Four flights. One up, one in, one down, one left. They all feel like up, a perpetual ascendance of narrow eclipsing corridors. Platinum monochrome scatterburst flickers persistently across my field of vision as I frantically continue my search for Suite 206, though I'm 16 minutes early and will most likely be on time. 206. 206206, 206. 206206, 602? No, 206. I repeat the number over and over in my head like a motivational chant. Breathless, I reach the middle of the last flight and spot an isolated door. This is it. Construction sounds knock distantly against my eardrums as a sign appears in lieu of a suite number:
Please don't pardon our dust.
I gather my dwindling strength, drag myself up the final steps, enter…
…and then I'm the receptionist. My blouse is different, the desk is high and long and I have put on spectacles and approximately 20 pounds. There's a service bell on the desk, which invisiblizes any who ring it and ensures that they will never be seen. A handful queue up, strike the plunger, and vanish.
"Appointment, please." The voice comes at random, exactly on time, minus a few hours which may have been necessary to travel from the waiting area chair to the desk. Children run on the tables of assorted magazines like slippery treadmills and fall into the eager arms of their pleased, encouraging parents. Severed pages litter the floor on which her five cats curl up and snore contentedly.
"Is she ready to see me now?" the voice whines. I try my very best to attend to the buffering duties at hand but I begin to feel hopelessly overwhelmed. The copy machine behind me is spitting out dirty forks encrusted with the remnants of my coworker's pasta lunch, despite us having a repairman in here at 9 am to ensure that the tines, at least, would be sparkling clean. People from the waiting area are beginning to accumulate confusedly in a muddled line.
Taking a deep breath and remembering my professionalism (as well as the guidance on the training tapes), I fulfill my task and lead them to their appointments exactly as advertised: announcing "Yes, she's ready," I guide them down the short, wide hallway and out the glowing EXIT. They all smile serenely and thank me as they ebb into the chilly dusk air and head for the empty parking lot.
Tamara K. Walker is a writer of various forms, primarily flash fiction and experimental short stories with an irreal/surreal/slipstream bent. She lives near Boulder, Colorado with her wife/life partner and blogs irregularly about writing and literature at http://tamarakwalker.wordpress.com. She may also be found online at http://about.me/tamara.kwalker. Her writing has previously appeared or is forthcoming in A cappella Zoo, Identity Theory, Apocrypha and Abstractions, Gay Flash Fiction, and a handful of poetry zines.