A Sense of Order
Posted on July 26, 2011
Aside from the constant clicking of his desktop ten key, the silence in the office was deafening. Jonathan Prince had become accustomed to the cessation of sound over the past six months, but today the stillness had become almost intolerable. There was a time when he would have paid good money to replace all the noise in his life with this blessed silence; a time when his entire life seemed to be made up of constant noise and clamor. But since the day of the mass disappearance – the Big D as he’d come to refer to it – when all hell broke loose and it seemed the noise would never end, the price he’d paid was no more than his ability to tolerate the unending silence.
Jonathan was a simple man. His world was made up of consistency and regularity. Awake every morning by four, coffee ready by the time he padded his bare feet into the kitchen. Shower, shave, dress, another cup of coffee and out the door by five-thirty. Arriving at the office, he’d have his daily tallies ready and waiting for him from the day before, exactly where he’d neatly placed any work he couldn’t finish by quitting time into the almighty in-box.
Freddie, one of Jonathan’s office mates, whom he normally despised but wished well now that he was apparently enjoying his afterlife – or wherever the hell he was, along with everyone else – had given him an ironically beautiful framed quote for his desk. Designed with deep, flowing calligraphy, it read: “A Clean Desk is a Sign of a Disturbed Mind.” It was meant to be a backhanded compliment at Jonathan’s constant uniformity; his belief that everything had its order and everything had its place. Jonathan loathed the thing. What sort of idiot would go to the trouble to frame and market anything that was tantamount to a bumper sticker, much less the idiot who purchased the damned thing? But as much as Jonathan loathed it, he’d placed the frame at the corner of his desk. Though, the gesture was more a matter of social appeasement than anything else. Better to keep the wolves at bay, he thought, than to invite a fight.
After the Big D, Jonathan had continued to get up every morning and head into work. There didn’t really seem to be much sense in doing this, considering that no matter how many tally sheets Jonathan entered into his ten key they amounted to the same negated and hollow amount. What was a few thousand against a few million when money no longer served any purpose other than fire kindling? What difference would that extra decimal point make in the grand scheme of things? But, Jonathan needed to have this structure in his daily life in an attempt to give reason to his new existence. The Big D had happened with such suddenness that Jonathan knew it could reverse itself at any moment with the same celerity. When that happened – if it happened – someone would have to be there to account for the missing time. Someone would have to be held accountable, because someone is always held accountable. If responsibility was to be left upon Jonathan, he was going to be damned sure that all the t’s were crossed and all the i’s were dotted. Secretly – not that he had anyone to tell secrets to in this new world – he had hoped that day would never come, and by the looks of things it probably wouldn’t. But, just in case, the returning order wouldn’t find him with his pants down.
So, day after day, he would awake from dreamless sleep at what he supposed was 4:00 AM, stumble down the staircase and throw a few coffee grounds into cold water. He’d stir it up as best he could, drink-chew it with a grimace and then walk into what had once been downtown Portland.
For reasons just as inexplicable as the disappearance itself, the electricity had stopped working on the Big D. With hindsight, Jonathan figured that this would have happened anyway, as there was no one left to attend to such matters. But, he wouldn’t have expected it to happen on the same day. In fact, nothing mechanical had worked since that day. not simply electrically based mechanisms, but everything mechanical. Wind-up watches, battery powered radios, anything with gears or wires attached had been rendered completely useless. Jonathan was certainly no mechanic. He knew his way around a car engine enough to understand the basics, but he couldn’t figure out why all the cars seemed to have just stopped wherever they were when the Big D happened. They were all over the highways and freeways, silently sitting like stones that someone had carelessly tossed onto the roads. Jonathan had seen a couple of incidents where cars had apparently collided, but he supposed that it was nothing more than mere coincidence that the accidents had happened only a moment before the disappearance had taken place. There seemed to be no other signs of bedlam to be found in the city, or anywhere else for that matter.
Although the walk took a lot longer than it had when he’d regularly ride the light rail, he enjoyed the walks to and from work with a newfound interest in the world. He no longer had to worry about teenagers harassing him, or bothersome street urchins begging for a quarter to “get something to eat,” when he knew damned well that they would just put the money in their booze fund. He had the time now to see the world through eyes that he had – for purposes of self-preservation – covered up for so long. His only real worry now was the approaching winter, and how the weather might make it difficult to walk the five miles into the city.
Jonathan lived in East Portland. Sans the train, it now meant a hike across the Washington bridge. He remembered that, while traveling to the city on the light rail, he’d often thought about how slick the bridge might be after a heavy rainfall. How dangerous it would be to cross such a high bridge on foot. He thanked God back then for the comfort and safety of the train, but now it seemed that his gratitude was premature. It hadn’t rained even once since the Big D, which he thought very odd for this time of the year. In fact, it seemed to Jonathan that the weather had actually been somewhat arid for Portland. Arid, yes, and somewhat stuffy. Much like he were in a small room with no windows.
However, he didn’t have time to analyze the weather because there were beans to count, t’s to cross and i’s to dot. The change would be coming any day now, any hour, any minute. And, when it did, someone would be held accountable. Someone would have to be held accountable, because someone is always held accountable. There must be a sense of order in the world, he thought, otherwise there just isn’t a point to the world and it may as well not exist at all.
The sun’s light shone down on Jonathan. And, though the air seemed suddenly more arid than before, in that moment, that split second of time, a smile began to slowly creep across his face. No existence. No order, no point, no sense, no existence. He finally understood the framed quote. Moreover, he suddenly understood Freddie and his own sense of order. Jonathan decided not to go into work that day. He looked aroound for a brief moment. He half expecting Death to float up right then and there to ask how he was enjoying his stay, like a waiter inquiring about a meal. Contentedly eyeing the yet empty bridge, Jonathan hopped up on the hood of a nearby abandoned Hyundai and waited in the sunshine.