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- Any Coincidence Is - 4/17 -


replied.

"You don't seem to be comprehending me! A minute ago I was in my office with a student! The next I'm here! You have a lot--"

"Entertainment is at seven, attendance mandatory, unless you have failed to complete part one of the interview."

"I'm not completing any damn interview until--"

"What the hell's for dinner?" the boy demanded.

"Let me see, let me see," said the Lab Coat Man, flipping through the pages on his clipboard.

"Excuse me. Point of order here..." began Prof. Sigger.

"That pizza today sucked."

"I certainly can't disagree with you there."

"I am negotiating for my release, so if we could stick to the topic -"

"Couldn't you have at least baked it instead of microwaving it?"

"Out of my control, I'm afraid."

"Am I invisible? Am I not part of this conversation?"

"Patience, Mr. Sigger," replied the Lab Coat Man, flipping back to his top sheet.

"Professor Sigger!"

"Frigging crybaby," muttered the boy.

"I'll have you know--!" bellowed Sigger, his voice cracking in a most un-John Wayne like fashion.

"Now, now," began the Lab Coat Man.

"So what's it going to be? More bad pizza?"

"La dee da, la dee da! Never mind that I'm here! I think I'll just find a corner and sit here while you two carry on this most important of conversations."

"Oh, no, Prof. Sigger, we have our interview. Not a thing we can skip."

"There's nothing you can say to make me!" Sigger cried, sulking in the corner farthest from Kurt.

"In answer to your question, Taco Bell," he replied, looking up from a red 2B.

"I think I'm going to puke," Kurt moaned, looking even rattier than before and visibly greener as the pronouncement set in.

"I'm ready for that interview now," muttered Prof. Sigger, trotting to the steel bars and waiting like an obedient schoolboy. The Lab Coat Man nodded and marked an 'X' on a white page.

9. A weird day's night "There is no such thing as an omen. Destiny does not send us heralds. She is too wise or too cruel for that." -- Oscar Wilde

Julia dashed into the Osco employees' entrance and punched in one second before four o'clock. Accomplishing her day's goal of being on somebody's payroll, she decided to catch her breath by sneaking a smoke in the restroom. She caught Rhonda's eye at the check-out counter, who gave her a smile and a nod that meant: "Join you in a second."

Kurt, aka. Butthead, hadn't replaced the dead bulbs yet, so Julia sat on a toilet lid inside a claustrophobic's nightmare of a stall with only pale, yellow light keeping her from absolute darkness. And the brief flame of the lighter, which she snapped closed as she took a strong, slow drag. Another night-shift to deal with old grannies looking for denture cream, kids trying to lift cigarettes, drunks picking up plastic violets for the wife. If only she didn't need to eat, Julia concluded, maybe she wouldn't have to work in a world that seemed more than a little unreal.

But then, that was the family legacy, wasn't it? Seeing something that wasn't there, or worse: trying to see something that wasn't there and almost succeeding. Find a farm out in Arizona and retire once you've had enough of being called crazy. But then, Julia knew that there were two kinds of people: those who couldn't live without air conditioning and her uncle. Another run-down, fix-it-up farm in this family was out of the question. She took another deep drag and wondered why she kept smoking these things. They were like beer, Uncle Justin had told her: after the War, they never went back to making them right. If only someone would just make some real changes in the world -- how long could it be before it was a better place to live? A better place than this? Wasn't that what everyone wanted? If so, why did everyone settle for what they had?

That's what her mother had done. Settled for Dad dying. Settled for the life of a reclusive widow, until she died too. Not much Julia could do but not make a conscious mess of her own life. Not that everything had gone perfectly. She had a job, she was going to school -- although Uncle Justin kept reminding her it was "only" for accounting. No science, no liberal arts. But she read a lot on her own. Mysteries, new fiction, the classics that were recommended by that stud of a librarian. Not that she understood all of it, but there was usually something to enjoy, to learn from. Especially questions about the Big Picture -- that always sparked her interest.

But Uncle Justin would just shake his head. It was a tech school, not a college or a university. Lord knows there are plenty of cheap schools in Wisconsin that offer some liberal arts courses, he would say. To say nothing of real science. He accused her of falling for the same trap his sister, Julia's mother, had fallen for: living in a Wisconso-centric universe. Once he brought this up, the conversation usually degenerated into combative silence. They never settled that argument -- it just kept going on its own, to the detriment of everyone's sanity.

Whether she was getting a real education or not, Julia found herself constantly searching for meaning. About what governed reality (whatever that was), about what was human will (assuming it existed), about the elusive qualities of soul (love, happiness, etc.), and about the urge to bury one's face in Godiva chocolate every twenty-eight days. The last question was more easily answered than the others. She took a long drag, determined to make this one last. One a day was bad enough, but she'd probably need another one after work if Denny was in one of his moods.

She leaned back on the toilet and stared at the pale, sodium light spread out across the ceiling. Deja vu. Something from a dream about lying back and watching the sky. How the sky and the ceiling in an Osco restroom were connected was beyond her, but what the hell -- there would be an entire evening for worrying about mundane problems. Like most of her dreams, she remembered it as another memory, one as real as a memory of a waking moment. And as usual, the memory of the dream seemed more vivid than her memory of what she had done this morning.

It came back to her -- the light in the sky had been yellow, almost gold, with a brown tint. That was what made it look so unusual, this dream-light. It wasn't the sunlight of the world when everyone is awake and concentrating on whatever was going on beneath them. A light reserved for people who didn't deserve it, or know what it was, or what it meant. At least, that's what it seemed like in the dream. Or maybe she had made all that up after she woke up. But she did remember it had altered into a haze, growing more uniform, covering the world in a grey aura. The white of the clouds gave way, under pressure of a great and unstoppable force, to something else, which she couldn't describe. This, whatever it was, blanketed the sky, offering neither snow nor rain, instead smothering the world below from whatever was above. Except now, the clouds began to descend.

In parallel streams, this gray sky, this aura seemed to move toward her. Julia felt herself begin to giggle, that nervous giggle when she knew something was wrong but didn't know what. And then she realized that she wasn't just remembering the dream -- the haze was overheard was coming through the ceiling, causing the restroom lights to bend and shimmer. Julia stopped giggling and stared upward, her eyes fixed on whatever it was that she knew she had to be imagining. But just as suddenly the gray haze retreated until it had returned to whatever unknown sky it had descended from.

Julia felt her body constrict itself to form another giggle, but none came. She stood up, tossed the butt into the toilet, and quickly lit another cigarette. Nicotine euphoria swept through her body, but it would not take her to wherever it was she desperately needed to go. She dropped the cigarette to the floor and crushed it under her foot.

"Now that was disappointing," she muttered. She felt her throat knot up with sadness until she heard someone move outside the door. She looked at her watch -- she had wasted fifteen minutes, and now the restroom smelled terribly guilty.

The bathroom door creaked open. The fan located above Julia's well chosen stall expelled the smoke and Julia began flapping her hand as quietly as she could to speed the smoke on its way.

"Julia?" asked a voice.

"Rhonda?" Julia whispered conspicuously. The restroom door quickly closed and Rhonda scuttled into the stall next to Julia.

"Quick! Give me a drag!"

Julia, heretofore holding her breath, exhaled in relief and passed another cigarette and the lighter into Rhonda's hand hovering under the partition.

"I thought you were Butthead looking into the restroom again," Julia said.

Julia heard Rhonda inhale and exhale in rhythmic, sage-like fashion. "No," Rhonda finally answered, "somebody said he called in sick."

Rhonda's hand appeared under the stall again holding the lighter. Julia took it from her as they both heard a man's voice from outside the door.

"Rhonda? Julia?"


Any Coincidence Is - 4/17

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