It Never Occurred to Him

The alarm was jolting, riveting. The blare of the half-tuned radio station breaking the dim, cold sleep with a razor’s edge and a killer’s wit. Shaking his head awake, the world began to slowly come into focus. With the focus came the thought process…meeting today, 9:45 AM – “What’s with the fucked up time?” he thought to himself. “Not 10? Not 9:30? 9:45, what’s the deal?” rambled his mind as he swung legs onto the floor to press into the soft swag of the crimson carpet. Arms stretched akimbo as he rose, thinking with pride at the strength he still possessed at thirty five. Friends going downhill, the guys that would rush him as a quarterback almost twenty years ago moving about the planet like blobs on slabby, stubby legs. He alone retained his vigor, power – and singularity. Marriage everywhere – not here, no. No time for that. Meetings.

The shower squirt ice for a split second, but long enough to elicit a grunt of half-rage half-pain from him. Then everything went on auto-pilot as he showered, shaved and dressed for the Manhattan advertising firm, Lockhart and Swede, where he rose slowly through the ranks with as much treachery as skill – forced debilitation on others, the proverbial toes not only stepped on but cracked like so much glass between the treads of his Dior designer shoes and the hard marble surface of the slick and shiny ad room floors. Not his problem, really, if they couldn’t handle it – right? Of course.

It never occurred to him that his last departmental riot overthrew a man by the name of James, who’s sudden and unexpected pink slip following the arrival of his third child two months ago threw the family into a state of despair. This caused unmitigated financial duress that cut off the health insurance he needed to care for his new son who was born with a slight malfunctioning section of his brain which required surgery. Surgery he could no longer afford. Young Hans didn’t live past three months old and, if you must know, James didn’t live much beyond that. On the way home from the hospital where he watched his first born son’s brain matter hemorrhage until he died painfully and terribly…barely two weeks after a trusted coworker took credit for his report and sabotaged his own work to get that extra hundred a week that really made no difference at all to him – an extra few Scotch shots at Club Rare maybe…he pulled over on the Verrazano and had a long, terrible cry. Amidst stalled traffic and honking horns and through blinding tears James opened his car’s door, walked slowly to the edge and promptly jumped.

The crowds on the subway platform pushed and parried as they advanced for the N line amidst the haze and heat of the August summer. The 8:45 pulled in…five minutes after 8:45. Gregg cursed his luck – less than an hour to make a usually forty five minute trip and get to the 17th floor at the Canal street building to make the crazy timed meeting. And here the N line rolls in five minutes late – “How the fuck are people supposed to function in a city that runs like this?” said his brain to his skull. It never occurred to him that he could have skipped his morning tug from the JD bottle while reading the comic strips to have been here for the 8:30 train, which was on time. He dragged fitfully on his Newport and listened to the squeal of brakes as the train finally arrived at the station. A pale faced skinny young man in a transit cap requested he put the cigarette out, which Gregg did eventually. Only he took one last fitful pull, positioned the still flaming stick in front of his middle finger and balanced on his thumb, and flicked it flying at the kindly-asking man in the transit hat.

He pushed roughly forward through the rank and file of the other people on the platform, also vying for a shot at the already half-full train and it never occurred to him that the cigarette would have bounced off the metal nameplate the man wore – Steven engraved across its length – and sent sparks flying that showered Steven as the head of the cigarette imploded on impact. One stray still-burning ash found its way to Steven’s left eye, where it landed and scarred his eyeball forever limiting Steven’s life. Steven had enlisted in the Air Force and was working as a transit janitor just for the summer to save up some money to get his mother, who had worked three jobs most of her adult life to support him and his two sisters, something nice – he had been rebuilding an old Mustang, the kind she drove when she was a happier and younger woman, and was using the money from this short stint in the transit system to buy the parts for the car – new struts, shocks – him and his three friends were doing the work themselves and he planned to present it to her before he left for the Air Force. Unfortunately, Steven’s vision was now less than desirable – he was barred from enlistment and he worked this small subway scraping away gum off of the walls just like a haughty smoker scraped away the dreams from his life. He had to sell the car he had been working on to pay for his new alcohol habit.

Gregg found his way into the train and, as always happens, others tried to push on behind him. There was room enough for him, but he found himself less than happy surrounded by the types of people around – people not pressed, glamoured and deserving like he was, of course. Rather than move further into the train he stood his ground, back to the crowd, to keep others from boarding so that he could have a few feet of space between him and the next sweaty, sticky denizen of the crowded metropolis. The doors began to close and a young woman reached to stop them to catch the 8:45, but deftly and quickly Gregg’s hand shot out, tripped up her grasp and gave a short push and the doors closed solidly and the train was on its way.

It never occurred to him when the train pulled away that even his slight push would have knocked the young Jennifer off her feet, her happiness at this morning’s discovery blinding her with giddiness – the kind you get when something so miraculous happens that you can’t put it down even for a moment. She was on her way to her husband’s office, where she hoped to catch him to tell him the news that they, finally, after three years worth of attempts, managed to conceive a child. Years of therapy, medications, fertilization tests and they had nearly given up on the chance of raising a family, but still they tried. It had finally worked, and Jennifer wanted to tell him in person and was there to catch the 8:45 to reach him just as he started his day at the office – maybe take it off, have lunch, just be together. Her cloud-treading happiness left her vulnerable to even a slight push and she fell backwards, sprawling into the man behind her who carried a metal briefcase. She came down full force, left side, on the corner of the hard surface where it knocked the wind out of her and pounded into her belly. It was that moment when the jarring impact caused her womb to pulse and the growing cells that someday would have been their first and only child lost contact with the comforting wall inside her body and was lost. They never had another chance, though they tried.

It also never occurred to him that one of the people who stopped to help, Sal, was on his way to the hospital to see his mother, who was fading fast. If he would have caught this train he would have arrived about 9:00 in the morning. His mother hung on until a little after 9:30. He was coming home from Afghanistan, you see, and hadn’t seen his mother since he left fourteen months ago with his Army Reserve unit. They released him when his mother took ill, and he would have gotten to see her one last time before she passed away – time of death 9:33. The 8:45 would have gotten him there, but someone had just gotten hurt and he stayed behind to help, cradling Jennifer’s pain filled head in his arms until the paramedics arrived to take her to the very same hospital his mother was at. Because he was with Jennifer, he got to ride the ambulance screaming through the Manhattan traffic to the hospital. He arrived at 9:36.

It was at this exact moment that Gregg stepped off the train just across the way from Lockhart and Swede. He pushed roughly through the doors, swiping aside people as he went and rushed across the platform towards the exiting stairs. He bustled between closely knit commuters, nary a word, as he sent a teenager to the side as he pushed. The teenager, Rob, had just received word that he was accepted to run the New York City Marathon, something he’s been trying to do since he was fifteen. Now at eighteen years old, he was going to get his last chance to run it before he left for college in the fall across the country where he’d bury himself in the academia of becoming an economics major. It didn’t occur to Gregg that, as he pushed his way up the steps, the young man’s heel lost its purchase with the one he was standing on, slipped and promptly forced his ankle to move in directions it was not meant to go. The bones scraped against each other and the ligaments let go, ruining his running plans for the upcoming marathon after he finally got in after four years of trying.

As Gregg reached the sunny outskirts of the subway steps it did occur to him that he had less than ten minutes to reach his meeting on the 17th floor. He took off at a run, dodging people and nearly sprawling over more than a few as he utilized his still sharp football skills to reach the front of the glass doomed building and pushed his way inside. It didn’t occur to him that as he ran past young 8 year old Aliza and leaped over her brand new puppy she named Sandee after her favorite movie, that the dog was too young to know how to handle the sudden barrage of a full grown adult flying through the air inches from her head. The puppy took off, wrenching its leash from the unexpecting little Aliza, and barreled into traffic where it was messily run over by the same ambulance that took Jennifer to the hospital following her miscarriage and was now carrying Sal and his deceased mother to the morgue.

The elevator doors were closing as Gregg slid and raced across the slick marble. He sent his briefcase sliding across the floor, metal standing studs dragging arching scratches across the newly polished marble beautiful floor. It didn’t occur to him that about ten minutes later old man Sanborn, who had worked and scrubbed the halls of this building for almost forty years, would be brought into the front hall and shown those scratches. There was a visiting foreign delegation, one of the largest advertising client’s the group had from Japan, and the floors were supposed to shine brighter than the sun. It was, just moments ago, but now four unevenly spaced metal-dragged gashes were running a good length along the floor. Sanborn had spent all morning since 4:00 polishing every floor in any public area and they were spotless – he took his job with pride, really, having been doing it for quite some time. With the delegation having just passed through, and the scratched marble of the main foyer clearly visible, Sanborn had been dismissed from his job for that reason.

It Never Occurred to HimHis briefcase caught the doors and kept them from closing, giving him the seconds necessary to get to the elevator prior to the solid thunk of the closing doors. Gregg could see the lone Armani dressed tall man in the elevator, near the back wall, who didn’t so much as budge when he saw his sprint across the floor for the obvious elevators. This annoyed the hell out of him, really, and he let some epithets fly lightly under his breath as he forced the doors apart and wrenched his scratch-causing case from its grasp. He stepped into the elevator and glared at the slightly taller man in the pressed suit and cowling smile. He was the only other one in the elevator and he stepped towards the controls. “Going up or down?” he asked Gregg as he made sure his tie still hung properly and his shirt was tucked, his briefcase on the floor between his legs. Glancing at his watch…9:39. He’ll make the meeting, barely, but would miss the chance to open if this asshole kept asking stupid questions.

From the pit of his black depths he summoned the most sarcastic and grumbling overtone, so that his new elevator partner would understand just how much he was lacking in niceties and time this morning. Knowing full well they were standing on the elevator which was currently stationed on the lowermost floor of the building, he spit back: “Down, indeed! Yes, let’s go down there, Chuckles, down it is!” and glared his worst possible abysmal stare.

“So be it,” stated the black suit nonchalantly, calmly and reached out to press a button that Gregg had failed to notice before. It was a different color than the others…and was labeled with an “H”. Strangely enough when the elevator lurched it really did feel like it was going down, but that was impossible as they were already on the bottom floor. This building didn’t have a basement with elevator access. “1” was the bottom most level. Where did the “H” come from? His mind reeled as the elevator continued to move. The man in the black suit winked at him once and smiled plainly.

Was it getting hot in here? And not just “noticeably warm,” either. Downright stifling. You couldn’t tell by looking at the man in the Armani suit – he was cool as ice, no sweat at all, but Gregg’s forehead was really getting toasty and damp from the rising heat. It was actually getting a bit difficult to breathe, or maybe that was his imagination. He watched the buttons on the elevator’s control panel but none of the buttons for 1…2…3 had lit yet, and he wondered if maybe the elevator’s lights weren’t working. He surely should be nearing the 17th floor by now – up was the only way to go from where they were and the elevator feeling like it lurched downward had to have been a trick of sorts on his mind…it being early and his distraction with the upcoming important meeting and all. He looked at his watch.

Was his watch going out of whack now? Maybe the heat was making it work funny, but it was a Bulova for crissake…the best money can buy. But it said 9:52…if correct he’d been in this elevator for 13 minutes now. That couldn’t be. It was still getting hotter and he pulled a handkerchief from his left breast pocket and mopped at his face. Involuntarily he pulled his tie just a tad to loosen it slightly around his neck as it got harder to breathe in the stifling heat. He could actually feel the heat wafting off the faux-wood of the elevator wall nearest his back. The Armani man still stood nonchalantly, non-sweatily and comfortably near the control panel, which seemed to not be working even slightly. The man in the black suit started to whistle then. It took a few moments, but he recognized the tune after two bars. A low, dark whistling of When the Saints Go Marching In wafted the small chamber to the rhythm of the moving elevator as it continued to carry them.

It never occurred to him that just because things didn’t occur to him that someone else might have been keeping score.