No posts recently, because flu. The good thing about having the flu is the hallucinogenic stupor induced by the doc’s medications. It makes for interesting story ideas. Here’s a story based on a drug-induced dream.
The drain and drain cover exist in a lab facility near work. Over the months, I have spent too much time wondering about the purpose of the drain, and yes I’ve counted the holes. All of them. Even the non-holes.
This will make much more sense after you read the following. Enjoy!
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The Unexpected Question
This was the expected question I was asked. I sat alone in the room and waited for them to call. I did as I was told, as I am known to do. I considered the purpose of the drain while I waited my turn to answer.
Also, as I am known to do, I thought until thought became over-thought. I considered all possible answers to the expected question, and many unexpected questions, just in case I need to answer.
I have a strong hatred for the average. On occasion, this hatred has driven me to greatness. My unwillingness to accept the ordinary, the undistinguished, unexceptional, unremarkable, pedestrian, prosaic, plain vanilla, can be a blessing.
I have won awards for being myself, but at the cost of any chance at a normal life. The fear of being less than exceptional claws at me, scrapes me out of sound sleep, forces me to obsess.
In those times when I answer questions never considered, people stare. Mouths open but no sounds come out, not at first. Then, “of course,” one says. “Why didn’t I think of that,” another whispers. Someone exclaims, “brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” or “genius,” or something similar. It is only in that moment that I can relax, relieved in the realization that I have purpose. Then the moment passes.
“The purpose of the drain is for janitorial use, for drainage when the floor is mopped or scrubbed,” I said out loud alone in the room.
“Idiot,” I answered. “Too obvious. Think again.”
“Bodily fluids from the lab experiments?”
“Maybe. Keep thinking until they make you give an answer.”
A tap at the door. “Almost time,” a voice said from the other side.
My mind raced to consider everything in the room. I wondered about the door knob, and when it was time to rotate, which direction the knob would turn, and if, when turned (whichever direction) would the turning be preceded by a knock, and if so, how many taps?
Would the person knocking expect me to open the door? What if there is no knock?
Should I wait for the door to swing open then wait to be asked to follow? What if I am expected to know when to exit without being told? If so, when I open the door, which direction do I go?
What if they have watched me the entire time? What if I have waited too long to give my answer to the expected question? What if it’s already too late?
It was then that I noticed that I had done what I do. I had studied myself into an overly prepared state of anxiety which had nothing to do with the reason I was brought here.
The Fear had been dug up, dragged out of the coffin, and received resuscitation by my own hands. It (as in “It”) had been given a pulse, had grown fingers, claws. I had, of my own will, raised cold arms, pried open pale hands, and closed the claws tight around the flesh of my neck, and commanded It to squeeze.
I stared at the drain cover.
Then it hit me. I had finally stumbled upon what was the reason I had been left alone in the room. The reason I am here is not to answer a question of purpose. It is to solve a dilemma, resolve a conundrum. Sometimes the exceptional must be choked out of me. It has been.
The purpose of the drain in the middle of the floor is whatever the purpose is. Anyone can discover that by simply observing people in the room over time. I am not here to answer the expected question.
I am here to answer the perfect unexpected question, the one that had just come to me in mid-choke tunnel vision: How many holes are there in the drain cover in the floor of the room?
This is the why they brought me here.
How many holes in the drain cover?
How many holes?
Clarity. Re-death to the Fear, the It. Claws released, hands placed across still chest, coffin lid closed, dirt shoveled on top. Rest in peace, It.
A tap. “Two minutes.”
I re-examined the drain cover.
Quickly, I counted the holes in each row of the drain cover, from top to bottom, as if there is a top to a circular object or a bottom. Eight rows. Eight. I counted the holes in each row: Four, six, eight, eight, eight eight, six, and four. Symmetry.
I totaled the number of holes: Fifty-two. Fifty-two holes in the drain cover. There are fifty-two holes in the drain cover. Done. I’m ready to answer to the unexpected question, the real question, the question I would be asked.
Tap. “One minute.”
Like an idiot, I continued to stare at the drain cover for the final sixty seconds, just in case there was something else. Elegant symmetry suddenly gave way to hideous asymmetry. Two screws secured the drain cover over the opening.
So how many holes are in the drain cover? Fifty-two, plus the two screw holes? Fifty-four? I should have looked away! I should have stopped staring!
It had happened again. I had dug at the dirt until I hit something solid. I had opened the lid, extended the arms and worked the fingers until they moved on their own. The claws were extended. My raw neck was bare.
The knock. The announcement. “They are waiting.”
So here I am. If I answer fifty-two, I give them the practical answer, but one that suggests a lack of attention to detail. If I answer fifty-four, I give them a comprehensive answer, but one that lacked conviction.
A re-knock. “They are waiting,” a voice says.
“Almost ready,” I say.
“Now,” the voice says. “They are waiting.”
It is time to answer, because they are waiting.
I stand up and reach for the door knob. It rotates counter-clockwise, by the way. I open the door and step outside the room.
I’ve never been less sure of what I should think or say or do. I turn left and see them, waiting.
“Well,” a new voice says, “we are waiting.”
I lean into the microphone and clear my throat. I hear myself speak with authority.
“It depends,” I hear myself say.
There’s an echo.
I wait for their response.
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