completed the last of the budget revisions.” “Good. Take him to the holding tank. I’ll be there shortly.”

Now that would be absurd.

But then again, octopodes have beaks. And what’s more absurd than an eight-tentacled hyper-intelligent sea creature with suction cups and a beak? Well, my employer, for one. Or anyone’s employer for that matter. Why anyone ever bought in to the abolition of serfdoms is beyond me.

It was after being fired and putting my desk trinkets and a few rolls of Scotch tape into a box that I found myself in a coffee shop that I’d never been in before. I had made it halfway down the block from my ex-workplace before veering right into an alleyway and right again through the doorway of what looked like a promising place to percolate.

Right, right, and, somewhat, right.

The interior looked like it was vomited out of an Indie movie funded by name-a-Liberal-Arts school. An exposed ceiling revealed bright matte colored pipes that probably no longer served a purpose except to make the soon-to-be caffeinated customers feel like they were in one of Willy Wonka’s lesser-seen sweatshops. The un-restored exposed-brick walls were rough, gritty, and showed leftover plaster covering in some areas where the owners clearly gave up on the removal process: “No, let’s leave a bit. It’ll seem more real!”

The tables and chairs were mid-Century Danish modern that went out of style in Europe right after they were made but remained a stead-fast piece in any yuppie’s deigned decor. “The chair is a comment on the state of affairs. Are we sitting in the chair, or is the chair sitting under us?” The high-end German stain-less steel roasters, grinders, and machines only served to heighten the contrasts going on.

I couldn’t quite figure out whether expense was supposed to be a good or a bad thing in here. I felt dissociated. By a coffee shop. So this is what I had come to. Questioning my existence because of tired decorating tips from Andy Warhol’s less-popular twin, Randy.

“A coffee, black.”

“Sure. Would you like free-trade, organic, African, Sumatran, Honduran, or?” The overly enthusiastic young woman behind the counter pointed to the sign on the wall. Chalk writing by someone who clearly took their penmanship seriously in high school rambled down the varieties of coffee that I, the consumer, could choose from. What a time to be alive.

“Whatever is the strongest.”

“That would be the Turkish. It comes in a tiny cup and is a bit bitter but will totally get you buzzed! Would you also like to donate a dollar to the Save the Rainforest foundation? It–.” I stopped listening, but could almost complete the sentence for her: “–prevents local farmers from developing their lands into profitable coffee plantations so that white Americans can feel good about having already claimed the countries’ more valuable mineral resources.”

“Sure. A dollar you said?” I couldn’t let her know that I didn’t give a shit about protecting the rainforest.

I sat down with my diminutive coffee, my box of somewhat-stolen office supplies, and me.

I should’ve been concerned that I was unemployed now, an unemployed nearing-middle-aged white man with half a head of hair, a cause for termination that could generously be called “bad,” and no inkling where to inquire about finding a new job.
But no bad thoughts crossed my mind. Worryingly, nothing crossed my mind. I tried to focus and… nothing. My thoughts were treading water in a murky pool of oil. My grasping hands moved slowly through the lightless void, meeting unsteady but firm resistance. Waves of black hit me left and right with no rhythm or order–with each passing wave, a gut wrenching feeling that I was about to drown or suffocate or disappear into the voluminous nothingness around me.

My last memory was of terror. Not of dying, but of not knowing how or why I died.

And then I was back. In the coffee shop. At the table. The woman behind the counter was gone.

It didn’t occur to me that I was the only person in the coffee shop other than the woman at the register until a man sat down directly in front of me at my table.

He looked like smoke and silk. Neat, pressed clothing of an indeterminate hue of gray. Delicate, finely-pointed black mustache like a cat’s tail–I could almost see it dancing back and forth, pendulous. He looked like he sold used cars or mis-interpreted legal precedents. His pointed, at-one-time broken nose clicked and clanked upwards to his eyes. His eyes were… there. He smiled a cat’s smile as it pulls the legs off of an insect for “fun.” When will it stop squirming?

“Welcome back.” He said.

(Continue to Chapter 4 of Morse.)

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