Our Skies by Joshua Mohr

No one knows what you’re doing. You, a rogue cater-waiter who none of the guests see slip away even though twenty minutes earlier they all begged you for free glasses of champagne or apple martinis or cosmopolitans, the entire bar tab paid for by an ad agency that six months earlier you’d worked for and had been wrongfully terminated on a bunk allegation of coming to the office under the influence of alcohol, a charge totally bogus, but what, were you going to sue a billion dollar corporation? Could you really exact your revenge against their Ivy League lawyers whose assholes smelled like cappuccinos?

It hadn’t been booze that affected your job to such a shimmering detriment, but music. Music you never knew existed. Music that dwelled in the binary code you helped maintain and manicure and nurture as a programmer in the company’s IT department. You never expected to find song in that ocean of ones and zeroes, but on a Thursday morning it shared its voices with you, whispering spirituals through your computer’s speakers; that first morning you looked all around, wondering if other workers heard it too, but they didn’t. They in fact heard no music coming from their computers, didn’t hear the songs secreting from the speakers in four-part harmonies, a cappella, songs that sounded as if they came from a southern Baptist church, somewhere in rural Arkansas, some time in the nineteenth century, an entire congregation clapping their hands on the downbeats, swaying with the spirit of their piety.

You alone heard these songs, and the longer you listened to the plangent lyrics, you cried, right there at your desk, you wailed because the songs seemed to say that life didn’t have to be so lonely, and you kept asking, “How? How can things get better?” and your coworkers walked by and stared and you saw their mouths moving in conspiratorial whispers and before you knew it, your boss had called you into his office.

He made a speech about the way your sick days vanished in the first quarter, and the way your peers found you unapproachable, defensive, sometimes mean, the way you never seemed interested in your primary responsibility of overseeing the agency’s intranet site. He told you that the whole office knew you had a drinking problem, and then he seemed baffled by the mass of your failures, scratching the stubble on his cheeks, before saying, “You’re fired.” “I didn’t know anything was wrong,” you said. “You didn’t?” he asked. “Life can be like that. Everything’s okay and then the sky starts falling.”

You tried to explain the music seeping from your computer, that machine that ached in its c: drive, tried to explain the concerts of uncanny precision and passion, but your boss didn’t want to listen, and you said, “The music is a miracle,” and he said, “You’re drunk. Go home,” and every day for the last six months, since they fired you for no good reason, you’ve searched everywhere to find that music again.

You’ve tried to recreate the exact scenario from that cathartic Thursday morning: drinking single-malt scotch the second you got out of bed to forget she’ll never let you come home, drinking single-malt scotch on your drive into work, scotch out of the same coffee cup you used at the office, the mug with the ad agency’s name splattered on its side in a streaky cursive. You’ve duplicated these details with precision, though you’ve done them at home, no longer welcome in an office you helped build from the ground up. You’ve replicated every thread of minutia and then stuck your ear to your home computer, listening and pleading, trying to coax concerts that never came, and the longer you went without hearing the songs, the longer the agency deprived you of the music, an inevitability mounted regarding your plot for revenge.

Like this: like tonight: you feeling ready to take your boss’ advice and make the sky fall: you posing as a cater-waiter at their company Christmas party, actually growing a moustache and wearing dark-rimmed glasses and dying your blonde hair pitch-black to disguise yourself as a stranger, to conceal your malice in a blue-collar façade; you distributing spirits, stationed off to one side of the room, keeping the guests well imbibed, and then you skulk out the door, abandoning your post so you can scale the humungous pine tree that’s planted in the courtyard in front of the building. It’s decorated like a Christmas tree during December.

The first branches of the tree don’t start until about eight feet up its shaft so you have to jump and do an awkward pull-up, finally swinging your legs over that first branch, shimmying, slowly at first and then getting comfortable, winding up to the top. Two corporate zombies, a man and a woman, come out front for cigarettes and seduction. You hear the man say, “My wife’s skiing in Purgatory for the weekend,” and she says, “How are you going to pass the time?” and he asks, “Any suggestions?”

You’re finally here: at the top of the sixty foot tree, poised to throw ornaments, to heave red and green globes at these enemies as if it’s raining glass bullets, and you let two fly, not trying to hit them yet, but warning shots—why hadn’t your wife given you any warning shots, why didn’t you deserve the naked courtesy of notice?—and the ornaments smash into the courtyard, fifteen feet from the zombies’ positions. They jump. The woman drops her champagne flute, splintering, and the man says, “What’s happening?” and you yell down at them, “That’s life. One minute everything’s fine and then Wham! The sky starts falling!”

More people run out of the building to see the fracas, a blaze of commotion slithering its way through the crowd, tangling itself around the courtyard like a starving python. Panic. Fear. You love watching the workers scatter, churning around like a startled marching band, and they’re right where you want them. Every last one. Each employee who didn’t hear your music. Each of them that let you go without second thought. They’ll be taught what you already know: our skies fall, our lives fall, and there’s nothing we can do except gobble multivitamins and wait for calamity.

You take three more ornaments and pitch it at the wiggling clog of people and say, “This is life!” and then you throw another at them and say, “These are our lives!” and you throw another armful of ornaments and say, “Our skies rain shit and these are our lives! These are our tiny lives!”

Time loses its math, sheds its codes. Some people in the crowd look up, open-mouthed, gasping, looking at you or at the glass orbs gaining speed, plummeting toward their faces, while others look down and cover their heads with their hands; strangely, no one flees, all frozen and baffled and addicted to witnessing the conclusion of your air raid, but you, you actually close your eyes, close them so you can listen to the shattering ornaments morph into four-part harmonies and hands clapping as if you were there, in that dusty church, because beauty can rise from something ugly, and only then can the silence shave its sins away as if they’re ancient skin.

Comments · 5

  1. I love this use of the 2nd person!! I can’t ever get it to sound organic… I am jealous!

  2. you had me at “why didn’t you deserve the naked courtesy of notice?”…

    a scotch on me next time you roll through LA….

  3. “Shimmering detriment,” second-person involvement, present-tense urgency, glittering images, spare back-story. What’s not to love? And I learned from you at WS.

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